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Monthly Report: May 2012

Compared to the previous two months, May was a bit disappointing in terms of both quality and quantity. The quality is unfortunate, but it’s due to knowingly dumb choices on my part. As for quantity, I was on my way to another movie-filled month until a certain video game called Diablo 3 derailed everything. No need to worry, though. I’ll be back in the swing of things sooner or later, with a planned Saturday viewing of Prometheus likely to get my film-watching back on track.

For now, enjoy this overview of the films I saw in May.

The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008)
I wish I had gotten to see this one before seeing The Avengers, because it’s hard to be all that impressed with the action here after seeing what Hulk does in that other movie. To be fair though, The Incredible Hulk puts in a good effort action-wise, as the stakes are carefully ramped up throughout the film. The climactic battle is satisfying. More problematic is the story, however. Bruce Banner is an interesting character, arguably moreso than the other Avengers, and Edward Norton is quite okay in the part. Unfortunately, Norton’s Banner disappears when CGI Hulk jumps into the fray, and the disconnect is there. The lack of strong supporting characters also hurts the narrative aspects of the film. Still, this remains a decent movie. The tale of an unwilling and tortured soul of a superhero is compelling, and the action is solid. The Incredible Hulk ranks somewhere in the middle when comparing the pre-Avengers films.
3/5

Frantic (Roman Polanski, 1988)
Well-crafted thriller in which Harrison Ford – at the top of his acting game – tries to find his wife (Betty Buckley), who has gone missing on their vacation in Paris. The first half or so is particularly good. The Pace is methodical, everything is uncertain and tense, and there’s a realistic tone to everything. Unfortunately, the film eventually boils down to something we’re more familiar with from regular Hollywood thrillers, and the atmosphere weakens a bit – something not helped by a few unnecessarily humorous touches. Still, Ford himself performs admirably from start to finish, and the end result is a positive one even if it doesn’t quite measure up to the Polanski thrillers of earlier days.
3/5

The Straight Story (David Lynch, 1999)
There were scenes and moments in this road movie that I found quite beautiful, but they can’t make up for the dullness that surrounds them. The mood of the film never quite seized me, despite a stunningly wonderful performance by Richard Farnsworth. I could see myself growing to like this movie with time, but for now, it’ll have to settle for lower marks.
2/5

Puncture (Adam & Mark Kassen, 2011)
The problem with basing a story on real events is that you need to stick somewhat close to reality. Puncture features an interesting tale of lawyers trying to work against a health care conspiracy, one I found myself quite engrossed in. However, the lead character (a very good Chris Evans) is a junkie, and this aspect eats up too much of the screentime for my liking. It feels like an unwelcome distraction. Still, you couldn’t really make the movie without touching upon it, I suppose. This one could have been even better than it was had it chosen a different way to tackle parts of its subject matter. Enjoyable nonetheless.
3/5

You Don’t Know Jack (Barry Levinson, 2010)
Al Pacino shows that he’s still capable of great performances in this biopic on Dr. Kevorkian and his struggle to legalize euthanasia. Unfortunately, the rest of the film can’t match him. As important as the issue is, it doesn’t make for a very interesting story. Pacing is also an issue as there are slow stretches where the plot doesn’t go anywhere.
2/5

American Pie Presents: The Book of Love (John Putch, 2009)
There’s a scene in this movie where an old ugly hooker is performing oral sex on a guy and uses her dentures to nibble his nipples. That actually made me snicker for a split-second. It’s the comedic highlight of this movie, the rest of which is absolute horse manure. No, wait, that’s not fair. Horse manure at least has useful fertilizing properties. This movie is worthless.
1/5

Hesher (Spencer Susser, 2010)
To begin talking about Hesher the movie, one must mention Hesher the character (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He has the kind of larger-than-life presence that commands attention. He’s a heavy metal Joker, only he’s in a family/grief drama with a slew of black comedy, rather than in a superhero movie. He operates on Hesher logic, something distinctively different from real logic. The movie is infected by his “agent of chaos” ways, and it makes for a really fun ride for the first half or so. It’s one of those movies where you have no idea where it’s going to go, which is a rare quality to have. That it eventually becomes apparent that not even the movie knows where it’s going is a shame, and Hesher the character becomes more of an ill-fitting obstruction than anything. When it’s all said and done, this film offers quite a few laughs and has some good acting on display, but it is also uneven and awkward. A for effort, but not for the end result.
3/5

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Mark Herman, 2008)
Holocaust drama from the eyes of a German child (Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield) who befriends a jewish boy (Jack Scanlon) stuck in a camp. The film does a pretty good job of filtering the unknown horrors of the situation through the main character’s innocence, and there’s little faulting the performances – I was particularly impressed by Vera Farmiga who plays the worrying mother of the protagonist. I’m a bit torn on the ending, though. It’s sad – like most holocaust films tend to be – but it also felt vaguely manipulative. I’m not entirely sure whether this was due to my own expectations of where the film was going or not. Nonetheless, I wasn’t entirely enamored by the way the story ultimately went. A fine film, but not a great one.
3/5

Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010)
Here’s a case where the selectiveness of the awards season can lead to conveying the wrong ideas about a film. Christopher Plummer got all the attention for his supporting performance as the old gay father, which had me thinking that this would be the sole stand-out quality of the film. Oh, how wrong I was. This is a wonderfully bittersweet movie from top to bottom. Oliver’s (Ewan McGregor) problems with love and commitment are juxtaposed with the situation his dad was going through, showing us the guards and masks we subconsciously put up in order to avoid hurting ourselves and others. This one tugs at the heartstrings in all the right ways, and the result is a great movie.
5/5

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (Uwe Boll, 2007)
I’m torn on what score to give this video game adaptation. I watched it and its sequel back to back, and this first one is certainly the better one. That’s not saying much though, because this is still a bad film. Are there enjoyable parts of it? Sure. While most of the actors sleepwalk through the movie, there are at least some that realize what kind of movie they’re in and decide to ham it up quite a bit – Matthew Lillard in particular. And there is at least some modicum of effort evident in making the film look good design-wise. I’m tempted to give it a score of 2, but… no. The Lord of the Rings-wannabe script is ridiculous, and Uwe Boll has no idea how to shoot action scenes. This gets a 1 and likes it. Only recommended for Jason Statham completionists. Like me. And even I regret seeing it. Uwe Boll has done it again.
1/5

In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (Uwe Boll, 2011)
And again. Because if there was one thing missing from the first one, it was a fish-out-of-water angle to the story where a guy gets transported from our world to medieval fantasy. And Dolph Lundgren in the lead instead of Statham. And tracing the plot of The Matrix rather than Lord of the Rings. This movie is an utter failure, even when compared to the already bad first film. In that one, there was at least budget (60 million dollars!) to get some name actors onboard and to stage big battle scenes. This one, by comparison, feels like some dozen guys running around the woods in shoddy LARP costumes. An even bigger problem is the fact that nothing really happens for most of the film. It’s not just a bad movie, but also a boring one. Stay the fuck away from this one.
1/5

Total # of new films seen: 11
Average score: 2.5 / 5
Best film of the month: Beginners
Worst film of the month: In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds

 
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Posted by on 31 May, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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Review – Road to Nowhere (2010)

I recently finished reading film critic Roger Ebert‘s memoirs “Life Itself”. In it, he shares a few tips for reviewing movies. Among these, one describes his approach to films he find hard to grasp: just describe what you see.

Well.

Road to Nowhere starts with someone inserting a disc into a laptop. On the disc is scribbled the words “Road to Nowhere”, and a film starts playing on the computer screen. Is it this film? We now see a woman (Shannyn Sossamon) sitting on a bed blow-drying her nails. This shot lasts for quite a while. Cut to an exterior shot of the house. A man arrives by car and enters the house. The camera lingers on the building for a long time, and then a gun shot is heard. Exit the woman and roll intro credits as she gets in the car and drives away. The intro credits include no recognizable names, not even Sossamon’s. The woman stops in a tunnel, gets out of the car and cries. Back in the car for more driving, until she stops again at a lake. Exit car once more and regard the lake, until a plane crashes into the water.

Well!

So begins Road to Nowhere, a dense and intricate neo-noir that always withholds a crucial piece of the puzzle from the viewer. Or maybe half the pieces. It’s a film that seem to demand a rewatch to comprehend, but on second thought, maybe it won’t. The film constantly toys with us, featuring a very meta film-within-a-film plot with characters shifting motivations and intentions from scene to scene. Right from the get-go, we’re forced to question whether what we see is reality or not, and whether the two just might be one and the same.

The plot circles around a crime, or a multifold of them. Insurance fraud, homicide and/or double suicide may be ingredients. Velma Duran and Rafe Tachen were the perpetrators. A film is being made about the case, with one Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan) as the director. He casts unknown actress Laurel Graham (Sossamon) in the lead as Velma, sensing that she’s a perfect fit for the part. She seems oddly reluctant to take the job but does so anyway. Mitchell and Lauren instantly fall in love, and their relationship will take its toll on the movie production where people starts grumbling about favoritism. One scene that calls for shot reverse shot on Lauren and the Rafe actor Cary Stewart (Cliff De Young) instead turns into an extended solo shot on Lauren. Pivotal parts without her gets handled quickly to give more time for Lauren scenes, even though Mitchell insists that she’s perfect in every take. Intrigue is added in the form of consultant Bruno (Waylon Payne with a southern drawl) who seems to be working on the side on investigating the crime.

Back to the real real world. Road to Nowhere is the first feature film by director Monte Hellman in over 20 years. If you’re familiar with him, it’s probably due to his most well-known film Two-Lane Blacktop from 1971. It’s unseen by me, as is the rest of his body of work. I wonder what kind of films he had to have made previously in order to concoct Road to Nowhere. Reading up on the director and the production of this film, it seems many elements might have been inspired by reality, adding yet another layer to the film. As if it needed more. I hesitate to call it impenetrable as there are are times where I think I might start seeing some sense, but then Hellman throws me for another loop.

Comparisons can be drawn to another enigmatic thriller about an actress: David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive. They both feature this conflict between reality and fiction to a great degree, and both defy full understanding. Lynch however seems intent that people take something away from Mulholland Drive (why else include a list of clues with one of the DVD releases?). That film has a mystery that we’re meant to solve, to some extent. Road to Nowhere is less clear about its intentions. A more immediately noticeable difference between the two movies lies in what the stories present. Mulholland Drive concerns itself with Hollywood romanticism. The following aren’t words I’d normally apply to Lynch, but that film is glossy and glamorous, not in tone but in its content. Road to Nowhere is its more grounded indie sibling. Here there are no boogymen hiding behind diners, no madly grinning pensioneers and no mysterious blue boxes. There’s crime, a movie production and an intangible sense of lurking danger.

And then there’s Shannyn Sossamon. I’ve always been very fond of her since I first saw her. Admittedly for mostly superficial reasons (she has my favorite smile in Hollywood), but she showed talent in the tricky and underrated Rules of Attraction. For the last few years she’s been relegated to TV shows and shitty horror films, but hopefully Road to Nowhere will be a turning point. The dual role of Lauren and Velma is her most challenging work to date, and her best too. It’s not an extravagant performance but an internal one, constantly churning and finding little ways of showing when it’s Sossamon acting and when it’s Lauren acting. If there is a key to unravelling the movie (or at least individual parts), Sossamon might very well be it. The rest of the cast all do their roles effectively, with Cliff De Young in particular impressing me with a similar if smaller double part.

Should you see this film? Yes, if it sounds like it’s your thing. Critics have mostly responded favorably, while public reception has been more of a mixed bag. I know I liked it. Its mysterious nature is one that fascinates and engages, even though the payoff might not fully deliver. The title might thus seem apt, but a road to nowhere still involves a journey, and what a journey it is. I have no idea what Hellman and writer Steven Gaydos were trying to say with this film, but I find myself wanting another crack at it in the future.

Score: 3/5

 
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Posted by on 20 October, 2011 in Reviews

 

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