Comments on watching and making films.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

DVD - Hunger

Okay, before I start this review, we need to get one thing straight - I will be referencing the director of Hunger, Steve McQueen. This is NOT Steve McQueen 60's/70's action film star and heart throb (who died in the 80's). This is British visual artist Steve McQueen. Alright, good to have that out of the way.

Hunger is Steve McQueen's debut feature film, and focuses on the hunger strike led by Bobby Sands in the notorious H-Block during the early 1980's. The hunger strike was an attempt to force the British government into giving political prisoner status to members of the IRA who were imprisoned for violence (including bombings and murder).

Hunger is what movies SHOULD be. It is a visually striking film about an important subject that doesn't take sides. It simply shows the realities of what went on in this prison, and allows its viewers to make their own decisions. McQueen's use of space is haunting and claustrophobic, and he creates a movie that is both moving, and, at times, sickening. Michael Fassbender, who plays Bobby Sands, stands out as an enormous talent in this movie, getting every single look, tone of voice, and reaction spot on. Fassbender knows how to court the audience, and does so incredibly well in this film. Another stand out performance in the film is by Stuart Graham, who plays a guard. Graham show's us every ounce of humanity this guard has (and the occasional lack of it), and puts in a performance that is almost equally intriguing to Fassbender's. McQueen is relentless in his portrayal of the realities behind the domestic terrorism of the IRA, while also showing the reality of a group of people who were fighting back against what they deemed as oppression and injustice. This film is NOT TO BE MISSED. It is on Criterion DVD. Get it and watch it any way you can.

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese is one of American cinema's great artist's. He's earned that title from over forty years of making classic films (and, like many of his contemporaries - Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg, De Palma, etc. - has made his share of mistakes). The last decade has seen him team up with Leonardo DiCaprio and produce some of the best work of his career, including The Aviator, The Departed, and Gangs of New York. With his latest film with DiCaprio, Shutter Island, Scorsese doesn't miss the bar that he's set with those other films, but he doesn't quite hit it either. It's more like... He sidesteps it.

Shutter Island opens to a thick fog, and a ferry boat cutting through it, that carries DiCaprio's character Teddy Daniels. He's taking the ferry, with his new partner and fellow Federal Marshal Chuck Aule (played by Mark Ruffalo) to Shutter Island, a prison/asylum for Massachutses' worst criminals. We learn, as he reveals to Chuck, that his wife was burned to death in a fire in their apartment building, and the man who set the fire, Andrew Laedus, is here at Shutter Island. Of course, their here to solve the mystery of a missing inmate, but Teddy has Laedus on his mind. As the search for the missing inmate progresses, though, Teddy and Chuck begin to put two and two together, and realize that there is a lot more going on at Shutter Island than they fully understand, and if the staff has anything to do with it, they may not be going home.

It's hard to review this film without giving stuff away, but I will do my best. Visually this film is stunning. The acting is, for the most part, top notch. I thought Ruffalo was WAY off the mark, but, due to a twist in the story that I can't reveal, I realized only later on that his acting was actually quite amazing. It feels like Scorsese uses Kubrick's The Shining as a jumping off point for a lot of what goes on at the island, and his use of dream/fantasy sequences bring a bit of further dimensionality to what would otherwise be a straight up film-noir style crime procedural. On the other hand, some times these dream/fantasy sequences come off as a little tongue in cheek, and its not always easy to take them seriously (like the rat at the end of The Departed). Did I like Shutter Island? Yes and no. I would like to see it again, at some point, to REALLY make a decision. I think it's a well made movie, but I'm not completely sure it succeeds in the realm of entertainment.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

DVD - Sweet Movie

The 70's has long been considered America's golden age of filmmaking. In a time when the studio's were in flux, Independents were rushing through the door, stealing everything that wasn't tied down, and leaving, in their wake, an incredible legacy of films that have inspired every generation of filmmaker after them, and have stayed strong in the hearts of their fans (Star Wars, The Godfather, etc.). The late sixties and seventies also saw a lot of Avant Garde filmmakers break into semi mainstream arena's. Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie is exactly that - An Avant Garde film that has just enough story to sell itself as a mainstream film.

Sweet Movie is hard to break down into a digestible paragraph. It involves two stories, both about young women. One, Miss Canada is competing in a virginity contest to marry a Texas millionaire. She ends up running away on their wedding night, meeting a spanish music star in Paris, and ending up in a perverted commune. In the second story, a woman pilots a ship full of candy and meets a Russian sailor who comes on and makes love to her. That's about as much as I can say.

Sweet Movie is one of those strange films, like Mr. Freedom, that tries to combine some kind of a plot with a lot of artistic posturing. The film is, at its core, an attempt to get in the face of its audience. Normally films like this also try to make you question things, but, I'm not sure this particular film does that. It just gets in your face, especially in a scene in which the woman who is piloting the boat brings a couple of young boys on the ship, shows them the candy room, and then proceeds to dress in an incredibly slinky piece of lingerie, seducing the young boys as she slowly peels off what little clothes she is wearing. She, eventually, and almost naked, pulls one of the boys aside into a bunk, closing the privacy curtain behind them, presumably to have sex with him. It's, basically, repulsive. Ms. Canada goes through a similar cringe inducing situation in which, in a catatonic state, she is dropped off in a collective who's primarily goal seems to do whatever they have to do to disgust each other, including eating their meals, and then throwing them up in front of each other. Sweet Movie is not for the faint of heart, or the soft of stomach. It definitely isn't as bad as Salo, or something like that, but it can be disgusting at times.

Edge of Darkness

Oh, Mel Gibson... You've had an interesting road over the last couple of years. You created one of the highest grossing independent films of all time in The Passion of the Christ, then pissed everyone off and lost all of your cred when you freaked out on some Malibu police officers and shot off a bunch of racial slurs about Jews. Now your back, and, apparently, we're supposed to care. I gotta be honest with you, a much better come back would have been some kind of totally BA Mad Max sequel where he's like old and crazy and goes and kills a whole bunch of people and wins all the gasoline in the future. Basically the same plot as all of the other Mad Max films. Hey, stick with what you know.

Edge of Darkness is a remake of an older BBC drama of the same name. In this Americanized version, Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston city police officer who, upon picking up his daughter for a weekend visit, is attacked in his own home, and his daughter is murdered. The murderer yelled out "Craven" before putting two shotgun shells into his daughter and running. Craven vows to find the killer, and why he was being targeted. As he follows the evidence, though, he realizes that the attacker wasn't after him at all, but after his daughter, because she stood to blow the lid off a massive secret at her employer.

Edge of Darkness had a couple of cool moments, but they were overshadowed by the rather glacial pace of the semi-procedural movie. When you watch a Gibson movie, you want to see people get killed and things blow up, and there was just too much of a lack of those things. Also, Gibson's acting was over the top in a lot of places, and some of the stuff that happened in the movie seemed WAY to cliche. All in all, Edge of Darkness is definitely a wait for DVD, or whenever it's on cable.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Paul Harrill's "Gina, An Actress, Age 29"

Paul Harrill is a regional filmmaker from my hometown of Knoxville, TN. A few years back, he wrote and directed a film called Gina, An Actress, Age 29. It is up on The Autuers and the first 1,000 views are free, so, go and check it out. Paul also runs a blog, Self Reliant Film, which is, unfortunately, not updated as much as I wish it would be, but the man has a job and a wife who is also a filmmaker, so, he's got a lot on his plate.