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MisterWhiplash

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the dark and light of the Nazi's and theater, with Carol Lombard!, 22 July 2014
10/10

To Be or Not to Be is a film that carries the real horror and dread of Europe facing the threats and devastation of Hitler and the Nazis, and never forgets that, but is also a light, screwball comedy about the art of performance and the enjoyment we all get knowing someone is getting something over on another guy. Lubtisch's filmmaking and comic timing moves like a precise slab of butter (if that's a weird analogy), smooth and on point all the time.

It follows a Polish theater company that see a the Germans invading, bombing their town, and the two stars of the company played by Jack Benny and Carole Lumbard, embroiled in a plot with a Nazi-leaning professor and even going up to Hitler himself. Nevermind they don't have Polish (or even most German) accents, they don't bother pretending on that front ironically considering the trickery on hand. This is meant to be a piece of world war two theatricality that can and does endure because it deals with showmanship, actor ego (from Benny with his Hamlet to the side characters trying to get Shylock just right) and playing a character as it's main focus (if there's any modern film that owes It's debt to Lubitsch and how people put on ruses in such high stakes it's Inglouious Basterds, down to a climax in a theater full of Nazis).

And as funny as Jack Benny is, especially when his character reacts to that dear of a bomber pilot who has the hots for Carole Lombard, I think Lombard really makes this even better than expected. She's exquisite, ferocious, precocious, sexy, and yet terribly serious about her craft and the people she loves, plus the theater itself. You see just charm and grace radiating off her, and yet she completely gets how to make Mary always reacting and figuring things out. Benny is the big wonderful goof of the movie, while Lombard is the star.

Its sublime entertainment and I only regret not seeing it sooner; Mel Brooks made a remake in the 80s which is good but nowhere near the impact of this picture. Just the scene with the Germans marching into town and Lubitsch's cut aways to the citizens looking on in shocked-but-passive disbelief makes it a must see alone.

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
"Make sure it's black, or really dark gray" - Batman, 28 April 2014
10/10

A They Live for our times, but also with parts (or, ahem, 'blocks') of The Matrix, Kung-fu Panda, 1984 and every conceivable franchise that you and your kid would want to see in a LEGO movie. Innovative animation mixing stop-motion and CGI (where it stops and starts I don't know, that's the charm and wonder of the technique, like Robot Chicken if it had a budget, which one of the guys who does the show worked on the film so that makes sense), and almost non-stop comedy - even when it's not all huge laugh-out-loud laughs, there's endless cleverness but always with a goofy wink and slapstick. It's the Looney Tunes for our times. The ending isn't perfect - the message of everyone being "special" I think gets muddled with "everyone be creative", which aren't the same things though the directors try for both ways. But that's a nit-pick really; this is on the level of popular-innovative entertainment as Toy Story.

There's No Business Like Showing Body-Parts Business, 28 April 2014
7/10

I think when dealing with such a cinematic tableau as Blood Sucking Freaks, with its fiendish goateed midget, s & m and torture, cheekily done decapitation, dismemberment and torture, cannibalism on the verge of an outbreak of the living dead and sexual humiliation, the framing counts. All of this could very easily devolve into a Hershell Gordon Lewis debacle and be tasteless with only the freak show element to it. This is a freak show (as the title posits), but it's also, primarily, a satire on backstage dramas, complete with the melodramatic slave-driving (and in this case that's not too figurative!) director who wants to put something spectacular on stage but has to put up with the drama of putting it together. With, you know, flailing limbs and screaming stark naked women and ravenous pieces of flesh.

I don't blame anyone who finds this reprehensible trash, but I think why I enjoyed it much as I did - and though it's obviously not laugh-a-minute stuff, there's a very healthy if completely sick sense of humor and absurdity to it all - is that the filmmaker Joel Reed recognizes Its reprehensible trash. He makes his lead "Master" (And an actor at that who is having the time of his life playing a pretentious psycho) and cohort little man the real freaks, and in a sense this is almost like an inverted version of Tod Browning's 1932 film: a savage comedy on terrors and horrors, especially in the realm of shady show business (I mean, that IS where all those off-off Broadway actresses go to after all!)

A good deal of it is cringe worthy and hard to watch - a tooth extraction scene got to me the most - but so much of it is tongue not so much planted in cheek but sticking out the cheekbone that it's hard to take it seriously. This isn't to say there isn't some convincing gore and body parts flying about, and certainly the preponderance of naked ladies in either total buff or dominatrix get ups makes it bonafide 70s exploitation verging on sexploitation, but so much is done knowing it looks goofy and silly. And yet there's even a scene or two, like when the lead ballerina actress under the spell of the master performs and beats up the theater critic, that do have some non-too-shabby camera shots and lighting, making a delirious mood (a second rate clockwork Orange scene as per directed by an actor that is a second rate Peter Cushing why not).

Its almost no wonder then this was, I think, the first film acquired for distribution by an at the tome fledgling company called Troma in ny. Though at times perhaps more extreme than what even they put out - Kaufman admits on the DVD intro that if they were to acquire the film today they would have second thoughts - it's a ridiculous, self conscious, sometimes very smart, sometimes (no, practically always) very crude comedy of horrors (or horror of a comedy) that makes its villain a nasty but incredible presence, and some bad acting

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Oh Lord Yeah, 28 April 2014
7/10

No, still not a very *good* movie in the sense of it being awe-inspiring or inspirational - we're in a landscape that has inspiration, if not direct adaptation, of the works of Frank Miller after all - but as far as just being bone-crunching, Saturday matinée entertainment it does its job. And more importantly the hero and villain, Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green, are cast just about right, especially Green as the kind of villain(ess) who has a compelling backstory and holds the screen with lots of confidence and bad-assery. Also, not having Snyder as director (though apparently he wrote and produced it and did a more than competent job) was wise, since this time Murro, while sticking to the 300 formula of slow-regular-slow motion shots, gets either tired or tries just for the good ol' 24fps in the last third or so of the film.

It's certainly nothing super-smart, but I had fun.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
funny and engaging, but it may just need to grow on me over time, 28 April 2014
7/10

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, a tale of an old-lady womanizer (Ralph Fiennes, the reason if nothing else to see the film) who is accused of murder and up against an evil son and set in the backdrop of a fake-but-sorta-real European landscape in the mid 1930's, is at its best when it evokes a comparative feeling through its style that may or may not have anything to do with the film itself.

This I mean is the passage of time for cinema, as its in three times (30s, late 60s, briefly mid 80s) and had three different aspect ratios, largely shot in 1:33 (the square, not the widescreen rectangle for you laymans) And at this, of course, the film is always a pleasure to look at. That's a given for Anderson. His work here is especially colorful, every hue pops and shines even in that few minutes where it's Black and White on the train, and Fiennes and company are game to play along...

Yet, ultimately, I felt maybe a little-sorta let down following the one two punch of Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom. Though a lot happens in Budapest hotel and its oozing period detail (both real Euro and made up), it's ultimately a bug-eyed cartoon and only two main males, Gustav and his bell-boy-turned-surrogate-son Zero, have two dimensions with everyone else with one. And of course Willem Dafoe looks cool in black leather on a motorcycle (unintentional homage to his debut in the Loveless mayhap crossed with a second tier bond villain ?) and the music is sweet and catchy.

I just didn't see the characters having enough depth for me to care that much past the facade Anderson has made up. As with Fox and Life Aquatic to an extent, this is a world where many times you'll see this world created in the hotel and out as a diorama, and all Anderson and his cameraman shoot it impeccably. maybe, this time, TOO impeccably, for me. It gets to the point where even in its controlled pov you''ll know where the cameras going to move, who will be where, even what they'll probably say, filled with witty and sometimes very funny jargony speech.

And at the end of it all it's fun to watch, has a look that is unlike anything at the movies right now, and has the sort of bittersweet ending Anderson has made a hallmark of his career. It just doesn't stick with me and prod at me like the director does when he gives characters with firmer consequences at hand. And yes I know this story is in the backdrop of a (pre) war environment and involves falsely accused murder (if one must give the highest comparative praise, think the cultural refinery in Renoirs 30s pics with a Hitchcock yarn also from the 30s). But... too many characters, all drawn with broad strokes, and just when you think you're getting a handle on one like Ronans character shell slip away from the movie so long that the motivations get mixed up.

Recommended for being the work of a master stylist (And Jeff Goldblum cause he's who he is) but not recommended if you want a movie with something to say, which after Moonrise and Tenenbams and bottle rocket, I know the man's capable of.

5 out of 44 people found the following review useful:
What kind of movie is this, well..., 28 April 2014
8/10

... picture this: sitting at home and putting Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 on your on-demand and starting it up. For the first minute the screen is black, though there are sounds from the stereo of like rain-drops or an alley or maybe a sewer. Is there something wrong with the picture on my TV? Has it finally seen its last days? But then, a minute and a half into the movie, the first shot finally emerges as a slow (but not slow-motion) crane down from a brick ceiling to reveal a battered woman lying on the ground. And then comes the metal music, as if we're being assaulted for a moment ala Michael Haneke in Funny Games. And it's this that introduces us to "Joe", our protagonist (Charlotte Gainsbourg who, here is mostly just sitting in bed talking to Stellan Sarsgaard like an odd, perverted episode of In Treatment) lays it all out: how, from a very young age, she became infatuated, obsessed, couldn't get enough of sex.

Some thoughts on volume one... Some of the conversation parts about fly fishing get a little long-winded, even for von Trier, and same goes for the visual accompaniment. But there are some really, tremendous and fantastic set pieces here that veer between achingly funny comedy of (ill) manners (Uma Thurman's scene, where she plays a wife of a man who cuckolds with the younger version of Joe and brings her kids along to guilt-f*** him - seriously, it makes Larry David look tame by comparison as far as cringe comedy goes), and, a usual for von Trier but never unappreciated, punch-to-the-gut drama (Christian Slater, man, where did THAT come from?)

It actually took me a little while to get used to Gainsbourg's sort of detached voice-over. Once it clicked though, it clicked well. Even Shia LaBeouf is impressive, though playing a dickweed is not a stretch at all for him. And hell you can get once or twice a moment of actual eroticism amid the sorrow and dread - to give you an idea, that one Bach organ song I thought you would use for death/funeral music is used here to underscore a sex montage.

Not quite on par with his best, but it's still a remarkable achievement and it gets me excited for part 2 for sure.

1 out of 40 people found the following review useful:
oh boy..., 28 April 2014
7/10

One of those rare times when somehow, someway, a storyteller screws up so bad in the last minute of his four hour epic that it leaves a bad taste in your mouth - like, Stephen King's It territory here. I won't say what von Trier does, but believe me, you will almost regret having watched the rest of the film - or if you are already not into it, you'll want to bash your head against the wall for being so stupid. That's how incredulous this is.

A shame then as up until that one minute, this was growing on me (pun intended) even more than the first one, with Gainsbourg here more-so in the flashback chapters this time as it shows her older, more confused and disillusioned with her sexuality to the point of being a whipping post for Jamie Bell (aka Tintin (!)) You don't watch either of these films to get turned on; on the contrary, the entire enterprise would be a rigorous intellectual pursuit of sexuality if not for how equally rigorous von Trier writes his (Anti)heroine and how emotionally empty-and-then-full-and-sorrowful Gaisnbourg plays her.

It's a performance that seems low-key at times, just by how softly she speaks and cold she acts around people, but that is really a testament to how much she digs into this disturbed, lonely person, and wants us to feel something, anything, and we do, a lot of things. (As an aside, another annoying thing - doing a call-back to the opening of Antichrist. Come on, Lars, how many times are you gonna have that in your movies? At least this time it wasn't at 2000 fps but still! sorry, spoiler-ish digression).

So, ultimately a worthwhile experience, these two films, and taken as a whole I was amused, bemused, shocked (genuinely, including a particular scene where dirty talk about little boys in a playground to a nasty criminal is a scene that shook me to the core and was a true, unqualified provocation), wrapped up in the drama like it was an (anti)soap, and though the ending and a couple of other things got my goad, I hand it to the Dane he has once again succeeded in making a film that is like a "rock in my shoe" as he puts it about his oeuvre.

And one more note - Shia LaBeouf. I mentioned in a review of part 1 how I thought he was surprisingly good. In part 2 he's even better; sympathetic, emotionally available at every beat, like a sad puppy as opposed to the simple ass of the first volume (of course this isn't ALL that's to be seen, but then I'd be spoiling more than I'd care to, and isn't the same actor at this point anyway). Among a cast that includes the likes of Willem Dafoe and Stellan Sarsgaard, he more than holds his own. He may not be "famous" anymore, but as long as he can put himself in the hands of directors who know how to actually use him, I say go for it.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
"This isn't freedom - this is fear", 28 April 2014
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

So in short, this is what happens when you get Ed Brubaker to write the story (If not the script in full) to a Marvel movie, especially one he started on - you get the finest story and plot for a Marvel Avengers movie yet.

You may notice I don't say best; I'll get to my nitpicks later. In this story, we get one of those pleasurable superhero comic book movies that is so enjoyable and engaging because it's ABOUT something, and in this case it's the Captain America movie for our times. Where the first film was a good old flag waving salute to world war two, and perhaps would be best seen in that context, Winter Soldier is for the America of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, a time when secrets are being unveiled left and right and the NSA is probably everywhere and reading as I type out this review right now. And as a story I preferred only the first half of the first avenger more for its socio-political context before it became a two dimensional portrait of heroism - but here socio-political is the name of the game.

What happens in the film is fairly complex to go into spoilers which... ah screw it, its Hydra. they're back, they're really the "I was the one-armed man all along" sort of thing, and the conflict, what really gets the story to be so impactful, is the large scope of trust. Who do you trust, who do you become paranoid of (especially when there is already suspicion, following what happened with New York), and what happens when the Good American super soldier has to be surrounded by complete uncertainty ? And more than that, what if a certain winter soldier who appears to be a super assassin (his equal in fighting prowess and cleverly is designed and costumed like the dark side version of Cap all in black with dirty black hair and guns), is someone else entirely as well. Stakes stakes stakes.

That's all I hope to get in the substance of these movies, and I've gotten it more often than not in these marvel studios movies (even last year in the somewhat maligned iron man 3 we got a wickedly funny look at media manipulation). On top of this is clever casting - Also spoiler, Robert Redford is not who he appears either, and its using him in such a role that makes the film enjoyable as well. Here is a guy who is an icon of 70s politic thrillers, ie days of the condor And the candidate and all the presidents men - and his image is upsided but just perfect for a movie ABOUT America in uncertain times.

Its surprising for me too as I didn't think I cared too much about Sap after the first film, where he was the least interesting of the Avengers bunch; Steve Rogers seemed before to work best in the context of others, interacting with the other Avengers and the 'straight' guy. here that contrast gets amplified in a very compelling way, even against a character like Natasha Romanoff, who knows where she stands and tries to stay human - let's make a joke about a kiss at least - amid the chaos.

Another good thing as a side note, though it's a Captain America movie, it's also a Nick fury movie in some part and there it's also successful as you're never sure about this man in charge. What secrets does he hide, who is he protecting? needless to say as the audience you can't ever totally trust your own eyes. A question posed online recently was it this is the Best Marvel Movie Yet (in caps, pun intended). to answer this, if I still don't rank it completely on par with the two gold standard movies as far as just being great entertainments - the first Iron Man and the Avengers - it's some of the action from the Russo brothers that irked me.

Not ALL of it, and they're not as egregious as some of the offenders of quick cut/closely shot films. but as a personal preference I just didn't care for some of the fights and action set pieces (again, not all of them, I would love to watch the nick fury car chase/shootout in the streets of DC as it is intense and decent to follow (and even to compare to the slightly similar chase in the dark knight). In some scenes and shots at times I just couldn't tell what was going on as say a winter soldier and other gunmen attack the heroes.

But I can easily look past that enough to say this is a winner, a film that has something to say about the world we are currently living in, how times have really changed in 70 years and what happens when a man of total conviction as Steve Rogers is up against it (as well as some old revived villains). Its almost close to being a work, if one can see it as such, that could make people look twice and go 'maybe things should change when it comes to our government'. Oh, and it's a fun goddamn kick ads spy movie thriller as well where the story points feel organic and there's even pathos near the end for characters we haven't seen too much time together with but enough for it to count.

And Garry shandling as a senator!!

The Raid 2 (2014)
9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
the "best ever?" I dunno. But it is amazing., 20 April 2014
10/10

No, it's not perfect, it even has a couple of points where in the midst of suspension of disbelief you go 'huh, really?' And the villain is such a stupid man you almost can't believe it, ruthless he may be.

But I watched this film in part in the context of other action films, especially ones as of late. Evans moves his camera and his actors fast, and edits himself. Somehow though when the hand-held camera ops move things and go hand-held, it has purpose, it has drive, you know where everyone is in relation to one another, and there is not, far as I can tell, a drop of CGI blood spilt.

And it's not for the weak at heart. This is bone crunching, throat slitting, gun blasting, car smashing, set demolishing and head splattering violence. And I think a major point of the movie, in its theme as well as the physical nature of it, is this: you fight someone, or tens, or hundreds of people and kill many of them, it never ends. The violence here is the thrilling "Movie" kind of violence that is fun, but this come a closer to a visceral mania and danger one might see in Peckinpah, as opposed to a Taken or James Bond movie. And its with martial arts too. Oh boy it is.

Evans IS indulging here, maybe more so in the story than the action, which is saying a lot. I didn't expect to get majorly involved with the emotional life of the characters, but these are well drawn people on the whole. Of course there are also the types, the strong willed but (with a code) fair crime boss, his terrible progeny, and sinister side characters. These people are also here to accentuate the hero, Rama, who we are with every step of the way just for how deep undercover he's put into this crime family.

Again, nothing revolutionary with the story, but there is enough there - as there was in the first Raid - to keep a foundation for the action to spring from. And Evans isn't f***ing about here - this is action and fighting that is meant to push the envelope for what you can do in a fight, how far you can take the actors and stunt men until (or maybe it becomes) a cartoon springs forth, including a henchman - and hench-woman - who look closer to being in a Tarantino flick with a bat and hammers ready to kill. brutally.

We believe this main character as a person who really, actually, doesn't want to fight, but the situations he's put in... well, watch your head. Or your arms, or legs, or neck, or feet, or most other body parts. I believed he could do this, as in the first film, and it drove everything else to come. And as just a regular actor he can hold his own, within the dimensions of the script as it is. But what do these never-ending cycles of violence portend? even the ending seems to indicate it just won't stop.

The Raid 2 plunges us through hard boiled genre fiction into a completely corrupt society. And if you don't know how to fight, get out of the kitchen (no, really, get out, those two gentlemen have something they need to so). The Raid 2 is a superb, largely coherent and appropriately bleak example of what the genre can hold, and if it has imperfections in little moments it gets everything else so right that it's hard to carp. Its that overused critical expression - jaw dropping.

1 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
"All generalizations are false, including this one.", 19 April 2014
10/10

They say 'never forget 9/11'. Of course. I say never forget Rumsfeld, a man who at times seems fairly intelligent (cue up George Carlin's quick follow-up - "AH, he's FULL OF (bleep)!") and other times answers Errol Morris' questions in such a way where Morris just leaves the camera on him for a while afterward. There's almost that sensation looking at him like 'you stare at the abyss...'

And yet, he did offer up his resignation at the time of the Abu-Gharib scandal, which seems for me to be a new revelation - and by the way, this is as much if not more-so a follow-up to Morris' Standard Operating Procedure as it is the Fog of War, the story of the soldiers there doing the torture and the pictures, this time it's the "Captain" - though how genuine this was, and of course how awfully it makes Bush look for not accepting it, is up for debate. There are a lot of shots of the ocean here, at one point an 'ocean of words' even. I feel like this is a superb metaphor for the film and this figure - what do we see when we look at it? Why does it look so calm? Morris never shows an ocean in a stormy mode; just the very calm surface, at one point split right down the middle. But there's so much going on underneath it. Plus aerial shots of the swamps as well.

Morris' direction is impeccable as always, a fantastic, spot-on mix of news footage, many clips from Rumsfeld press conferences like when he first posited the 'known known etc' bit, as if he were giving out a portion of a script for a Jean-Luc Godard movie or some semantic babble (maybe poignant, but still babble). It almost has the effect, if only here and there, of the 'point-counter-point' method used on The Daily Show, showing him saying one thing here, another thing later. This isn't played for laughs, though, unless they are of the most highly uncomfortable, awkward, almost horror-movie variety.

This is someone looking head-on, and Morris has always been the great detective of documentary directors, and seeing how the facts pile up. But even here, what's remarkable, is that Morris puts his voice here more than I've seen him do in past films. And at one point in reaction to Rumsfeld saying he never read documents pertaining to a particularly egregious act of abuse on detainees, he says in incredulity "REALLY?" This film is a burning reminder what a slippery character Rumsfeld was and is. He also had a knack for being efficient back in the Ford and Regan era as an envoy - of course they make light of his meeting with Sadaam in 1983, but more telling is how much Rumsfeld wanted to meet with and did spend hours with one of his 2nd in command and, it's almost the sense, he kind of identified with him - but really his time in Bush Jr's Sec post was where he made his name for better and worse...

Actually, who really "knows" if it's for better, given with everything that he oversaw and approved of - or didn't approve but we can't really know what was approved or not approved (and then one gets into the "more you look the less you know" facet of things, which in this film and filmmaker carries as a an intense underlying ideology, but I digress sort of). It's fascinating to watch him and hear him talk, as much as it is almost creepy every time he gives his s***-eating grin. Not just the smile but the eyes as well.

What is he thinking when he says these things, responding to Morris as he did in his press conferences with questions that he answers himself? Morris uses a visual approach of dictionary terms at many points, as well as Rumsfeld's countless memos, and I got a sense of a man who was very much aware of what he was doing. And, at the end of it all, when Morris asks point blank "Why are you doing this, talking to me?" with "That's a vicious question... I guess you'll never know" I have to wonder if he does, or really doesn't.

The Unknown Known. I never have quite forgotten Rumsfeld over the years since he left his office in 2006, but this film brought back a flesh flood of memories along with that face and old but very much KNOWING eyes. At the end of the day, he is not a stupid man, or at least believes he isn't, has his own rigorous set of logic and follows it. That it also led it into two wars, one still going on, and so so so so many lives lost.... damn.


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