Friday, December 30, 2005

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain will likely turn out to be the movie to beat when the Oscars roll around in March. A lot of people who wouldn't be caught dead in a screening of this movie might think this is pandering, simply because of the controversial subject matter. But I sat in one of only two theaters showing Brokeback Mountain in the capital city of my "red state" home, and both theaters were packed to the gills on a weekday afternoon. If this movie goes home with any Oscars, it will most certainly have earned them.

This is not a gay cowboy movie. I don't even think the protagonists are necessarily "gay" at all. This is a tragic love story in the tradition of Casablanca, Romeo and Juliet, and The English Patient. Two people love each other deeply, and for whatever reason cannot be together. There's nothing special or controversial about Ennis and Jack's love story except that the reason they can't be together just happens to be that they're both men. It's surprisingly tender, beautiful and almost unbearably sad.

You probably know the basic story by now so I won't rehash. The pace of the movie is very deliberate - we get to know the characters before romance even enters the picture. You might find yourself thinking "Wait, wasn't there supposed to be a love scene in here somewhere?" It's definitely there, but you don't see it until the movie has earned the right to show it to you. By the time Ennis and Jack have their first awkward encounter, you care immensely about them and the love scene carries a lot of weight and emotion.

I'm wondering if there's a genre or time period that Ang Lee can't do. He seems to always get at the heart of whatever place or time he's showing us (Hulk notwithstanding). I suppose it didn't hurt this time around to have Larry McMurtry as one of the writers and executive producers. I think one of Lee's gifts is surrounding himself with people who know what they're doing. This obviously extends to the cast, and everyone in this movie is remarkable. But none more so than Heath Ledger.

I've never been a big fan of Heath Ledger. To me he was always just a pretty boy (and not even that pretty) with attitude. But his work in Brokeback Mountain is absolutely fantastic. Ennis is the heart of the movie and that heart breaks a little more every time you see him on the screen. Ennis is uneducated and grew up in a rather indifferent family environment. He's dirt poor and lives his whole life just a step or two behind desperation. It's a hard life, but he's accepted it. You can see how much he loves Jack, but he also knows the facts. He can't make a life with Jack because that kind of thing is just not tolerated in the world he lives in. It hurts, but that's the way it is. "If you can't fix it, you've gotta stand it," he tells Jack. And Ennis spends the entire movie standing it.

One of the big accomplishments of his performance - as well as the other actors' work - is that he and Gyllenhaal have to age twenty years over the course of the story. There's only so much hair and makeup can do if your actors don't have the talent to bring that off. But it really works in this movie, and you totally buy it. And I love watching Anne Hathaway age into the 1980s, feathered hair and all. :)

There are some pretty standard "tragic love story" plot developments, so they won't come as much of a surprise. The emotion of the end, though, is what really sells it as a love story. Particularly the "shirt" scene. There's a bit of this scene in the trailer (where Heath Ledger holds a shirt on a hanger and ... caresses it, for lack of a better word), but put into context it just blew me away. And I was already on my way home from the theater before I realized that it was two shirts - Jack's and Ennis's. Kind of a symbolic wedding, if you will, in Jack's closet (no pun intended). Wonderfully profound and moving.

I think part of the film's power is that people will take away different things from it, depending on what they bring to it. This is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful movie. Great love story, great western, great all-around film.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Producers

The Short Version:
If you like Mel Brooks' movies, you'll like this movie. Probably love it. I personally loved it (most of the time). It's a lot of fun, and is very humorous and entertaining. If Brooks is not your cup of tea, you probably won't like it.

The Longer Version:

The Good

* The classic Mel Brooks humor - the stuff that just makes you say "That is so RONG!" Bloom and his security blanket. Bialystock playing "The Virginal Milk Maid and the Well-Hung Stable Boy" with an 80-year-old woman. The pigeon named Adolf that does the Nazi salute.

* Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick - They know these parts backwards and inside out, and it still looks as if they love to play them. They have a great chemistry, and play off each other flawlessly.

* Will Ferrell - HILARIOUS (as always). The strange thing is that he doesn't seem like he's doing "another wacky Will Ferrell character." And that's a good thing.

* Uma Thurman - Wonderful. She's not really well known for comedy, but she does the screwball sex goddess role remarkably well.

* Jon Lovitz - Let me preface this by saying that I normally *hate* this guy. But he was gold in this movie. Only in a couple of scenes, but he steals the spotlight in both. And he delivers possibly the funniest line in the film ("I can smell the stench of self-esteem.")

* "I Wanna Be a Producer", "Along Came Bialy", "When You Got It, Flaunt It", "That Face", and "Keep It Gay" - great, great musical numbers.

* The entire Springtime For Hitler sequence - very well done and hysterically funny. "Heil Myself" ... *dies*

* I sort of enjoyed how the movie played like an old-school movie musical. They don't all have to have a clever cinematic hook like Chicago. Hitchcock once said (in answer to a question about Dial M For Murder) that when you're doing a film of a hit play, you shouldn't try to open it up and make it too cinematic, because all you're really adding to it is cars arriving at places, people getting out, and other similar trivialities. I think the same philosophy applies to this movie.

The Bad

* Opening number - Painfully bad, cardboard stiff, and it set the tone for the movie being little more than a filmed stage play. There's nothing really wrong with simply filming a stage play, but you should give the sets and numbers a little more depth. The opening number literally looks like all of the actors are merely on a stage, in front of a painted backdrop, singing the song. Awful.

* "Betrayed" - Gah. Also painfully bad. It's supposed to be a clever little recap of the movie up to that point, but it doesn't really work. Would probably have been better if Lane were actually directing this to another character instead of playing to the camera.

The Meh

* The movie is very funny, but I can't help wondering if the idea is a little dated. I suspect that the original film with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder was much more daring when it premiered in 1968. And making light of a sensitive subject (especially the Nazis) is not that original anymore. Since the original film came out, the world has seen "Hogan's Heroes", the Soup Nazi, and Eric Cartman dressed as Hitler for Halloween. The original gag has lost some of its punch.

* I said above that there's nothing really wrong with filming a stage play pretty much as-is. But if you do it, there should at least be a small attempt to camoflauge the fact that you're doing it. Susan Stroman, being a choreographer and having no directorial experience except for TV broadcasts of stage plays, doesn't seem to be able to do this. She is an amazing choreographer, to be sure, and I think she would have worked well as a co-director - in the way that Jerome Robbins was co-director of West Side Story. But there really needs to be someone in charge who knows how to make a movie look like a movie.

So, lots to like, and only a couple of truly weak spots. This one probably plays better on the big screen than it will on DVD, since it sort of gives you the experience of seeing the show on stage.


There's a reason why Steven Spielberg is one of the most respected directors in film, and anyone who's seen Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., or Schindler's List knows what that is. He's not a "do-no-wrong" director - who is, really? - but even his failures can be interesting. I don't think all of his well-received films are necessarily good - I can't stand Saving Private Ryan, for example - but when he shines, boy is it stunning. And I believe he shines best when there's some kind of pressure, be it in the form of time constraints or "the shark isn't working" or whatever.

Munich does not feel like a "Spielberg film." Gone is any of that Peter Pan sensibility that made E.T. and Close Encounters and even Schindler's List feel like safe moviegoing experiences. This is a taut (despite the nearly three-hour running time) suspense thriller and a symphony of paranoia that is wonderfully understated and feels absolutely real at every moment.

My father remarked recently that it's strange to see movies about things you clearly remember happening, such as the massacre at the Munich Olympics, which inspires this film. I suppose it's because those events - in however small a way - are a part of your life, if you were alive to witness them. Munich begins with a reenactment of the terrorists breaking into the Israeli athletes' hotel room. Before we get a chance to see much bloodshed, the news footage takes over, and we watch as people all over the globe witness the proceedings on their television sets. (Side note: It was somewhat poignant to hear the late Peter Jennings' voice as a prominent figure in the news coverage.) We see more of the massacre later on through Avner's dreams (or nightmares, rather).

If you've seen the trailers, you know the impetus of the mission. Avner (Eric Bana) is a family man who is called on by his government to help avenge the Munich attack. He is assigned a team of specialists - a gun man and driver (Daniel Craig), an explosives expert (Mathieu Kassovitz), a forger of papers (Hanns Zischler), and a "clean-up" guy (Ciaran Hinds). One of the things I really enjoyed about this film was the relationship between these five men. It starts very pleasantly, the five of them sharing a meal together or celebrating the success of their first assignment over drinks. Over the course of the movie, as things get more complicated, their relationship starts to crumble and fall apart, as they lose their trust in one another and start to be picked off by their enemies.

Even though these men are professionals, the reality of what they're doing intimidates them at first. And you can feel their fear when things don't go exactly as planned and they have to improvise. Their job is fairly delicate, because they're supposed to take out the targets without killing civilians. Of course, as time goes by they find reasons to bend this rule.

This is not really a "message" movie. There is a message, but it doesn't drill itself into your gray matter in every scene. It isn't a political statement either. Its message is more of a warning about the consequences of killing for a cause, and it might just as well have been taken from a great speech by Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter:

It's 1183 and we're barbarians! How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history's forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten.

Like syphilis, indeed, and it has slowly been killing us for thousands of years. There are no answers in Munich. No happy ending where we know Avner and his family will be alright. Even though he is assured by the only people he has reason to fear that he will not be harmed, he will never be alright again. He will never walk down the street without worrying if a car is tailing him. He will never have another good night's sleep. That is the price he pays for the decisions he has made.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Squid and the Whale

Jeff Daniels is Bernard, a novelist who has enjoyed great success in the past, but now finds it hard to sell his work. He is the textbook definition of an intellectual snob. His character is pretty much summed up in one of his first lines. After his son tells him that they're supposed to read Nicholas Nickleby in class, he responds with a flippant shrug, saying "Minor Dickens." He seems disappointed with almost everything, he's impressed by nothing, and he seems to think that his tastes are the only ones that matter.

Jesse Eisenberg is Walt, the son whose class is reading "minor Dickens." He's 17 (I think) and he's already becoming a clone of his father. During the Nickleby conversation, his mother tells him maybe he should read it himself and see what he thinks, he responds with "I don't want to waste my time." He criticizes his girlfriend for having too many freckles on her face, and believes he can "do better." It's fun to see him fumble, though, such as when he tries to impress his girlfriend by describing The Metamorphosis as "Kafka-esque."

Laura Linney is Joan, Bernard's wife and a fledgling author who is trying to step out from her husband's shadow. Naturally, Bernard being who he is, he tries to make her doubt herself, but thankfully living with him for almost twenty years has not made her lose her ability to think for herself. She has her foibles and has made a lot of mistakes, but she truly loves her sons and feels sorry for Bernard's self-inflicted misery.

Owen Kline (son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) is Frank, a self-proclaimed "philistine" at 11 years old and Bernard and Joan's other son. He wants to become a pro tennis player, but Bernard wants him to realize that he'll never be a McEnroe so there's no point in trying. Frank is also discovering the joys of puberty and the nectar of beer and hard liquor.

The Squid and the Whale is very much a character mosaic - lots of richly detailed writing and multi-layered performances. It's apparently based on the writer/director's own experience with his parents' divorce, and I think that really comes through. These seem like real people. People we all know. Speaking for myself, I've met lots of Bernards and Walts just in the time I've spent in the Harry Potter fandom. This is one of those movies that focuses on relationships between the characters more than the plot. It ends fairly ambiguously, but you've met lots of interesting people along the way. All of the cast is superb, but I think perhaps especially Jesse Eisenberg. Laura Linney's Joan is my favorite character, though.

Monday, December 19, 2005

[BNAT] V For Vendetta (Bonus Short: "Der Feuhrer's Face")

This film required a second security check. So we went outside for roughly 20 minutes, during which some people took a smoke break and others tried to guess what the last film was. When we went back in, Harry told us that this screening almost didn't happen. He got a call from Warner Brothers a few weeks ago that he wasn't going to get it. But a few days before BNAT, he got another call from WB, saying that they had reconsidered. The film is supposed to open the Berlin Film Festival next year, so they had to get permission for it to be screened somewhere else. I get the giggles just thinking about some WB exec calling Berlin and saying "Can we send it to Butt-Numb-A-Thon first?" Anyway, we were told that we were going to see the only print of the film that exists right now, and that it flew from Melbourne, Australia to LAX, where it would go through customs and be handcuffed to a courier who delivered it just a few hours before we saw it.

Before the film started, though, we got a little treat. We had all been given kazoos in the shape of duck bills. These were for a short we were about to see, called "The Fuehrer's Face." It was a cartoon featuring Donald Duck, and he worked in a weapons factory in Nazi Germany. The soldiers marched around, singing the song "Fuehrer's Face", and all of us in the audience blew our duck bill kazoos during appropriate rests in the song. That will probably be my favorite BNAT memory from this year. Donald, of course, wearies of the experience of serving a Nazi regime. So it's a good thing that in the end he wakes up in America - it was all a dream. He goes over to his model Statue of Liberty in the window and hugs it, saying how glad he is to live in the USA. And this was a pretty good setup for our last feature...

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

I loved. this. film. This is based on a comic I never heard of, but it's incredibly gutsy, and it pulls no punches. It's set in a futuristic London, in a time where England has become a totalitarian society. Individuality has become a thing of the past, and the people live in fear of their government. But one man, known only as "V", wants to change all of that. By using terrorist tactics, he attempts to show the people that their government has imprisoned them. One night, he rescues Evie (Natalie Portman) from being taken captive by the secret police. He takes her to a roof where she watches him "conduct a symphony orchestra" (i.e., watch a government building being blown up).

This is a tricky film, but incredibly profound. It will, no doubt, be misunderstood and reviled by many, but those who hate it for its message are not understanding what the message is. This is very much a mind-opening film, and its object is to make people think, not incite them overthrow governments. It's meant not to encourage people to establish a new world order, but to preserve the world order that we have now and which seems for some to be slowly eroding.

This movie excels on all levels. It looks great and sounds great. The acting is superb and the cast is outstanding - Natalie Portman (her best work yet, IMO), Hugo Weaving (who has a tall order, trying to play a major role without the use of his own face), Stephen Fry, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, and many others whose names I've forgotten. I love the look of the film - how all the scenes with the government are in very stark colors and lighting. It is extremely well-written - Weaving's speech, full of almost all of the "v" entries in the dictionary, is a thing of beauty. And the action is very well done - particularly V's last battle - and doesn't overwhelm the movie at all.

It's very easy to see why this film was pushed back from its original November release date. When the climax of your film is the Houses of Parliament blowing up, it's probably not a good idea to release it just a few months after a real life terrorist attack on that same city. I'm amazed that this film is still going to be released at all. Heck, I wonder how it was made in the first place in a post-9/11 world. It's such a brave movie, and the filmmakers have basically said "screw it" to any fears they might have had about how the film will be received. Hehe, I got a kick out of several audience reactions to this movie. There's a line where V says "People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people." This got applause from about half the audience. I also heard someone say as the credits started to roll, "Well, this film won't play well in the red states."

The film will have to be marketed very, very carefully - basically within an inch of its life. Partially because of the political element and partially because it's a "comic book" movie. If they try to market it HP-style with the lunchboxes and toys and such (which, considering we're dealing with WB, is very possible), I think they'll be making a mistake. This is not that kind of movie. And, um, kids should really not be playing with a doll that's wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. Just saying.

Anyway, I anxiously await the US release - partly to see it again and partly to watch how people react to it. I sincerely hope this film makes people talk - whatever their opinion of it - and that it gets the attention I believe it deserves. This is a brilliant, incendiary, and dangerous film. The kind they haven't often made since the 1970s.

[BNAT] Drum

Every year at BNAT there is an entry that's known as the "Family Fun Hour" film. One film that completely messes with everyone's heads and makes them question their sanity and the sanity of the filmmaker. That makes them sit there for two hours with a face full of "WTF?!" Last year it was Toys Are Not For Children. The year before it was Teenage Mother. And at my first BNAT it was Night Warning. This year, it was a film called Drum that, like Night Warning three years ago, had first shown at the Drafthouse as part of its "Weird Wednesday" series. In it's own way, it's awesome and a must-see. But it may just be the most offensive film ever made.

This film is blaxploitation meets slavery meets T&A. In a way, it's strangely fitting to have an exploitation movie about slavery. But I find it exceedingly ironic that this movie has been out there all this time - you can find it on VHS and DVD without too much trouble at all - and yet Song of the South was long considered offensive enough to have been banned and after about twenty years is finally going to be released next year. Maybe the fact that SotS was intended for children and made by Disney is the reason for that. But it's no less bizarre.

Drum is the eponymous hero of the film - the son of a slave and a white woman who doesn't know who his real mother is. The movie hits hard on the fact that sex between a white man and a black woman - while it had to be kept fairly quiet - was A-ok, but sex between a black man and a white woman was the height of taboo. In fact, that's pretty much the main point of the film.

This movie is like nothing I have ever seen about slavery in the South. And I have absolutely no idea whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe this stuff is at least partly true, and we were just never taught about it in school. While I know it was probably fairly common for some slave traders to buy slaves for the express purpose of breeding, the way it's emphasized in this movie - the way sexuality is emphasized in this movie - just seems perverse to me (perverse in the literary sense, not the literal one). One of the party scenes in the film reminded me of a "key party" of the 1970s. People pairing off with the nearest body, girls with their antebellum ball gowns hanging down so as to expose their breasts, etc. It just seemed a little too much to me. But I'm sure that was the idea of the filmmakers in the first place. There is a pretty significant homoerotic theme in the film as well.

The whole world of the film just seems ... hypersexual. Which I found odd, but I suppose that's the point of an exploitation film, after all. I don't hate the movie; in fact, I found it quite enjoyable, for the most part. It was just kind of weird to see it portrayed that way - as if sexual abuse was the only abuse that slaves suffered. Also, I think I've heard my quota of the n-word for the next several years. Hearing that word (unless it's Quentin Tarantino saying it in Pulp Fiction) has always made me tense up. I really hate it like no other English word. And perhaps hearing it spoken again and again hampered my enjoyment of this film.

Being an exploitation film, though, it certainly had it's (probably intentionally) funny moments. The biggest audience laugh came when one of the slave traders says to the woman who runs his house: "You ain't gonna meddle with my poon-tang, are you?" *DIESDIESDIES* As a funny movie, I guess it works quite well. I just boggle that this film hasn't yet fallen prey to our super-sensitive culture.

[BNAT] Stunt Rock


*ahem* Okay, that's out of my system. On with the post.

Every year but my first BNAT we have seen the trailer for this movie. It is simply the most awesome movie trailer ever made and always gets huge cheers from the audience. I bought this movie over a year ago, but I had never sat down and watched it, because I was afraid it would never live up to the trailer. When the title came on, the crowd went wild. After years of delayed gratification, we would finally consummate our love for Stunt Rock.

Is this movie filmmaking at its finest? Hell no. But the movie is awesome for what it is. It features a band called Sorcery and a stunt man named Grant Page. There's very little story. Okay, there's like no story. But there's lots of cool stunts and several theatrical concert numbers. The highlight has to be the duel between the "King of Wizards" and the "Prince of Darkness." AWESOME!

[BNAT] The Descent

One of my complaints with this movie is that it takes longer than it should to really get going. But part of that is a bit of misdirection. You think this is going to be about Sarah and her overwhelming grief at losing her husband and daughter in a car crash. Then you think it's going to be a standard cabin-in-the-woods movie. But when these chicks drive out to a cave and the guidebook gets left in the car, then you know where it's going. In part. :)

The first part of the cave adventure - before the really good part - kind of infuriated me. One person does something really stupid - leaving the guidebook in the car to make the trip more exciting - that risks everyone else's lives. It was like Mike in the Blair Witch Project throwing the map away because it was frustrating him and he couldn't see the use of it. I mean, DUH!

This would still have been a fairly effective movie if it had just been about these women going spelunking and getting lost and hurt in the dark, possibly with no way out. But this movie kicks it up a notch. There's something out there in the darkness, hunting them and eventually killing most of them in a spectacularly gruesome fashion. You see them panic, turn on each other, figure out how to outsmart the creatures, and make unthinkable decisions. It's incredibly tense, and I spent much of the movie with my fingers in my ears, like a little girl.

The ending is somewhat confusing. Did Sarah dream the part where she gets out and just decide to stay down there in the cave? WTF? But the ending aside, this is a pretty amazing horror movie.

[BNAT] Masters of Horror: "Cigarette Burns"

This is essentially a film about film geeks. It's written by a couple of guys from Ain't It Cool News - Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny and Scott "Obi" Swan. The main character runs a theater that screens obscure classics. He moonlights as a finder of highly rare film prints. He is hired by a creepily obsessive cinephile to find a print of a film called La Fin Absoleu du Monde ("the absolute end of the world". The film has only been screened once, and it is supposedly so powerful and terrifying that it incited horrific scenes of real violence in the theater. Our hero is under the impression that the only print of the film that ever existed has been destroyed. But the cinephile assures him that it is somewhere out there. Our hero takes the job, because it will pay him enough to get out of the debt he owes the father of his now-dead girlfriend.

So he goes on this journey to find the film, every step making him more nervous and yet more intrigued and curious. Along the way he meets a film critic who is working on an article about the film - an article which appears to be several thousand pages long. It seems that everyone who has ever seen the film has been forced to face their own personal demons and usually end up hurting either themselves or others. I was fascinated by the idea that the images on a film reel could be so powerful and moving that you might be persuaded to take your own life in response to it. That is a great concept for a horror film - that the celluloid itself houses an unspeakable evil. And the fact that people can be simultaneously repulsed by it and drawn to it is more interesting still. Great job, Drew and Scott! Just incredible.

The film is fairly restrained in the gore department, until the end. At the climax, the creepy cinephile, after watching the movie, disembowels himself and threads his intestines through the reels of the film projector. Yeeckh!

[BNAT] District 13

This movie will inevitably be compared to Ong-Bak, and deservedly so. This movie has the same extreme high energy, but it has a *little* more story. It's kind of a cross between Ong-Bak and Escape From New York. It's set five years in the future, in the Paris ghettos. The government has put up a huge wall around District 13, a particularly problematic section of town due to gang violence and drugs, and the gate is guarded by police 24 hours a day. The philosophy being, I suppose, just to lock the deviants up together and hope they just kill each other off. And to hell with the innocent people who just happen to also live there.

The police discover that a neutron bomb has been put somewhere in that district and set to go off in 24 hours, so they pair up a cop who is capable of deactiviting it and an ex-thug who knows the streets of that district. There's a bit of a twist, which is kind of interesting. But the real juice of the movie comes from the action. A great, fun, machismo kind of movie - ain't nothin' wrong with that. :)

[BNAT] The Professionals

The overture to this film is on one of my favorite CDs, "The Wild West Essentials". So if this is an obscure western, it was one that I had at least heard of. It stars Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode as four guys who are hired by Ralph Bellamy's character to go and get back his wife (Claudia Cardinale) who has been kidnapped by a Mexican revolutionary (Jack Palance). Yes, you read that right - Jack Palance plays a Mexican. And it's pretty much the most awesome thing ever.

I *loved* this movie. From the great title sequence to the gorgeous setting to Burt Lancaster foiling Claudia Cardinale's attempt to seduce him to Lancaster talking with Palance about revolution to the heroes' moral decision at the end, this is just amazing. And Lee Marvin gives Ralph Bellamy one of the Great Disses of All Time. Bellamy calls him a bastard, and Lee Marvin says "Yes, sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you ... you're a self-made man." Wow.

[BNAT] Sympathy For Lady Vengeance

Chan Wook Park has made three movies now that deal with revenge of some sort. They're not your basic "you done me wrong and I'm gonna get you" movies. They're very complex and painful and brilliant. The first was Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, which I caught for the first time this year. The next was Oldboy, which played at BNAT 5 and was a huge favorite. Now he's capped off his trilogy with Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, and I think this is the best one of all.

The story centers on a woman who, when she was 19, was imprisoned for kidnapping and murdering a five-year-old boy. She did kidnap the boy, but the murder was done by someone else. During her time in prison, she makes lots of allies, and this helps her exact her revenge when she gets out. The manner in which she gets her revenge is profound and disturbing and immensely satisfying. And her relationship with her own daughter - especially a scene where she gives the young girl some important advice - is quite touching.

This film hurts. It's an incredible portrait of revenge gained and redemption sought. Absolutely wonderful.

[BNAT] Masters of Horror: "Sick Girl"

There are lots of reasons why I don't have premium cable. But I hate that not having those channels means I'm missing a lot of good stuff. Like Showtime's Masters of Horror series, in which great horror directors like Tobe Hooper and Dario Argento (and 11 others) have been invited to each make an hour-long movie to air on the network. We got to see two of these movies at BNAT this year, and "Sick Girl" was the first of them.

Lucky McKee (the amazing director of May, which played at BNAT 4) described this film as a "romantic comedy". Hee! That's kind of right. Angela Bettis (the amazingly talented star of May) plays Ida, an entymologist whose girlfriend just broke up with her because "the bug thing creeps [her] out". She decides to make the moves on a girl who's been hanging around the lobby of her lab building. Meanwhile, she gets a strange package containing a large, aggressive insect of a species she's never seen before. And all kinds of wackiness and grossness ensue. It's your basic girl-meets-girl, girl-dates-girl, girl-gets-bitten-by-huge-bug-and-becomes-impreganated story. :P

Some of my favorite horror films have a great comedic element. This film has some really great funny moments. One of my favorites is when Ida and her colleague are eating at a Chinese place. Ida finds a roach in her food, and instead of freaking out, she and the colleague very calmly examine it to see what kind it is. They discover that it's a species from China, and are thrilled to find that they're eating at a Chinese restaurant that serves actual Chinese food.

[BNAT] Footlight Parade

This movie is about when sound pictures were starting to take over and people weren't going to live theater anymore. They used to put on "prologues" before movies - short musicals that were connected to the story of the movie in some way. James Cagney (*LOVES*) plays the guy who has to come up with all of the ideas for musicals. The "cat" number is hilarious.

This is a great, great musical, and one of those typical 1930s musicals where the characters have to put on a show and manage to put together an incredibly complex number or set of numbers in a ridiculously short amount of time. There are a couple of cute romances in it, especially the love triangle with Cagney's character. Joan Blondell is gold, and has some of the best lines ("I know Miss Bi-- I mean, Rich" - PWND!).

Oh, and speaking of impossibly complex musical numbers, I have two words for you - Busby Berkley. He designed all of the numbers, and if that name means anything to you, you know what I'm talking about. The whole idea is that these are "prologues" that happen before the movie, right? So this is all taking place on the little stage in front of the screen, right? There's no frickin' way that some of those sets would be happening on a stage. Especially the extensive waterfalls and built-in swimming pools. A very fun movie, though. This is going on my to-buy list.

Friday, December 16, 2005

[BNAT] King Kong (2005)

I almost hesitate to say this, but in a lot of ways, as a film, it's even better than Lord of the Rings. Of course, those two stories are vastly different. But, even more so than with LOTR, I think, you can really ... really ... see Jackson's love for the source material bleeding all over the screen. It wouldn't be fair to compare it to the original - after all, if there were no 1933 King Kong, this new one would never have been made. It's as if the original Kong is one of the greatest songs ever written. And while it's the acoustic version, Jackson's film is a full orchestral "cover" of the song with dancers and light effects, but it still manages to stick to the heart of its inspiration.

The movie is three hours long, but Jackson uses the time wisely, and it never feels that long. There's lots more characterization, exploring of the relationships, and - most significantly - interaction between Ann and Kong. This movie is far far more sympathetic to Kong and he's much more layered than the original creature. But then all the characters are. Ann Darrow, in this film, is a vaudeville performer. She's reluctant to take Carl Denham's movie offer because it's a sad role and she's used to making people laugh. That's a huge part of her interaction with Kong. There's a great scene where Kong watches her do a little of her pratfall act, and she actually makes him laugh (and ook).

The action scenes are absolutely breathtaking. Two of them really stand out and got huge cheers from the audience. At one point, the crew of the Venture is being chased by dinosaurs. Just ... I can't even describe it, it's so incredible. And it finishes with them falling all over one another like dominoes, and crushing several of the men in the process. And the other action scene that stood out was when Kong is fighting the dinosaurs. He's kicking ass, taking names, and the whole time he's holding Ann and never once drops her.

The romance between Jack and Ann is well done. They have a nice meet cute and Adrien Brody (mmmmmm...) and Naomi Watts have great chemistry. And there's a line about "subtext" that made me fight not to laugh out loud. But the main love story, of course, is between Ann and Kong. Naomi Watts is really outstanding in this. It would have been so easy for her to just be the screaming, trembling victim, but she expresses so much and so many layers just with her face. Someone - can't remember who right now - compared her performance in this to a particular scene she did in Mulholland Drive where she was auditioning for a part, and I couldn't help thinking of that while I was watching her.

Favorite scene ever: Kong has just escaped from the theater in New York. He's found Ann and is carrying her through the streets. He steps into Central Park and reaches a pond that has frozen. There are a few cute moments when he slips around on the ice, and finally he falls on his bottom, still holding Ann. The next couple of minutes is one of the most magical things I've ever seen. Kong sliding around on the ice. Ann leaning her head back and enjoying the cold breeze. Gah! *cries*

There's great funny stuff, too. Jackson has a great sense of fun with all of the New York stuff. There's a reference to The Most Dangerous Game, too, which we saw just before this. When the original actress for the film backs out, they consider Fay Wray, but she's busy filming ... the film we just got done watching. Hee! Oh, and I laughed so loud when Denham is pitching the movie, and one of the studio execs asks if there will be footage of the naked tribal women. *dies* You couldn't have done that in a 1933 script.

[BNAT] The Most Dangerous Game

This was produced by Merian C. Cooper - who produced the 1933 King Kong - and featured Fay Wray - who played Ann Darrow in that film. It stars Joel McCrea and tells the story of the lone survivor of a shipwreck who conveniently happens upon the castle of an eccentric count, who is also hosting a few survivors of another shipwreck. The count, like the movie's protagonist, is an avid hunter. But he has grown weary of hunting deer and tigers. So, as it transpires, he is now hunting humans instead, since they offer the most challenging hunting experience.

This is, pretty clearly, a B-movie, but that's not a putdown. It's highly enjoyable. Some of the sets are the exact ones that were used in King Kong, which is interesting for a geek, at any rate, and the count's "trophy" room is truly creepy. The shipwreck scene may be accidentally funny (especially a guy yelling "He got me!" when a shark bites him) and there are some weird and unintentional cultural insults. But for what it is, the film works really well.

Butt-Numb-A-Thon, Introduction

For four years now, I've been attending an event every December called Butt-Numb-A-Thon. It's a 24-hour film marathon held in Austin, TX at the Alamo Drafthouse theater. On the outside it looks like a hole-in-the-wall, smushed in between a couple of nightclubs at the corner of 4th and Colorado. Inside, it's a real, honest-to-goodness old-school movie theater. Every other row of seats has been removed and replaced with row-length tables, and you can order some pretty great food while you watch your movie.

BNAT is a special event held there every year, an excuse for Harry Knowles to get a bunch of people together around his birthday and celebrate everyone's love of film. Tickets for the event used to be first come first served, but as BNAT has increased in notoriety, Harry has resorted to taking e-mail submissions and selecting the attendees personally. This means a couple of things - 1)It's pretty hard to get in, since around 9000 people are vying for a couple hundred seats, and 2)It's the absolute BEST movie audience anywhere in the world.

Every BNAT has a good mix of the old and the new - forgotten classics to freaky grindhouse fare to premieres of yet-to-be-released films that are sometimes so hush-hush that we're told not to talk about them. Everyone who attends has their suspicions about what will play, but not one of them knows what they'll see until they see it. The whole 24 hours is surprise programming. We all pay to get in - a certain amount for the expense of throwing the party and a little more to help fund a film club Harry runs for kids at the Alamo. It's a good cause, and it's a great party - if you're a film freak.

BNAT (a.k.a. Geek Christmas) seems to go in cycles for me, I think. BNATs 4 and 6 really stand out as years when I very much loved the chosen films, had several favorites, and couldn't wait to get home, go online, and buy several of them. But BNATs 5 and 7 seem to have been more about the experience as a whole and the joy of being a part of that audience. A list of fond memories of the even-numbered BNATs is likely to start with titles like Night Warning and The Black Swan. But a similar list for the odd-numbered BNATs is more likely to start with "the absolute reverence that even non-believers had for the screening of The Passion of the Christ" or "everyone playing their duck-bill kazoos along with the song in the Donald Duck short".

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the programming this year. I enjoyed all of the films (in different ways) very much. But this was less a year about "what I got to see" and more a year of "who I got to see it with." We saw 12 films this year - 7 of them brand new - and in the next several posts I'll see what I can come up with about the films themselves and the experience in general.