Comments on watching and making films.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


So, I should probably hold off on this, but I'm going to go ahead and announce the fact that over the coming months, I'm going to (hopefully) be doing pre-production and shooting my first feature film PHX. I'm going to be doing a Kickstarter project to raise funds for it, and more info on that will be spread across the interwebs as soon as it is available. I will also be doing video updates, which I will be posting on Vimeo, as well as embedding here on my blog, Twittering, all that kind of social media stuff. Who knows, I may even make a Facebook page, but, I really feel like I would like to keep things here.

That is all for now. More info to come, though.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Ben Stiller has been languishing in rom-com's for as long as I can remember. Sure, there was the occasional stroke of genius. Dodgeball, for instance, or Tropic Thunder. With his lead in Noah Baumbach's Greenberg, Stiller not only ditches the inane romantic comedies, he shows us a side of himself that we don't often see. And, for a bonus? We got a movie with a LOT of Greta Gerwig in it. Always a pleasure.

Gerwig plays a nanny/assistant to a rich couple who are leaving for Vietnam for an undisclosed reason. In their absence, the husband's brother, Roger Greenberg (Stiller), comes to stay out at the house for a couple of weeks so that he can ease back into life, after being in a mental hospital for a period of time. Gerwig's Florence meet's Roger when she comes over to pick up her check, which starts up a strange, sometimes endearing, sometimes tumultuous, relationship. Greenberg is also trying to reconnect with his old friends Ivan and Eric (played by Rhys Ifans and Mark Duplass), who were all in a band together, and even tries to hook up with his divorcee ex-girlfriend, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (who looks considerably more cleaned up than in her past couple of movies).

Greenberg, and I mean the guy, not the movie, is a mess. He, obviously, does not know how to live life in any sort of meaningful form or fashion, and, instead, seems to work primarily on impulse. Stiller shows some real acting chops in this film, as he's able to cross the line into so many different emotions, seemingly on a dime. He hits every note of his Baumbach inspired dialogue and shows us that he's not just the funny guy. Greta Gerwig is always a pleasure to watch, and I think this is her best role since Nights and Weekends. She is at her insecure best, giving herself to this guy who is, probably, twenty years older than her, putting up with his crap, CONSTANTLY, and generally making all of the mistakes that twenty something girls make. Rhys Ifans was interesting to see in this role, because it is the most quiet and subdued role I have ever seen him in. Sure, I haven't seen him in a ton of stuff, but, of what I have seen, I was definitely blown away by his ability to truly show distance, sadness, and regret. Noah Baumbach is a greater writer and director. Not withstanding Margot At The Wedding, I really feel like Baumbauch's oeuvre is solid, and this is a great addition to it.

DVD - The House of the Devil

There is a new generation of filmmakers that have been trying to ape many of the 1970's and 80's "classics" of the genre, from well known slashers to B-movie video store shelf jockey's. The majority of the time, I'm positive these filmmakers have the best of intentions, but all too often, they end up wearing there inspirations on their sleeves, and making less than inspiring films. Ti West's latest, The House of the Devil, is the only film I've ever seen that actually gets the look and the feel of that era dead on.

Jocelin Donahue plays Samantha, a college student who wants to move into her own apartment and get away from her over sexed dorm roommate. She finds the place of her dreams, but has no idea how she's going to come up with the deposit, AND the first months rent. Upon returning to her dorm, after looking at the apartment one last time, she finds a notice for a babysitting job, and calls the number. She's lead to the Ullman household, a creepy Victorian style mini mansion, housed deep in the woods. With her best friend in tow (played by Greta Gerwig), Samantha meets the incredibly creepy Mr. and Mrs. Ullman, and finds out they haven't told her the complete truth. There is no baby to watch over, but, in fact, it is their mother. Samantha is worried about this, and tries to back out, but when Mr. Ullman waves 400 dollars in her face, she accepts. After all, all she has to do is sit there for a few hours. She doesn't even need to check on the woman, unless she hears something go wrong. But things aren't what they seem in the Ullman house, and Samantha is soon to find out that she's not there to watch anyone.

House of the Devil is classic, old school, horror. It is a slow burn, with climactic moments spread throughout the film, and an ending that's so crazy it will leave the TRUE fan of movies from that era very satisfied. Donahue is perfect as the shy, understated lead, an innocent who simply wants to make enough money to move into her own place, to be her own woman. Gerwig delivers well, for how little of the movie she's actually in, and Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov are significantly creepy as the Ullman's. Ti West has a real victory on his hands with this film, which is something I never thought I'd say about some one who's previous film was Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever. If he keeps making films like this, I'll watch.

The Runaways

Rock biopics have been suffering, considerably, for the last couple of years. Many of them are under budgeted, and have poorly written scripts that give you the kind of simple re-telling of a story that you could find in a Wikipedia article. One of the most horrendous examples was the Darby Crash/Germs biopic What We Do Is Secret. The film glazed over all but the most necessary parts of the story, to give you nothing more than a small smattering of history. It was a film that was barely reasonable to call a biopic. Even as a fiction film, it would have failed for its lack of character development and its expectation of the audience to fill in the blanks. I can't say that The Runaways is too much different.

The Runaways focuses on a very young Joan Jett (played by Kristen Stewart), who meets up with an infamous record producer, Kim Fowley (played to glorious insanity by Michael Shannon), and the two recruit a platinum blonde Cherie Currie (played by Dakota Fanning) to be the singer that will round out their all girl rock band. The story follows The Runaways from their rocky inception, to stardom, to their even rockier break up, and delves briefly into Currie and Jett's immediate future after The Runaways.

Floria Sigismondi, most notable for her music videos, wrote and directed the film, which was based on an autobiography by Cherie Currie. While the film doesn't hold any punches, which is nice, it also seems to leave out a lot about the other girls in the band, most notably Lita Ford, who went on to have a successful solo career after the break up of The Runaways. The story suffers from the fact that it is sandwiched into ninety minutes, as it often times feels like huge chunks are being left out.

The stars of this film deliver fantastically. Kristen Stewart is perfect as the moody, but obviously insecure Joan Jett, a young girl who desperately wants to be the best, but doesn't know how to get there, and is putting her trust in others. Dakota Fanning, as Cherie Currie, is as lost as any girl would be at that age, and walks the fine line between confidence and oblivion constantly. She works hard to make sure that The Runaways succeed, only to be haunted by the idea that she may be giving up the things that matter most in her world. It was strange to watch her disintegrate, I guess because I had accepted her as a little girl, and still saw her that way, but she has definitely grown up, and this film showcases that. And I can't leave out Michael Shannon, a man who has really come into his own these last couple of years. Ten years ago, a guy like him would be relegated to character acting as a thug or a cop, but Shannon is so incredibly talented, he has managed to score some truly individual roles, and you can tell that he gives his all to them.

The Runaways is not a perfect film, but its better than average, and was enjoyable. The cinematography was beautiful, and I would have expected no less from Sigismondi, since her music video's are known for their interesting visuals. And, as much as Kristen Stewart may forever be known as "that girl that was in Twilight, if she dies tomorrow, she can at least be proud of the fact that she has left a few good roles behind her, including this one.

Monday, March 22, 2010