Wednesday, February 21, 2007

13 Tzameti

Géla Babluani | 2005 | 86 min | France

I feel like the less one knows about this film going into it the better, so I will just say: a young man jumps at a nebulous opportunity to earn some spare money + finds himself in an early Polanski movie about sport-violence. Very good. Don't even watch the trailer.

Last King of Scotland

Kevin Macdonald | 2006 | 123 min | UK

I don't understand. I really don't. Why did the compelling story of a Ugandan dictator need to be placed within a white European framework? Why do we have to follow the main character of a young Scottish doctor who is mad at his dad? Why am I supposed to care about him when the implied "B" story is genocide? The Scot is ably played by James McAvoy, but unfortunately the character is careless, selfish, + not terribly interesting. Oh, and completely fictional. So frustrating. If a film purports to be a historical drama it shouldn't need several screens of text at the film's end to actually explain the historical portion. The film is far more concerned with the Scot's partying, seduction of married women, + eventual vague unease at what may be happening to the country. Last King also chooses to close with the same eye-roller used by The Constant Gardener: slow motion black child waving + smiling at the camera. Blech.

Forest Whitaker does a fantastic job as Idi Amin. This film should have been made by someone other than Kevin Macdonald.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Pier Paolo Pasolini | 1975 | 115 min | Italy

Over thirty years after its making, Salo is still more brutal and bizarre than anything out there. Which is to say, even watching this now makes one wonder how in the name of god it was ever made.

Salo is set at the close of World War II. Eight of Italy's elite take sixteen young men + women prisoner in a palatial Northern estate with the goal of waiting out the war by indulging in every perversion that comes to mind. The film is based on the novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. Kudos to Pasolini for managing to outdo the most famous libertine in history.

The tortures imagined in this film are utterly horrible. And they are made all the worse in retrospect because Pasolini creates a film in which the audience is complicit in seeing the victims as simply objects of torture. We never learn anything about their lives + we never want to. Sure, we wince while watching their pain + humiliations, but it is not empathy; it is personal discomfort. Brilliantly played, Pasolini, you fucking nutjob. I love this movie. Modern "horror" directors take note.

Arabian Nights

Pier Paolo Pasolini | 1974 | 131 min | Italy

This film is no Salo. Pasolini creates the flimsiest framework for a series of short love stories set in the Middle East, then abandons that framework entirely. This is a lazy little romp filled with Pasolini's trademark young men + women engaging in casual rape, but it doesn't have any of the shock or horror that would imply. It doesn't help that so many stories revolve around a young man who's pubescent mongoloid features drive women from across the lands to madness + irrationality. There are far better Pasolini joints to occupy your time with (hint: see above).

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Queen

Stephen Frears | 2006 | 97 min | UK

Stephen Frears make popcorn movies about class war. Typically these take take the shape of a young immigrant/ servant/ grifter trying to improve their station in life. By any means necessary. Their struggles are familiar + terrible. We root for his miserable characters, but Frears is British, so we know they are all fucked.

What a strange turn to see Frears turning his camera towards the Queen of England. The Queen takes place in the weeks following the untimely death of Diana, the former Princess of Wales. The reaction from the royal family in the aftermath was beyond cool + Frears gives us the imagined story behind their public silence.

It is difficult material to tackle, but Frears + his cast put together a terrific film. The only issue I had with it is that Mirren is just a little too charming. Not that she doesn't do an excellent job, but there were moments when I had a very difficult time believing the Queen had the same quick wit + expert timing that the Mirren delivers. I thought the actor playing Tony Blair, Michael Sheen, did a superior job, which is really saying something. I give The Queen four queens out of a possible destroyed legacy.

The Puffy Chair

Jay Duplass | 2005 | 85 min | US

This film follows Josh as he drives across the country to deliver a chair (a puffy one) to his father for his birthday. His harpy girlfriend + hippy brother tag along. Of course, the road trip provides a few stumbling blocks, as any road trip movie does. Luckily those stumbling blocks give the gang a chance to learn about themselves + each other, as any road trip movie does.

Puffy Chair is a constant juggling act. Not on the part of the director, the writers, or the actors. Oh no. All the work is left to the viewer, constantly shifting, trying to decide which of the three main characters they dislike the least. That is a real pickle for a comedy. Our primary hero couple, Josh + Emily, argue too often + make up too often + for all the wrong reasons + GODDAMMIT JUST BREAK UP ALREADY. Hippie brother is prone to talking about 'energy' + 'connecting.' Holy shit, I wanted to punch all of them all of the time.

Strangely, the movie does have some good laughs + is ultimately satisfying. It is an amusing, light little film. It seems to dream of being more significant than it is, delivering everything with handheld realist pretensions. It works more often than it doesn't, though. Sure, the characters are all jagoffs, but at least they are recognizable + amusing jagoffs. And in a world where so few comedies actually deliver a single laugh, I'll take it.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Fabrice Du Welz | 2004 | 94 min | France

Although far from perfect, this film is a great antidote to the rancid attempted-thriller Haute Tension. Like that film, Calvaire also features a young traveller finding themselves in quiet French countryside that is soon to be disrupted by screams of terror. Where the former film quickly slipped into chase scenes + nonsense, however, the latter keeps the anxiety at a steady climb. This is a take on movies like Misery + Deliverance, but filtered through the gory surrealism of early David Lynch + Wes Craven. From the opening scenes, Du Welz expertly crafts uncomfortable situations for us to endure with the protagonist, + that discomfort never lets up.

Calvaire is not without problems, though. Du Welz also borrows a fair amount of Lynch's 'weird for the sake of weird' style. It is eerily effective more often than not, but sometimes the plot relying on everything being set in Hidden Crazytown is a bit much. Luckily, the film is saved by an ending that is both understated + haunting. It is aided considerably by the photography, done in cool, muted hues with a concentration on the wilderness. The look + sound design really belie the action. Not that this film soft-peddles the more visceral aspects of horror, but it doesn't tread anywhere near the gore-porn territory of bullshit films like the Hills Have Eyes remake. The real scares are in how common the torturers + their tortures seem. Even if you have a strong stomach + a long list of horror films you have enjoyed, this one is still going to have you feeling. . . concerned.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Snakes on a Plane

David R. Ellis | 2006 | 105 min | US

An hour + forty minute overdone internet joke. Anyone who claims to like this movie should be sterilized.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Basic Instinct 2

Michael Caton-Jones | 2006 | 114 min | US

Okay, no one can possibly be surprised that this sucks, but the gravity with which this sucks is truly remarkable. This is a movie in which the writers (and i think even the actors) are still under the impression that saying 'fuck' in virtually every sentence passes for edginess. In the year 2006. I hope Sharon Stone got paid per every time she said 'cum' because that would be the only reasonable excuse for her dialogue.

The plot is so ridiculous from the very opening scene that it doesn't bear repeating. Needless to say, every turn in this is nonsense. Every character acts like a complete moron + Stone never wipes the grin off her face. She acts the shit out of that grin. We, the humble voyeur, are lead to believe that all the action derives from the fact that everyone - EVERY SINGLE PERSON - in this movie is so blown away by the raw Sex Power of Stone's Catherine Tramell that they cannot concentrate on anything but the dream of getting into her giant dumpster of a box. When we do get thrown a few pity sex scenes they are predictably the sickest business around. The only payoff in this one comes in the form of several recitations from Tramell's novels. These novels are so mind blowingly poorly written that they are embarrassing to witness even in the context of simultaneously watching several film careers end.

The rumour prior to this film's release was that David Cronenberg was lobbying hard to get the shot to direct this sequel. He was denied because it was feared his version would be too bizarre. That was the first in a line of at least one thousand poor decisions made by the powers that be in regard to this film, the final one being the decision to ever let this thing see anything but the bottom of an abandoned mine shaft.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Ericson Core | 2006 | 105 min | US

Mark Wahlberg is great at playing sad little schmucks + he proves so here again. This film's particular schmuck is Vince Papale, a guy with too little work + too many problems with his wife during the economically depressed Philadelphia of the mid seventies. Not only is half the city on the brink of poverty, but the legacy Eagles football club sucks shit. Dick Vermeil (a solid Greg Kinnear) is the young college coach brought on to try anything to help the team. In an effort to generate a little excitement for his new tenure, Vermeil's first strategy is to hold open try outs for the Eagles training camp. The thirty year old Papale attends at the goading of his barfly friends + becomes the only local invited to attend camp. The story follows his trials + successes on the field as he becomes the inspiration for a city desperate for inspiration. This is a TRUE STORY. Kind of.

This is Core's first feature as a director after working on several films as a cinematographer. He pulls double duty here, keeping lots of concentration on the urban landscape + seemingly filming everything in orange or green. The aesthetic tries to never let you forget you are in the seventies. If it slips your mind for a moment, don't worry. You're never more than a minute away from a blaring Canned Heat track. I have to say, though, this film looks + sounds great. The period look + soundtrack are carefully chosen to good effect.

Invincible does a very wonderful job of placing the viewer on the field in the middle of the action. You really get the sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer spectacle the way I'm sure rookies do when they run out of the tunnel for the first time. Lots of bright lights + noise bearing down on you in a massive dome.

A lot of liberties are taken with the actual gameplay of the matches we see on screen. I found that unfortunate, but it does serve to heighten the dramatic effect a great deal. I also think the football action is perhaps a bit too chaotic, again likely in an attempt to make the action more appealing to non-football viewers, but it is too frenetic if you actually want to see plays unfold. The superior Friday Night Lights did a much better job in that respect, but I know Invincible is far less about football than it is about the Indomitable Human Spirit. And there are overwrought strings + slow motion scenes a plenty to play along with that theme. But hey, this is a Disney movie. Let something touch your icy heart for once, you miserable son of a bitch.