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Archive for April, 2009

We’ve all seen Eastern Promises, right?   Or you’re at least aware of it, I assume?

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If you haven’t been living in a ’50’s-style bomb shelter, then you remember tatted-up Viggo Mortensen as a Russian gangster in Eastern Promises.   The Mark of Cain is a documentary about the significance of tattoos in Russian prison culture (which would explain how Mortensen’s character got all those tattoos, right?).   What starts out as a documentary about tattoos and their meanings also takes on an interesting, if saddening, look at Russian prison life.

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Tattoos are symbolic in Russian prison culture.   Each symbol represents a variety of things; cupolas on churches represent the number of convictions a convict has, epaulets tattooed on shoulders represent the rank of the individual in the crime world and so on and so forth.

The Mark of Cain examines every aspect of the tattooing, from the actual creation of the tattoo ink, interviews with the tattooers and soberly looks at the double-edged sword of prison tattoos.   In many ways, they were needed to survive brutal Russian prisons, but mark the prisoner for life, which complicates any readmission to “normal” society they may have.   Tattoos expressly identify what the convict has been convicted of,  how many prisons he’s been in and what kind of criminal he is.   Tattoos, essentially, tell you everything you need to know about that person without ever asking.

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The documentarians interview prisoners, criminologists and the men who run the prisons.   What comes out of these interviews and the extensive footage of both men and women’s prisons is not necessarily just a culture of tattooing, but a violent, brutal system that engenders the necessity of the protection of tattoos in many ways.   It’s not the only reason, but it appears to be a large factor in the spawning and flourishing of tattoo culture.

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The unflinching look at the Russian prison system is slowly woven into the film.  Cells meant to hold 15 hold 35 to 45 men.   Drug-resistant TB runs rampant through the prison populations and prisoners are served three meals a day of watery slop.   There are allegations of brutality by the guards.   As these men deal with pestilence, violence and grossly substandard living conditions, the prison guards and administration put on a talent show.

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Tattooing for symbolism is on the decline, but the film shows the remorse and regret of the prisoners who do have them, mainly for what each tattoo means.   Some of the prisoners express fear at reintegrating into society.  Some entered into the system while Russia was still the U.S.S.R., meaning they must re-enter society as outcasts while simultaneously adjusting to a completely new country.    Many of the prisoners express disgust at the prison system in general – thievery gets you a harsher sentence than killing someone, for example, and many of the prisoners convey a universal repugnance at the system that has fostered illness, malnutrition and a sad standard of living.

It is not only the prisoners that feel disgust; one of the experts they interview is less than pleased with the system and some of the family members of inmates are interviewed.   The families worry over their sons eating enough; they send food and rations into the prisons, hoping their sons will get some scraps since they understand they are not fed enough.   Corruption in the Russian prison system is merely hinted at here, as the relatives confess they know their family members may not even receive a tenth of what they send.   The rest will be “confiscated”.

The Mark of Cain is an excellent documentary.   While the subject matter is sad, it’s worth a watch.   It tackles a sprawling bureaucratic prison system, humanizes it, shows its faults and an interesting culture that has spawned partially out of necessity, without a heavy hand and without going overboard on the moralizing.   It presents a variety of viewpoints on Russian prison life.   Depressing, but oddly interesting, it’s a strange and worthwhile look.

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Lars (Ryan Gosling) is a guy who is lacking in the social skills department.  He lives in a small town where his place of residence is the guesthouse of his family’s property.   His brother Gus and sister-in-law Karen live in the main house.   He works a boring job and goes to church, but his painful shyness problem and complete lack of socialization cause Karen to worry about him.

Gus and Karen are thrilled when one day Lars reports to the house, unbidden, to announce he has a new friend coming to stay.   Her name is Bianca and she’s a Brazilian/Dutch girl raised by nuns who Lars really likes.  He met her on the internet!

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Bianca is actually a Real Doll – one of those creepy, uber-realistic sex dolls you can buy on the internet – but Lars speaks to her as if she were a real person.   He insists on eating meals with her, taking her to church and generally treating her as if she’s a walking, talking human being.

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Gus and Karen are horrified and upset.  They take Lars to the local psychologist/doctor who advises them to keep the charade up with Lars.   From there, they have to convince the locals to treat Bianca as a real person to keep Lars happy.

Lars and the Real Girl is a sweet and charming film for ninety percent of the film’s run time.   There’s a cute scene with Ryan Gosling giving a stuffed bear CPR, even.   It’s a solid, well-made movie.   I only have one problem with the film:   it feels a little folksy-ethereal in a way.

As Bianca is accepted by the community at large, Lars comes out of his cocoon and the weird family unit that Lars has comes to terms with why he’s suffering the delusion that Bianca is real.   It feels very ungrounded, however, primarily because everyone in the town is willing to go along with the charade of Bianca-as-a-real-person.  While there’s some roadblocks to this at first, they’re easily surmounted.   It feels a little unreal in a way, because Bianca begins to “volunteer” within the community and is accepted as a real girl.   It begs the viewer to accept that these folks are that good-hearted, but it doesn’t feel realistic that someone might not stand up and say, “Lars, buddy, that’s um…that’s a doll you’re talking to, man.”

Overall, though, it’s a nice, very solid film that’s a good one-time watch.   It manages a cute and sweet feeling without overdoing it and has some moments of genuinely good humor.    The actors to watch in this are definitely Emily Mortimer and Ryan Gosling, who are the best of the bunch.   Worth a Netflix, for sure.

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Yes, I see you in this movie, Daniel Day-Lewis.

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Gerry Conlon is a thief and general ne’er-do-well in Belfast, Ireland.   His much more law-abiding family ships him off to London with the hope he’ll reform his ways and straighten up.   Instead, Conlon and his friend fall in with a commune of hippies, stirring up jealousy and rivalries amongst other members of the hippie clique.

Gerry is living a carefree, drugged-out lifestyle in London when the Guildford Pub is bombed by the IRA, killing several people.  A jealous member of the commune drops a line to cops that Conlon and his Irish friend may be responsible, so they are all rounded up.   All of the suspects are tortured and threatened.   Giuseppe, Gerry’s devoted and steadfast father, heads to London to try and clear his son’s name – only to find himself arrested as well.

From there, confessions are extracted and a trial is held.   All of the suspects are found guilty, even though the defendants are all innocent.   Gerry is dealt a thirty year sentence and his father is thrown in jail alongside him.

Giuseppe, who is afflicted with a terrible lung condition, begins petitioning for appeals and help from his jail cell, while Gerry stews and becomes more and more bitter as the years progress.   While Giuseppe is determined to clear their names, Gerry gives up hope.  It is not until a harsh violence sets into Gerry’s life and when a barrister named Gareth Peirce steps in to help that his attitude begins to change.

Pete Postlethwaite is easily the best thing about the movie.   Of course, I’m a little biased.   He’s one of my favorite “I know that dude, who is he?” kind of actors and he’s wonderful as Giuseppe Conlon.  Stalwart and good-hearted, he’s a father who tries to help his son as best he can.   He’s no saint, however, and Postlethwaite plays a very human, very sad sort of character.

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Emma Thompson is only in the film for about fifteen minutes total, playing Gareth Peirce, something which I find curious given the fact that she has top billing on the movie.   Hey, she’s Emma Thompson, I know.    She does fine for her fifteen minutes – the best stuff she has is sadly one courtroom speech at the end.  Sad.

It’s Daniel Day-Lewis, however, who has the main part.  We all know how I feel about pretentious, smarmy Daniel Day-Lewis, but I will give him credit.  He does a great job throughout 90% of the movie.   Gerry Conlon can be unpalatable and unsympathetic at times, but Day-Lewis does well enough to make you accept those facts and move on.   What destroys me is one scene where Conlon’s stuck in solitary confinement and has a complete meltdown.

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He begins taking audio tapes and ripping them up.   He wraps them around his face.   Stalking around his cell with wrapped-up audio tape around his visage and warbling like a bird, it’s really hard to take Daniel Day-Lewis seriously in that moment.   I have to say, I laughed.   And I could be biased here, my dislike of Daniel the Haberdasher-In-Training could be seeping through, but it’s that one ridiculous scene that ruins half the movie for me.   It takes what up until that point has been a very excellent performance and reduces it down to being cheese-laden.

It’s a fine movie which is worth a watch.   I wouldn’t ever add it to the DVD library I’ve got, but it was not a waste of time in the slightest.    And it’s telling, I think, that I can offer up that for 90% of the movie, Daniel Day-Lewis is not hitting you in the face with his Method Actor self and instead, just plays a part well.

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April Giveaway!

Note to Worst Movies Ever Winners:   Your prizes still haven’t gone out because I’m waiting to hear back from two of you…

But I do have a movie to give away to anyone who wants it.   No, it’s nothing super fancy, but you know, after all the arms discussion on the blog recently, I couldn’t resist picking this up at Target.

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Ah yes, if you want a copy of Speed (“the whim of a madman!” Oh, Dennis Hopper), all you have to do is comment and someone will be drawn at random.    Assuming, of course, that someone wants this.

(You’ll need to use a valid e-mail address in the box asking you for that, or else I can’t get in touch.)

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Eli Roth’s making a big, blockbuster New-York-gets-destroyed kinda movie.   Via Slashfilm.

He won’t discuss what’s going on in the film, just that it’s on the level of Cloverfield, but it’s something completely different.    Maybe Eli’s making When Fanboys Attack or something of that ilk.   (At least that’s what they’re going to do over this movie, as if they weren’t after him enough.)

I’m slightly less confused, though, when I see that he’s going to package a full version of Thanksgiving into this – if a studio wants the Eli Roth Destructo Movie, they have to make Thanksgiving as well.   Via the Slashfilm article referenced above:

According to a new interview with the director, he’s planning to shoot n $80 million actioner this fall and then, in the immediate three weeks following, bash out a feature length version of Thanksgiving for $5 million.

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Studios who want to take on the actioner will also be expected to go for Thanksgiving, with Roth offering them only as an indivisible package. Who could turn down an Eli Roth movie for just $5 million?

Well, to be fair, Lionsgate hasn’t turned down an Eli Roth movie for that amount – to my knowledge.   Slashfilm claims that Roth might have just pulled figures out of the air, but Roth made Hostel and Hostel II on paltry sums (both under $5 mil if I remember correctly, don’t quote me on that) mainly by shooting with tight budgets, relatively unknown/lesser known actors and shooting the two in foreign countries.   (I also want to say that he deferred his director’s salary on Hostel II to have extra budget room, but I can’t remember for sure.)

Roth does claim that Thanksgiving will be:

“The sickest, bloodiest, most violent slasher movie. I want to make the highest body count slasher film I can.” (Quote from the Slashfilm article.)

Well, count me in.  And if that means I have to sit through Eli Roth Does Cloverfield in order to get the ticket grosses higher so I can see Thanksgiving done up all gory-like on the big screen, I’m willing to make a sacrifice, uh huh.   I still don’t get why the big-budget movie is necessary, but hey, that’s just me.

And look, I missed QT on American Idol last night, but guess what?  Slashfilm has the exclusive video from AI previewing parts of Inglorious Basterds.   I know I’ve said I was shaky on Brad Pitt’s accent, but I am totally freakin’ sold on it now.  Also, we get our first look at Mike Myers (he’ll only be in the movie for about five minutes, tops, if I recall correctly).  You get Quentin creepily leading the set in group cheers.   “Let’s do it one more time!  Why?   (chorus)  BECAUSE WE LOVE MAKING MOVIES.”   God, he comes across as one of those annoying bosses that makes you do team building exercises like the ones featured in those disgusting American Airlines commercials.  Yuck.  Aaaaand, there’s even a teensy-tinsy snippet of Eli Roth strutting with the baseball bat.

Three words:  Arms. Of. Roth.

Yeah I said it.   Check it out here.

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“The dead are losers!”

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Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is…well…it’s lame.   Look, I know it’s unpopular to some extent.   It’s viewed as a cult classic by a lot of fellow horror geeks but goddamn, is it ever boring.

A theater troupe goes to a local island to mess around, be overly melodramatic and dig up some corpses (said island is practically a huge graveyard).   The troupe leader, Alan, is a pompous asshole.   He orders people around, speaks haughtily and generally overdramatizes everything going on around him.   When the rest of the theater troupe isn’t snarkily mocking him, they’re standing around like lumps on a log, stuck on some island in the middle of  the night.

Alan has brought the troupe out to the island to perform an archaic ritual to wake the dead.   The troupe’s unaware that his real plan is to play a practical joke on the group by scaring the hell out of them with a group member playing the part of a reanimated corpse.    It’s just too bad for Alan, then, that the corpses do reanimate and come back to life, wreaking havoc on the living.

Not that bad, huh?    It normally wouldn’t be, except for the fact that Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is so, so slow to get everything started.   You’re mainly treated to an hour of Alan running around acting like a megalomaniacal jackass while the other folks stand around rolling their eyes.   That gets old, fast.

The zombie scenes aren’t too bad but it’s little payoff for a lot of work on the viewer’s part.

And Alan looks like Charlie Manson, which is creepy and not in a good way.

I was so happy to drop it back in the mail, too.   Boo, hiss, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.    I had hope for better things than I got.

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Yo, Q:

I know you catch a lot of shit for cameoing in your own movies.   Sure, sometimes they’re not that good and sometimes, they are – and sometimes you’re in other folks’ movies being a delectable freakshow and a half (see:  From Dusk ‘Til Dawn).   I’m just saying that my favorite cameo of yours is one no one ever seems to remember/recognize/even know about.

Let’s face it.   Any movie where you’re dressed as an insane street preacher who says things like, “You make the Lord VERY NERVOUS” can only benefit from your presence.

(And if you’re me, you’re in the extreme minority by professing your love for said movie.)

Your cameo in Little Nicky is probably the best you’ve ever done.

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Now, I’m not one for recycling characters, but I really don’t think you got enough mileage out of that one.   And I hear, maybe – possibly?, you’re going to be on American Idol soon.   If you were to actually dress up and carry on as this character, how RAD would that be?   You would outshine that crazy rhinestone Paula Abdul hands down and you’d have every headline in the country.

Alternatively, the press junkets for Inglourious Basterds would be extremely entertaining with you expounding upon the Will of the Lord and whatnot dressed as this, if the American Idol thing would be undoable.

It’s just a thought, you know.

Suggestively yours,

Caitlin

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