Sunday, March 23, 2008

In Bruges

This movie was a very pleasant surprise. The trailers try to pass In Bruges as a madcap, dark, edgy, action picture a la Pulp Fiction or Snatch, but it turns out In Bruges is quite melancholy. It's a character piece, with the two hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in excellent performances each) being the chief draw. What makes these men tick? How do they handle conflict? These aren't the questions most hitmen movie even bother asking themselves. Bullets, pizazz, and edgy editing are the norm. In Bruges is anything but.

Sure, all the stuff in the trailer is in the film and it can be quite un-PC and irreverent quite often (sometimes strangely and offensively), but that doesn't distract from an interesting story about two men and the drama that comes in the form of regret, grace, vengeance, honor, and ambiguity.

The film can be a mess at times, but it's a organized mess. Things add up.

There's a doozy of an ending. A surprise without a twist. The kind of ending that leaves you a bit hobbled, stuck considering many things after the credits abruptly begin rolling and the theater lights come up. How many hitman movies can you honestly say leave you really thinking after they're done?


Wristcutters: A Love Story

There's comedy in Wristcutters, but the film isn't a light-hearted romp. There's a gloom and bleakness hanging over the picture. It's about a purgatory for people who have committed suicide, so it's quite fitting that those "living" in that purgatory can't smile. I didn't really smile either, though there were a plethora of well-earned chuckles.

There's a bit of a Water The Fish feeling for a lot of the movie - the world is strange and familiar at the same time. We can recognize it, but it's maybe a bit too mysterious. Much goes unexplained. The film's climax is a mess, but none of the characters actually seem that shocked or confused, so perhaps I'm overreacting.

I enjoyed it, though. Patrick Fugit was an excellent choice for the lead, as were Shea Whigham and Shannyn Sossamon in supporting roles. All can carry a similar deadpan, monotone, and bland tune like classical musicians. And that's not a knock on the performances at all. They fit perfectly into the odd-shaped holes the writer/director's script made for the characters.

I liked the love story, but to be honest I was more interested in these people being happy even in a world where that seemed impossible. That search for satisfaction was the chief attractor for me.

Great ending. Maybe a sloppy way of getting there, but still a big lift and pleasure at the end.


King of California

I didn't expect too much from this forgotten 2007 studio/indie. It was largely panned by critics and I hadn't heard anybody I know even mention it prior to my blind buy on Friday.

I enjoyed the movie. I had a good time with the characters. The movie started off poorly, with heavy voice over serving as exposition from one character. The music was too on-the-nose quirky (reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at times). The movie is Z-a-n-y with a capital "Z". The film asked the audience to make the concession early on that a resourceful and bright teenager could slyly fool parents, social workers, and other authorities for a long, extended period of time. Just go ahead and grant them that or you'll be bothered for the rest of the movie. But it grew on me just as the two main characters grew on me. Not like an unpleasant (or even pleasant fungus) but rather as people can grow on you after you've misjudged them based on first impressions. I found the movie to be a warm, heartfelt, original pic with a very enjoyable, manic performance from Michael Douglas and a fine piece of acting from Evan Rachel Wood. Plus, there was a character named Pepper. That's the bees' knees right there.

This (along with Lars and the Real Girl) seems to be heading a wave of films using and skewing mental illness to their own ends, but I am not really bothered by it. I learn about these people through these exaggerated maladies. As a member of the mentally ill community, I say, "Go for it, but do so with tenderness as these two films did."


The Pineapple Express

I got a chance to see an early screening of this movie at the Landmark. It was a blast. It's really what you'd expect when the writers of Superbad decided to make a stoner action/comedy. Zany, irreverent, goofy, and outlandish with just a smidgen of duder love. James Franco, Seth Rogen, and hilarious, but once again the writers have set up a scene-stealing role. It was McLovin in Superbad, but the most memorable part of The Pineapple Express is Danny McBride as Red. Gut-busting funny.

There is a lot of riffing going on and it can be a bit over done sometimes. I imagine the run-time will be reduced when it's released in theaters in August, and these riffs could be the starting point as could the uneven and awkward scenes between Gary Cole and Rosie Perez as the bad guys. It's not like I expect stand out realistic performances from comedies like this one, but each time they were on screen, I was annoyed and wanted to get back to the heroes. The heavies (including Craig Robinson from the American "The Office" and Kevin Corrigan) don't really hold a candle to Rogen, Franco, and McBride's antics.

It's strange to think I could find people being high so entertaining on screen and be utterly unamused when people do drugs off screen. Keep the screw ups screwing up on screen and not in my backyard.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Purple State of Mind

This is a little documentary that was screened for ye ole LAFSC on Monday. It's the true account of the conversations that come from two old college roommates entering middle age and recounting the same year one's Christian faith started and the other's stopped. The doc follows them as they meet three or four times to pursue honest conversation about their beliefs. What happens can be maddening from a Christian perspective, but is sure to start many good conversations between friends like the very ones depicted. Like any good doc, the two friends and theological opponents are interesting characters that are both humanized. John Marks makes all the good points, but I felt for the floundering Craig Detweiler. In class, there were some students who said they didn't think Craig represented Christians well, but I don't think he claimed to represent all Christians. The point of the whole film seemed to be to revisit the lives and beliefs of two friends who took separate paths after college. Their conversations had the common thread of spirituality, but I saw it more as a means of gaining insight into these two men. As a film about spirituality, it offers few answers. As a film about two friends, it offers a wealth of good ole insight.

Not an astounding work of genius (with bare bones production and a basic question and answer back and forth between the two participating old friends) but a provocative movie for anyone utterly confused or convinced of their views about Christianity and God.

Sparked the absolutely most heated, opinionated, open, honest, and beneficial conversation in the Theology in Hollywood class to date.

Purple State of Mind on the web


A Decade Under the Influence

The 70s rule! This is a documentary about the filmmakers of the 70s, the directors that influenced them, the crazy and revolutionary work they did themselves, and the ultimate return to the movie industry background their bread and butter voice and films would take after the blockbuster movement at the tail end of the decade. I loved hearing from all the big guys (Coppola, Scorcese, Pollack, Altman, etc.), but also liked hearing about Hal Ashby, Bob Rafelson, the Roger Corman gang, and Bruce Dern. It was a fascinating decade for American film making. Young upstarts made the movies they wanted to make for chump change and turned the industry on its ear. It's exhilarating to hear, but also saddening to have to hear these giants of film history waxing nostalgic for their glory days. Sadder still to think of how many of them never reached the same heights after the decade closed. And the mutual appreciation club was never as rampant as when these guys start walking down memory lane.

It was a great time to make movies and I'm sad I missed out. But I heard there's this cool new thing they're trying out call "Digital Video Discs".


Farewell Bender Trailer

Farewell Bender

Some guys I know in LA know the guy who wrote and directed this. I loved what I saw of it. It's right up my alley.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I recently came across a new site controlled by NBC and Fox that features whole legally available episodes and clips and feature length showings of numerous TV series (Firefly, Saturday Night Live, The Office, all 3 seasons of Arrested Development, and more) and movies (The Usual Suspects, The Big Lebowski, Ice Age, Master and Commander, and more). It's like most free, legal video sites - there are advertisements during the episodes and movies and before clips. But it's not so bad to watch cool stuff.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Fierce People

This is a disappointing film not so much because I had high hopes, but because I spent two hours of my life on it.

A shallow coming of age movie pretending to have emotion weight and truths loses track of itself after it jumps into the world of these "fierce creatures". Character motivations are unclear and forced in a way that made me think maybe I had missed entire scenes that could explain actions or people that were never satisfyingly explained. People behave in ways that further plot rather than moving from a character's center or voice. The film hinges on a twist that is meant to surprise and enrage and change us, but in truth we always suspect that it was so even though we never believe the reason given for it being so.

The only highlight comes from the lead - Anton Yelchin. He seems to be a young actor of the moment and delivers a performance certainly deserving of a better film.


No Country for Old Men

No Old Country for Old Men is a brand new example of deserved critical hype. It's a damn good movie. It too is cynical about violence, about men, about the state of the world and the wages of sin. Evil takes a licking and keeps on ticking. And how often do we hear about awful things happening and think "what is this world coming to?" The answer is "no country for old men". Although, I guess this world's been effed up for as long as it's been turning, eh?

But as long as there's Tommy Lee Jones riding horses through my deserts, I'll feel alright about the mysterious, twisted, hell-bent Anton Chigurh's (a great performance deserving of awards by Javier Bardem).

But the kings are Coens. Two brothers still making interesting, entertaining, dark, oddly funny, and challenging movies after all these years.

It didn't move me as much as other films from 07 did, but I can only name a few that were better executed. And F.Y.I. - one of the best film adaptations of a book I can personally remember.


Snow Angels

This film had moments of real truth and others that rang false. When it was on, it was devastating. When it was off, the reality of the film is broken - odd given my next statements.

This film features broken people trying to do right, to be happy, to pick themselves up again, and then failing miserably. Then there are glimpses of hope, happiness, and simple pleasures before we are again reminded for the last time the effects of brokenness, mistakes, regret, and the like. That is the last thing we see before black and it is the feeling we leave the theater with. Life goes on, but it slows down and hurts for some of us. At first I thought the film had a cynical outlook, but now I'm thinking it's a realist film. Bitter and sweet at the same time.

It's not David Gordon Green's best film, but certainly nothing to be ashamed of. I was entertained and provoked into thought. I laughed. I didn't cry, but wouldn't not have felt manipulated if I had. This movie is honest even when the acting and the dialogue feel fabricated. Kate Beckinsale (who I like) is miscast. She doesn't fit in with the location, her co-stars, etc. She can cry, but the dramatic dialogue is case-in-point for the awkwardness that rubbed off on others (Nicky Katt especially).

I did love Sam Rockwell in the movie. He makes interesting acting choices. Even when he dangles over the unbelievable line, he keeps one foot rooted in reality. And the two young actors are case-in-point of the truth the film always finds its way back to.



I was happy to take in a foreign film in my Theology in Hollywood class. Blue was a good one - superbly aesthetically pleasing, quiet, and deeply introspective with interesting editing and directing choices. It's at once unforgettable and confusing. I have to admit there were part I didn't get, namely the significance of the images of the final montage. I also was unsure of the some things until friends and my instructor pointed them out - such as the authorship of the central musical composition. It's worthy of further discussion. Comments are welcome and encouraged.