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Archive for August, 2008

Jeez, there’s nothing like crying like a little girl to make your night complete.

The Secret Life of Words starts out with Hanna, a quiet factory worker who keeps to herself and lives a life of solitude and repetition.   Her bosses order her to take a holiday after fellow workers complain that she’s anti-social, so she takes a small trip and instead finds herself volunteering to become a sick nurse on board an offshore oil rig during her holiday.   A detached person who seems to have little connection to anyone or anything, she arrives on the rig which is full of assorted, colorful characters.  Her patient is Josef, a rig worker who jumped into a fiery blaze to save a fellow worker, and Josef’s off-color remarks and jokes thaw Hanna a bit.   However, both of them turn out to be very broken people who have trouble reconciling their lives.

The Secret Life of Words is very, very good, make no mistake.   Instead of telling you everything, it shows you bit by bit, piece by piece as the true stories of Hanna and Josef unfold and are far more compelling and tragic than anything I could’ve imagined on my own.   You can see the thought that went into the movie, right down to the minor details of Hanna’s job to examining what she eats every day.   It could well be tedious, but the scenes are framed so that they’re a very intriguing look into the structure an emotionally demolished person gives her life.

I never understood the Sarah Polley love before now.  I’d seen her in a couple of assorted roles and I had always felt fairly underwhelmed by her, but now I get it.   I get it one hundred and ten percent – she is, quite frankly, astonishing.   Not only is she playing a survivor of the Balkan Wars, complete with accent, but ninety percent of the movie there’s no dialogue for Polley to rely on as a crutch.   There’s no overbroad gestures or emotional hysterics for her to play up.   Everything Polley does in this movie comes from her eyes and the extremely subtle, extremely rare affectations she gives her character.   In short, Polley’s performance as Hanna is about as good as it gets.

Tim Robbins has always been a weird actor to me.   I don’t detest Robbins by any stretch, but I found him tiring at best.   Even when people played up how utterly great he was in Mystic River, I had no idea what all the hullabaloo was about.   To me, Robbins was just kind of…there.

He does very well in this one.  He takes an equally challenging part of a bedridden, burned oil rig worker who’s a bit rough around the edges and slowly peels back the layers of his character so that before you know it, Josef is a completely different person than you thought he was without jarring or disturbing the viewer.    He gives as good as Polley does, with one small slip-up, in my opinion, but it’s a negligible one at best.   Robbins is seriously impressive and astonishingly good; he is far better than I ever gave him credit for.

The direction is an odd thing because it’s noticeable, but simultaneously it’s not.   You feel as though you’re almost totally an observer but at certain key moments the direction breaks to highlight some small detail, like an apple or a bar of soap, which is a tiny thing that speaks largely of the characters themselves.

Normally I have issues with bits of dialogue in movies like these, for films in this vein usually have hackneyed or wince-worthy moments that completely take me out of what’s happening.   In the entire film, there was just one scene like this, and it was the negligible Tim Robbins scene I mentioned above.   In truth, I’m sure lesser actors would’ve made some of the lines seem a lot more wobbly, but Robbins and Polley are so extremely good at what they’re doing that the words don’t sound hollow or staged.

Mainly, The Secret Lives of Words examines several things and examines them well:  What does one do when you’ve suffered trauma so great that life will never be the same?   How do you live with yourself?   How do you stop existing and go on living?   There’s an enormous difference between saying words and feeling them, and The Secret Life of Words is a tremendous film about two people attempting to heal in so many ways through their actions, rather than their words.

It’s excellent and well worth the time to watch.

A big round of thanks to J.D. for recommending it.

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I fell asleep way early tonight, hence why I’m up at the ungodly hour of 4:00 a.m. writing a post on something random I came across on the Internet.

Mathieu Kassovitz has unexplainably earned my undying love of some sort.   Really, you just have to have his name on the poster for me to sit through it, whether he’s directing or acting.   I actually really enjoy The Crimson Rivers, which he directed, even though it’s chock full of problems and all sorts of flaws that normally would make me needle a movie endlessly.   My love, the sense it does not make, what can I say?

It probably doesn’t hurt that Kassovitz has worked in tandem for years with Vincent Cassel, who I would steal in a heartbeat adore, so that’s probably working in his favor too.

And even when Kassovitz has made some crap — which he has — I understood why, I suppose.  No director can have a perfect track record.   Gothika got made, I suspect, so that he could have a shot at bigger/better projects outside of France.   He might have needed the money.

Whatevs.   I can deal with that.

And then came the whispers about Babylon A.D., a movie that’s very him and very not him all at the same time, and it was exciting!   And fun!   And you could feel the bad-assery just jumping off the very rumors at you!   But then, it got confirmed!   And casting rumors started floating around, and Vincent Cassel was being bandied about and oh, I was all over that.   You know it.

Then I started getting that sinking feeling in my stomach like things were going sour when I read this article from Twitch a while ago.   Excerpt is from that article:

we read that Cassel said that he lost touch with Kassovitz in “an ego accident.” He laughs. “I don’t know exactly what happened, but he is different from the man I met years ago. I built my identity with Kassovitz…. Which is true, some would argue that Kassovitz’ 1995 film La Haine was the film that catapulted both men into the spotlight.

Emphasis from Twitch.

Awww, hell.   That’s so much wrong.  They hung up their “Best Friends” necklaces and stopped writing “VINCENT + MATHIEU = BF4EVA” on their scripts, I guess.  Sadness.

Regardless of what happened, it started to become pretty clear that Cassel was not going to be involved in anything on this one, and then came the news that Vin Diesel had been cast.

Crap.

You know that’s no good when Vin Diesel is cast.  It reeks of “Oh, shit, this dude is making something potentially unmarketable and we need name recognition.” And then someone went and wrote a memo about interfacing and corporate togetherness or something.

I really hate to rag on Vin Diesel.   I’m sure he’s a very nice man.  In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed both Pitch Black AND The Chronicles of Riddick.   But let’s face it; Diesel’s career has been targeted to your gearhead, late teens/early twenties American male.   Between The Fast and the Furious and crap like A Man Apart, he’s not stretching much.    Casting him was like putting the Black Death on this movie for me.

Months went by and I didn’t hear much, aside from the usual promotional buzz.   I wasn’t really feeling very good about what I was seeing, but I was holding out some small sliver of hope.   I wasn’t going to let my candle go out, no sir — I sat through Birthday Girl for this fool — and then I read this:

“I’m very unhappy with the film,” he says. “I never had a chance to do one scene the way it was written or the way I wanted it to be. The script wasn’t respected. Bad producers, bad partners, it was a terrible experience.”

“It’s pure violence and stupidity,” he admits.

OH HI, THAT’S SO NOT GOOD.

While Kassovitz is pointing fingers at everyone but himself, you can’t help but think that maybe some of this is his own fault.  Or maybe not.   Who knows?  Either way, it’s a very bad, bad thing when the director of a film is telling the press, “Guess what?   My movie blows so hard it’s not going to make any money.”

Yeah.

What’s worse is when Vin Diesel notices.

Having just completed production of the fourth installment of The Fast and the Furious, he had not seen a cut of the film in six months. “Am I even in the movie any more, or am I on the cutting room floor?” the actor joked. Fox could not be reached for comment on this story.

Uh…good feelings gone.   Seriously, all Fast and the Furious cracks aside, when Vin Diesel is all like, “Hey, dude, what the hell happened to me in this movie?” said movie probably has some really glaring issues.   Anvil-sized issues.

And finally from Monsieur Kassovitz:

“I’m ready to go to war against them, but I can’t because they don’t give a s–t.”

I don’t think there’s any good way to spin that, really.

What’s sad is that the whole project seemed really messed up from the beginning.   It’s like a perfect storm of sucktastic badness that you know will never be fixed, not with a “Director’s Cut” or anything like that.  How awful.

What’s really disappointing is that I had such high hopes for poor Mathieu.  Now?   Not so much.   Boo.  As far as Diesel goes, ehhh.   And with regards to Vincent Cassel?   Call me, Vincent.  Merci.

(Note to Mathieu:   Send Vincent some candy and flowers or something, Jesus.  Kiss and make up already.)

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Ah, Nightmare on Elm Street. A great classic series, no?

In honor of the fact that I splurged bought the entire series on DVD, Monday, September 1st will start my Nightmare on Elm Street week, where I’ll review the entire series plus whatever else I can scrounge up on it.

Don’t like Freddy that much? Not a horror fan? Don’t worry, stick around – I’ll have other stuff up too.

Because nothing says scary quite like that freaktastic sweater.

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Predictable plot?  Monsters?  Gore?  But mostly cheesy, fun goodness?

Check, check, check and check.

Demon Knight‘s fairly predictable.   Two men get into a car wreck after one’s been chasing the other.   Man number one holes up in a small hotel.   Man number two shows up with the cops looking for him.   Okay, so man number one has this holy artifact that Man number two wants, and from there hijinks ensue involving Man number two actually being well, a demon, and man number one being a holy protector of a key and the residents of the hotel get caught in the middle.

Plus, Demon Knight has an awful lot of “Hey!  It’s [That Actor]!” in it.

Witness:

John Larroquette, y’all.  And:

William Sadler, a/k/a The Bad Guy from Die Hard 2!   Woo!   I can never see William Sadler without thinking of naked Tai Chi.  If you’ve seen Die Hard 2, then you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t…well, then, I’m sure you’re feeling disturbed at this moment.

CCH Pounder as a bitter innkeeper!   (Who later gets her arm severed.  And delivers some punchy, caustic dialogue.   Woo!)

Jada Pinkett – before she added the Smith!

Thomas Haden Church, before he was in some silly movie about wine, played some sicko freak in this one.

But the real star of this movie is…

BILLY ZANE.

Hells yes!

See, Billy Zane plays the bad demon who’s hellbent (see what I did there?) on getting this super awesome, very powerful key, and William Sadler is the guy who’s been protecting it for a very long, long time.   And Billy Zane knows what kind of movie he’s in, so Zane camps it up.   I mean, he kicks the camp factor up about ten notches.   It’s great.   There’s no use in pretending that you’re in a dramatic, artsy movie when your character punches a guy through the head:

He’s quirky, he’s campy, and he’s very, very bad.   He’s one of those bad guys you kind of root for, especially since you can probably predict how the movie’s going to end.

There’s a lot of killings and some evil zombie demon minion thingies, but Tales of the Crypt has never been about high art, just delivering a good, schlocky time in the spirit of horror.   That’s one thing I do appreciate, beyond Billy Zane’s performance.   And while the special effects aren’t awesome and inspiring, they do the trick.   They’re not the best, but they fit the movie rather admirably, I think.   When you’ve got evil dead minion demon thingies shooting lightning bolts out of their eyes, I don’t think you’re shooting for realism there.   Just sayin’.

I’d say the weak links here are some random actress that plays a prostitute and Jada Pinkett (Smith), who looks as if she doesn’t really understand what the objective of all this is.   However, everything else is just a campy, popcorn-y good time.

I loved it, although you kind of don’t want Billy Zane to lose in the end, but the movie’s a great little entertaining slice of horror.  Sure, it won’t win any Academy Awards, but it did manage to make me love Billy Zane a whole bunch, which I’m fairly sure was andrew’s intention since I was ragging on Zane pretty hard a while ago.   Poor Zane.   He gets no respect.

Consider your objective achieved, andrew, and Billy Zane, I take back all those awful, mean things I said about you.

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Ah, andrew.   One of the glorious things about andrew is that not only do I get to chit chat about hockey (did you know I like other things outside of movies?!) with andrew, I get to chit chat about a variety of movies we both love.

One of these that popped up was Scanners.

I’m unapologetic about my crazy love for David Cronenberg.   After watching The Brood at my house with a cynical, jaded friend who spent the entirety of the movie exclaiming, “What the HELL OH MY GOD OH MY GOD” every five minutes, I have wholly embraced the nutty goodness that is Cronenberg.   Cronenberg movies are like puppies and rainbows and chocolate bars in film form for me.   After every Cronenberg movie I watch, I kinda want to hug the man and give him some flowers or something.   It shocks me how much attention Tim Burton generates for being, in essence, a “freaky auteur” when Cronenberg does it so much better, far more skillfully and relies less on the same aesthetic motifs throughout his films.  So it’s no surprise I eagerly awaited my copy of Scanners arriving to me in the mail…and of course, then Netflix experienced “shipping delays”.   Boo, Netflix!

Scanners is the story of Cameron Vale, who has become essentially a homeless freakshow who wanders the city with crazy bug eyes due to the fact that, well, he’s telepathic and telekinetic.   These kinds of people are called “scanners” and Vale’s problem is that he cannot control his scanning, especially in large groups of people.

Revok, a fellow scanner, has started an underground society of scanners who want to take over the world, and he’s far enough over the “batshit insane” line to decide that if you don’t join his fun little Tupperware party of death and destruction, you’re going to meet a rather unpleasant end.   Thus, Revok travels all over, basically getting his killing on everywhere he goes.

It’s really good not to be on this guy’s bad side, as this is what happens to you when you are (cut for extreme head-exploding goodness, for those of you who might be at work and don’t want your boss looking at a EXPLODED!HEAD! OF AWESOME!)

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What a shame.

The sad thing about Lost Horizon is that ten or so minutes of the film are missing. The score is intact, but through years of struggling to piece together surviving film, only ten minutes could not be recovered.  The result is a little jarring, but you have to respect the film preservationists who worked to save the movie some credit – only losing ten minutes out of 130 minutes total is pretty darn good.

Based on the book by James Hilton, Lost Horizon tells the story of a group of people fleeing a revolution in a small area in China who have to fly over the Himalayas.  Their plane crash lands and they are rescued by a group of people who take them to a strange place called Shangri-La — a place where aging slows to a crawl and the inhabitants live in peace and harmony.   The intrepid group of travelers has no idea what to make of this.   Some are confused and one, George Conway, is perfectly content to stay.   Conway quickly discovers they were brought to Shangri-La for an express purpose, one that involves him.

At the time, this was one of the most expensive movies ever made.   It shows, especially in the sets, which are amazing.

What’s impressive about Lost Horizon is the fact that Frank Capra directed it and it feels oddly not like Capra did it, in contrast to his other works.   In fact, Capra struggled greatly from what I’ve read to get Lost Horizon made.

Lost Horizon presents the utopian ideal and also seeks, in a way, to depict why people reject it.   In fact, you could probably best describe the entire thing as an interpretation of sorts of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in a way — enlightened versus unenlightened and the schism that arises therein.   It’s pretty heady at times, since Conway is given two very black and white kind of choices:   stay in Shangri-La or go.
Conway distinctly understands and loves Shangri-La, while the others cannot understand the inherent ideas in Shangri-La, nor can they accept them.   The inhabitants’ way of life is so foreign to the other travelers that they refuse to accept any of it as truth.

The one Capra-esque feel it has to it is the “man with the world on his shoulders”, a la It’s A Wonderful Life or Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  Conway is the one reasonable traveler out of the group, and the one, in the end, who has the best understanding of what Shangri-La is all about.

As with any Capra movie, it’s beautifully lit and wonderfully staged.   And more than anything, Jane Wyatt and Ronald Colman really do a fantastic job.   I don’t feel very strongly for quite a bit of the supporting cast, but Wyatt and Colman are worth the proverbial price of admission alone, especially Wyatt, who was a surprise.

Even with the missing reels, it’s a real treat (and not just for the scene where you figure out Conway’s love interest, played by a strong Jane Wyatt, has figured out how to make music all day by tying whistles to pigeons) and an excellent film.   It’s an absolute shame that the ravages of time (and according to Wikipedia, Capra himself) destroyed so much of the film, but what we do have left is well worth the viewing.

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“Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil?”

In Depression-times, a man robs a bank out of desperation to provide for his family in the long-term.   Having killed two men doing so, he is immediately hunted down by the police, but not before he hides the money he stole.   Knowing that the only two other people, his children, are aware of the location of the money, he extracts an oath from them both that neither will tell a soul about the money – not even their own mother.

The father is hauled off to jail and while he awaits execution for his crimes, a strange man comes to share his cell.   Preacher Harry Powell, a man who knows that the Lord “don’t mind the killins” but hates “other things, lacy things…things with curly hair” is a fire and brimstone type of preacher, a man who has the words “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed on his knuckles, but one who was nonetheless caught with a stolen car.   Upon finding out his new cellmate’s crimes, Powell attempts to worm out the secret of the hidden money, but all he gets are some mumbled words from his cellmate in his sleep.

So, upon his release, Harry Powell tracks down the man’s widow – Willa – and promptly marries her, hoping to leverage his position into forcing the children, John and Pearl, into revealing the location of the money.  The children refuse, and Willa eventually begins to put the pieces together.   Upon revealing that she knows that he’s hounding the children about the money, Powell kills her and tells the town people that she ran off after he found her drinking.

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