Friday, November 30, 2012

Catching up with 2012: Haywire

After seeing Haywire twice in two weeks, I’m convinced that it’s one of Steven Soderbergh’s very best films. I’m also convinced that Soderbergh should only make films with Lem Dobbs writing the screenplays. The two previously collaborated on my favorite Soderbergh movie, The Limey (and famously had a heated audio commentary session for that film), and after 13 years the two reunite for this modern thriller that has little-to-nothing to do with thrills or spying or the sexy lifestyle we usually associate with films that cover such things. The action, though, is something else. Soderbergh wisely shoots the action not in the manic Bourne style, but in a proscenium style. By staging the action in long shot, two things work better than they do in other modern action pictures: one is that the action sometimes happens in the background just like he did in The Limey, making it far more interesting for our eyes to follow the action than your normal action film. The second thing is showcased in the film’s fantastic final fight scene which is cut just as quickly as a Bourne film; however, instead of cutting quickly and shaking the damn camera all over the place to give the illusion that we’re in the fight, Soderbergh strings together multiple long shots to give the illusion that there’s quick movement. It’s a neat little effect and a pleasant change to what we normally get with modern action films.

Gina Carano – the UFC star – is great in the lead role (she even gets to use a few arm bars), and as usual with a Soderbergh film, Haywire is littered with great supporting performances from A-list actors (my favorites being Michael Douglass and Antonio Banderas, who sports an amazing beard). Haywire reminded me a lot of the tone found in Soderbergh’s uber cool films Out of Sight, The Limey, and Ocean’s Twelve; he paints the screen in his usual greens, yellows, and blues; and he moves most of the narrative (which is pretty silly with the little plot it concerns itself with) with his typical French New Wave stylings as montage and jazzy music move the narrative more than exposition. We get a lot of layered scenes where characters talk while other action – either via flashback or parallel sequences – take place, and the film just kind eases its way through all of its setpieces without a care for modern action film conventions. Haywire feels like a mashup of the aforementioned heavily stylized Soderbergh films as well as Jim Jarmusch’s anti-thriller The Limits of Control. Effortless in how cool it is, Haywire made me giddy in the same way Out of Sight and The Limey did when I first saw those two films. It’s such a fun movie to watch (and watch and watch), rivaling Soderbergh’s very best. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Catching up with 2012: Bernie

Richard Linklater’s Bernie has a ceaselessly entertaining opening 30 minutes, but then it devolves into something that the opening sequence could never portend: normalcy. Bernie loses steam after its fantastic opening, which includes a fantastic introduction to our main protagonist Bernie Tiede (Jack Black). Bernie is a funeral director (“No one uses the word ‘mortician’ anymore” explains Bernie) who we’re introduced to as he gives a lesson to a college class of future funeral directors on how to prepare a corpse. Bernie is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to funeral directing: he dresses the corpse, sells the coffins, designs the funeral parlors so they “seem more holy,” and even subs for the pianist when they’re nowhere to be found (one of my favorite moments of the movie, and a natural fit for Black). Whether it’s the aforementioned musical performance from Black, the moment when he sells a coffin to a couple (upselling them so he won’t have to make a “leg adjustment” because the coffin the couple really wants is too small), or the way he stages a live-action PSA for driving drunk for teenagers outside of their high school (my favorite moment: telling the kid playing the dead teenager not to laugh as Bernie lifts him up on the gurney), Bernie is worth seeing because of how Linklater uses Jack Black.

Bernie belongs to Black. Yes, Shirley MacLaine as Marjorie Nugent, the wealthy widow Bernie befriends and moves in with (despite the uneasiness of the surrounding Carthage, Texas community), is great; Matthew McConaughey is also great as Danny Buck, the DA that prosecutes Bernie for the murder of Marjorie, especially in the scenes at the end during the trial; and the costume (Kari Perkins) and production design (Bruce Curtis) feels spot-on and of its place – the film still is worth your time if only to see Jack Black’s best performance and to see him work for a filmmaker that really knows how to utilize his talent.

Linklater isn’t making some kind of snarky film, here. There seems to be a love for this little pocket of Texas – away from the “hairy-legged women of Austin” and the Mercedes driving citizens in Dallas as one character explains – which has a real small-town southern charm to it. However, Bernie begins on such a high note that as the film progresses and settles into its normalcy, we begin to notice the air is slowly leaving the balloon. McConaughey helps keep things afloat for a bit, but I was just disappointed after the film’s amazingly off-beat and hilarious opening 30 minutes that film settled into a “normal” narrative. Still, it’s worth a view, but it could have been so much more than it ends up being. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Catching up with 2012: The Grey

I haven't seen this pointed out elsewhere, which doesn't mean it hasn't been, but: The Grey stars Liam Neeson as a man who responds to the tragic and premature death of his wife by journeying to extreme places to take jobs that require him to kill things. I shall absolutely not go so far as to say that it's a deliberate self-commentary, particularly since Neeson wasn't the first actor attached, and since his new career as cinema's favorite aging badass was ignited with 2008's Taken, before the shocking death of his wife Natasha Richardson; but surely we can all agree that he turned into a full-flung action star in The A-Team, Unknown, and the upcoming Battleship (and if you really want to push it, Clash of the Titans) with eyebrow-raising speed; the pop-psychologist in me can't help but wonder if just a tiny part of that is the rage of a man against how goddamn unfair life is, expressed in a series of splashy and pornographically violent fantasies about getting revenge on all the bad guys.
                                                                                                           ---- Tim Brayton

I tend to side with Tim on this one (his review can be found here). When thought about in the context of Neeson's own life and personal tragedy surrounding his wife's death, The Grey becomes so much more than its pathetic trailers suggest. I love that the film plays with the idea of "A Liam Neeson Action Movie" (and how weird, even after all of these post-Taken action films he's starred in, that we're used to the notion of “Liam Neeson Action Star" in the same way we are used to, say, "Bruce Willis Action Star") where instead of getting Neeson Versus Wolves (NVW?), we’re presented with a much more bleak, contemplative film about life and death and the will to keep going even though there's nothing really left to move towards. Yes, that sounds trite, but so what?  The Grey is intense and earnest in all of the right places; it plays like more of a cerebral adventure film than a fight for survival action movie as it applies a slow burn approach as the film moves towards an inevitable: an incredibly bleak existential coda that I absolutely was not expecting when I sat down to watch the movie. I like the simplicity of The Grey, and I was damn shocked to be so moved by its melancholy opening, especially considering the film’s director, Joe Carnahan, has never shown the ability to pull that particular club out of his bag. The film still punches you in the face the way Carnahan’s earlier films do, but its intensity and dourness is also nicely balanced by the performances (I especially liked Dermot Mulroney) in the same way his great Narc was. It’s not some surprise film that will sneak its way onto my year-end list, but it’s a helluva a lot better than it had any right to be considering the way the studio was selling this thing to potential viewers. It’s worth checking out for the fantastic opening, Neeson’s performance, and the way the film works on you with an existential sadness that pervades the film as you start to realize that there can be no happy ending here; a sadness made all the more resonant and affecting when thought about within the context of Neeson’s own tragedy. 

Monday, November 19, 2012


I've got a handful of films left to review for my Sydney Pollack retrospective, but it's time for me to start thinking about what to do next (so I can load up my queue with the movies I'll need). And that's where you all come in. I know Pollack doesn't elicit the most excitement, but I've enjoyed watching, and writing about, his films. However, I want to turn it over to you, my dear readers, to decide which filmmaker I cover next. On the right side of the blog is a poll. You'll notice the selection of filmmakers varies greatly. So, you can either be nice to me and choose quality, or, if you want to see me go crazy, you can choose Michael Bay. I figured either way we would have a lot of fun with this next round of the retrospective. So go ahead and vote; I'll leave the poll up for a couple of weeks.

Sydney Pollack: Tootsie

When films are usually credited with more than two writers, there’s a consensus that something is fishy. The idea that a script needs three or four or sometimes even five writers usually doesn’t bode well for the quality of the film. Generally it is believed that the more writers the film has to its name, the more troubled the process was of getting it ready to shoot. I mean, just look at something like Armageddon: here is a film that many would agree is one of the absolute worst films of the ‘90s; it had more than five writers. Lethal Weapon 4 supposedly had 12 writers; The Flintstones – rumors have it – had over 60 (!) writers take a stab at the screenplay; and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – one of the worst films in recent memory – had more than four writers to its name (some simply getting credit for “adapting” due to WGA rules). The point? Well, in 1982 Sydney Pollack would try his hand at making sense of the oft-bounced around script for what would become Tootsie. Everything about the film’s pre-production would point towards it being a failure; however, Pollack – the old pro – would piece together the scraps that were left from all of the previous writers who tried their hand at making the script work. Prior to its release, there was no way of predicting that Tootsie would be the second highest grossing film at the box-office (behind E.T.) and would be one of Pollack’s most popular and successful films.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Italian Horror Blogathon: Postscript

Well, that seemed to go by fast. I want to thank everyone for their participation in this year's blogathon. Every year I do this blogathon, I am amazed at the amount of participation and enthusiasm for it. I had a horribly written, humble little blog that started in 2008, and after a year of figuring things out (and another two before I finally figured how I wanted to write), I decided to run a blogathon. My first love has always been the horror film, specifically the Italian horror film. So when I decided to run an Italian horror blogathon (thinking that it would just be my brother and myself participating), I was shocked to find two things: 1. People read my blog. 2. These people were interested in participating in a blogathon about Italian horror. I had to postpone the blogathon the second year, but I brought it back last year and was, again, surprised and humbled by the interest people seemed to have in it. This year was no different. I don't know if more people read the entries of those that participated (or if more people read my entries), but I know that I took to Twitter to help promote it in hopes that more eyes would be reading all of the great submissions that came my way.

And this is really what I want to get across in this post: Thanks for helping me promote this thing. I'm not the best at self-promotion. It's nice to know that people read the blog and comment on it, but I don't do what I do on here for page hits. And so I've never been one to go out of my to promote things; I'll do the basics needed to get the word out. My horrible MS Paint created blog banners promoting the blogathon should be proof that this isn't some kind of professional movie blog; however, what I lack in professional photoshop skills I'd like to think my effort more than makes up for. And so I thank you all for helping me promote this thing, for helping me feel good about putting the effort by participating, and, more than anything, thanks for the quality of these pieces. I feel luck to have people that want to do this every year, but I feel even more fortunate that the quality of the submissions are always top-notch. So, thanks! Let's do this again next year.

In case any of these got buried on the front page, links to all of my reviews are after the jump. You can check out all of this year's submissions here.