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Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer Not-Busters: Speed Racer (2008)

Director: Andy Washowski & Lana Washowski
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Matthew Fox, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon
Domestic Gross: $43,945,766

I don't suffer from ADHD, but I certainly felt like I did while watching Speed Racer, the Wachowski's hyper-kinetic adaptation of the anime/manga series. With its images flooded with color and sparkling things, sequences in which objects move at impossible speeds, a story that is loaded with subplots, and more changes in tone than any one film can gracefully handle, Speed Racer is an utterly exhausting movie to watch and, even though everything in it is moving so fast, it nevertheless manages to feel about a million years long thanks to its overly busy narrative. I think that Bound and The Matrix are two of the best films of the '90s and I think that Cloud Atlas is one of the most underrated films of the last few years, and because of that (and despite those two Matrix sequels) I still believe in the Washowskis and their ability to blend high style with storytelling. Speed Racer is not a success in that respect, but I think it could have been if the siblings had slowed down long enough to turn it into one movie instead of trying to turn it into several all at once. It might never have been a masterpiece, but it would have been better than the candy-coated disaster with a $120 million price tag that it ended up being.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: Frank (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender

"Quirky" can have negative connotations when it comes to describing movies. Around the time that the Sundance Film Festival became ascendant, and independent movies increasingly became "independent" movies, quirkiness became a commodity, a form of cinematic gentrification used to make cookie-cutter stories seem somehow unique. The "quirky Sundance" movie quickly started to seem especially ubiquitous, a fact lampooned perfectly (as so many things have been) by The Simpsons in the episode "Any Given Sundance" when a film is described as “Paul Giamatti… is the world’s greatest super spy… who only exists in the mind of an overweight, agoraphobic jazz musician… played by Martin Lawrence in a fat suit.” In 2014, quirky movies are part of a battered tradition, but there are still movies who come by their quirkiness honestly, as a means of expressing deeper themes rather than as a lazy means of making a it seem more marketable. Lenny Abrahamson's Frank is one of those movies, a film which premiered at Sundance and in which one of its main characters is a man who wears a papier-mache head 24/7 - and that's only where the quirkiness starts.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

21st Century Essentials: Before Sunset (2004)

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: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Country: USA

Richard Linklater’s Before series is cinema’s most unlikely franchise, consisting of three small-scale films about one couple who do a lot of talking while wandering through European locales. None of the three films have made much of a dent at the box office (the highest grossing of the trio is Before Midnight, which topped out at just over $8 million), but in the 19 years since Before Sunrise’s release they’ve developed a devoted following thanks to its two characters and their relationship as it evolves from one film to the next. The films echo into and comment on each other, tracing the ways that the two main characters have changed in the nine year intervals between films and how those changes have given new shading to the relationship. Yet while Before Sunset is enriched by how it can be seen as presenting a slightly wearier and battle-worn pairing than the idealistic romantics of Before Sunrise, and by how it sows the seeds for the conflicts which will propel Before Midnight, it (like the other two) is a film that can also stand on its own, which has its unique pleasures and can be enjoyed for what it is in and of itself, rather than merely as one part of a bigger whole. Before Sunset isn’t just the middle chapter in a trilogy; it’s a resonant story about two people who, though touched with regret, believe that they have settled into the lives they are going to lead, and who on being brought back into contact with each other are forced to ask: what if?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Canadian Film Review: Cold Blooded (2012)

* * *

Director: Jason Lapeyre
Starring: Zoie Palmer, Ryan Robbins, William MacDonald

Jason Lapeyre's claustrophobic thriller Cold Blooded is a movie that is not messing around. When the villain here holds a saw to someone, it's no bluff. There will be blood, there will be body parts strewn about, and there will be a lot of cat and mouse in this stripped down but effective genre movie. Though the low budget nature of the production is fairly self-evident, the film makes the most of the resources that it has, including the abandoned hospital that acts as its setting, and leaves the rest to its fine cast. Cold Blooded is a B-movie through and through with no pretensions to more, but it's full of no frills B-movie pleasures, including a willingness to go to the limit and then step over it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: Noah (2014)

* * 1/2

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Ray Winstone

Whatever else you can say about Darren Aronofsky, you can never accuse him of lacking in ambition. Whether he's telling an intimate, small-scale story about addicts hitting rock bottom and then finding new depths to sink to, or a science fiction epic spanning multiple time frames, he thinks big and follows his vision through to the end. Although he didn't seem like the most likely of contemporary directors to make a Biblical epic, after seeing Noah it's now apparent that Aronofsky was, in certain respects, the perfect director to tackle the story of Noah's ark. In other respects the story seems to have gotten away from him, with somewhat generic action/epic elements overwhelming the more unique and compelling elements of the film. My impression of the film was pretty evenly mixed - parts of it I found glorious, other parts I found considerably less so. It is at once a visionary work and a bloated miss.