East Coast Correspondent

My coveted East Coast Correspondent finally weighted in with her 2007 picks. It’s never too late.

Been thinking about this. Here they are:

1. Sunshine
2. Atonement
3. Hot Fuzz
4. My Best Friend
5. 28 Weeks Later
6. There Will Be Blood
7. Superbad
8. Death Proof
9. Battlestar Galactica: Razor
10. Charlie Wilson’s War

My thoughts: A one of a kind list. My love for Sunshine is emmence but picking it as number one is something not many (if any) people, critics or not, did last year so I’m happy that this underrated film got a top mention.

Also, I enjoyed every single film here. Okay, TWWB is too low but the fact that it made the list at all (despite you disagreeing with the milk shakey direction it went at the end) is enough to shut me up. Seeing picks like Charlie Wilson and My Best Friend rank is refreshing as not many of us did so (but kind of wish we had) and Atonement’s high placing is interesting because the film received so much backlash that I almost forgot how good it is.

Cool list!

Review: Doomsday

If you were lucky enough to not see Neil Marshall’s “The Descent” then do yourself a favor and do so again on his latest film. There’s not much to “Doomsday” except for the doom part of the title. For starters, it’s not really about the end of the world. It’s about the end of the UK (again?!) via a virus breakout in Scotland that infects every kilt waring bloke in town. The whole joint is isolated in the world’s dumbest quarantine plan: a thirty foot high brick wall. 30 years after this extinction level event to borrow a Busta Rhymes lyric (or should I say “28 Years Later”???), the doomsday virus emerges in England and the deceptive government (is there any other kind) sponsored special elite team (you know, the kind from every film post “Aliens”) is sent back to ground zero to discover why there are survivors.

Maybe the survivors have the cure. Or maybe they’re Darwinism in action–a sign from God that our city populations are growing too big and need to be “dealt with.” “In the land of the infected, the immune man is king” the country’s lone scientist posits, having no doubt just read the handbook for mad scientist-speak. In a bout of “No Escape” ripoff-iage, the so-called survivors are divided between heavy metal cannibals that have a thing for theatrics, fire and motorcycles (God, they ARE stuck in the 80s) and medieval fatalists lead by the doctor that have abandoned humanity to live in a castle for some unknown reason. Enter the humorless, bland but beautiful one-eyed superhero played by Rhona Mitra. With her vampy Laura Croft frame and “Resident Evil”/Snake Plisskin (she even has a patch!) swagger, Edan (yes, her name is that overwrought) shoots first and asks questions later.

After all that shooting, when we finally get to the later part, there are no questions. None worth asking at any rate. Look, I have no problem admitting that I paid to see the film because I love, love, love post apocalyptic thrill rides. I love them for what they say about the human condition via a very telling Biblical desire to perform a global do-over and start anew by casting off the “undesirable” elements of society. I also love these kinds of films because they are always allowed more freedom (stylistically as well as narratively) than the usual sci-fi or action fare. This film has the premise right but none of the curiosity or visual excitement to capture my imagination. Any film can get the concept right, very few manage to make the concept work so consider “Doomsday” a causality of its own war. It’s “28 Days/Weeks Later,” it’s “Mad Max,” it’s “Road Warrior,” it’s “Thunderdome,” it’s “Resident Evil,” it’s Romerio, it’s Carpenter… it’s crap!

Grade: C

Quick Review: Funny Games

Quick Review: Written under two hours after seeing the film.

 

Lets face it, we had this coming. To anyone who derived pleasure from torture porn the likes of “Saw” 1,2,3,4, etc. and “Hostel,” this film is for us. Look at it as a form of punishment if you must. A wakeup call that should be required viewing for us armchair sadists. “Funny Games” is a violent film about violence in film. That message has been made (“Natural Born Killers”), made better (“A History of Violence,” “Man Bites Dog”) and even been made before (ten years later and Michael Haneke has directly remade his own film!) so why has it been made… again? My take is that since Haneke played the original “Game” before the horror film trend flourished in the early 00s, it is fitting for him to come at us again, head-on, with a film that hacks away at its target at a time when the torture movie trend has ironically become torturous.

Ever the fan of filmmakers revisiting their own work for a different culture (“Grudge” failed spectacularly and we can a lot from it if we just ask “why?”), it is noteworthy that a director of such immense talent has remade “Funny Games” for the American crowd. Except, now that it’s here, the American crowd doesn’t want to see “real” torture. We don’t want to be punished with what we like, do we? We want to have fun with it and that’s Haneke’s overly obvious point. Seeing torture for what it isn’t is far more depraved than seeing it for what it is. Torture. And so here’s “Funny Games” to rub our noses in what we allread know. Or, rather, rub our eyes in what we know until we can look no more at the monster we have summoned from the bowls of our unconscious.

The film is about the two whitest boys ever made arriving at a pristine summerhouse and refusing to leave. The partners in crime, Leopold and Loeb for the OC generation, starkly clad in white but anything but pure, hold a wealthy family (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) hostage for the duration of the film. They have no reasons, no motives and no souls. They are characters that exist for evil and the fact that they themselves are aware of their fictional roles (they know we’re rooting against them for instance and laugh at us for doing so because we’re the accomplices that literally pay the ticket price for them to commit such acts!) makes them even more menacing. While unnecessary in its function of (re)making a point about violence and unsuccessful in making any point about the upper class (is there one?), “Funny Games” is exceptionally well made and that, um, point is worth making because if it were not this would be the easiest film in the world to despise.

Michael Haneke specializes in capturing and sustaining voyeuristic dread and, as with his last film, “Cache” (one of the decade’s best), the shot composition is exquisite even if it is also unbearable. Long takes and a most deliberate sense of pacing create an unreal reality if such a thing is even possible. There is one masterful shot set up set after a murder that sees Watts in her undies struggle to free herself in the blood splattered living room. As stated, “Funny Games” comments on the viewer’s desire to peer through the keyhole at such horrible things but, more than that, it is a film that constructs its narrative around audience expectations. So much so that it becomes an indictment of such expectations. The random menace –a baby faced Michael Pitt who played a similar part in “Murder by Numbers”– engages on a number of occasions in a direct-addresses to the camera. He reaches past the lens to penetrate us with those sharp, accusing blue eyes. He actually asks us how we would like to see this story end. The answer, sadly, is that maybe we don’t want to see it end.

Note: In the end this film works for me because I never saw the first “Funny Games.” I think that’s the only reason.

Review: Snow Angels

  • What’s Good: Truthful and plainspoken. Next to Edgar/Joe Wright, David Gordon Green is one of the big auteurs to come out of this decade.
  • What’s Not: The film is a non-event and Green’s worst to date. 

My take on David Gordon Green: He is a filmmaker with tremendous soul. The catch is that with each film that soul gets cut into ever diminishing pieces. “George Washington” was pure and just about perfect–a beautiful mosaic of stylish emotions. Soon after that came “All The Real Girls,” a moving story of rural love that fell short in its plotting (Green seemed to be trying to work out how to make a naturalistic romantic story). Then, a few years ago, the gothic thriller “Undertow” exposed Green’s sinister side but it was a shallow-ish venture. Today there’s his small-town melodrama “Snow Angels” and that once vibrant soul finds itself muted once again. Muted, yes, but far from silent. 

 flame on… to the review  

Review: Pistol Whipped

SEGAL!!!!!!!!  The first lines of “Pistol Whipped” flow as follows, “You sit around all day, you do nothing with your life, you gamble, you’re divorced, THE dark past before I met you, then you were a cop and they kicked you out. I’ll bet you don’t see your daughter one day out of twenty.” God, I love subtle writing. Right out of the gate this exposition-a-thon is delivered by a priest to the very person he is talking to, as if that person wasn’t aware of his own past; his own DARK past that is. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the latest Steven Segal film or as I like to call it, tuesday. Oh yes, the man is still working. Err, I should say sorta-working as I’m not sure Steven Segal’s slouchy style can be considered real work at this point. Most of us may not have seen this action relic since seven years ago when he got all ghetto, threw down with DMX and CGI-jumped himself over an SUV in “Exit Wounds.” In the time since Segal has been sleepwalking through twenty, count em’ twenty, direct-to-DVD films. In case you were wondering, his next much anticipated project is titled “Prince of Pistols.”  flame onto the review  

Review: Paranoid Park

  • What’s Good: Gus Van Sant is still not compromising his vision.
  • What’s Not: maybe he should have on this one.

“Paranoid Park” isn’t about a murder. It’s a tone poem about the effects of a murder. The milieu is the infamous Portland skate park named “Paranoid Park” while the characters that inhabit this park are as empty as their recently toked sk8ter boi bongs. The principal is a floppy haired muppet of a lad that looks like the chick from “Maria Full of Grace” yet has the personality of a brick wall—he is similar to another famously stoic killer, Meursault from Camus’ “The Stranger,” only not nearly as lively. Under the assumption that a dumb-ass skater teen did it, detectives follow the clues to a local high school and investigate. Thus, as the plot synopsis goes, the film guides our “young skater into a moral odyssey where he must not only deal with the pain and disconnect of adolescence but the consequences of his own actions.” Gee, that actually makes “Paranoid Park” sound like a real movie while the grim reality is that I’m not sure what this is. It’s trying to be, what, a reflective film journal? An urban homage to David Gordon Green’s “George Washington” on skates? “Lords of Dogtown” meets “Days of Heaven?” What?!

If pressed I would wager that this is a minimalist morality tail or contemplation piece in which the lead (a vacant Gabe Nevins: cast for no other reason than his vacancy) is involved in that pesky accidental murder of a railroad security guard one dark and broody night. Through flashbacks and wonky time ellipses the character spends the rest of the film… um, perhaps feeling guilt over what happened. I honestly wouldn’t know because the performances are so bad (the cast makes soldiers in “Redacted” look like theater vets). But even if they were up to task director Gus Van Sant must be faulted for failing to penetrate, from either inside or afar, the mind of the teenage dummy. Instead, the filmmaker fetishizes the featureless features and philosophical beingness of a “beautiful” young man. Those not as smitten with the underaged boy’s face are dropped at distance as this murderous aura of moment-in-time-ness takes its toll on the young skater’s psyche. And ours too.

Probing the teenage mind makes for a great, worthy premise to a film. Truffaut did it best but after “Elephant” I cannot deny that Van Sant is also a master of wordless poignancies. In the confines of this park however the only thing the post-Hollywood/nuvo-auteur masters is wordless meanderings and the tedious desire to relish in past tense meanings. The film is dreadfully dull; anyone reading this should know that I adore the director’s “Last Days” and worship his “Gerry” so don’t be thinking I’m one of those viewers who has no tolerance for anti-Hollywood expressions depicting teens growing up. Unlike those artistically successful films, “Paranoid Park” is not art; it’s a mistake. A window gazing trip into an abyss of open bracketed angsty nothingness. A film that, at seventy-something minutes, is STILL too long and indulgent.

Now that this much buzzed over (in French cinephille circles at least) film has been released in America there is bound to be an audience, however marginal, that gets what Van Sant is after on this project. Good for them. I also “get” what he’s trying to do even though I could never bring myself to buy into his arty masturbation verses. Here is a film that tested, then exhausted, then finally snapped my resolve. “Paranoid Park” is ultimately too evasive and mediated to be appreciated by me on any significant level. There are passages where cops stair at kids and kids stair at other kids while one kid can only stair off into space. As for me: I’m staring at my watch.

Review: Mr. Magorium

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

  • What’s Good: A noble effort as far as kids films go. Magorium dares to be different and, while almost failing at that, is saved by a stranger than fiction performance by Dustin Hoffman who imparts his lispy luster to an otherwise dull film.
  • What’s Not: A complete mess. Director Zach Helm is hardly the profound word smith he thinks he is. Also, the chemistry between Natalie Portman and Justin Bateman isn’t that good… big surprise there.

flame on… to the review

Review: Highlander The Source

Highlander: The Source

  • What’s Good: There can be only one Highlander! Which means plenty of cheesy fun to be had at this film’s expense. Also, it’s set in the future which, as the infamously bad Highlander II proved, is a good starting point.
  • What’s Not: Perhaps the worst Highlander film ever made… which is saying something. It’s not even so-bad-its-good like the second. As many continuity errors as their are bad lines, performances, and editing hiccups. “THIS IS THE END OF TIME!” No, it’s just the end of the franchise.

flame on…