Comments on watching and making films.

Monday, March 21, 2011

DVD - Red Riding - 1983 (Part 3 of the Red Riding Trilogy)

1983 closes out the Red Riding Trilogy in the best way. We pick up with a new character, John Piggot (Mark Addy), a lawyer who is hired to appeal the case of Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays), the minor character in 1974 that is convicted of murder. Myshkin is mentally disabled, and was obviously used as a patsy to cover up the Yorkshire polices corruption, and the "bad habits" of Bob Craven, the business mogul and child molester from 1974. Piggot delves deep when another child is kidnapped, and this time an officer, Jobson, who destroyed evidence and murdered people in 1974, moves forward to help solve the case and try to redeem himself.

1983 is a fantastic full circle film, and allows the trilogy to be wrapped up in a meaningful way, unlike other contemporary trilogy's like The Matrix. All of the Red Riding films were shot simultaneously, so the actors were allowed to stay in their characters headspace, which, I think, was the most important part of this whole exercise. Like Lord of the Ring's, there was no break for them to walk away and catch their breath, and their ruthlessness, or gentleness, or love, or pure evil shines through from film to film. Red Riding is both harsh and redemptive at the same time, and, simply, one of the best series of films I've ever seen.

Friday, March 18, 2011

DVD - Red Riding - 1980 (Part 2 Of The Red Riding Trilogy)

Red Riding - 1980 takes place a full six years after the events of Red Riding - 1974, and centers around a different series of murders, but interweaves itself into the same story about the corruption in the Yorkshire Police department. In this film, Paddy Considine is Peter Hunter, an investigator brought in to head up a inquiry into a serial killer case. Some of the offenders from the previous film are still present - Molloy, Douglas, Craven, The Priest, and BJ (all from the previous film). Hunter builds up a team to really dig into the murders, which includes a "liaison" to the Yorkshire police in Craven, the willowy cop who, along with Douglas, tortured Andrew Garfield's Dunford in the first film. As the team digs deeper, they find one woman who doesn't fit the bill as someone murdered by the Yorkshire Ripper, and hands are pointing towards the Yorkshire police themselves. The deeper the team digs, the more someone is pushing back. Will Hunter and his team be able to stick it through to the end?

Red Riding - 1980 is one of the best "sequels" I've seen in a long time. The fact that it is not just a retread of the original, but a new film built off of the same skeleton, and weaving in the police corruption of the first one, makes you feel like you're watching a completely different story, but a continuation all at the same time. 1980 is different in its visual style than 1974 as the film had a new director and new cinematographer. Paddy Considine is solid as usual, as well as the rest of the cast. There's not really anything you can complain about here. Can't wait to see the final film in the trilogy, 1983.

DVD - Barton Fink

The Coen's. If you know them, you know their work, you know the quality of it. The majority of it is a hit out of the park. In a few instances they fall flat. Barton Fink is one of their hits, thankfully, as a movie about a guy trying to write a screenplay is not exactly the most interesting or new idea.

John Turturro plays the titular character, a New York City screenwriter who, after some success in plays, is brought out to Hollywood to write a screenplay. He gets put up in a mediocre hotel, where he meets a neighbor Charlie (played by John Goodman), who is obnoxious and mysterious, but always dead set on helping Barton out. As his life continues to go down hill, and Los Angeles takes more and more of his soul, Barton loses touch with reality and his duties, and his good buddy Charlie ends up being a whole world of trouble.

Barton Fink is a little slow, as most of the Coen films are, but it doesn't really matter because there's enough awesome craziness to keep you going from one point to the next. John Goodman's performance on par with his character, especially by the time you get around to the end. The Coen's manage to weave a tale about writer's block, desperation, and good and evil (of all kinds) into an enjoyable, albeit non typical, film.

DVD - Hardcore

Fresh off of the success of his script for Taxi Driver, and his directorial debut, Blue Collar, Paul Schrader delved into the, then, fairly mysterious world of pornography with his next film Hardcore. George C. Scott plays Jake Van Doorn, a mid-western business man who's painfully average family life is shaken when his daughter disappears on a trip to California. He hires a seedy private detective, Peter Boyle as Andy Mast, who has connections in a little bit of everything. Mast finds out the Van Doorn girl has fallen into drugs, prostitution, and making pornographic films. Jake decides to take off to Los Angeles to track her down, something that Mast seems incapable of, a journey which takes him through the bowels of an industry that, during the time this film was made (the 70's) was still a whisper.

Hardcore doesn't quite hit the mark of intensity that Taxi Driver did, but is still on par with a lot of Schrader's early work. Scott plays it subdued in the early parts of the film, an echo of a mid-westerner who has achieved all of his success, and now seems to just be going through motions, until an event forces him to step out and take control of his life. Peter Boyle plays a seedy detective well because, let's face it, he was kind of a creepy dude.

The thing that is most interesting about this film to me is its relationship to pornography in the time it was made. With the dawn of the high speed internet access, all kinds of things are available to us, at any time, and are almost impossible to control. A thirteen year old can get on the internet and find it. In the 70's, though, pornography was something that was still illegal in many states, or sold illicitly in seedy stores where the customers tried their best to hide themselves from being identified. It was something that people didn't know very much about, and you only talked about it with someone you trusted. It wasn't something flippant or casual as it is today, and I think Schrader really captures that. In that sense, I think Hardcore works really well as a time capsule, a historical piece that was contemporary for its time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs. Scott Pilgrim, thoughts on the books vs. the movie

SPOILERS. There, I said it. So don't read this if you are worried that it might ruin your experience with watching the movie, or reading the books, or both.

Seriously. Don't.

Most people fall into a few categories when it comes to adaptations. The first is "the book was better than the movie". The second is the exact opposite "The movie was better than the book". There's also a rare and lesser category "Both sucked", and an even rarer category "Both were amazing". Scott Pilgrim's adaptation fits into this ultra rare category, and I would go so far as to add on "Both were amazing in their own way".

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (the movie) is a very condensed version of the series. Director Edgar Wright and writer Michael Bacall managed to find a way to distill the book into something concise, edgy, meaningful, and almost unclassifiable in terms of genre. Now, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is two hours long, so one could guess that if they had made the film comic frame by comic frame, it would easily be four hours or more. Asides and subplots were cut, the importance of certain characters was diminished, and some were nixed all together, in favor of making the smoothest moving film that could be made about the most basic aspect of the Scott Pilgrim story - That Scott has to defeat the seven evil ex's of the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers, in order to date her.

In the film, we meet Scott as a care free twenty something who keeps his life easy and breezy, until he meets and instantly is entranced by Ramona. The League of Evil Ex's soon follows, and Scott, on seven occasions, has to fight these evil ex's. But what's really going on here? Scott is having to prove to Ramona that he isn't going to just cut and run, but we also find out that Ramona is having to do the same. As the ex's get more difficult to defeat, and as Scott gets more overwhelmed by them, it would be much easier for Ramona to cut and run, not have Scott resent her, and not have Scott get hurt by her and her baggage anymore.

The book begins in the exact same way that the film does, but as the book progresses, we get so much more. In the film, little bread crumbs are introduced that never go into the kind of detail that they do in the book, and, honestly, its a shame they don't. In the film, Envy Adams is introduced as one of Scott's ex's, a celebrity who's fame came shortly after they broke up, and who is still incredibly bitter towards Scott. In the books, Envy is fleshed out so much more. O'Malley takes a turn and revisits their past, something that started out with all good intentions, and ended, like most young love does, when Scott and Natalie (as she's known before she takes the stage name Envy) refuse to work anything out anymore. What we learn from the book, though, is that Envy still has a soft spot in her heart for Scott, that fights for supremacy against her white hot burning rage against him. While time hasn't healed all wounds for Envy, there is still a spark there, a memory of their past that would mean something if they could both get over their bitterness towards each other.

We also learn more about Scott's relationship with Kim, which, to me, is the biggest tragedy that the film left out. Scott and Kim were high school sweethearts that broke up when he moved to another city. Kim has never forgiven him for this, even though they play in a band together, and, we find out later, she still loves him, and that her deadpan and sarcastic (and sometimes hateful) attitude is her weapon against him, the way that she pays him back for breaking his heart (even though she desperately wants him back in her heart of hearts). We also find out that he left, basically, without even telling her, treating her as though the relationship they had was like a fine mist, having simply dissipated as they moved forward through it.

In fact, most of the differences between the movie and the book have to do with Scott facing the realities of his past, a past that he has erased and rewritten in his mind, to the detriment of his current life. While, in the book at least, it seems as though everyone is attacking him, we find out that this is for good reason. That he has lived with his head up his ass for so long that he's painted his own reality that is far removed from the authentic world. I feel like this is an interesting point, and one that is very lightly brushed over in the film. In the end sequence, when Scott has to fight Gideon, he sort of makes amends for a lot of things, but some of them seem kind of empty because we haven't really witnessed the back story of all of it. Kim, for instance. In the film, he simply apologizes to her. We are left to infer that their relationship was not the best, but it's not explained in the same way as the book (the fact that Scott cared so little about Kim that he actually told a mutual friend he was moving, and she heard it from this friend before she heard it from her boyfriend).

I think one of the most important things, though, that the movie and the books have kept intact is the parallel relationship between Scott and Ramona. Both are having to grow up in order to save the relationship they've grown to love. Scott is having to face all of the damage he's done to the women he's hurt in his life so that he can gain the self respect he'll need to be the man that Ramona needs. Ramona, meanwhile, has to face the damage she's done to her "evil" exe's in order to free herself from the anger and jealousy that follows her around like a dense shadow, in the form of the League that ruins every relationship she has, and only grows in size as she breaks more hearts. She has to learn not to run from her problems, but, instead, face them and work them out.

There are a lot of little things that you can spend paragraphs and pages talking about, but if you've watched the movie, and not read the book (or vice versa), then its better you discover them yourself. Ultimately, what it comes down to, is that both are amazing in their own way. As far as overall character development goes, which would be my favorite? I'd have to lean towards the books. There's just so much more that makes them satisfying story-wise. But the movie… The movie is an amazing cinematic experience that should not be missed.

DVD - Red Riding - 1974 (Part 1 of the Red Riding Trilogy)

I had been hearing off and on about this series I had to check out, a trilogy of movies from England, and when I saw them come up on Netflix Instant, I thought that now must be a great time. Red Riding is based on a series of, apparently, extremely popular books from England. It is based off of various murders that have occurred in England, and uses that as a backdrop to bring attention to massive corruption in police and government agencies.

The first of these films is labeled as 1974. It follows Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield), as a young reporter who, in the midst of a child abduction case, realizes that the little girls disappearance mirrors two other cases over the last couple of years. When he goes investigating, though, the tracks lead to John Dawson (Sean Bean), who is one of the most powerful men in town, and, collaterally, the police force, the government, and even the paper that he works for.

Red Riding - 1974 is a well produced thriller, with Andrew Garfield as a real stand out (this is pre Social Network). While the thick as molasses English accents don't help, the story is, thankfully, easy enough to follow that losing some of the words they say is, on occasion, acceptable. Garfield is put through hell in this film, and that he's able to pull off this character with such nonchalance makes me feel like he has the upper hand on a lot of American actors his age. Sean Bean is not particularly frightening in the film, and maybe that's purposeful, but it felt like his character was a bit of a cliche - the wealthy, powerful guy who does what he wants because he has everyone in his pocket. There's nothing very special about it, which is disappointing, as they could have taken the role in a direction that would have made that character more complex. While Red Riding - 1974 doesn't bring a whole lot that is mind blowing to the genre, it is a well made, and enjoyable, film that features some great performances, and wonderfully muted cinematography.

Monday, March 14, 2011

DVD - Pandorum

Two crew members wake up to a mystery in the sci-fi/action thriller Pandorum. Payton and Bower (played by Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster, respectively), are part of a back up crew being kept in stasis until their "shift" comes up. When they are awoken prematurely, though, they find that the previous crew is dead, and the ship has been taken over by an alien life form.

Pandorum is a great Saturday morning film, when you have nothing else to do. It's a little hokey at times, especially the ending, but has some cool science fiction elements to it. Over all, though, it's hard sometimes, when you hear studio heads complain about how they HAVE to deliver with these tent pole films, and then you see something like Pandorum, and you wonder how they honestly thought this would sell itself to anybody past its opening weekend. Had I seen this in the theater, and anyone asked me about it, I would have said wait for DVD. I'm glad I did. Like I said, watch it on a lazy weekend morning, or sometime when you have nothing else to do.

DVD - Daybreakers

Daybreakers concerns a not so distant future where Vampires are the dominant species and humans are hunted like animals, and even farmed for their blood. But the supply of humans is dwindling, and a researcher, Dalton (played by Ethan Hawke) is trying desperately to come up with some kind of synthetic blood as a replacement, as some vampires have begun feeding off of themselves and are mutating into horrible, disgusting creatures. When Dalton meets Elvis (Willem Dafoe), Elvis recounts how, through an accident and precise series of events following that accident, returned to humanity from being a vampire, Dalton feels like he may have found the cure for the Vampires problems.

Daybreakers isn't awful, it just isn't very good. The plot is interesting enough, but its wrapped up in so much "wouldn't it be cool if" that it becomes a well funded B movie that just happens to star A-List actors. It comes off as the kind of film that everyone probably thought was a good idea, but just didn't turn out that way. Unless you're super into Vampires, I wouldn't bother.

DVD - Collapse

Chris Smith is known for documentaries like American Movie and The Yes Men, and his newest piece, Collapse, is another victory for him. The doc is primarily an interview with independent writer/investigator/instigator Michael Ruppert, who predicted the financial collapse of 2008/2009 years before it happened. Ruppert goes into detail about the factors that caused him to get to the conclusion he eventually came too, and then discusses Ruppert's predictions for the future, all of which seem dangerously plausible. Collapse is a frightening, but necessary, piece of journalism that, if more people watched, could cause a serious ripple effect, and maybe mobilize people into action to set this world back on track to a brighter future.

DVD - Still Bill

Still Bill is the story of Bill Withers, writer and performer of such classics as "Lean On Me", "Ain't No Sunshine", and "Lovely Day". Bill allows the filmmakers into his home, and into his life, for an inspiring journey about career, family, and priorities. This is a must see for anyone that is pursuing a creative career, has kids, or just enjoys great music. It's the story of a man coming from nothing, picking up a guitar, and finding fame his own way. I can't recommend Still Bill enough.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau stars Matt Damon as a politician running for a state senate seat in New York. When he meets Elise, a ballet dancer played by Emily Blunt, he immediately falls in love, but strange (and very well dressed) men threaten him with his life, and hers, if he pursues her.

I really enjoyed this film. Damon has really grown into the respectable leading man, from his earlier "pretty boy" career, but the pretty boy in him helps a little bit in this role. He becomes totally believable as this, almost, Kennedy-esque political figure - Young, attractive, knowledgeable, and a power for the people. And Blunt? Well, it's Emily Blunt. She's pretty much going to be awesome in anything she does. The fact, though, that she does her own ballet dancing in the film is impressive, though Natalie Portman still wins, between the two, as her dancing in Black Swan was much more complex. Regardless, Emily Blunt. Awesome. And Anthony Mackie - Where has this guy been? I remember seeing him in some things here and there a while back, and really liking him, but I feel like I haven't seen him in a while. I like him as an actor, and hope his role in this film guarantees him a lot more work soon. John Slattery and Terence Stamp are great, as well, as these sort of fixer characters.

There aren't any game changing effects or crazy plot twists, but I think that's what I like about it. Some of the things that happen in it are supernatural enough without having to go into Shyamalan territory. The film feels like a well written Twilight Zone episode, just in a feature length format. And, yes, it does make you fall in love with New York all over again.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Indefinable Orbits

This is the film I've been gathering shots for over about a two year time span. It's finally finished. It's uploaded to Vimeo in 1080p, so, hit the little Vimeo button on the movie, and it will take you there, and you can see it full size.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

DVD - The Killer Inside Of Me

Serial Killers are something that the film industry rarely does right. They are, often times, the driving force behind B-grade horror movies, cheap, poorly written pieces that studios or independents churn out to make a buck. Because of that, it's not often we, as an audience, get the chance to take a movie with this kind of subject seriously. The Killer Inside Of Me, however, is none of these things, and you WILL take it seriously. It doesn't allow you to do anything otherwise.

Centering around Sheriff's Deputy Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), Killer starts out simple enough. Ford gets sent to run off a prostitute (played by Jessica Alba), operating out of a shack on the outskirts of town. They become entangled, and begin a side relationship, even though Ford has a girl, Amy (played by Kate Hudson), at home. When things get complicated between Joyce (Alba) and Chester Conway, the father of a young man obsessed with Joyce, Ford works to broker a deal between the two which would get his son and the prostitute out of town with ten thousand dollars to start a new life. But Ford isn't having it. He hatches a plan to kill the both of them, and, eventually, make off with the money. His plan, however, begins falling apart almost immediately, and he finds himself killing more and more to try and cover his tracks.

Michael Winterbottom does a great job of directing this thriller, based on a 1950's cult novel. Casey Affleck delivers, probably, the performance of his career, making you FEAR this small, understated man who is willing to do ANYTHING to cover himself. Winterbottom allows Affleck to go to wherever he needs to go, and does not hesitate to put every moment on the screen. The murder of Joyce is particularly graphic and disconcerting. I very rarely ever get sick, but this scene did nauseate me. Alba delivers, for once, an on par performance, but this isn't surprising, seeing as how the Joyce character doesn't really have too much to her. Alba's job is to, basically, wear practically nothing, look sexy, and make you want her. Like I said, not much of a stretch. A series of great acting in smaller roles also rounds out the film with Elias Koteas as a blackmailing Union rep, Tom Bower as the Sheriff of the little town, and Simon Baker as a Fed who is absolutely sure Ford is the killer, but has to find the evidence to prove it.