Monday, April 30, 2007

A Top 5

After getting into a brief discussion with Jim at his Talking Moviezzz blog over the supremely depressing ending of the 1980's cult classic The Last American Virgin, it got me thinking. What better time for a list! This is something I hope to continue doing, as well as my ongoing "What's In the Netflix Queue" posts and a few more appreciations of a given director. It seems the niche for blogs right now is finding something that makes your blog unique and invites participation. This is my feeble attempt at something like that. And, just for kicks and because you can find some of the best blog links ever assembled in one post, check out the recent writings by online buddy Piper over at his Lazy Eye Theater blog.

So, feel free to add your list in the comments section and let us know what you feel are the your top 5 most depressing endings in movie memory. With "The Last American Virgin" firmly holding its place, here are four more titles that will bring you down no matter how happy you feel:

2. "Laws of Gravity", Nick Gomez (1992)- internet friends will recognize my praise of this film since about the mid 90's when I first stumbled across it on VHS. Not only did it introduce me to the electric acting skills of Peter Green (Zed, from "Pulp Fiction" and one helluva screen presence who allowed his personal addictions to override his professional career), but it opened my eyes to the talent of a great director named Nick Gomez. And for us "Sopranos" fans, it features a young Edie Falco, just as saucy and tough as ever. While the film itself pretty much epitomizes the mid 90's indie feature template of handheld camerawork unobtrusively documenting a day in the life of young mid level urban hoods, "Laws of Gravity" also does something else. Yes, these guys are kinda dumb, and they grate on your nerves with their pseudo tough guy attitude, but you end up caring for them in the end. And its not only the disastrous way in which Gomez quick cuts the final moments to a black screen, but the timing in which he allows the screams of Jimmy and his entourage linger on the soundtrack. It's probably one of the most perfect (and yes, depressing) denouments in the last 20 years. I urge everyone to seek this one out. Hell, I'll even make you a VHS copy if you can't find one!

3. "Hustle", Robert Aldrich (1975)- Even though you can feel the cynicism reeking through every scene, the ending to Robert Aldrich's well crafted film noir still shocks and, yes, depresses. Burt Reynolds plays a California detective trying to solve the case of missing girl whose biggest problem is not the case itself but the girl's avenging father who constantly impedes the investigation with his old-school sense of pride and justice. After 105 minutes, Reynolds breaks out of the moral quagmire that's been slowly building and heads home for the day. And that's when Aldrich sucker punches you with the film's boldest disaster. I fully understand the need for film noir to engulf everything into a black hole, but for the first time, you think there's going to be a light at the end of the tunnel and then "Hustle" brings us back to reality. Some may feel cheated by the ending, but it fits.

4. "Don't Look Now", Nocholas Roeg (1973)- This is a film that could make several lists. It's on my 15 favorite horror films blogathon entry, it's a devastating psychological thriller, and how could anyone forget the climax? With all of the film's attention to fractured narrative and disconnected memory, the viewer soon starts to realize that nothing will turn out well, but when the final few minutes do play out, its still something terrifying.

5. "Chinatown", Roman Polanski (1974)- This film and Hitchcock's "Vertigo" are perfect specimens of film writing. Not only do their screenplays expose deep rooted layers of psychology amongst their characters, but they create a time, mood and place that's unforgettable. The mood of Robert Towne's script for "Chinatown" is morbid and cynical. Jack Nicholson's evocative embodiment of Detective J.J. Gittes is memorable and full of witty non chalance. But it's exactly that air of non chalance that marks the film's ending as one of the most depressing. Not only does "Chinatown" reserve the harshest punishment for the film's sympathetic female lead, but it places a blanket of malaise over the city of Los Angeles, the time, and the country's attitude toward political and economic change.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What Happens in a Small English Town Stays in a Small English Town

Disclaimer: I love "Shaun of the Dead". I think it's an inventive film that, along with Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later", audaciously does something new and fresh with the 'zombie movie' genre, while remaining loyal to its roots of political and social commentary that every 'zombie' movie since 1968 feels compelled to display. Directed by Edgar Wright, it's a film that features two leading characters (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) who want nothing more out of life than to burn out in front of the TV playing video-games and wallowing at the local pub. It's only half-way through the film that they realize their mundance English life is being quickly usurped by fleash eating zombies. That's the nifty idea (and very sly attack) that plays out in "Shaun of the Dead". It's also a film that doesn't shy away from the gross out theatrics inherent in the 'zombie' genre. While "Shaun of the Dead" clearly understands where it's coming from, it's also a pretty decisive affront to modern comedy as well- filled to the brim with humorous images and witty banter that outlaughs so many comedies of the past 15 years.

And all of the above applies directly to "Hot Fuzz". This is a film that continues Wright, Pegg and Frost's uproarious terrorizing of genre to take aim at the action film, placing a London supercop (Pegg) in the small English country town of Sanford where the biggest crime of the day is a missing swan. But like in "Shaun of the Dead", we soon learn that rustic houses and suburban life is pretty much incarnate evil. And like the previous film, "Hot Fuzz" navigates through a well-tread genre, elevating the level of screen violence, unpredictable moments, and rapid-fire dialogue that comes so fast that it hardly gives the viewer time to wipe the tears of laughter from their eyes before they miss the next line of precise humor. Quite simply, "Hot Fuzz" is a joy on just about every level.

The reliance on movie in-jokes often indicates a level of juvenility within the modern comedy, but "Hot Fuzz" is something altogether different. Though it features homages to the grand finales of both previously mentioned films and toys with the buddy cop relationship of the "Lethal Weapon" films, "Hot Fuzz" is simply not just waxing funny on Hollywood itself (though several scenes are timed to the fast forward, exposed images that Tony Scott favors). The characterizations are so strong, the humor so prevalently funny and the comedic timing of dialogue delivery so perfect that "Hot Fuzz" comes across as a lovable and knowing extension of the action film- on a tighter budget of course. And while alot of this piece focuses on the comedy, rest assured, "Hot Fuzz" also explodes in the final 30 minutes into a fairly persuasive action film that doesn't sacrifice any good taste. And, remember all those great 80's action films that ended with the good guy and bad guy embroiled in hand to hand combat on top of a building or inside a rain soaked factory yard? Well, "Hot Fuzz" has something for everybody.

This review and many others can also be read here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Lineup

What do the Coen Brothers, Wong Kar-Wai, Olivier Assayas, James Gray, Michael Moore, Emir Kusturica, Catherin Breillat, Julian Schnabel, Kim Ki Duk, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Winterbottom, Harmony Korine, Barbet Schroeder, Abel Ferrera, Fatih Akin, David Fincher, Alexander Sokurov, Bela Tarr and Gus Van Sant have in common? They all have films playing at this year's Cannes Film Festival. As usual, quite an eclectic line-up. Check out the full agenda at Indiewire's site. Of course, detailed coverage will be handled here at the indispensable Green Cine blog now and throughout the festival.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Aura

"The Aura" is that rare sophomore work so full of promise that it's a shame director Fabian Bielinsky will never get the opportunity to share more of his cinematic vision. At the age of 46, Bielinsky passed away in June of last year due to a heart attack. What remains as his body of work, the 2000 con-man thriller "Nine Queens" and the dramatically better "The Aura" released last year, are two completely whole, engaging pieces of filmmaking that honor the best of the crime/thriller genre.

"The Aura" plays out like a crime film imagined by the likes of Michaelangelo Antonioni; a thriller where scenes such as a hunting mistake, a dog sniffing the clothes of a man fresh from the woods, and a heist filmed in long POV shots- carry such cosmic weight. Antonioni is also invoked when the lead character, Espinosa, consumes the identity of a dead man and requisitions his plans to cash in on a score. But with the hopes of great money comes bad guys and those dark, brooding moments that earmark the best of crime films. Given a little more time, Bielinsky easily could've being the heir to Jean Pierre Melville. He does the genre that well.

When we first meet Espinosa, he's lying on the floor of a bank at night, prone to epileptic fits that cause him to black out. But, like so many handicapped protagonists, what he lacks in physical agility he makes up for with mental capacity. Espinosa's hobby is envisioning how the perfect heist would play out. While waiting in line to pick up his check from a local museum where he works as a taxidermist, he verbally walks through the entire perfect plan to rob and the guards as they bring their bags of money in for the day. In addition to his ability to critically analyze a given situation, Espionosa is blessed with a photographic memory (and by now I'm sure you've realized that these unusual traits will come in handy as the film plays out). A hunting trip with the same acquaintance results in Espinosa making a deadly mistake and stumbling into a world of criminal mischief. Finally, his daydreams can begin to take shape in reality.

Revealing any more plot of Bielinsky's terrific and airtight genre piece would be unforgivable. Everything about "The Aura" works. For the first 95 minutes, Bielinsky weaves a methodical web of music and images that confounds and interests as each minute goes on. Everything is answered, in time, but part of the fun of "The Aura" is in the way Bielinsky (who also wrote the film) refuses to give us any idea of just where the film is headed. As mentioned above, there's one scene in particular that documents a hold-up gone wrong from the POV of Espinosa as he watches from across the street. The camera swish pans back and forth, hinting at the chaos inside the factory through distant gun shots and inaudible voices. Like the remainder of "The Aura", it refreshes a well tread genre trope and gives the whole affair a haunting feel that never diminishes.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

What's In the Netflix Queue #4

Titles I should be enjoying soon:

1. Mr Klein- Joseph Losey's World War II spy film that sounds great- Alain Delon as an art smuggler caught up in international intrigue! Who could ask for more.
2. The Naked City- Jules Dassin's thriller was just released on DVD last week and I can't resist delving into this phenomenal directors work. "Riffifi" is a masterpiece in every sense of the word and I hope this film follows suit.
3. Midway- Readers of these lists will recognize, yes, another war movie I've never seen.
4. Eternity and a Day- This is an interesting case. I've seen one Angelopolous film ("Ulysses Gaze") and started this a few years back, but grew bored with it and quit halfway through. I'm hoping time and age has conditioned me to be in a more receptive mood about Angelopolous' work.
5. The Wire Season 2 disc 5- This second season has been wonderful. What I love about this show is how small incidents ignite a sprawling investigation, full of sharp characters and enthralling details of police procedure. In the first season, the Avon Barksdale case grew out of the seemingly innocuous murder of a witness. In season 2, an argument over a church's stained glass window uncovers international prostitution rings, Greek drug lords and dock yard corruption.
6. Thieves Highway- More classic Jules Dassin.
7. Once Upon a Time in the Midlands- In anticipation of director Shane Meadows' new film "This Is England" which is getting strong word of mouth overseas, I realized I'd not seen this small family comedy he made a couple years back.
8. Spirit of the Beehive- Victor Erice film that got a full Criterion release late last year. I'm almost embarrassed to say I've never seen this. Word of mouth is that its pretty magical.
9. Jigoku- CLassic Japanese horror film. That's all I need to know.
10. The Attic/Crawl Space double feature- I think the Netflix description can do this film justice: In The Attic, the insecure and unmarried daughter (Carrie Snodgress) of an overbearing, invalid father (Ray Milland) escapes her miserable life by hiding in the attic, fantasizing about her father's death. In Crawlspace, a boarding house is equipped with secret passageways and hidden rooms so that the perverted doctor (Klaus Kinski) who runs the home may spy on -- and murder -- his beautiful tenants. (This disc contains both feature films.)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Joy In Mudville

I can't express how excited I am to see the '07 baseball season open this week. Even though my team has opened the season with a thundering 0-3 record and the Rangers pitching looks as solid as Sammy Sosa's corked bat, I still can't complain because we have 159 games to go. For some great baseball links to get things started, you can check out Peter Gammons and the gang or get your daily fix here. And for an avid fan's perspective, check out Sam at the Listening Ear who always does a nice job of summing up the divisons and each team's chances. Between baseball, a long holiday weekend and the Masters kicking off tomorrow morning, things are looking pretty good.