Friday, July 27, 2012

Revisiting the Faves: The Killer Inside Me

Michael Winterbottom's "The Killer Inside Me" ranked as my number 7 favorite film from 2010.

Michael Winterbottom's twisting Texas noir, "The Killer Inside Me", is a chilling and repugnant adaptation of the great Jim Thompson's pulp novel, sending waves into the pop culture universe for its unflinching violence towards two pretty starlets Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson) and not really giving a damn about it. I use words like repugnant above in the best sense. This is a great film for the way it buries so many emotions, none more so than the quiet facade led by Texas sheriff Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) as he deviously sacrifices everything he loves to satisfy the demons within. "The Killer Inside Me" doesn't wink at the audience or service any post-modern demands for the neo-noir genre.... it's a film that simply observes it characters strutting around in the well manicured southern locations, quietly tracking the serial killer sheriff with a voice over that almost lulls one to sleep and making one's skin crawl when the inevitable violence does overtake the narrative. In the varied oeuvre of British director Michael Winterbottom, he upholds his chameleon streak with a stifling portrait of small town Texas life in the 50's as if he's always lived here.

Affleck, as he did in "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford", tackles the central performance like a soft spoken Jekyll and Hyde. If one were to go into "The Killer Inside Me" with no preconceived ideas of the story, Affleck sells his genteel southern sheriff in the opening moments as a true good 'ol boy... someone we could easily see as a hero. But when the shoe drops and Affleck presents Sheriff Ford as a masochistic sex addict and killer, he turns the performance into something altogether tragic, most wince-inducing after the brutal fist beating of local prostitute Joyce (Jessica Alba) in the film's first 30 minutes in an effort to unwind himself from family secrets and a complicated blackmail plot. From there, Winterbottom and screenwriter John Curran slowly spin their tale as the noose tightens around Ford's neck and he attempts to hold together his 'other' life, namely his impending marriage to local girl Amy (Kate Hudson) while a suspecting federal agent (Simon Baker) works to pin the guilt on Affleck.

If the violence shown against women is the central point of contention for so many people, what seems to be missing is the idea that Winterbottom and Curran have done nothing but adapt a story that is 50 years old. In it's updating, there's nothing titillating about the violence, which only strengthens the craftsmanship of the film. Definitely the most radical and consuming of Thompson's novels, "The Killer Inside Me" still feels radical and consuming today, especially in it's apocalyptic ending.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Top 5 List: Halfway Point in 2012

The top 5 things that have stirred me in 2012:

5. The duo of Keira Knightely and Steve Carell in "Seeking A Friend For the End of the World"

In my recent review for Lorene Scafaria's apocalypse dramamdy, I stated "Knightely is wonderful again, although it wouldn’t take much for me to fall in love with a 28 year old Brit-hipster chick who totes around Walker Brothers and John Cale vinyl and who scribbles David Bowie sayings on her wall." This is very true. I'm an easy mark for this "pixie girl" as I've seen her described, and no doubt that Knightely's performance and "bean-pole" persona sways my affections easily. But it's the film itself- and its never wavering finale- that has lingered with me for over a month now. If that's not the sign of something good, then I don't know what is.

4. Sigur Ros and their new album "Valtari"
I know the criticisms..... but I still love this band and everything they do. Just magical moments in so many songs on this new album.

3. Mood Films

Three new films this year dispense with traditional storytelling for the most part and paint wrenching portraits of a very specific time and place.... what I love to call mood films. Oren Moverman's "Rampart" is the thinking man's "Training Day", following a terrific Woody Harrelson over the course of a few days in early 90's Los Angeles as he deals with police corruption, impending debts and his own fractured, confusing home life with two ex-wives and two daughters. Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" is style and place tilted to perfection in "Moonrise Kingdom" with 1960's New England coastline and tweener love. Benh Zeitlin's debut film, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is certainly the most experimental of the three, but no less acute in its representation of a group of poverty-ridden people living on the outskirts of the Louisiana coastline. Not only are these three of the very best films of the year, but when placed in a time capsule, these films should show how beautiful, fucked-up and complex our modern world is.

2. Films on YouTube

This very well may be a wave that I'm just now catching onto, but the wealth of obscure and not-readily-available-on-home video films that are cropping up on YouTube is overwhelmingly good. If one is searching for something, go there and type in the title. You may be surprised. Or you can check out blogs such as the excellent Lerner International blog whose mission in life is to direct consumers to overlooked gems available there. Add to that a few software downloads and one can always own a ready-made dvd version.... not that I'm promoting such an act but throwing it out there as rhetoric.

1. HBO Continues Strong

Select television continues to be the defining initiative for intelligent, culturally impactful works of art. Channels such as HBO, FX and AMC continue to push the envelope (yes, "Breaking Bad" begins its assaulting final season tonight!) and churn out unbelievably impressive series. Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom", Louis CK's "Louie" and others such as "Boardwalk Empire", "Game of Thrones" and "Eastbound and Down" have firmly planted themselves as challenging, sometimes uncomfortable but always meaningful works of art.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Last Ten Films I've Seen: June edition

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)- Starts out with a trance-like fervor, endlessly following a group of poverty ridden people living on the outskirts of the levee in Louisiana, and then turns powerfully raw and magical. A terrific debut for director Benh Zeitlin.

2. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011)- Slow moving but hypnotic, this is probably the longest film (2 hours and 37 minutes) that's ever dealt with what is 30 second fodder in most other 'crime' movies. A group of policeman and a doctor scour the countryside in search of a body when the killer can't exactly remember where he buried it. Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a master of composition and lighting here, none more so stunning than one sequence drained in candlelight and each man noticing the beautiful young girl's face behind it. Pure magic. The film's themes about masculinity and past sorrow are also resounding. Another terrific film.

3. X, Y and Zee (1970)- Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Caine are a couple in swinging London. He falls into a relationship with Susannah York and Taylor wears gaudy dresses and holds martini glasses in her hands ever so carefully. At one time I'm sure the film qualified as edgy, but it just comes off as passe now with static performances and even less emotional connectivity.

4. Jeff, Who Lives At Home (2012)- It's surprising how much one begins to care about a certain character in this film as it winds down. Quirky, slacker independent comedy from the Duplass brothers that does reach for some heightened emotion and earns it.

5. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)- More Mark Duplass, this time in the starring role.... but just as quirky and slackerish as the above film. If low-fi time travel films is your bag, then "Safety Not Guaranteed" is probably your fix. The way it weaves several plot threads together left me a bit cold, but I do appreciate the way the film avoids an easy conclusion.

6. Endless Desire (1958)- Imamura’s deeply black comedy is an interesting set-up for what will come in the rest of his career. A rag-tag group of thieves (including one woman) rent a shack in the center of town in order to tunnel beneath the ground and steal a cache of morphine hidden before the war. While the copy I was able to view is saddled with a horrible set of subtitles, Imamura’s dark humor and fondness for the impossibility of the lower class to get ahead is clear. “Endless Desire” also features some stunning camerawork for the late 50’s. When a majority of Japanese cinema was imbued with the static low gaze of Ozu, Imamura is playful and almost Hitchcockian in the way he frames several scenes right at the floorboard level, raising the tension of the men burrowing underneath and staying quiet while visitors and the police rummage around on the wooden floor above them.

7. Gambling City (1972)- Euro crime from the great Sergio Martino about a card shark wrapped up with a casino boss and his bloodthirsty son. It's no "Rounders", but above average.

8. Ted (2012)- Like a live action version of "The Family Guy".... err wait. Written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, one gets what they see in the trailers, which is always a problematic exercise. This could have been so great... a cult classic comedy for this generation but instead we get fart and cock jokes.  Maybe that's all this generation wants?

9. Game Of Thrones (2011)- Halfway through season one on and yes, I'm hooked.

10. A Certain Killer (1967)- Kazuo Mori worked in prolific fashion during the 60's, but his work is largely overlooked and unavailable for distribution. This late 60's thriller, obviously influenced by Sejun Suzuki, tracks the machinations of a hit man hired to do a job and the trouble he gets sinto when he involves a woman (Yumiko Nagawa). Vibrant colors, paint that spills out in place of blood and lots of suits and shades highlight the effort which certainly places it in the pop candy 60's. I really want to explore more of Mori's work.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

70's Bonanza: The Destructors aka The Marseille Contract

Part of the charm of Robert Parrish's mid 70's actioner is exactly what makes it just an average film... some over-thee-hill actors trotting around European locations embued with clumsy editing and Saturday afternoon style violence. Well, except for Michael Caine who sems to handle himself pretty well and gets to enjoy one helluva car ride. Recently unavailable on home video until MGM released it in its dvd-r series, "The Destructors" is an amiable way to fill 90 minutes.

It's plot consists of two stories. The first 30 minutes or so follows DEA agent Anthony Quinn as one of his agents is killed. Suspecting the local drug lord (James Mason) comes naturally as the agent was investigating the untouchable citizen. Unable to get anyone to pick up the pieces, Quinn hires assasin Michael Caine to become judge, jury and execution. The second half of the film follows Caine as he insinuates himself within Mason's organization... including falling in love with Mason's attractive daughter (Alexandra Stewart). Meandering during its half- as it introduces a love affair between Quinn and the dead agent's wife and then fails to elicit any drama from that confict of interest- this part is certainly the weakest. Quinn, who appears to be lethargic and hazy-eyed, gives an uneven performance. It's only when Michael Caine appears as the precise assasin that "The Destructors" picks up steam and utilizes its European locations to full extent. From there, the playful nature of who-will-outsmart-who gains control and the film cruises into thriller mode. Granted, I'm a sucker for this type of 70's Euro-crime, and "The Destructors" is far from the crowning acievement of this sub genre, but I found it wickedly funny and interesting enough to seek out a copy.