Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
A quantum leap for Eli Roth
Having just seen Hostel as the last film shown at the Toronto Film Festival, I was so impressed. Roth has honed his skill as a writer and director, giving us not only a huge leap over Cabin Fever (no mean feat in itself) but also a grand contribution to the sub-genre of Revenge films. Yes, the horror in the film is mundane (that is, not fantasy) but the measure of revenge scenes in the film is just perfect. Yes, the film is very violent and graphic, but for those of us who find a sublime beauty in that, Hostel will reward you in spades! Eli, I hope you remember me from the above statement and tagging CB as 'a horror movie in reverse' back a few TIFF's ago. I am anxiously awaiting your next film already! Everyone else, check into the Hostel!
Batman Begins (2005)
Nolan has made the best Batman film to date
How quickly in Hollywood has the term 'reimagined' become a cliché? With a heavy does of jade in my mind, I went to a preview screening of Batman Begins. When I left, I realized I had left that jade back in the theatre. Did I go back for it?
Not this time.
Batman Begins is fantastic.
Christopher Nolan has come back to form, awakening a sense of awe in contemporary cinema under the guise of genre. Working from a script he co-wrote with David Goyer, who himself penned the seminal modern genre film Dark City, Nolan takes a blank canvas and shows us he understands how to resuscitate a franchise that has been driven into the ground by conventionality and bombast. You don't just change actors, or art directors, or even writers: you must wring the very fabric of story dry of what pervaded the earlier films. There is no dark carnival of Tim Burton to be found here. What he develops now is a para-realism that hearkens to the writing style of Frank Miller, adding a realistic, emotional weight to the Dark Knight (ninja?). Christian Bale convincingly portrays Bruce Wayne as lost soul who possesses the will and the strength to fight the good fight, but not the direction. In his journey of discovery, we see Batman in a new light: he is now part Everyman.
There is an almost quiet majesty about this story. Have no fear, this does not mean this is not an action film, only one that one that does not alienate a thinking person. Nothing happens in the film without giving the audience a sense of understanding. Yes, this Batman is not about a black and white morality; rather, it is about trying to synergize a coda of that with a more mundane world. Yes, there are super villains, including a wonderful turn by Cillian Murphy as Dr. Crane, aka The Scarecrow, but here they are possessed of twisted motivations, but not outright villainy or malefaction. Theirs is the evil of blind ambition and a purity ethos that moved nations to global war in the past century in our world. Gotham is in peril beyond the decay of years now, thanks to this ambition.
In further distancing the film from its predecessors, Nolan brings in moody elements of horror and noir. Batman operates by instilling fear into his adversaries. We now witness this, from the discovery of the Bat Cave, to the stalking of drug smugglers at the docks. This is not four-color territory: this is pulp as if Hemmingway would have seen it.
The whole cast is wonderful, especially Michael Caine as Alfred, who becomes Bruce's compass to his memory of his slain parents, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, who becomes both weapons master and key support who complements Batman's burgeoning enterprise. Gary Oldman gives his most understated, yet organic performance to date as Lt. Jim Gorden, a good cop who sees Batman as an ally that we all know will last a lifetime.
After seeing the plethora of origin stories, not the least of which concluded the Star Wars saga, finally we have a refreshing take on an old character, as well as on a summer blockbuster. This film is a fine achievement that deserves a wide audience. We have a beginning that should have been the start of it all. This is a must see for the summer of 2005 and beyond.
Sin City (2005)
Hyper-Noir for today
I just came back from an advance screening of Sin City, and I can tell you this is one salient reel of pitch of a film. Think of it as film noir amped up for a post modern century. It comes across like most of Frank Miller's writing, modestly fantastic for the comic environment, but steeped long and hard in the tradition of the underground crime writers of the '40's. Visually, the juxtaposition of the rich B&W with digitally-hued Technicolor makes it hard to take your eyes off the screen. This film was tailor made for most of the people who have been following Miller's writing for the past twenty odd years, brimming with many of his trademark elements and visual style that he, along with Messrs. Rodriguez and Tarantino, capture brilliantly. Not for more sensitive or under aged souls, Sin City will burn like a fire that you have to watch for everyone else.
A gentle yet unfairly maligned summer film
There comes a time when the hive mind of tabloid readers swells into what Alexis de Tocqueville declared would be the downfall of America: the Tyranny of the Majority. In regards to Gigli, mere rumors swelled into a campaign to stomp out Martin Brest's latest film. Between the mere two-week play date in the greater DC area, to the ridiculous skew in the IMDB voting, it is obvious that Gigli has become the subject of a witch-hunt. This is sad, for what the maddening crowds are missing is a film that hearkens back to Brest's more successful film Midnight Run, adding in a quirky romance with East Coast gangsters under L.A.'s palm trees. No, it is not perfect, but it is light-years more coherent than a Dude, Where's My Car, more emotionally real than an I Am Sam, and far better cast than a Road to Perdition. There were no witch-hunts for those films, and one was not warranted here. If you still have the chance, think for yourself and see this film, then see if you can still declare it a failure. I declare it a reasonable success, which is far better effort than most of what we get in American cinema these days.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Wes Anderson's finest and one of the best of 2001
The genius of Wes Anderson has come full circle with The Royal Tenenbaums. A complex comedy that orbits issues of familial dysfunction, TRT's ferocious wit speaks to all of us on some level. The cast is uniformly wonderful, especially Gene Hackman as Royal. This is the tale of a clan of geniuses in decline, with their estranged parents and associated pretenders to the family. Each character is drawn in such an individualistic manner, this harkens to our sense of identity while providing a visual style that is again, an Andersonian achievement. Alec Baldwin's stoic narration coupled with stark super titles that flash staccato style add to the off-kilter ambiance of the pseudo New York dramascape. More outré than Bottle Rocket, more sagacious than Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums is a monumental accomplishment in visual storytelling, a milestone in Anderson's career, and one of the best American films of 2001.
A Love Divided (1999)
I can not believe such slanted, jingoistic material is getting passed off to Americans as art house material. Early on, from such telling lines like "we want to make sure they are playing for the right team" and manipulative framing and lighting, A Love Divided shows it's true face. The crass manner in which the Irish Catholics are shown as hegemonic, the Protestants as peaceful and downtrodden, is as poor a representation of history as early US westerns that depict the struggle between cowboys and American Indians. The truth of the story is distorted with the stereotypes and outright vilification of the Irish Catholics in the story; a corruption admitted by the filmmakers themselves! It is sad that people today still think that they can win moral sway by making a film so easily recognized for it's obvious intent, so far from attempting art. This film has no business being anywhere in any legitimate cinema or library.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Bravo! Baz Luhrmann's best!
On a better note, I went to a screening of Moulin Rouge last Tuesday evening. For the non-epileptic among you, I heartily recommend this one! It starts in a nearly cartoon fashion, then it segues into a bizarre fusion of traditional musical theatre and music video, an acid trip through Name That Tune. The cinematic stagings include some over-the-top pieces such as an all male rendition of Madonna's paean, Like a Virgin. This is a fantasy as ever as Andrew Lloyd Webber saw drama, and if you can be mesmerized by a Technicolor Dreamcoat, Baz Luhrmann's rather joyous answer to Aronofsky's not-so Requiem for a Dream will sweep you to a place you probably have never been: into an applauding hoi polloi of post-modern distinction. After the mind-numbing disaster that is Pearl Harbor, this film salvages the summer for me.
What Lies Beneath (2000)
A cliche' filled, New England gothic tale.
Amidst the moody photography of a lakeside area of Vermont, Robert Zemeckis's What Lies Beneath early on portends great possibilities for evoking a striking sense of eeriness and tension. Alas, that promise remains unfulfilled, as the film sabotages itself through unequal character development, overused fright gags (limiting the audiences' field of view to thrust something in it, or backing characters up just to have them meet up with something at the edge of the screen, for example) and a plot that audiences will likely recall from most any Movie of the Week. The talented Joe Morton's presence in the film is forgotten too soon after he is introduced, and Harrison Ford's Norman (don't ask about the Silvestri score, it's just too derivative) seems to have been written by multiple screen scribes kept in isolation, for he ends up contradicting himself throughout. By the end of this overlong film, the payoff, far more gentle than most summer fare requires) does more to save mood than generate excitement. Performances are all reasonable (Ford notwithstanding) but the load of cliches makes this a trite and lackluster blockbuster.
A three-generational journey to self
István Szabó's Sunshine is a three hour journey of three generations of Hungarian Jews in Austria from the turn of the Twentieth Century to (presumably) modern, post Soviet eastern Europe. Within each generation, Ralph Fiennes takes the role of a son of each of the previous generations' fathers (boy those Sonnenschein genes must be very dominant!) each of whom, in turn, deal with the issue of their identity and Jewish heritage in various anti-semitic environments. Unlike other films (including Schindler's List) Szabó doesn't turn the film into a polemic exercise on the Jewish experience in Europe this century, but instead weaves the tale into a broader, more universal concept of accepting of self and heritage. An international co-production spanning from Austria to Canada, Sunshine generally succeeds in providing an accessible, coherent, and beautiful story that will resonate with people from all over the planet.
Bossa Nova (2000)
Robert Altman with a Portuguese accent
While other comments here have focused on the 'feminine' quotient of the picture, it should be noted that Bossa Nova goes beyond the formulaic approach ala Return to Me, and instead goes for a more Altman-like approach. The confluence of a myriad of characters of diverse backgrounds (including Alexandre Borges [the star of the epic Um Copo de Cólera] as a soccer star about to be traded to an English League team) comes together in a fashion not unlike Altman's Nashville, with some winners and some losers, including nice guys. No, as mentioned earlier, this does not show you a gritty, realistic Rio, but after the fantasy Broadway song and dance sequence, who the hell would have expected it? Ultimately, the film leaves you feeling good, albeit a bit empty, like most summer fare here in the States.