Friday, March 09, 2007

Saturday Document Dump number one.

There's some internal trouble in the Greenwich Villiage Gazette, so here the reviews that should have been put up.

Wild Hogs

Directed by
Walt Becker

People have bills to pay. You have them, I have them, rich and poor alike owe people money and credit cards fees go up exponentially with minimum monthly payments. So what's a formerly major movie star to do? Make a movie like this, of course.

Touchtone is Disney, we've always known that. Disney-brand live action comedies have generally followed a certain formula, and for the most part, they're terrible. This is a Disney-brand kiddie comedy targeted at grown-ups. Paint-by-numbers, cookie cutter, you name it, it's all the same thing. Brad Copeland, who did some excellent TV work, has written a basically lazy script

Doug(Tim Allen), Bobby(Martin Lawrence), Dudley(William H Macy) and Woody(John Travolta) are a group of middle aged men with middle aged jobs, who like to pretend they're bikers. With the permission of Doug's wife(Jill Hennessy) [Bobby's(Tichina Arnold) doesn't know, and the others don't have any], they head off for a weeklong road trip, have zany adventures, and get into trouble with a REAL biker gang run by Ray Liotta, which leads to the preordained confrontation and happy ending.

The only reason to see this film is the cast. We're talking about people who've won or were nominated for an Oscar (Marisa Tomei, Macy and Travolta), Golden Globes (Liotta, Allen, Macy, and Travolta), and various other “major” trophies. Everybody seems to be having a wonderful time reciting the generally terrible lines, and on occasion there are actually some real laughs and a whole bunch of giggles in-between. The entire cast aquits itself and none do anything so embarrassing that they can continue to have something to fall back on when they make bad investments.

Worth a look when it gets on cable, which should be soon.


Directed by
David Fincher

We'll begin with the spoiler because this is based on a true story and everyone is supposed to know it anyway. The Titanic sinks-Surprise!!!! Zodiac got away with it. They never actually found the guy. This is will not ruin the movie-going experience for anybody.

The film begins on the fourth of July 1969 with the second set of murders, and follows the case for next thirty years. This isn't as much about the murders as the reaction to those murders. David Fincher is one of those directors who's a specialists in thrillers, and this is kind of his masterpiece. It's two and a half hours of tension and boredom, burrowing into the lives of the investigators and press as the case goes from white hot, to eventually very cold as decade follows decade. This is Fincher's tribute to the passage of time.

After the initial murder, which takes up quite a bit of time, the film moves it's focus to the newsroom of the San Francisco Chronicle, where political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is starting out his new job. The Zodiac has just sent a letter with a coded message to the paper and made some threats. As Graysmith watches from the sidelines, crack crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) takes on the case. This puts him in conflict with SF police inspectors David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) and their boss(Dermot Mulroney), after the Zodiac kills someone in the city proper [the others were in the suburbs], and the two detectives in conflict with the cops in the suburbs(John Ennis, Elias Koteas, and John Hemphill some others).

The hysteria over the murders and Zodiac's love of puzzles, something he forces on the public, basically takes over the media, and the circus that follows. He even takes over the airwaves when he forces famed attorney Melvin Belli (Brian Cox) to talk to him on a TV show. Parts of the film are actually rather funny, but the tension never waivers, even when the case cools down and people's lives begin to collapse along with the case. Time is as much a character in this film as are any of the principles.

The depiction of time is deftly handled. Greysmith, who's obsession with the case never waivers and by the last third of the film is the only person who's still interested, is newly divorced with a young child when the film starts and by the end is breaking up with his second wife(Chloë Sevigny), with whom he had some more kids. Most impressive is the use of archival footage of the construction of the Transamerica pyramid. That was cool.

The acting is fantastic throughout. Downey gives one of his best performances to date, stealing every scene he's in, and so does Cox. Ruffalo clearly reflects the frustration the audience feels as the film goes on and on and on. Gyllenhaal is understated as the heart of the film, and John Carroll Lynch is slyly ominous as the prime suspect.

As great as it is, the film is ultimately disappointing. It dwells on minutia, which it has to, and unlike most “fiction films”, which have to have a satisfying ending [a point Fincher makes clear by having most of the cast attend a screening of “Dirty Harry,” which itself was loosly based on the Zodiac case], this doesn't. But that doesn't mean that this isn't worth the time to see this, just bring a pillow for your butt, that's all.

Two Weeks

Written and Directed
by Steve Stockman

Death is a tricky thing to portray. It can be done in all sorts of manners, from slapstick to tragedy. Usually, funny deaths are accidental and violent, like a guy slipping on a banana peel and falling off the roof of a twenty story building. That would be funny only if we didn't see the poor soul actually landing on the ground.

Usually long and painful deaths are tragic. There can be funny stuff around the periphery, but the actual person kicking the bucket is always tragic, especially if the filmmaker focuses on the pre-corpse suffering, which is exactly what auteur Steve Stockman does in this fictionalized memoir.

Stockman's mother died a few years back and he ruminated on it for years, apparently. The surrogate for his mother is named Anita(Sally Field). She and her second husband Jim(James Murtaugh) have been living in North Carolina for years and she has terminal cancer. The end is nigh, and so daughter Emily(Julianne Nicholson) sends the word out to her brothers Keith(Ben Chaplin), Barry(Tom Cavanagh) and Matthew(Glenn Howerton) to come home and get ready for the inevitable.

So before the inevitable happens, the inevitable happens. There's fighting, commiserating, denial, the whole works. Unless everyone hates each other and the soon to be deceased, which they don't here, the pattern for this type of thing is universal, which I guess is why Stockman got the money to produce this thing.

This is a professional job done by professionals, and although the acting is excellent, the writing isn't. There's an air of claustrophobia about the film and while sometimes this is a good thing, it doesn't work in comedy, which apparently this is supposed to be. Sally Field kind of has a monologue that was allegedly filmed somewhere at the beginning of the film, which is meant to be counterpoint to the action on the screen. It doesn't work all that well, but that's primarily Stockman's fault. By trying to be “fair” to all the siblings, the lesser characters, such as Jim and various wives are just put on the stage with little to do.

There's supposed to be some insight here, but while the experience is indeed universal and there's lots that's identifiable as such, it doesn't really know where it's going, and is eventually boring. Also, but going past the death, the film meanders to a close. This was supposed to be Oscar bait, and as we all know, it never got anything, and that's a good thing. We should let this die a decent death.

Black Snake Moan

Written and Directed
by Craig Brewer

Having explored the creative process with his “Hustle and Flow”, auteur Craig Brewer has decided to go after bigger fish: the blues, and in doing so has come up with one of the most bizarre and perverse musicals of the decade. This is probably why it works so well. It's probably best to explain what the title means.

“Black Snake Moan” was the title of a song by Blind Lemon Jefferson, who “flourished” during the 1930s and '40s. It was about the “black snake” of depression invading his soul. Depression so bad it hurts, and so debilitating that you cannot scream, but only have the strength to moan. That's the blues.

Rae(Christina Ricci) and Lazarus(Samuel L. Jackson) have the blues and it's that bad.

Rea's the town slut and everyone in this small town near Memphis, Tennessee knows it. Her mother(Kim Richards) hates her, and add to this the fact that she's sick and that her fiancée Ronnie(Justin Timberlake) is going off to the Army and as the only way she can deal with it is via the oblivion of meaningless sex and overdoses of drugs, so Ronnie's best pal Gill(Michael Raymond-James) does the “gentlemanly thing” beating her to a pulp and leaving her for dead on the side of the road.

Lazarus has it only marginally better. A talented musician, he gave it all up to marry his beloved Rose(Adriane Lenox) and raise a family, but she aborted what would be their only child, and when we meet him, is dumping him for his brother. Ouch.

So when Lazarus finds her three-quarters dead by the side of the road near his property, he decides that the best way to conquer the blues is to do something good, and goes into town to get some cough medicine from a pharmacist named Angela(S. Epatha Merkerson), who's got a mild crush on him.

When Rae finally comes back to full consciousness, she finds that Lazarus has chained her to his radiator, ostensibly because she was wondering around in a drug-induced haze, but he refuses to remove it, and thus begins a bizarre sadomasochistic tug-of-war over the redemption of both, which includes the participation of Lazarus's best friend, a preacher named R.L. (John Cothran Jr) and a kid named Lincoln(Nemous Williams). It's all very steamy.

This is actually the clearest cinematic explanation of the blues ever.
We've got pain enough to go around, and the central trio of characters, Rae, Lazarus and Ronnie [who comes back from the Army somewhat earlier than planned], has enough to kill a herd of elephants. Brewer has managed to explore the emotions of his characters here from every angle, and this is made raw and exciting by the superlative acting of Jackson and Ricci. This is a profoundly weird movie, and a musical to boot, but that's a good thing.

The R rating is well earned, but this is would be well worth a look if it were NC-17. This may earn Jackson and Ricci much kudos a year hence.

Exterminating Angels

Written and Directed by
Jean-Claude Brisseau

There was a scene of three beautiful women having sex and it was really hot, when the guy sitting next to me whispered “This is the greatest movie ever made!” I burst into laughter. It wasn't anywhere near great, of course, it was porn, plain and simple. Porn is supposed to make you hot in the nether regions, and this certainly does that. This is why that it makes more money than regular movies on an annual basis. It's a basic human need, despite what the fundamentalists say.

But what makes great porn is something besides sex, a decent plot and good acting when out of bed, and as to the former, it's got a whopper: it's to some extent autobiographical. When auteur Jean-Claude Brisseau finished his previous film, several actresses sued him for sexual harassment. Apparently, they claimed he was scamming them by faking making a film in order to get his rocks off. He managed to fend off the suit, but this is an interesting thing to hang a plot on. Also, he has an excuse, the Devil made him do it!

The film begins with our hero, a film director named Francois (Frédéric Van Den Driessche) in bed…sleeping. He is visited by his dead Grandmother (Jeanne Cellard) in a dream. She's warning him that his curiosity may bring about the functions of the infernal machine. We discover what that means when the eponymous Exterminating Angels (Raphaele Godin and Margaret Zenou) show up out of nowhere and they announce, cryptically, their infernal plans…and bitching about their boss.

IN the morning, Francois, has a heaven…erp…OTHER place-sent idea: He's going to make his next film about the sex drives of women and what makes them hot. His wife(Sophie Bonnet) isn't so hot about the idea herself, but she can't stop him, and he begins auditions, which are actually funny, there is lovely montage of women saying “no” in hundreds of ways and this hot chick who does what has to be the worst dance ever done. But, there comes Extremely blonde Julie (Lise Bellynck), who gets this film it's probable NC-17 [it's not going to be submitted to the MPAA] right away, then the EA's inspire our hero to hire the clearly unstable brunette Charlotte (Maroussia Dubreuil), who is sometimes possessed by the Devil. They meet up with Julie and there's more hot sex in a restaurants, which is really cool because they do it with their clothes on.

Finally, in comes Stephanie (Marie Allan), who joins in a hot lesbian…this is where the guy next to me called this the “greatest movie ever made.” This is really, really good porn. Unfortunately, there's an actual movie that has to take over and our trio of nymphets gang up on our hero and it all turns sour. There is violence for some good reasons, and nothing turns up right.

Outside of the sex, this film has a lot of humor. The acting is also rather good. The trio of hot starlets plays really good whackos, and an den Driessche is delightfully clueless. The supernatural aspect is kind of dumb, and it reminds one of an episode of “Touched by an Angel.” This is not going to do the French cinema any good, but hey, this stuff looks better on the big screen then it does on the TV.

The Cats of Mirikitani

Directed by
Linda Hattendorf

Jimmy Mirikitani is an old coot who was homeless in the spring of 2001. Linda Hattendorf decided to adopt him and get him back in the system where he could have a house and a home.

He is also an artist who, as the title of the film implies, likes to draw pictures of cats. But primarily, he's a surviver of the Japanese internment camps that were set up during World War II.

He's still justifiably bitter about it. While he isn't talking about or painting about the camps, he's watching TV or walking around outside talking to either Hattendorf or some social worker.

The film isn't all that interesting, as Mirikitani isn't. He might have been made so had Hattendorf tried, but this is nothing more than a glorified home movie, and the journeys of an itinerant artist could have been so much moreso.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He who promises runs in debt.