Cosmopolis – Review

30 Aug

Anyone with a real interest in film has seen a David Cronenberg film at one point in their lives. From what I’ve seen of his filmography (ScannersA History of ViolenceThe FlyVideodromeEastern Promises), my own opinion of him is a real mixed bag. I love some of his movies and I hate just as many, so I went into Cosmopolis with a blank slate. I wasn’t expecting to love it nor was I expecting to hate it. I was merely going to see what happened without any pre-judgement. Well, unfortunately for me… very unfortunately for me, Cosmopolis is Cronenberg’s worst movie yet and shows almost no sign of how talented he really is. This movie is just abysmal.

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Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is a 28 year old billionaire who’s interests for the day lie in an investment in the yuan that may crumble his entire fortune, but more importantly, he needs to get across town so he can get a haircut by his favorite barber. Packer’s trip to the barber soon becomes an odyssey into himself and his beliefs that is complicated by the funeral procession of his favorite rapper and also high security due to the president being in town. As Packer travels through the streets in his high tech stretch limo, he comes in contact with advisors, friends, and lovers that he shares deep existential philosophies with in order to better understand his feelings as a human being. After these conversations don’t help him better understand his own existence, he resorts to violence in order to truly feel something real.

What really pisses me off about this movie is that it had real potential to be something really awesome. It’s like Bret Easton Ellis, William S. Burroughs, and Stanley Kubrick had a baby, but something went really wrong during the pregnancy resulting in this mess of a movie. I hardly even want to call it a movie because at times it really didn’t feel like one. Have you ever been reading a book and thought that a particular passage was boring so you kind of just half read it, but mostly skimmed over it? That’s what I wanted to do with a handful of scenes from Cosmopolis, but couldn’t. Instead I had to sit through these scenes and listen to these people talk and not give a shit about what they had to say. This movie was based off a book, so it makes sense that it feels like one and I’m not sure how good the book actually is, but the translation from page to screen just didn’t work at all.

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It’s so disappointing to see this movie fail since the cast and the other talent involved are more talented than this movie would begin to let on. I’ve already said that Cronenberg is much better than this, even though I really don’t like all of his movies. I still respect him as a film maker, but this movie is a bad example of his work. I also don’t have a problem with Robert Pattinson, although I know a lot of people do. He tries his best in this movie, but he just can’t do anything good with what he’s given. I actually enjoyed watching him though. That’s one thing I will say good about this movie. The only persons who actually function well in this movie are Paul Giamatti, who doesn’t even show up until the end, and Kevin Durand who plays Packer’s bodyguard. Everyone else besides the three I just mentioned are terrible. Every performance is stale and annoying, but I don’t think that it’s all of the actors’ faults.

What is really troublesome about this godforsaken movie is the writing. It’s shot nicely and I firmly believe that the actors try and do their best with what they were given, but the writing is just so horrendous that it’s almost unbearable to listen to. It’s like  encyclopedias on finances and basic existential philosophy were giving me half assed lectures for the entire two hours of my life that this movie made up. Listen, I’m happy to sit through a movie that’s loaded with philosophy. Hell, I loved watching Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, but Cosmopolis has no soul or heart. It was so dead pan and detached, that I couldn’t connect with any of the philosophy that Cronenberg was shoving down my throat. If you want to make a movie that’s heavy on philosophy, it’s kind of important that people can connect with it.

Cosmopolis is ultimately a failure on David Cronenberg’s part, which is upsetting since he had a lot of cool ideas to work with. Instead, what I got was a lecture by characters who had no personalities. And you know what? I get it. It may seem cool and edgy to make a film with a rich character who is completely detached from society. Just look at American Psycho and The Social Network. What made those movies great? There was still humanity in them that allowed the audience to connect. Cosmopolis is completely devoid of any humanity making it one of the most boring and pretentious movies that I have seen in a while. I don’t think I could hate this movie anymore than I already do.

M – Review

27 Aug

Fritz Lang is one of those names that pops up quite frequently in the history of film, but it always seems that everyone is completely baffled on who Lang really was. Being an avid liar during interviews as well as being notoriously awful to his actors and the crew, it can’t really be denied that, as a person, Fritz Lang sucked the big one. The same can’t really be said about his work as a film maker, however, being one of the most influential of the early directors. I’ve already covered Metropolis on this blog, but now let’s look at his first sound feature, and what many call his masterpiece, M.

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After little Elsie Beckmann is kidnapped and murdered on her way home from school, the entire city of Berlin is put on alert to watch their children and keep their eyes open for this killer that has escaped the law once before. This killer is Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), a meticulously evil man who has his eyes one every little girl in the city. The investigation, led by Inspector Karl Lohmann (Otto Wernicke), has been unsuccessful in almost every regard, even after numerous raids on crime dens in the city’s underworld. Soon, the criminals of the city begin to fight back against the murderer, after the heavy police activity has disrupted their own business. A man only known as the Safecracker (Gustaf Gründgens) organizes an army of beggars to being a patrol of their own.

Much like Metropolis, this film is also ahead of its time, and helped pave the way for psychological thrillers yet to come. The topic of child murderers wasn’t a big trend at this time in movie history, and I can’t say that I’ve seen a movie before this one was released that deals so heavily with the topic. MGM studio executive Irving Thalberg was especially affected by M, even though he admitted that if he didn’t know any better, he never would have agreed to the project. Still, he showed this film to all of his newly hired directors and writers as a point of reference for the kind of work that they should all be doing. This makes sense because everything from the acting to the writing to the cinematography work very well in unison, and especially Lang’s use of sound helped give this early talkie a special kind of touch.

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Film noir wasn’t really considered a style back in 1931, although you could see elements that would be essential in some films of this time. is one of those movies that obviously was a huge inspiration to film noir film makers of the forties and fifties. Shadows from buildings make stark shapes on empty streets in the dead of night, and silhouetted characters make certain scenes even more suspenseful. Sound like some of the best noir movies out there. The way the city at night is also very German, with some of the shadowy shapes hearkening back to the days of Expressionism. Sound and music are also very important in M. This was the first film to actually equate a song (In the Hall of the Mountain King) with a character (Peter Lorre’s character). It was done before in opera, but now made the jump to film with this movie. Some scenes are also eerily quiet which was done to save money, but Lang also said it gave scenes of terror more suspense, which is true.

This film has had a very unique history. Being released a few years before the Nazi party officially took power, Lang was uninhibited by certain censorial procedures that would’ve been in place. Joseph Goebbels, himself, even stated that was a remarkable film, but would later go on to use it in propaganda against the Jews, leaving both Lorre and Lang to flee to America. It was kept locked away for many years, but was found once again, only with many frames damaged. The film was even cut down to a much shorter run time which pretty much bastardized Lang’s original vision. It’s only been recently that has been restored to the closest its ever been to the original version. Only one scene is known to be missing, but all of the damaged frames and aspect ratios have all been fixed.

is truly and amazing movie and without question Fritz Lang’s masterpiece. It isn’t just a masterpiece for Lang, but one for the entire genre of psychological thrillers. The themes were new and controversial, while the acting, cinematography, and set design were all fantastic. While it did inspire many film makers of the future and even help shape film noir, is a movie that stands alone as just a fantastic piece of work that will stay in your mind forever, and quite frankly, as perfect a movie as you will get.

Deep Red – Review

22 Aug

Oh boy, here we go again. This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, time I’ve talked about that crazy weird Italian horror film maker Dario Argento. This time, we’re going back to the time before Suspiria, which I never even thought existed. Alright, that’s not true, but it was strange seeing what came before that one since I consider Suspiria to be the go to film for Argento. Two years before Suspiria there was a movie that many say is Argento’s best film, Deep Red. While there are a lot of great things in Deep Red that foreshadowed what excellent things this director was capable of, I felt that this movie lost its focus way to often to be really taken seriously.

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During a performance, psychic Helga Ullman (Macha Meril) begins sensing very violent thoughts being sent to her by someone in the audience. Later on that night, she is brutally murdered with the only witness being jazz pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings). Soon, Daly makes himself part of the investigation along with the persistent journalist Gianna (Daria Nicolodi), but it aways seems like whenever the two find a clue or a lead, someone involved ends up dead in the most discomforting of ways. As the bodies begins to pile and resources being to run out, Marcus and Gianna begin to seriously wonder how the murderer seems to always be one step ahead of them, and also how long they will stay alive in order to uncover the twisted mystery of the murderer’s past.

Depending on which version you see, you may have different takes on the movie. I saw the completely uncut version which runs a little over two hours. For some people who know me through this blog or in real life, you know that I’m a real stickler for run times. If a movie is too short or too long, the entire experience may be ruined. In this case, the movie was far too long. There are other versions that exist that run an hour and a half or an hour and forty minutes, which is a much more acceptable run time for a movie such as Deep Red. The extra twenty minutes to a half hour that were added in for the uncut version is just a bunch of bantering between Marcus and Gianna, which is really boring considering Gianna is pretty much a useless character to begin with.

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That is really the main problem that I have with this movie. Those added scenes that make the “complete” movie completely veer from what makes Deep Red fun and exciting. But that’s not the only thing that rubbed me the wrong way. At first, I thought whoever was responsible for the sound design should be executed, because it is absolutely horrendous. The cast would all of a sudden start speaking Italian and then back to English, which is weird enough, but the Italian voices didn’t match the English voices at all. It’s laughable! Turns out, the movie was originally shot in Italian with English voices dubbed over, but some of the English was lost which meant that the Italian actors spoke with their real voices in some scenes, and someone else’s voice altogether when they were speaking English. Talk about distracting.

But, let’s be real. This movie isn’t all bad. In fact, there were some scenes that literally almost made me jump up and down out of sheer excitement. These served as a reminder as to why horror buffs love Dario Argento in the first place. First of all, the death scenes in this movie are so strange that you can’t help but chuckle at the morbid silliness. Sure, they’re kind of gross at times, but there’s plenty of that trademark bright red Argento blood to fill the screen. There are also other frightening scenes that are wonderfully unique, including a hidden skeleton behind a wall and clever usage of children’s music. Also, the soundtrack by Goblin, who would also do the soundtrack to Suspiria, really drives the action onscreen.

All in all, Deep Red is a disappointing film for me. There are some really excellent scenes of horror, but above all else, this movie is a mystery film. I’d be totally fine with that if the focus was kept on the mystery and not the useless banter between the main protagonist and another character that serves next to no purpose. It’s really a shame since there are sections of this movie that are sincerely creepy, while there are more scenes that are really boring. I’d be curious to watch another version that’s shorter to see if I enjoy it more. Still, Deep Red is reserved to horror buffs only.

 

La Haine – Review

21 Aug

In 1993, a young Zairian man, Makome M’Bowole, was shot in the head at point blank range while being interrogated by the police. The Parisian police claimed that the incident was an act of “self defense” but also “accidental,” which I, along with many others, find hard to believe since Makome was handcuffed to a radiator. This brought about inspiration for young film maker Mathieu Kassovitz, who at just the age of 27 too the Cannes Film Festival by storm with his internationally praised film about social conflict, La Haine. With themes of hatred and ignorance, this film has very well stood the test of time and could be used as an example of social uproar at any point in history or the future.

 

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After a friend of his is brutally beaten into a coma, Vinz (Vincent Cassel) vows to take revenge if he dies. His friends Hubert (Hubert Koundé) and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) think Vinz is all talk until he reveals that he is in possession of a police officer’s pistol that he stole the night before during a riot. The three friends spend the day together, starting in balieue where they all live but eventually they get to the heart of Paris, but one thing remains the same no matter where they go. The hatred that they carry and the hatred put towards them by the police spark numerous confrontations that could possibly end in violence, which only sparks Vinz’s fury even more.

When La Haine ended and I was left sitting on my couch trying to fully process what I just saw, I realized that this was something that was going to take time. I just couldn’t get a read on it right away, partly because of the intense and realistic approach to the subject matter. This movie has definite inspirations rooted in Italian Neorealism, but I think more so in French New Wave, and a sprinkling of American drama on top. The Neorealism can be seen in the use of predominantly unknown actors and the very on the fly style of film making. The New Wave influence can be seen in the wandering narrative where the three main characters just go about their day traveling through their environments. Finally, the American influence, especially in terms of Scorsese, can be seen in the scenes involving the streets and the inner violent tendencies that make up the characters. One scene in particular where Vinz talks to himself in the mirror is very reminiscent of Taxi Driver.

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This film contains very controversial subject matter, but it was especially controversial when it was filmed and released in the early to mid ’90s. Between 1981 and 1993, fatal incidents caused by the police forces in France were at an all time high leading to all of the riots and hatred that you see in this movie. Kassovitz was inspired by this, but wanted everyone to know that this was also just a movie, especially when violence began happening that seemed to mirror that of the movie. It’s clear that Kassovitz wasn’t taking sides in La Haine, which is the best way to possibly tell this story which is about hate, through and through, on both sides. Interestingly enough, when Kassovitz won best director at the Cannes Film Festival, all of the police outside the theater turned their backs to the cast and crew when they exited. This is silly especially since they didn’t even see the movie, and also this movie is not anti-police.

The story of how the movie was made is just as interesting as the movie itself, as you can see by the inspiration for the movie. Kassovitz’s hard work really pays off with La Haine. This is a beautiful movie to look at and listen to, and all of the mostly unknown actors give it everything they got. Cassel, Koundé, and Taghmaoui are all excellent and have real chemistry together. The setting of the projects is also used to its full advantage, which makes sense since Kassovitz, the actors, and the crew all spent a few months living there to immerse themselves in the environment. All of this technical control and true talent combined with the passion everyone had for this movie really shines in every single frame.

La Haine is Kassovitz’s masterpiece, and with the work that he has been doing recently, I’m worried that he isn’t going to ever find that same passion for a project, as he certainly didn’t with Gothika and Babylon A.D. That doesn’t really matter though. What matters is that La Haine isn’t just a pretty movie that has a cool story. It’s actually a hard hitting, intense movie that leaves the audience with questions to answer about themselves, the film, and society in general. This movie is still talked about close to 20 years after it was first released, as it rightly should be. I loved it.

Ratcatcher – Review

18 Aug

Back when I was just starting college, I took a class called “film and video analysis” where we would watch a film and dig deep into how it was made and what the entire point of the movie actually was. Amongst a few others, one that really stood out to me was Ratcatcher, a film that is really nothing like it sounds. Over the years since I took that course, I haven’t gotten a chance to revisit the movie until just recently, and I was pleased that it still had the same effect on me as it did when I first saw it. This is a somber yet poetic movie about the loss of innocence in an environment where only certain people could survive and even fewer escaped.

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After accidentally causing his good friend (Thomas McTaggart) to drown, James (William Eadie) is left to suffer with his guilt while trying to make the best of life in a poor section of Glasgow during garbage strike of 1973. Trash and pests litter the streets and backyards of James’ town, which causes him to dream about life outside of the city. James’ parents George (Tommy Flanagan) and Anne (Mandy Matthews) are doing what they can to provide for their children and be relocated to new developments outside of the city, although James’ relationship with his father is strained by alcoholism and a severe lack of any other connections. James finds solace in visiting the new housing projects and making friends with neighborhood girl Margaret (Leanne Mullen), who is tortured by the local teenage boys.

Ratcatcher is a very episodic movie without a really strong conflict holding the entire movie together. What really holds the movie together is the thematic mood that writer/director Lynne Ramsay has created. The style of this movie is very similar to British Realism, and Ramsay’s particular film making techniques reminds me of Andrea Arnold’s (Fish TankWasp) technique. While Ratcatcher takes place in Scotland, it is a British and Scottish production, so similarities in style makes sense. This works perfectly well for this movie, and I would consider it one of the most honest films I have ever seen. There is no sugar coating or inappropriate optimism here. It depicts a difficult life for a most difficult child.

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That picture right above this really summarizes the mood of the film. I have to give major props to the child actors in this movie, but especially William Eadie. His role is extremely difficult, and it’s surprising that he manages to hold it all together so well. He comes across as very intelligent but just as naïve. The weight of this role really should be more than a kid his age could handle. He’s up there with Catinca Untaru from The Fall. Another excellent performance can be seen in Leanne Mullen, who plays the role of Margaret, the tortured neighborhood girl. I read one review that compares her facial acting to Maria Falconetti and her performance in The Passion of Joan of Arc. This movie, especially with its roots in British Realism, wouldn’t have worked without the performances of these young actors.

Something else that Ramsay really succeeds at is painting a portrait of the time period and the setting that Ratcatcher is trying to portray. This is a dark side of Glasgow in the 1970s during a most unbelievable conflict concerning the trash men. It’s amazing that people lived this way for a while with rats and garbage piled up and dead animals laying amongst it. Ramsay’s uncompromising portrayal of this deserves a round of applause, especially with everything she had to go through to get this result. She even went so far as to dig a new canal for filming purposes. That is dedication that payed off in the end.

Ratcatcher is a thought provoking coming of age story that I still can’t quite get a grasp on. Is it a commentary on the lifestyle of the time or is it simply about loss of innocence in the most extreme way possible? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Still and all, I was pleased to see that this movie still amazed me even after the time that I haven’t seen it. I remembered a lot from when I watched it in school, but there were parts that still surprised me. This is a disturbingly poetic film that tells a wonderful story about a damned childhood. Definitely a must see.

Lucy – Review

14 Aug

Luc Besson is one of those film makers that you either love or hate, or don’t even realize who he is and how many movies you’ve actually seen that he’s been involved with. Personally, I think he’s great. Many of his action films that he either wrote, produced, directed or any combination of the three are normally very enjoyable in that switch your brain off kind of way. It is true, however, that he hasn’t really made an “excellent” film since the days of The Professional and La Femme Nikita, and Lucy certainly isn’t breaking that pattern. I will say that, like The Family and The Transporter and Taken, this is a fun movie that you definitely need to turn off for and just buckle in for the ride.

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Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is not having a good day what with being pressured by her boyfriend to be the middle man during a transaction with the sadistic Korean drug lord, Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik). The deal goes down well, but now Lucy is left in the custody of Mr. Jang to serve as a mule in order to get Jang’s new drug into the hands of people all over the world. What Jang wasn’t counting one was the surgically implanted drug packet breaking inside Lucy’s stomach and barraging her with the effects. Soon, Lucy begins evolving into something more than the human capacity could possibly handle and teams up with the world renowned psychologist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) and French police captain Pierre (Amr Waked) to figure out how to stop her brain from overloading her body’s nervous system, but also to get her revenge on Mr. Jang for causing all of this in the first place.

Before anyone even needs to say anything, of course this movie’s premise is total bullshit. It’s been proven that humans use more than 10% of our brain capacity leaving that idea to be nothing more than an outdated theory. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a really cool idea for a movie. In fact, Lucy is pretty similar in idea to the 2011 film Limitless starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. Think of Lucy as Limitless on steroids. There’s plenty of really cool action in this movie and some pretty neat special effects. Plus, Scarlett Johansson, who has already shown this in the multiple Marvel films she’s been in, can be a complete badass if the occasion calls for it. It’s everything you’d expect from a Luc Besson movie, with a bit of a philosophical twist.

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One thing I do have to complain briefly about is the time spent in between all of the cool things. The gripe I have with Besson’s films, save for one or two, is that he knows how to craft really cool ideas and scenes that make for a memorable movie, but the down time in these movies really leave something to be desired. This is true also with Lucy even though there isn’t a whole lot of down time to be had. When there is, however, it is anything but interesting and I found my mind drifting when I should have been paying attention. Also, it’s kind of odd to have philosophical discussions in movies like this, especially when the premise is already complete ludicrous. I found the attempts at philosophy a little heavy handed and unnecessary. All you need to do for this movie is check your brain at the door and don’t listen to anything deep Besson wants you to hear. This is an action movie to the core and that’s it.

After saying all that, I really do have to say that this is a totally kick ass movie. I’ve liked it a little more since I’ve seen it, even though I don’t think I’m ever going to really love the movie. There’s one scene in particular where Lucy, without aiming at all, shoots through a door a few times, almost with precision. I knew what was going to happen, but it was so cool to see the accurate effects of her shooting even through the hard wood door. The movie is filled with awesome scenes like that, and it’s so much fun to watch Lucy evolve more and more, making her enemies nothing compared to her. Besson really outdid himself on the cool factor for this film.

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Lucy isn’t particularly a great film, but in terms of summer popcorn fun, you can’t really go wrong here. I’ve heard a lot of talk about how the movie doesn’t really have a point and the science doesn’t even make sense. It makes me wonder when people forgot that going to the movies was supposed to offer a couple hours of FUN. Notice the emphasis on fun. To those of you who know how to have a good time at the movies and check your brain at the door, Lucy will provide you with some quick and memorable entertainment, despite its major scientific and narrative flaws. For those of you who can’t get the sticks out of your asses, may I offer you some Godard and tea?

 

Knife in the Water – Review

12 Aug

When I’ve talked about debut films from major directors who have proven themselves in their field, I always say something about how greatness starts somewhere, but it isn’t always such an easy beginning for film makers. One person who hit the jackpot with his debut feature film was Roman Polanski, who amongst all of the controversy surrounding him has still managed to make movies that people want to see and that people will love. His first film, Knife in the Water, which he made right after graduating from the National Film School in Łódź in Poland. This film earned him worldwide success and an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film.

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Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) and Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka) are a married couple who are on their way to their boat for a day on the water. Along the way, they decide to pick up a young hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz) who explains that he just walks around until someone decides to pick him up. Both the couple and the hitchhiker are completely different kinds of people and it isn’t long before Andrzej and the young man begin butting heads. As the group head out on the water, the two men begin fighting and humiliating each other, all with the intention of getting Krystyna’s attention. As the tension boils for the day throughout the night, the inevitable climax of violence bursts which may spell the end of happiness and a life of peace for everyone involved.

What’s so impressive about this movie is the tension that Polanski is able to build so well, even though this is his debut as a feature film maker. At the time, he was already pretty well known on the festival circuit for short films that he made while a student. Knife in the Water, however, marked the official beginning of his career, and what a beginning it was. It isn’t everyday that someone’s first film gets nominated for an Academy Award. Of course, Polanski didn’t win the award since he was up again Fellini’s 8 1/2, which is objectively the better film, but I have to admit that I enjoyed Knife in the Water a lot more.

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Amongst other things, the main draw of this movie is the tension. I can’t stress that word enough. The whole movie, being shot primarily just on the boat, has a very claustrophobic feeling, and it provided much difficulty in shooting the film. The characters in this movie come from completely different lifestyles which leads to a lot of arguing and debating about how things should be done on the boat. The entire situation still feels very realistic though, as if this were really happening and we were just spectators to the conflict. It also helps that this is just a beautifully shot film with the black and white cinematography working wonderfully with the river and the sky. The jazz soundtrack also provides appropriate and sometimes humorous background music to the different scenes. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of music, but that’s probably why it’s so interesting.

Finally, there are a lot of things the movie is trying to say without actually being on a side. Both of the male characters all have positive and negative sides to them, with the negatives showing themselves more and more as the movie goes on. It was a clever way to show the economic situation in Poland at the time when the upper and lower classes were at odds with each other, as they normally are in any society at any time. It also gives a unique perspective into male sexuality and desires, making these supposedly strong men into fawning children competing over the attention of a pretty lady. This movie is a great example of style, story, and substance while still remaining minimalistic.

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Knife in the Water is a very interesting, albeit very slow film by Roman Polanski. There’s nothing particularly exciting that happens in the film, but that’s almost the point. Events play out as events would play out, and nothing more. While the style can surely be appreciated, it’s also easy to appreciate the simple yet smart story as long with all of the texture that goes along with that. Many critics say that this is one of Roman Polanski’s best movies. I’m not sure I would say that, but it sure is a damn good one.

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