Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Saturday, July 4, 2015

21st Century Essentials: Gomorra (2008)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Gianfelice Imperato, Salvatore Abruzzese, Carmine Paternoster, Toni Sevillo, Salvatore Cantalupo, Marco Macor, Ciro Petrone
Country: Italy

Movies about gangsters, even those which see the gangsters as villains rather than anti-heroes, almost inevitably end up glorifying the lifestyles of their protagonists, even when they make it clear that that life is destined to end in a hail of bullets. These films depict men attaining vast power, living lavishly (usually with a woman – or two – on his arm), and sometimes dying gloriously. As Henry Hill puts it in Goodfellas, “to be a gangster was to own the world,” and all the bad stuff that goes along with the life is worth it because the alternative is being an average nobody. Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra adopts a distinctly different perspective from most mob movies, in that his film is very much a movie about “average nobodies,” men who occupy the bottom rungs of a crime syndicate and struggle to achieve little more than survival as a vicious mob war cuts down men and women left, right, and center. It’s a brutal and unsentimental film, and a great one.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: Jonah Hex (2010)

Director: Jimmy Hayward
Starring: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich
Domestic Gross: $10,547,117

If there's any one thing that I've learned since I began purposely seeking out the box office bombs of summers past, it's that more often than not those failed movies deserved to fail and that audiences' instincts to stay away were sounds. While there have been some hidden gems in this series, including last week's Down With Love, they represent the minority; most of these films are not merely box office failures, but in some fundamental way cinematic failures as well. Jonah Hex is most certainly a failure, a film that audiences rightly steered clear of in the summer of 2010, that failed to attract ticket buyers even with its comic book association, even with its relatively (compared to the bloated running times of most films these days) attractive short running time, and even as counter-programming to Toy Story 3, released on the same day, it couldn't manage to open to more than $5 million and change. If Jonah Hex has now been completely forgotten, it would only be fitting. The only interesting thing about it is that it features a still on-the-cusp Michael Fassbender in a supporting role.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Review: Young & Beautiful (2013)

* * *

Director: Francois Ozon
Starring: Marine Vacth

Writer/director Francois Ozon has made plenty of movies about women - very good movies about women - but watching Young & Beautiful, I couldn't help but wonder whether he actually understands women, as parts of it play thoroughly like male fantasy. For the most part, however, Young & Beautiful is an interesting, if opaque, coming of age story about a teenage girl discovering, and then trying to gain control of, her sexuality and sexual power. While far from the auteur's best film - I'd have to give that honor to either the hypnotic, Hitchcockian Swimming Pool or the purely entertaining, packed with French star power, 8 Women - it's still far better from many films of its type.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Netflix Recommends... This Is 40 (2012)

* *

Director: Judd Apatow
Starring: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd

Netflix has recommended This Is 40 to me on numerous occasions lately, but I've always taken a pass because I've found Judd Apatow's work as a writer/director to have sharply diminished in quality with each effort (my opinion of that might change with his upcoming film Trainwreck, but he's also only the director on that one). I think he's made one great movie (The 40 Year Old Virgin), one funny but deeply problematic movie (Knocked Up), and one bloated work of self-indulgence (Funny People). Now that I've bitten the bullet and seen This Is 40, I can say that the number of bloated, self-indulgent films has risen to two. When you give a movie a title like This Is 40, which suggests that it's trying to tell a universal-ish story about the experience and condition of a generation at this point in time, and then give it a running time of almost two and a half hours, you better actually have something to say. All this movie has to say is that Apatow has become too out of touch to represent the lives of anyone but a very specific minority, and that even then he doesn't have much to say for them.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Canadian Film Review: Patch Town (2015)

* *

Director: Craig Goodwill
Starring: Rob Ramsay, Zoie Palmer, Julian Richings

Patch Town is a movie for anyone who, as a child, imagined that their toys had a consciousness of their own and feelings that would be hurt if another toy was chosen to be played with instead. Or, perhaps, Patch Town is exactly the kind of movie that sort of person shouldn't watch, because it can only tap into latent feelings of guilt. A fantasy in which the toys of yesterday are revealed to be the slave laborers of today, abandoned by those who supposedly loved them and sucked into a system of tyranny, Patch Town is a mix of dark comedy and light suspense, with a dash of music tossed in. It isn't always successful as a film (particularly as a musical, as the incorporation of songs seems to be something of an afterthought), but it's always interesting and parts of it are rather delightful.