Sunday, February 01, 2009

Screening log (26/01/09 – 01/02/09)

You Don't Mess with the Zohan (Dennis Dugan, 2008)

Fairly amusing comedy starring Adam Sandler as an ass-kicking agent, who secretly wants to be a hairdresser, thus, fakes his own death so he can do so. It’s standard Sandler territory, complete with crude jokes, visual humour and John Turturro, and whilst fun whilst it lasts, the jokes feel somewhat tired, and there’s only so many larfs one can find in a vehicle about hairdressing and crime-fighting.

Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, 2008)
Steve Coogan’s trying to make an award-winning movie about the Vietnam war, but the budgeting, his poor directional skills and the egos of Tugg Speedman (Stiller himself), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and the multi-Oscar winning Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr), an actor so dedicated to his craft that he underwent an operation to change his skin pigmentation to black, to really embody the role that he was playing, threaten to derail his aims.

Tropic Thunder is a great little comedy, complete with un-PC parts where they send up films that glory hunt for Oscars (there’s a scene between Stiller and Downey Jr where the latter explains to the former where he went wrong in chasing an Oscar by playing a “retard”), parodying the making of a war movie, satire on the mercenaries of the film industry and thinly-sketched but funny characters.

Stiller and Jack Black are both hilarious (Stiller, when he shows up in “Simple Jack”, his characters’ bid for Oscar glory, and Black, whenever he farts), but it’s Oscar-nominated Downey Jr that completely steals the show, his mannerisms, voice and facial expressions a joy to watch in every scene.

Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 2006)
I’m not the biggest fan of this disjointed-family-go-on-road-trip-for-precious-daughter-to-partake-in-beauty-contest vehicle, I found it way too twee.

There are moments that amused me – Steve Carrell mouthing back to Greg Kinnear in the VW, Paul Dano’s general presence, but on the whole, I felt distinctly underwhelmed by the film, and downright irritated by Abigail Breslin.

Carrie (Brian de Palma, 1976)
De Palma’s gothic re-telling of Stephen King’s novel tells the story of a girl who, at 16, gets her period, doesn’t know what it is and gets bullied about it, realises she has telekinesis, goes to the prom with her crush, and then goes crazy and kills everyone. Sissy Spacek takes centre stage and, whilst she’s appropriately pitiable and dowdy looking, there were some scenes wherein she looked so intense, all I wanted to do was lard.

The film moves along at a good pace and the climax (and finale) genuinely are terrifying, as well as the fact that the cruelty exhibited by Carrie’s classmates is fairly believable. I also liked the usage of split-screen in the scene in the gym, where De Palma shows that it is he, not Tarantino, that mastered the art of dual screens first. All in all, an accomplished, intriguing watch, only let down by some unintentionally hilarious scenes between Spacek and Laurie, who plays her crazed, evangelical mummy.

Garage (Leonard Abrahamson, 2007)
Slow-moving and assured Irish tragicomedy about a lonely gas station worker Josie (played to perfection by Patt Short) and a few episodes in his life. Josie’s a good, unassuming guy, one that does his job with pleasure and loyalty and doesn’t demand more than he needs, although he’s almost-certainly missing a few up there (think Dougal in Father Ted mixed with Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love), resulting in his social interactions and understanding being limited. The latter results in him misguidedly showing a porn film to an underage lad, as well as making a move on the a newsagent worker Carmel (Anne-Marie Duff) whom has been nice to him in the past, both actions backfiring.

Patt Short is transcendent in his role, I felt for him throughout and even though the film focuses a lot on the mundane, with him as the driving force, I never felt bored. is The tacked-on (and obvious imagery) of the ending cheapened what was otherwise a muted, moving picture, a meditation on solitude and an Irish Summer.

Nothing but the Truth (Rod Lurie, 2008)
Inspired by real-life events, Nothing but the Truth came across many problems, such as financial backing and struggling to find distributors. The story revolves around Kate Beckinsale’s reporter, and how she has revealed CIA agent Vera Farmiga’s identity in one of her pieces, but refuses to tell how she came across her information.

The acting is solid throughout (Farmiga is strong and Beckinsale isn’t quite as bland as usual), but there’s nothing about this that lifts it beyond TV-movie for me. However, the “twist” at the end did surprise me, I’ll grant it that.

The Notebook (Nick Cassavetes, 2004)

Nicholas Sparks’ novel brought all kinds of mocking larfter from me, but there’s nothing majorly unintentionally humorous regarding Cassavetes big-screen adaptation. It’s a good old fashioned weepie with flashbacks, a not-so-hard-to-spot twist and moving performances from Rachel McAdams and one-time boyfriend Ryan Gosling. The two have incredible chemistry, so much so that I believed in Allie’s dilemma and rooted for her when she made her decision, when, with a lesser actress, I would have possibly scorned at her. The scene where they bung was well-shot and beautiful.

Frozen River (Courtney Hunt, 2008)
Frozen River tells the story of financially struggling mother Melissa Leo, who has worked tirelessly to afford a double-wide for her family, only to have her gambling addict husband run off with the money, leaving her practically penniless, living in a dump, and a single mother.

Her day goes from bad to worse, when she catches a woman trying to steal her husband’s car, but, in chasing the perpetrator, she discovers the thing that is human trafficking, which, despite being opposed to, she is willing to let her morals slide in order to recoup the money her husband stole for the double wide.

I watched Frozen River for Leo’s Oscar-nominated performance, but the entire film itself was an unexpected joy. This is independent filmmaking at its best, a small, humble story about real people and the things they do to make ends to meet. There’s no self-pitying undercurrent or anything; Courtney Hunt simply directs and writes things as she sees them. Misty Upham offers great support as the initially annoying Mohawk who throughout the course of the film becomes the accomplice to the human-trafficking, but this is Leo’s show.

She plays a mother that will not give up, no matter how hard things get, and wants what is best for her children and will do whatever she can to get it. Although she doesn’t have any particularly flashy scenes or Oscar-baiting lines, she’s natural and completely believable, and her plight is sympathisable.

The ending was a surprise because I expected something a little darker, but it was nice to see a resolution that resulted in the characters paying for what they had done, but a happy ending at the same time.

Such resolutions, of gaining reward, but not without sacrifice, is a crucial aspect of life.

Green Street (Lexi Alexander, 2005)
Elijah Wood plays a disgraced Harvard journalism student that comes over to London to live with his sister Claire Forlani. It’s not long before he falls in with the wrong crowd, that crowd being the GSE – Green Street Elite – a bunch of thuggish West Ham fans who take more pride in beating up the opposition than they do watching their team play.

Compelling, gritty and generally accomplished film, though I did have foibles with a) Charlie Hunnam’s horrifically bad East London accent and b) just how unrealistic it is – football crowds can get a very rowdy, but honestly, it never gets as bad as displayed in Green Street. But if you can suspend your disbelief for long enough, Green Street is worth the watch, if for the lol-inducing opening sequence where the West Ham and Tottenham fans beef with each other from different sides of the train station.

Sin City (Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez, ft Quentin Tarantino [lol], 2005)
Somewhat of a fave of mine, Sin City charts the adventures of three different blokes and their adventures in the miserable Basin City. There’s Mickey “So Ugly he makes Steve Buscemi look shaggable” Rourke on a mission to find the killer of Goldie, the killer who turns out to be the aforementioned Elijah Wood, this time not as a football hooligan but as a cannibal, Clive Owen trying to teach Benicio del Toro a lesson for knocking Brittany Murphy about, and, in the process, biting off a lot more than he can chew, and finally, Bruce Willis trying to protect Jessica Alba.

The violence in Sin City is shocking and brutal, perhaps even more disturbing in black-and-white than it would have been in colour, but the whole film is just so goddamn cool, and the odd usage of colour just makes things even more interesting. The two coolest bits: Dev Aoki’s skills with a samurai sword, how much Alexis Bleidel’s blue eyes stand out.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (Woody Allen, 1993)
Amusing but fluffy and forgettable film about married couple Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, and how Keaton’s suspicion is aroused when a neighbour dies of a supposed heart attack. The dialogue, as with most Allen films, is top-notch, but even he can’t quite make a masterpiece out of trying to fuse romance, comedy, and crime.

The Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan, 2002)
An unflinching and utterly heartbreaking tale of four women in Catholic nunnery. The girls have been put in there for being “whores and prostitutes” – in reality, one is a flirt, two had children out of wedlock and one was raped by her cousin.

The acting is uniformly excellent – it didn’t half shock me to see Geraldine McEwan, better known as the sweet Miss Marple, sadistically chop girls’ hair off, cane them, and brutally attack them; Anne-Marie Duff is convincing and the closest we get to a “heroine” in the film, and Eileen Walsh’s depiction of the mentally-challenged Crispina, who is sexually abused by a priest but then sent to a mental home when the nuns discover it, absolutely broke my heart.

Powerful and moving, it deeply troubles me to hear that the film apparently didn’t even portray the full horrors of the Magdalene asylums.

So that's that. How about you, my loves? What did you make of the films I watched, and which films did you see yourselves?


anahita said...

in the words of dara o briain: "jesus wept", how much stuff do you WATCH?!?! am incredibly impressed. I like the way you've gone from the fratpack movies to oscar contending to downright horrid (brian de palma, I'm looking at you). anywhoo, I don't think I've actually seen any of these lol, so I can't make any constructive commentary...I watched suspicion and was incredibly let down.

Emma said...

I know, I watch an absolute feckload. I'm on a bit of a film-watching roll at the moment, just consuming films non-stop. And then blogging about them. And then getting drunk. And, with my aim of cutting down on the latter this month, I should have time for even more films! :D

Suspicion was... alright, but, for the amount of talent involved, it should have certainly been better.

Besty said...

Emz, do you do what I do and just borrow everyone else's DVDs?

Harry W said...

The Magdelene Sisters is amazing. I love Anne-Marie Duff!

Anonymous said...

This line "think Dougal in Father Ted mixed with Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love" scares me. I don't want to imagine.