Thursday, December 30, 2010

Baghead + The Other Boleyn Girl

Baghead. I liked this more than I was expecting to considering it's a horror film (sort of) based around a villain who wears a brown paper bag on his head. Not exactly Michael Myers creepy. It's a standard, run of the mill brown paper bag and its normalcy might be the key for it causing fear or uneasiness as Baghead unfolds. The story, done up in as much comedy as fright by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, concerns two women and two males heading out to a remote cabin for the weekend to work on a screenplay they can all be in. When there, drink is consumed, lusts are born and strange things begin to occur. You know, unknown types with a bag on the head emerging from the darkness or appearing in rooms.

I enjoyed another Duplass brother film a few years back called The Puffy Chair. Baghead has the same low-budget, improvised feel and mood. There's a casual spontaneity among the four cast members as they banter back and forth about films, what is happening to them or drunkenly make romantic passes at each other. It's a very flimsy premise, but the likable group of actors and some weirdness toward the end with Mr. Baghead make it funny in an awkward way and kind of eerie in a silly way. Nothing says terror like a killer with a bag on their heads, right?

The Other Boleyn Girl. Take my advice on this very, very subpar monarchy set melodrama from 2008: avoid it. Granted, films set among royal families of any nation are not something that interests me. Ever. Add The Other Boleyn Girl to the list. It's not that I just don't like these sorts of king/queen films (although I don't!), this is just a bad film and would be hard-pressed to please people into this world or time in history. It's a failure at everything it tries to be. Romance, historical drama, suspense--all of these do not work. The Other Boleyn Girl is dull, poorly written, poorly acted and full of characters I didn't care if they lived, loved or had their heads chopped off by the king.

Set in 16th century England during the reign of Henry VIII (played stiffly by Eric Bana), two sisters vie for the king's attention. Desperate for a male heir, the randy king takes sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson in heaving bosom mode) as a mistress, but then takes sister Anne (Natalie Portman) as a wife. It's complicated in the king's bedchambers. One sister will end up without a head. There's a decent cast in this, but it's ruined by a heavy handed script and direction, The Other Boleyn Girl confirms my long-held thoughts about the monarchy that will make me pass on the next film set in this period among this or that king/queen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Metropolis poster

Metropolis, one of my favorite silent films of all-time recently played here in Tulsa with all the added footage that has made it a must-see for the film geek in 2010. The 1927 dystopian science fiction film directed by Fritz Lang while he was working at UFA (Germany's major film studio from 1917-1945) also has one of my favorite film posters. In fact, variations of this poster I've seen are also pretty mind-blowing as well. I so loved this female robot that when Dan Fritschie created the CineRobot propaganda poster in 2009, I asked him to channel his inner foxy robot--see CineRobot poster below for comparison.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

UTW review of The Tourist

Go here if you want to read my review of The Tourist in a recent Urban Tulsa Weekly. It's a blatant star-vehicle kind of picture with real, honest to goodness movie stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie doing what they do best in the thriller/action genre that this exists in--be movie stars. To know if I liked it or not, you'll have to click the link and read on...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Heart Melissa Leo

In the opening moments of the 2008 drama Frozen River, the camera lingers on the face of its lead character played by Melissa Leo. In this brief, intimate moment we come to an understanding about this person--she is tired, worn-down, frightened, worried, emotional and angry. No words are said as none are needed, Leo tells us everything we need to know simply by showing us her face. And what a glorious face it is too--the face of a 50 year old woman who is also a great actress. What a novel concept!

In this day and age of surgeries, chemical injections and other medical attacks on aging that turns people into deformed mutants rather than making them look younger, Leo appears to have have rejected that path. Who ever truly knows though, unless the person has gone full-freakshow with their faces? The best thing about this for Leo--and other actors who are worried about the tolling bell of getting older--is that her career has never been better. She got a deserved best actress nod for Frozen River and has been a busy, busy performer of late among the cast of recent films such as Conviction, The Fighter and a prominent place on the acclaimed HBO series Treme.

I first became a fan of Leo's in 1993 when she took on the role of Kay Howard, a tough-talking detective in an all-male world on the wonderful television series Homicide: Life on the Street. There were some powerhouse actors on Homicide (Andre Braugher, Ned Beatty, Yaphet Kotto among others) and Leo more than held her own as Howard was a feisty, independent, complicated, well-thought out character. After the show ended, Leo went into bit-part purgatory before emerging from the wilderness with the gritty, low-budget Frozen River. I hope Leo keeps getting these good roles too for evidence that not every woman (or man) of a certain age doesn't have to carve up their face into some kind of mysterious plasticine version of the way they think they look.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I sometimes wish I was living in New York City again

I'm going to try to not knock on Tulsa or Oklahoma on this post as I'm happy to be living in the area where I was born, raised, have most of my family, went to school, have friends I've known for 30+ years and feel both comfortable and inspired most of the time. But, sometimes I read about cultural events happening in other cities and dig deep into that area of my heart populated by wanderlust. It gives me serious pause. I ask myself: why am I not living in New York City, the absolute mecca for all the cultural things that I love?

For example, MoMA just opened this massive exhibit related to German films called Weimar Cinema, 1919-1933: Daydreams and Nightmares. It absolutely sickens me that I can't go experience the most comprehensive exhibit on German cinema in American history. There's posters, film stills, material and more than anything--films. 75 feature length movies from this vibrant period including such legends as Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau and G.W. Pabst. Many films will have their first screening in decades or are restored film prints that were "discovered" post-German reunification. It makes my heart ache in longing!

But, I'll stay with Tulsa with sadness in my bones when I read about events such as this. It's not so bad, right? I have my Netflix queue with nearly 200 films ready to be shipped to me. I have my beloved Circle Cinema, where it takes a while for films to get here, but at least they get here.  It could be a lot worse for me film wise, I could be living in the godforsaken movie town of Oklahoma City after all. Now that would be truly depressing.

Image from 1925 film Variety.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

UTW review of Tamara Drewe

Go here if you want to read my review of the English pastoral sex farce Tamara Drewe. Directed by Stephen Frears and starring the lovely Gemma Arterton, this is kind of a hit and miss comedy with lots of pretty views of the countryside (and of Arterton!).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Taxi Driver + Heartbreaker

Taxi Driver. It's a very difficult proposition to list my favorite Martin Scorsese films, but if I had to make one (anyone who knows me knows I love a good list so this isn't exactly torture) Taxi Driver would be a solid number three. The sad thing for it, no matter how many times I watch it, chances are it will stay at number three. No way I will ever move it ahead of my two favorites Raging Bull and Good Fellas. Those two are as good as it gets for cinema as a whole, no matter the director. Future Scorsese movies? No hope they will eclipse these three.

Released in 1976, Taxi Driver still packs a tremendous punch as a visceral look at urban isolation, decay and seediness as a socially inept war veteran (Travis Bickle) goes off the deep end whilst coming up with ways to clean the streets of the "scum" he encounters while driving his taxi. Robert De Niro's first post-Godfather II (1974) role is as Bickle and it's a legendary performance with lots of classic scenes ("You talkin' to me?" being the most well known). The only thing about it that never stops bugging me is why De Niro wore a skullcap rather than shaving an actual mohawk on his head. I don't care about sequence filming or any of that. He should have taken razor to skull. How is that method acting, Mr. De Niro? Taxi Driver has a relentless script from Paul Schrader and it's just as dark today as when it originally came out. Great supporting roles by Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster and a brief, wonderful scene by Stephen Prince as a gun salesman named Easy Andy that kills me every time I watch it. Taxi Driver belongs in the category of must see over and over cinema.

Heartbreaker. Now for something different--French farce! I love French cinema and there's nothing more enjoyable from there than witnessing their version of the American romantic comedy. If I had to choose between something similar between France and America regarding romantic comedies--it's France. Sorry patriotic Americans but Hollywood has dumbed down this genre so much they are increasingly painful to watch. The French know how to deliver chemistry, physical comedy, intelligence and more edge than the parade of blander than bland movies Hollywood creates. Let's add Heartbreaker to that list of how the French do it better than the Americans.

Starring the charismatic (and desperate for a cheeseburger and fries skinny) Romain Duris as a lover-for-hire, paid to break up relationships by seducing unhappy females by concerned loved ones. He works in a team of three (more comedy fodder obviously) and he takes the job very seriously, doing research, creating elaborate ruses to further woo his target. Trouble ensues when he meets Juliette Van Der Becq (Johnny Depp's l'amour Vanessa Paradis), an extremely wealthy, independent and not interested since she's about to be married. Or is she?  Of course she is! It wouldn't be a farcical French romantic comedy if she isn't tempted by Duris' charms. Light as a feather, Heartbreaker delivers laughs and romance as it beguiles the characters on the screen and the audience as well.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

UTW review of 127 Hours

Go here if you want to read my review of 127 Hours in a recent Urban Tulsa Weekly. Based on real events, it's Danny Boyle's follow-up to Slumdog Millionaire and stars James Franco as a young man trapped in a Utah canyon who'll do something desperate to survive. It's pretty good too.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Movie tickets #21

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

UTW review of The Tillman Story

Go here if you want to read my review of The Tillman Story in a recent Urban Tulsa Weekly. It's a documentary that tells the story of professional football player Pat Tillman's journey from the NFL to the mountains of Afghanistan, where he was killed in action as a member of the Army Rangers. It's one of my favorite documentaries of the year and will likely get your blood boiling as the government lies, bullies and tries to trick the family and public all in the name of a jingoistic patriotism. Recommended. 

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Runaways, Atonement + Spirit of the Beehive

The Runaways. I'm pretty critical on films about rock bands or rock music. I just can't tolerate all the mistakes in story, tone and detail errors these kinds of films continuously have. Very rarely do I see a rock music related film where I think the subject matter and the music were captured correctly. Control, a 2007 English film about Joy Division from director Anton Corbijn is an example of a film I loved that got everything right. The Runaways is another of the long-list of rock n roll movies that irritate much more than they satisfy me. Something that I couldn't overlook for the entire film is just how little to do with the story Lita Ford was given. I guess she didn't sell her life rights to the producers so her participation in the band (and movie) was miniscule. I could not let her invisibility go. 
The Runaways were an all-girl teenage rock band that played in the 1970s.  Kristen Stewart actually does a surprisingly good job playing the young Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning takes on singer Cherie Currie [check out the awesome poster I dug up online].  As mentioned, there is virtually no Lita Ford in this film version of The Runaways. I liked some of the early scenes of the band learning how to play, write songs and go on tour, but by the end it's devolved into an after-school special about the dangers of too many drugs and too much rock n roll lifestyle. That's original. The Runaways is just another Hollywood misfire in the world of rock music. It did make me get out Joan Jett's first two records and re-listen to them so that's something. 

Atonement. In preparation for a Tulsa City-County Library panel event I was a speaker on, I read Ian McEwan's novel Atonement and watched the film version. As usual, book defeats movie. There's really no comparing the two worlds as the novel is such an intimate experience. The movie is just a watered down taste of what the world McEwan creates on the written page. When I saw Atonement in 2007, it never quite felt right to me in tone. After this avalanche of it in my life and thoughts--it still doesn't. I just can't buy the entire Briony escapade by what we get delivered to us on the screen. In the novel, yes, but not the film version. The book makes it clear to me that there's too much WW2 stuff and not enough of the early portion of the story, but I imagine that was what helped get the film funded and director Joe Wright gets to show-off with an epic long-shot on the beaches that deliver the madness of war. That particular shot, while impressive, is actually rather distracting. I spent the entire time wondering when it was going to end rather than pay attention to what Wright was trying to film. Go with the novel. 

Spirit of the Beehive.  I have to admit, I'm including this 1973 Spanish film Spirit of the Beehive because I absolutely love this poster. Amazing! The film itself is slow, dreamy, plotless, haunting, contemplative and open-ended. If this makes it sound like a foreign film that's because it reeks of its European heritage. The story is about a girl whose family is fractured and after she watches James Whale's 1931 film Frankenstein, she loses herself more and more to the inner world of a child. You have to be in the right kind of mood to watch Spirit of the Beehive, but if you stay with it long enough, it will reward you. What can be enjoyed year round though is that poster on the left. There's something about a hexagon that I'm really drawn to. I love hexagons! 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

November movies

There Was a Crooked Man---1970---usa   ***
Cairo Time---2010---canada   ***
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu---2006---romania   ***1/2
Nowhere Boy---2010---england   ***
The Runaways---2009---usa   **1/2
Object and Memory---2009---usa   **1/2
Atonement---2007---england   ***
Sweetgrass---2010---usa   ***
The Best That Never Was---2010---usa   ****
Tamara Drewe---2010---england   ***
Morning Glory---2010---usa   **
Spirit of the Beehive---1973---spain   ***1/2
The Tillman Story---2010---usa    ****
Xanadu---1980---usa   **1/2
Whip It---2009---usa   **1/2
127 Hours---2010---england   ****
Baghead---2009---usa   ***1/2
Love & Other Drugs---2010---usa   **1/2
The Other Boleyn Girl---2008---usa   **
The Girl Who Played With Fire---2009---sweden   ***1/2