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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Review – Beyond (Svinalängorna)

When we experience bad things in our lives, our natural instinct seems to be to distance ourselves from them. We do our best not to dwell on them. We move on, hoping that if we just ignore them they will fade away. Often, this works. Maybe we’ll carry the memories with us for the rest of our lives, but as long as the bad things in our past don’t affect our current lives, we’re content. This is what Beyond‘s main character Leena (Noomi Rapace) tries to do. She’s married and has two daughters and seems to lead a happy life. But as it tends to do in films, the past rears its ugly head. A phonecall from a distant hospital informs her that her mother Aili (Outi Mäenpää) is on her deathbed and that she very much wants to see her daughter before her time is up. Leena curiously rejects the idea, but her husband Johan (Ola Rapace, Noomi’s real-life husband at the time) talks her into it. Off goes the entire family on a trip to the farthest reaches of Sweden where Leena’s mother is waiting.

That’s one of the two time periods the movie hops back forth between. The other one is back when Leena was a 12-year old girl (played by Tehilla Blad), and we get to follow her life as her family moves into an apartment and tries to settle into the community, having just arrived from Finland. Her mother is constantly suspicious of others. Her father Kimmo (Ville Virtanen) is a recovering alcoholic, but one where a fall off the wagon seems more a matter of “when” than “if”. And her younger brother Sakari (Junior Blad) quietly and curiously observes everything the way some children do. Moving in to the new home is a joyous and hopeful time for the family, but we alreade see the warning signs of what may come. As the film progresses, the tumultous family life becomes more and more evident and we see just why adult Leena is none too keen on getting back in touch with her mother.

Beyond (Swedish title Svinalängorna) is the feature directorial debut of veteran actor Pernilla August. Swedes know her from many films, whereas those of you from other parts of the world might be most familiar with her from her role as the nanny Maj in Fanny and Alexander or her part as Anakin’s mother in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Beyond is an impressive directorial effort, especially in the ways it ties together its two different time periods. We might see something of present Leena that seems odd, only to have its origin explained in a flashback much later on, only for the film to segue back to the present with another cause-effect detail. This might get a bit too explicit at a point or two, but for the most part it’s engagingly orchestrated. I found myself fascinated by the story and structure, which lends the movie a potent mystery feel amidst all the drama. The two time periods are given equal importance, constantly intersecting and showing parallels. The fact that the present parts start out during daytime only to then take place entirely at night is another nice touch, providing a sense of a journey into darkness as Leena reconnects with her childhood.

It’s the actors who stand out in this film, however. Noomi Rapace garnered plenty of well-earned praise when she portrayed hard-as-nails Lisbeth Salander in the Millenium trilogy a few years ago. She’s even more impressive here, almost toying with the lingering memory of the Lisbeth role as Leena first starts out seeming stoic and indifferent only to gradually crack. Perhaps even better is her younger counterpart Tehilla Blad (who also played Lisbeth as a child in those three movies). There’s so much to recognize in the ways she copes with the mounting distress in her life, the way she hurries off to occupy herself with some mundane task when her parents fight or how she looks after her brother just as much for her own sake as for his. And yet happiness shines through in the rare times when she’s met with her parents’ approval. This is a tough task for someone so young, but Blad nails the performance. The supporting parts are equally good, with Mäenpää and Virtanen in particular providing brutal emotional energy to their parts. And in a less flashy role we find Ola Rapace, playing husband Johan as a calm and collected supporter, rolling with the punches to the best of his abilities. I’m somewhat reminded of Stanley Tucci‘s fine turn as Meryl Streep‘s husband in Julie & Julia, even if that film was decidedly more light-hearted than this one.

It took a little time to win me over, but I ended up really liking Beyond in the end. It’s a potent tale of domestic hardships, showing that the past can be hurtful no matter how much distance we put to it. There are scenes here of great discomfort, such as the icy indifferent stare of Leena as she watches her mother in the hospital bed, the painful arguing going on in her youth and how this manifests itself in the present with her and her own family. It’s a heavy film, not so much in content as in emotional toll. The story doesn’t break any new ground perhaps, but it’s fascinating and gripping nonetheless. Pernilla August has put together an impressive movie, and I’m eager to see what she’ll come out with next.

Beyond is Sweden’s submission to the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Oscar this year. I’m guessing the Academy will like it, but whether that’s enough or not to win the award is anyone’s guess. I do hope it makes it past the first round or two of the nomination process, if only so that more people will become aware of it and check it out. It’s a film well worth seeing.

Score: 4/5

 
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Posted by on 29 September, 2011 in Reviews

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2009

When I made my Top 10 of 2010 list a few weeks ago, there was a good reason for it. I had just watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World, which was the last of my major must-see films for the year. At that point, I felt confident in making a list I could get behind to an acceptable degree. So even though it came more than 8 months after 2010 ended, it felt warranted.

Justifying a Top Ten of 2009 list when we’re fast approaching 2012 is trickier. In fact, there’s always a certain degree of guilt involved in making any list. They’re “easy”, both to write and to digest. The blogging world is swamped by them. They’re not worthwhile content. Why rank movies at all? And so on and so forth. The reason for me doing this is that I think yearly top ten lists are a good way to get a feel for what a person’s taste in film looks like. When I come across a blog that’s been active for a few years, I often check to see if they have any lists of this sort. I enjoy seeing what people have picked, and sometimes I’ll get alerted to films I haven’t heard of before, or am pursuaded by someone’s enthusiasm to check out a movie I might have dismissed earlier. For me, reading them serves a purpose. And thus, me writing them might provide some of you similar benefits.

Since this blog isn’t very old, there hasn’t been time to provide any yearly lists like this. So I’m doing them retroactively, one year at a time, moving back through the years. I don’t intend to drown you in them, mind you. Maybe one every couple of weeks or so, when I feel like updates have been a bit slow and I can’t come up with anything more interesting to write about. Regardless, I hope you’ll enjoy them in one way or another.

So. 2009. Not my favorite year in terms of movies. Plenty of films “very good” but not “great”, a whole bunch of let-downs and a couple of real stinkers (supreme bore-fest 2012 and painfully unfunny Year One chiefs among them). The real highlights were scarce compared to other recent years. Nonetheless, the ten films listed below all endeared themselves to me in one way or another. I can look at this list and really like what I see.

This is 2009 strictly as listed on IMDB, by the way. And please do keep in mind that these are my favorite movies of the year and nothing more.

10 – THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (Steven Soderbergh)

“If they wanted you to be yourself, they wouldn’t be paying you.”

This one I wrote about in my post on overlooked films of the 2000s. While it didn’t quite hold up to my first impressions when I rewatched it, it still remains a fascinating look at the life of an upscale call girl (played by porn star Sasha Grey) during the financial crisis of the late aughts. Steven Soderbergh, never one to settle for a defined personal style, here opts for a bare-bone realistic tone, with long static distant shots as if the camera is spying on the proceedings. Perhaps a bit too sterile for some, but I found The Girlfriend Experience very captivating. It’s one of my favorite Soderberghs. Bonus: Watch it with friends and giggle when one of them goes “Who is that actress? What else has she been in? I know I reognize her from somewhere!”

9 – AN EDUCATION (Lone Scherfig)

“It’s funny though, isn’t it? All that poetry and all those songs, about something that lasts no time at all.”

Every year, there seems to be one bright new young starlet who arrives on the scene from out of nowhere. In 2009, that actress was Carey Mulligan. She’s thoroughly convincing in the touching coming-of-age drama An Education, playing 16 year-old Jenny in 1960’s England, a girl tired of the world she’s in who finds herself whisked away to a life of romance and glamor by a charming stranger (Peter Sarsgaard). Not the most unique of stories, but one told exceedingly well. Also features a great supporting turn by Alfred Molina as Jenny’s father.

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Posted by on 28 September, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Rewatch Review – Bitch Slap

The first time I watched Bitch Slap was with a couple of friends. The general concensus we formed at the time was that it wasn’t a very good film. This isn’t a hard conclusion to come to if one were to just hear about it as there’s precious little about it that indicates quality. Yet something kept bothering me about the movie. It’s not like it has any aspirations of greatness. It’s meant to be mindless fun, and that’s not something I have any problems with in general. So why didn’t I like it? Was it in fact intentionally “bad”? What is “bad” anyway? I made an offhand comment on Twitter the other day about how it’s the worst movie I’ve ever wanted to rewatch, and along came Travis McClain to argue that it actually was pretty good and I was just being a snob. A snob! Me! Crank is one of my favorite films, for God’s sake! Surely this couldn’t be the reason for me not liking Bitch Slap. So what was it then? One rewatch later, and I think I might be a step closer to the truth.

But one thing at a time. Let me first describe the premise. Three attractive women arrive by car to a remote trailer in the desert. There’s calm and intelligent Hel (Erin Cummings) who appears to be the leader of the trio. There’s tough ex-con Camero (America Olivo), the unhinged one who’s always a hair away from a violent outburst. And last but not least is ditzy stripper Trixie (Julia Voth), who’s strangely enough presented as being nigh-supernaturally beautiful, presumably because she has more make-up on than the other two equally pretty girls. Also: In the trunk of the car is a badly beat-up and tied-up gangster called Gage (Michael Hurst). Why these people have arrived at this location is gradually unravelled as the movie progresses, but it’s established early on that the women are looking for a treasure of some kind and that Gage might know where it is. The brunt of the movie takes place at this hideaway, with backstory being filled in through flashbacks.

Bitch Slap is essentially an homage to the exploitation flicks of the 60s and 70s, with hot chicks and violence on the menu at Casa del Gratuitousness. It’s the kind of film that makes Wild Things seem dignified. When the women exit the car at the start of the film, the camera immediately zooms in on their generous bosoms. When they get tired from digging around in the sand, they cool off by dumping buckets of water on each other in slow-motion. And the violence is certainly there too, including but not limited to a razor-yoyo-wielding Asian (played by Minae Noji), a ludicrously big gun and a couple of pretty spiffy cat-fights. It’s all very over-the-top of course, but never quite crossing over into full-on parody territory. The dialogue is a different matter though, and it’s my favorite aspect of the film by far. No movie can be all bad when it features gems of lines such as “Lube my boob, skank twat” and “Ram this in your clam bake, bitch cake”. The pièce de résistance is this gem, however: “I’m gonna booty-bang bitch slap your fucking ass until you’re just this side of salvage. Then I’m gonna ram-ride girly’s show tits asunder before I plow both of you bitches under!”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So there is stuff to enjoy about this film, and I did like it a bit better on this solitary second watch. I still hesitate to say that it accomplishes its goals fully, though. The chief problem is that despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink at us in terms of blood and titilation, it’s not consistently funny. The schtick grows old too fast, and the film has little to back it up with. At 106 minutes long, it drags. 20-30 minutes earlier would have been a better time to roll the credits. Another issue I have is that the film comes off as too polished. For a movie inspired by old exploitation films, Bitch Slap actually looks fairly good visually. Too glossy, if you will. Death Proof, while very far from perfect, did a better job in recreating the genre’s look in modern times. Bitch Slap has too many cool explosions and fancy effects going on. The blatant green-screen work in the flashback sequences, on the other hand, is just the kind of thing that feels right for the material even if the technology wasn’t quite there yet when the originals were being made.

The film isn’t actually bad. It’s lurid trash, of course, but it’s not bad. Bitch Slap is an almost decent action flick masquerading as a crappy b-movie in a tailor-made costume. The story itself isn’t anything special or captivating, but the almost Memento-ish structure of the flashbacks, where we step by step move back in time to find out how things got started, is solid. Not that I care about what’s going on (because the film lets us know early on that we’re not meant to), but I can appreciate the way it’s presented to me. It’s competently put together in terms of shot composition and editing and the like. Compare this to the mess that is Zombie Nation and you’ll see what I mean. Director/write/producer Rick Jacobson and his colleague Eric Gruendemann know what they’re doing. They’ve previously worked on TV series such as Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and as a bonus the main players from those shows all pop up for cameos here: Lucy “Xena” Lawless, Renée “Gabrielle” O’Connor and Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo.

So, bottom-line: is the film worth watching or not? I’ve been hee-hawing back and forth on this all day. I will concede that I took the film a little too seriously on my first viewing, not fully embracing the silliness going on. I mean, everyone involved is in on the fun and nobody has any delusions about what they’re doing; the actors ham it up completely (Olivo and Hurst in particular both chew the scenery like there’s no tomorrow) and we jump from one ludicrous situation to another. There is not an iota of pretentiousness to be found anywhere. And while it’s true that the movie drags a bit here and there and runs too long, there is enough fun to be had up until that point that you’re not likely to be too bored. I’m feeling generous here and will give it a score of 3/5. It’s not “good”, but I can’t say I regret seeing it twice. That should count for something.

Score: 3/5

 
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Posted by on 24 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews

 

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Some Oscars thoughts this early in the race

With Venice, Toronto and Telluride over and done with, awards season is underway. This is always a fun time of the year for me as a movie fan, so I’m sure I’ll be chiming in as the journey to the Kodak Theatre progresses. What fascinates me is of course the films themselves (though I won’t be seeing any of them anytime soon myself, unfortunately), but also the race. The PR strategies employed by the studios. The jockeying for position. The films that fail to gain traction despite heavy pre-hype. The contenders that arrive from out of nowhere. Trying to gauge the Academy’s taste is something people often say is easy to do (hence the idea of Oscar bait), but AMPAS can be very fickle indeed. Always be prepared for the unexpected.

But it’s very early in the race, and speculating about what’s going to win at this point still seems a bit premature to me, especially considering all the films that haven’t been seen by anyone yet. As I said, I haven’t seen any of the films myself, and I don’t have any juicy inside info to offer. There are other sites than mine that offer more up-to-date news and analyses of the whole thing (I highly recommend In Contention).

So what do I have to offer Oscars-wise at this time? Just my own random thoughts and observations.

We still have no clear frontrunner for Best Picture, which is a pleasant development. Anything can still happen. By this time last year, The King’s Speech was the film to beat already (though doubts would arise as the year came to a close). Same with Slumdog Millionaire three years ago. But now there’s still life in the race. The Descendants is looking strong so far, but it’s a comedy, and AMPAS are generally reluctant to give films like that their big prize. There’s summer’s big surprise hit The Help, but it’s going to need a good push to stay fresh in people’s minds. Political drama The Ides of March seems like it would be right up the Academy’s alley, but it has met with solid-but-not-great critical reception. The Tree of Life remains a big question mark. And there are plenty of big ones still unseen, such as Clint Eastwood‘s J. Edgar, Stephen Daldry‘s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse.

Gary Oldman, Oscar hopeful

In contrast, the Best Actor field seems to be stabilizing somewhat. George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Gary Oldman (looking for a long overdue first nomination for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) have all gotten the necessary praise and seem safe bets, along with recently unveiled Moneyball‘s Brad Pitt. And barring a complete flop by J. Edgar, Leonardo DiCaprio appears likely to join them. Who could oust any of them? Michael Fassbender, for one. Both Shame and A Dangerous Method could do it for him. Ryan Gosling maybe, whether it’s through Drive or The Ides of March.

Speaking of Drive, I have no idea what it will have any chance at being nominated for. Critics have loved the hell out of it, but what branches of the Academy will take a liking to it? Maybe none at all. I could easily see that happening.

People have been talking for way too long about how Best Actress will come down to Glenn Close vs Meryl Streep. The latter’s The Iron Lady still hasn’t shown, but I’d put my money on Close of the two. There’s a better story to be told with her winning for Albert Nobbs. Hopefully something will heat up this discussion though, because it’s been stale for months. I’m hoping for a late resurgence of Tilda Swinton love myself. What happened to We Need to Talk About Kevin anyway?

And what’s going to happen to Woody Allen‘s Midnight in Paris? It raked in more money at the box office than any of the director’s previous films and was being called the first possible Best Picture contender of the year. But therein lies the problem: it arrived way back in spring. What can be done to keep it in the running? An Original Screenplay nod seems likely, in any case.

Not happening.

Remember when people were talking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Super 8 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes as possible Best Picture nominees? Oh the joys of summer speculating. None of them seem very likely anymore, do they?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems to be a return to his dark 90s thriller roots for David Fincher. Which is great, because those movies of his were excellent. Don’t expect the Academy to fawn all over it, though. They were very happy to ignore Fincher until he started playing to their tastes with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I am not expecting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to be an Oscars contender at all, except possibly for star Rooney Mara.

Pixar’s Cars 2 made tons of money this summer but is by far the studio’s worst received film yet. This means that their usual playground Best Animated Feature might be an exciting category for once. Will The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn strike gold, or will its motion capture make the Academy deem it ineligible? If that one’s out of the running, Rango might be the horse to beat.

Nobody’s talking about Sweden’s submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category, Pernilla August‘s Beyond (Svinalängorna). We haven’t won that Oscar since 1983. I don’t think that’ll change this time around.

Finally, some largely baseless early Oscars picks. Please don’t hold me to these even a week from now. I’m just guessing. I still reserve rights to proudly proclaim “I told you so!” if I happen to be right, however.

Best Picture: War Horse

Best Director: Steven Spielberg – War Horse

Best Actor: Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Best Actress: Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs

Best Supporting Actor: Nick Nolte – Warrior

Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay: J. Edgar

Best Animated Feature: Rango

Best Foreign Language Film: Poland – In Darkness

 
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Posted by on 20 September, 2011 in Oscars

 

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The Book and the Movie – Revolutionary Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t meant to take so long for Richard Yates‘ highly acclaimed novel Revolutionary Road to find its way to the big screen. The book was released in 1961 and was planned to be adapted to film soon after, but problems with putting together a usable script and distribution rights kept the movie project in development hell for decades. It wasn’t until 2008 when the finished film was actually released. By then, Yates himself had been dead for 16 years. So it goes.

Set in 1950s America, the story told is of the middle-class married couple Frank and April Wheeler (in the film played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet). They live in suburban Connecticut, with Frank working a dull office job while April looks after their two kids. As the drudgery of suburbia starts taking its toll on their marriage, they hatch a plan to move to Paris to give Frank time to find his purpose in life and become all that he can be. Complications arise however, and the marriage keeps crumbling.

The movie follows the novel quite faithfully in terms of plot. Some parts are left out, but it still mostly plays out the same way in both mediums. A lot of the dialogue is also lifted straight from the source with no rewriting, which works well since it gives a sense of accuracy to the language of the time period. Screenwriter Justin Haythe has put forth an effective script here, one that hits most of the notes of the book while still keeping things running smoothly.

The novel is told mostly from Frank’s point of view, with a few choice passages devoted to April, their neighbors the Campbells and their realtor Helen Givings. In the movie, April gets a bit more room to play and we see things a bit more from her perspective. This is a smart move as she’s a crucial character, and in a medium where one can’t delve as much into Frank’s thought process, something else is needed to add richness to the relationship between the two characters. They come off as more on equal terms here than in the novel, even if it still remains largely Frank’s story.

Indeed, the thing I miss most in the movie is partaking in Frank’s reasoning. He’s constantly rationalizing and planning ahead in the novel, especially during a prolonged period of arguement between him and April which he strategizes as though it was a military operation. Another thing the movie fails to go into is Frank’s feelings towards his father. Some scenes in the movie concerning this took on a somewhat different meaning for me when I rewatched it after having read the novel.

Director Sam Mendes does a lot of things right with his adaptation, however. Revolutonary Road isn’t the first time he’s made a film about people trapped in suburbia. His debut American Beauty dealt with the same subject matter, so it’s something he’s familiar with. He still finds new ways and angles to approach the themes, though. One striking sequence early on in the film shows Frank on his way to work, surrounded by people just like him, men in the same suits and the same hats, mulling about like ants in an ant farm. It’s a great way to visualize Frank’s feelings of being stuck in mundanity when he and April have always considered themselves to be special and destined for better things. Thomas Newman‘s score, including the recurring main theme, is also a big point in the film’s favor.

And then we have the actors who uniformly do a fine job. Winslet is the stand-out, always giving off the imprssion of believability despite the shifting moods her character goes through. DiCaprio is vivid as Frank, always on edge. When the role calls for him to really fly odd the handle, he doesn’t disappoint. The two actors have great chemistry together and not once am I reminded of them being star-crossed lovers in Titanic a decade earlier. They embody their parts here very neatly. In the supporting cast we find a solid pool of talent: Kathy Bates, Dylan Baker, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Michael Shannon and others. All good or great.

I found the film quite enthralling the first two times I saw it. It’s a striking portrayal of the hopeful 50s and the pressure that time could create, with enough new facets to the image of suburban life to keep it from becoming a retread of American Beauty for Mendes. Through the actors, the score, the set designs and much more, Revolutionary Road is a great film in its own right, and one that holds up surprisingly well even after having read the novel.

That being said, I do like the book better. We get much better insight into the characters, and this really helps to create even more nuances and depth to the themes of the novel. It’s one of those things where the film doesn’t feel lacking for not having it, but the book is very much enrichened by it. Yates doesn’t utilize the kind of extensive vocabulary that’s on display in the other books I’ve talked about on this blog (Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road and Rex Pickett‘s Sideways), but this is not a minus. The prose flows really well and it’s easy to get caught in the characters and their loves. It’s a proper page-turner even when you know how it’s going to end.

So in conclusion: great film, greater novel. Pick whichever medium suits you best, but if that’s a tie, go for the book. It’s a story well worth experiencing either way.

 
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Posted by on 17 September, 2011 in The Book and the Movie

 

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Better late than never: My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2010

Most critics and bloggers put together their Best Of The Year lists at the end of the year. That doesn’t work for me. Many films take a long time before they arrive here in Sweden, a problem hardly alleviated by American studios scheduling a lot of quality stuff for awards season at the tail-end of the year. So by the time the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, I’ve never seen all the films I feel I need to in order to make a list that has any chance of meaning anything.

But by now I feel like I’ve caught up on a lot of my personal must-sees of last year, so the time to make my own list is at hand. That’s not to say I’ve seen all there is to see. I’m particularly underwatched in non-English language films still, not to mention documentaries which people were saying had a banner year in 2010. But the great thing about lists is that they’re never set in stone. This list only reflects my feelings today, and might well look radically different one year from now.

There isn’t a ton of surprises on this list of mine, which I’m okay with. So far I’ve mostly focused on seeing the films people are talking a lot about. As time goes on, I will hear about and track down the smaller films, the forgotten gems, the new cult classics. The further removed you are from a year and the more you see, the more eclectic your list is bound to become. Time changes everything.

So here are my ten favorite movies of 2010 (note: listed as 2010 on IMDB), a particularly strong year of cinema in my opinion. Many films were hard to leave off, but that’s the way it is. No honorable mentions, no consolation prizes, no mercy. Just ten films that I love.

10 – GREENBERG (Noah Baumbach)

“There’s a confidence in you guys that’s horrifying. You’re all ADD and carpal tunnel. You wouldn’t know Agoraphobia if it bit you in the ass, and it makes you mean.”

Some people can’t stand the quirky characters Noah Baumbach comes up with. I can’t get enough of them. In Greenberg, we’re treated to two stand-out examples. One is the titular Robert Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a man angry at the world and obsessed with his own misery. It’s arguably Stiller’s most nuanced and impressive performance, in some ways his own Punch-Drunk Love. The other is Florence (Greta Gerwig), a woman whose life is in turmoil yet she still can’t help but bend over backwards to help people. Gerwig is even better than her co-star. A grimly funny film, true to life if not the one we live.

9 – THE SOCIAL NETWORK (David Fincher)

“Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”

David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin play loose with the truth as they tell the tale of how Facebook came to be. Those wanting the real story ought to look elsewhere. The rest of us can enjoy the quick razor-sharp dialogue, the impressive performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the Trent Reznor-penned score and a fascinating tale of how in the pursuit of connecting people, two friends can drift farther apart than ever.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 13 September, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Rewatch Review – Taxi Driver

Watching Martin Scorsese‘s Taxi Driver, I force myself to remember another film: Mark Romanek‘s feature debut One Hour Photo. It doesn’t take a lot of prodding as there is a fair amount of similarities. Both deal with loners, characters who struggle to connect with the people around them. Both movies’ protagonists see injustices being committed and decide to do something about them. One crucial difference is how towards the end of One Hour Photo, we’re given a possible explanation for the Robin Williams lead character’s actions and behavior. It doesn’t work. It feels tacked on and unnecessary, and leaves a bit of a sour taste as it closes off an otherwise skillfully made psychological thriller.

I force myself to remember this because Taxi Driver’s protagonist Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is so fascinating and enigmatic, and we’re never told what has made him the way he is. Curiosity gnaws on me, yet I realize that I’m probably better off not knowing. The guessing is part of the fun.

Who is Travis Bickle? He’s lonely, but he doesn’t like it that way. He’s socially awkward. He’s an insomniac. He takes a night time job as a taxi driver in New York City. He seems uncomfortable and distracted when talking to his colleagues. He knows squat about politics, pop culture or anything at all. He’s a former Marine, or so he claims. He keeps a journal, providing us with clues to his psyche in voice-over narration.

The first thing we see in Taxi Driver is smoke billowing up from a manhole cover, intercut with close-ups of Travis’ eyes. Is Scorsese saying that Travis’ vision is obscured, or that he see clearly through the fog enveloping him and the city? We can be certain that he sees something, at least. Or we might call it something, but to him it’s everything.

“All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

One temporary shining light in his life is Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a woman whom he sees as angelic and beautiful. She works with the presidential campaign of Senator Palantine (Leonard Harris), whose platform Travis knows nothing about but is willing to put up with just to spend time with Betsy. But they’re incompatible, despite what he says about there being a connection between them. Travis isn’t compatible with anybody. On their first night out, he takes her to a porn theater. It’s the kind of movies he likes seeing, so why wouldn’t she? The result is predictable.

When he’s rejected by her, Travis becomes more destructive. He’s sick of the scum of the city that comes out at night and wishes something to be done about it. But what can he do? He’s just “God’s lonely man”. His mounting feelings of impotence are only heightened when he can’t even save child prostitute Iris (a 13 year-old Jodie Foster) from her rough life under a small-time pimp (Harvey Keitel). He buys a small arsenal of guns (leading to the iconic “You talkin’ to me” scene), but odds are even he doesn’t know what he’s planning to use them for at the time. He desperately seeks a purpose, some way to do good, but he’s unable to find the right outlet. Even when he performs a random act of kindness by preventing a robbery, it doesn’t even seem to register on him.

This much we do know or can reasonably deduct about Travis Bickle, but so many questions remain. Was he really a marine? Did something happen to him during his service? What are the pills he takes, only to then stop? Why does he lie in letters to his parents about having a secret government job? And just what is going through his mind as he sits in his apartment, watching people dance and have fun on TV, his head leaning against the barrel of his .44 Magnum?

Oh, right, this is supposed to be a review. Well, Taxi Driver is a great movie, of course. It’s not for everyone, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you probably should. It’s beautifully shot, Bernard Herrman‘s score is tremendous and the atmosphere is rich at all times. And yeah, Robert De Niro hits all the right notes and then some in his performance. If you wonder why I’m “only” giving it a 4/5, it’s because I don’t like it enough to give it the full monty. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that the film isn’t superb, because it is.

“All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that one should become a person like other people.”

Now, excuse me as I go ponder Travis some more. Not having all the answers can indeed be a good thing.

Score: 5/5

And with that, my rewatching project comes to an end. Thanks go out to everyone who voted on what movies I should see (I’ll rewatch them all eventually, even if I don’t write reviews of them).

 
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Posted by on 12 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews