Monday, June 30, 2014

The Paolo Sorrentino Files: The Consequences of Love

Paolo Sorrentino's sophomore film, "The Consequences of Love", again stars his muse Toni Servillo as another enigmatic, introverted figure at the center of a spiraling character study. Toss in some good 'ol Sicilian mafia types and the stunningly beautiful Olivia Magnani (granddaughter of Italian cinema's Anna Magnini) as the girl who sets his conscience in motion and one gets a wonderfully muted tale about the dramatic ways one can turn their life around.

Servillo plays Titta, a middle-aged recluse of sorts living out his existence in solitude at a luxurious Swiss hotel. The only pleasures he allows himself is a weekly dose of heroin and the chance to quietly observe (but never respond) to a beautiful bar hostess, Sofia (Magnini). He interacts, modestly, with other patrons of the hotel, including an old couple who constantly gamble at cards and complain about their lost lifestyle of riches and his visiting brother. Titta's other free time is spent carrying a briefcase of money back and forth to a local bank where he supervises the count. As all of this is presented in fragments and images that are difficult to determine at what point in the story their happening, Sorrentino maintains an air of mystery, showing alot but explaining very little. It's only when Titta breaks his hermit-like mold and sparks up a conversation with Sofia that the wheels of a subtle plot are set into motion. Genre suddenly kicks in and Titta makes a bold decision that not only seems to counteract his entire lifestyle of missed opportunities, but succinctly sums up the film's title as well. Like his next film, "The Family Friend", "The Consequences of Love" is Sorrentino working out the slow mechanics of two protagonist who really shouldn't be liked, yet end up as sentimental, believable anti heroes. Titta made some poor choices in ife, and he's certainly paying for them by his imposed exile, but he's not a completely bad person.... or at least as Servillo embodies him, we care.

Like all of his films, "The Consequences of Love" is stylish, kinetic and framed by a wide variety of musical choices that energize the film. And like most of his films, it also takes some warming up too.... as people and events slip in and out with little notice, only for their meaning to come blaring back later in the film. With "The Consequences of Love", it's an almost toss-away line of conversation between Titta and his brother that becomes the haunting final shot. The consequences of both love and the inevitable "what if" are magnified as one's life flashes before their eyes. And as Sorrentino stares into the eyes of Titta, we believe that both are equally devastating.

"The Consequences of Love" is available on Region 2 DVD.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Current Cinema 14.4

Night Moves

Whether it’s the vast expanse of the American frontier or the suburban Northwest, filmmaker Kelly Reichardt is a fierce observer of time and place, wrapping her singular cinematic quests around interesting digressions and tactile emotions. Her latest film, “Night Moves”,  is the closest she’s come to a real genre tale- the thriller. Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning are motivated eco-terrorists. Their plot to blow up a damn in Orgeon is traced out sparingly in the first half of the film… made even more real when they team up with the older, seasoned and shaggy Peter Saarsgard. When their violent deed comes with a human price, the guilt and regret that comes rushing to the surface supersedes their original intentions as they try to move through their daily lives afterwards. Eisenberg and Fanning are the real focus here. Reichardt chooses to express her story in quiet facial expressions, nervous ticks and the somber redundancy of normal life as they attempt to come to terms with their actions. Like her previous films, “Night Moves” is patient, observational and a bit wise in the way it turns the thriller convention upside down. There are razor-sharp scenes of tension (I.e. the actual terrorist act, complete with innocent bystanders achingly prolonging and interrupting the plot), but Reichardt’s overriding concern is the psychological violence that comes with their decisions. “Night Moves” may not satisfy everyone, and it’s a film I admire more than truly like, but the manner in which the film places the viewer squarely in the clutches of these three misguided idealists is still tremendously fascinating.

Edge of Tomorrow

For the first 20 minutes of Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow”, we watch as Tom Cruise squirms and weasels his way through the predicament of a cowardly PR officer trying to escape actual combat. Those who dislike Cruise (even if they’re watching the film) will take obvious delight in it. But, as any good movie-watcher knows, this is only the set up to turn someone less-than-chivalrous into someone chivalrous-beyond-belief at film’s end. It’s the oldest narrative in the book…. And one that’s gutted, spliced and hammered into a time bending experience by gifted writer Christopher McQuarrie. “Edge of Tomorrow” plays with our expectation of the sci-fi genre, forcing Cruise to live the same day over and over. It’s a shame that day involves a huge battle of mankind versus invading aliens. But it also involves Emily Blunt as an ass-kicking soldier who may hold the key to winning the war. Honestly, the less one knows about “Edge of Tomorrow” before entering, the better the enjoyment will be. Even though Liman and McQuarrie owe a huge debt to other films, they manage to carve out taciturn depth between Cruise and Blunt. In a loud, CGI driven summer film, this is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of their effort.

The Rover

Hypothetically, the financial and social collapse of the world feels most realistic in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, visualized on screen by Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat. Those Aussies must have a pulse on the collapse. David Michod’s “The Rover” also frighteningly presents the apocalypse as a scavenged, bleak and instantly cutthroat procession of boarded up fuel stations, neon-lit motels and burned out vehicles. Swimming through the mire with a singular, propulsive purpose is Guy Pearce, intent on finding the men who hijacked his car. He stumbles across the wounded brother of one of the men, played convincingly by Robert Pattinson, and the two men embark on a journey of revenge. Like his previous film, the magisterial crime opus “Animal Kingdom”, “The Rover” is relentlessly violent and prone to sharp outbursts of gunfire that underline the power of the weaponry. But there’s also an undercurrent of emotion and silent moments of reflection that bring back the human element to this elemental narrative. Though Michod wrote this screenplay before “Animal Kingdom”, both films represent his desire to expose the hypocrisies of family and the manipulation of stronger man over a weaker individual. As the film winds down, it becomes a lean examination of these ideas and spares no one the western-style shootout its been promising since the beginning. With this second film, Michod truly is a bright spot in modern cinema.

Palo Alto

Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto”, based on the short stories of co-star James Franco, is all low-fi and full of teen angst without ever really earning its angst. We follow a handful of privileged teens as they circumvent various issues- April (Emma Roberts) begins an ill-advised relationship with coach Franco… young Teddy (Jack Kilmer) can’t seem to find the right time to fall in love with April…. Fred (Nat Wolf) seems screwed up without any real explanation other than he’s supposed to rebel against his lifestyle… and then there’s the parade of screwed up father-figures and teenage girls performing oral sex in order to feel appreciated. I’m not denying those are real emotions in 16 and 17 year olds (hell I went through them as well), they just feel half baked and unfocused. Channeling Gus Van Sant and her own family Sofia, “Palo Alto” strives to be an incisive, meditative look at these kids where a chill wave soundtrack and halcyon images just don’t do the material justice. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tuneage Again

This song just screams to be used in some big movie moment...... From one of the best albums of the year so far... a curious mixture of Sonic Youth and The Violent Femmes.....

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Produced and Abandoned #17

Ten more titles deserving a wide region 1 DVD release:

1. The Vampire of Dusseldorf (1965)- Actor/director Robert Hossein is someone whose filmmaking talents I've admired on this blog before, and this film (also known as "The Secret Killer") looks at the exploits of a serial killer in Dusseldorf during the Great Depression. Hossein made a number of moody, minor works in between acting gigs. The few I've been able to track down, including "Death of a Killer" and "Cemetery Without Crosses" only hint at the talents of this diverse man. Bottom line, we need more Hossein available.

2. Forty Deuce (1982)- Another actor turned director is Paul Morrissey. Coming from the Warhol school of experimentation, unlike Hossein, there are a number of Morrissey's films available. Low budget... twisted avant garde and counter-culture, Morrissey is a definite acquired taste. While I've enjoyed some of his works- "Flesh For Frankenstein" and "Blood For Dracula" are weirdly spirited takes on the classic horror tropes- there are major downers as well. "Trash", "Flesh" and "Heat" are the epitome of self-indulgent, aimless provocations. And they look like shit as well. So, having said all that, "Forty Deuce" is one of his later films that's disappeared. Perhaps its subject matter about a gay prostitute trying to sell a junkie teenager (a young Kevin Bacon) to an older man had something to do with its precarious existence.

3. Bloodbath (1978)- Perhaps there's a reason this mid 70's American giallo has vanished. It sounds ludicrous. From IMDB: "Chicken, a desperate hippie junkie living in a small Spanish village, is finding it difficult to separate fantasy and reality. This isn't helped by the villagers practising magic and child sacrifice, or his involvement with a group of boozy ex-patriots lost in their own dreams and regrets." Did I mention it stars a (probably coked-up) Dennis Hopper and Carroll Baker? Also known as "The Sky Is Falling".

4. The Nun (1966)- Like Robert Hossein, Jacques Rivette is another filmmaker sorely under-represented on home video. Of his 32 films, I count only 7 are available on region 1 DVD. I've heard nothing but praise for this early film in his career about the doubts and uncertainties of a woman forced to take a vow as a nun. The fact that it stars Anna Karina only boosts my anticipation to see this. It is available on YouTube (which, by the way, should get mounds of credit for having soooo many films available to watch if one searches hard enough and has the right way to watch them on their big screen TV) but its without English subs.

5. The Coca Cola Kid (1985)- I gather this film was released on DVD at one point in the 90's, but its now OOP as all copies go for ridiculous amounts online. Starring Eric Roberts as a corporate agent visiting Australia in order to expand Coca Cola's market share, the word of mouth and chatter about this film have always been affectionate. In addition, "The Coca Cola Kid" was directed by experimental Serbian filmmaker Dusan Makavjev, which only heightens the wonder about this film.

6. The Assassination (1972)- Still the go-to authority on unfamiliar or secondary artists worth further exploration is "Film Comment", and last month's issue featured a small article on French filmmaker Yves Boisset. Reading through his list of films on IMDB feels like a treasure trove of 'policier' greatness waiting to be discovered. This 1972 film stars just about anyone popular in French cinema during the early 70's- with a cameo by Roy Scheider! Like many other films on these lists I create, "The Assassination" is really just an excuse for any other films by this director to be viewed and shared. The bright spot about this film and Boisset in general is that his films seem to available pretty easily if you look in the right places.

7. The Visitors (1972)- Great director Elia Kazan's second to last film, this one sounds eerie and psychologically complex: "Bill, Martha and their little child Hal are spending a quiet winter Sunday in their cosy house when they get an unexpected visit from Mike Nickerson and Tony Rodriguez. Mike and Tony are old acquaintances of Bill; a few years back, in Vietnam, they were in the same platoon. They also became opposed parties in a court martial - for a reason that Bill never explained to Martha. What happened in Vietnam, and what is the reason for the presence of Mike and Tony?" From the IMDB description. Filmmaker Brian DePalma later remade the same source material into his film "Casualties Of War". Also, there appear to be releases of this film in France and Spain and talk of an American release in 2011, but I can't find a region 1 DVD copy.

8. Candy Mountain (1987)- Starring Kevin J. O'Connor as a musician trying to track down a legendary guitar maker, "Candy Mountain" has been a cult favorite for years now, fitting into the moody, punk rock aesthetic made fashionable by Jim Jarmusch and the aforementioned Paul Morrissey. Directed by indie legend Robert Frank, this film is available on YouTube. The reactions- like all cult products- are wildly divisive.

9. Darker Than Amber (1972)- Crime novelist John MacDonald and is fictional protagonist Travis McGee make their first appearance on-screen here as Rod Taykor embodies the "savage consultant" in a film that seems to blend criminal bodybuilders and Jane Russell in one sun-baked noir tale. Reviews of this film have been high, citing two different versions out there- one a cut apart TV version and the other an uncut, much more violent vision. I'm a fan of any 70's noir and this one sounds like malevolent fun.

10. Spermula (1976)- If anyone's still reading... google it. Just google it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Top 5 List: Under Rated TV

5. High Incident (1996-1997)
Executive Produced by Steven Spielberg and partly scripted by Eric Bogosian, this very short lived cop drama was essential viewing for me. Taking a now treaded narrative- i.e. the daily travails and friendship of Los Angeles cops-, and crafting something special was not an easy task. Starring Matt Craven, Blair Underwood, Cole Hauser and David Keith, "High Incident" only ran one year and even the almighty powerful Spielberg couldn't save its dismal ratings. And the biggest shame of all? Ending the show on such a cliffhanger- with several stars in comas or battling for their lives after a massive shootout- proved that the cast and crew believed they had more fuel in the tank.


4. The Job (2001)
Denis Leary and executive producer Peter Tolan would reach larger acclaim with another show on this list later, but "The Job" could be considered its training ground. Assembling a diverse cast and spending of their episodes on digressive matters such as being taken hostage in the restroom by an escaped criminal in the police station or the preoccupation with how dull his badge is compared to others, "The Job" was vintage Denis Leary. It only lasted 19 episodes, but "The Job" is light years ahead of current fare such "Brooklyn 911".
3. The Shield (2002-2008)

A bit more appreciated than others on this list, "The Shield" still doesn't receive the kudos it deserves. Placing himself near the top of anti-heroes alongside Tony Soprano, Michael Chiklis' portrait of dirty LA cop Vic Mackey colors himself irredeemable right from the opening scene when he commits murder. The next six seasons are spent not only trying to cover up his own criminal transgressions AND hold a family together, but take down some of the city's toughest drug dealers. "The Shield" is compulsively watchable and tension inducing, not afraid to spotlight its lead character's coal-black moral center.
2. Curb Your Enthusiasm (1999-)
This is the one show on this list I may be mis-informed about, yet I just don't know of anyone....ever that talked about it. It may be highly regarded.... I just don't know about it. As a fan of "Seinfeld", I was genuinely interested in creater Larry David's foray on HBO, hoping for some of the same humor, instead getting an entirely new misanthropic outlook on everything from sleeve cuffs to hookers for the HOV lane. "Curb Your Enthusiasm" takes shots at everyone and anything, and I love Larry David for it.
1. Rescue Me (2004-2011)
After the demise of "The Job", Denis Leary and friend/producer Peter Tolan (and a majority of the cast) came to FX with this masterpiece of a television show about New York City firefighters. Haunted by dead friends and shadows of September 11th, "Rescue Me" weaved an eight year run that embedded the viewer with poignant, involving and wildly funny moments from the lives of these men and women. Highly recommended if you weren't already a fan.