Movie Reviews (such as they are)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Richard Widmark RIP (1914–2008)

This film was a rare second viewing for me. Rare these days, that is. I used to rewatch films often, but not so much now.

Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street is a real class act that works on several levels. Despite being a film noir, this was actually made more than a decade after The Maltese Falcon, and this distance has helped Fuller to get a bit post-modern on the genre. There is a humour throughout the picture that you just don't see much of in those earlier noirs. The speed with which Candy falls in love with Skip, for example, is laughable, but you go with it because you know you're going to get paid off in spades later. But not in Sam Spades, because this is Fuller's world, and the detective can never be the guy you root for.

The plot revolves around some pickpocketed microfilm of US governmental secrets that is on its way to being sold to the Commies. Well, it's 1953, folks, and the red threat was all around. But this isn't really the point. The microfilm is the MacGuffin that drives the story. Don't get me wrong -- the story is slight, but what do you expect in 80 mins?

What you should expect is fun and action and the subversive take that Fuller brings to all his pictures. Never one to shy away from the ugly truth, Fuller takes the Bogart-style slaps across women's faces that are so commonplace in noir and shows us the deep bruising and swollen jaws that follow. The wide-angle tracking shot that Fuller uses to shoot the brawl between Candy and her traitor boyfriend Joey is a real eye-opener. It's brief, but in these days of fast cutting and close-ups and half the time not having a clue where you're supposed to be looking, this approach looks as fresh now as it did then. Gritty and real. A true tussle unfolding before you in real time.

Aaahh, you know, I liked this film. It's not a great film, as I said, in terms of story, but it's a simple tale brilliantly told and expertly made. If you're not familiar with Fuller's work, pour yourself a Scotch on the rocks, get your best dame beside you, and check this out. Shit, even if you like Fuller and you know this film well, why not pour yourself a Scotch on the rocks, get your best dame beside you, and check this out again?

What's the scores on the doors, then? I'll give it 72 points.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, March 24, 2008

36 Quai des Orfèvres

Sometimes a movie's publicity tagline can be offputting. I'd read that 36 Quai des Orfèvres was "a French Heat" referencing Michael Mann's mid-90s De Niro/Pacino policer. I didn't care much for Heat, so this did nothing for me but fill me with trepidation. Still, I do like Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu, so I thought I'd give it a go.

It takes a while to get a grip on what's going on here. The two leads are both cops but in different departments; one is married to the ex-wife of the other; one has friends in the Parisian underworld. For the first hour, the viewer really could be a bit flummoxed.

But that's all good. We get served up enough exposition in our movies, so once in a while it's nice to be treated like an intelligent adult able to follow a choppy narrative.

This is a taut little flick. The action, like the dialogue, is fast and furious. The performances are strong, and you feel a kinship with certain of the characters, not least the hotheaded, shaven-headed, fiercely loyal Titi, who looks more like a thug than a cop.

The story ducks and weaves, wending its way through a series of characters, and you just know some of them are not going to make it to the end. But it keeps throwing up little surprises right up until the last.

I'd highly recommend 36 Quai des Orfèvres. I seem to say this often, but try to catch it before the pending US remake comes out. (Yawn.) I score this movie 75 points out of 100.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, March 21, 2008

There Will Be Blood

I can't remember a title of a film that so literally but unspectacularly promised what was forthcoming. And yet, on that note, There Will Be Blood could equally well have been called There Will Be Sweat, Tears, Humour, Pathos, Grimacing, Deafness, Anger, Sadness, Toil, Riches, Religion, and/or many other things. Because, my dear friends and readers, it is a long time since I saw a film that is as rich in content as this masterpiece from Paul Thomas Anderson.

In fact, since this is a film about the burgeoning oil industry, blood is almost the last thing you might reasonably have expected. Sure, people probably died, but PTA does not shy away from some horrible accidents that might fair make you jump like you were watching a horror flick.

Maybe this is a horror flick. Certainly it is dark and gothic. Certainly there is blood and gore. And there are a lot of things that you wouldn't want to face on a dark night on your own.

The tense opening scenes perfectly set the tone. Pioneering spirit. Adventure. Discovery. Danger. Injury. Difficulty. Reward. And we are asked, as audience members, to watch a opening sequence or two with no words. I'm an impatient type. I feel words are imperative to a film. I like to hear them spoken. So to have to wait what was possibly eight minutes for the first real words was interesting for me. It worked. It worked just fine. But I was glad when they came!

When was the last time I saw a film -- or that you saw a film -- in which you would be laughing heartily one minute and seriously distressed the next? Or when you were almost moved to tears in one moment, only to be chuckling the next? Sure it happens from time to time. But this film took it to an extreme for me. A good extreme. One that wasn't anticipated and was so much the better for that.

And you know? As the last scene ended and the credits began to roll, I realized I was sitting there grinning like a total idiot. And that, too, is rare: for me to actually be smiling after a movie ends, just because it was so damn fulfilling.

I'm not a Daniel Day-Lewis freak. He's never troubled my radar much. But this was by far the best I've seen him. By far. It's a masterclass. Can I realistically put it up there with Welles as Kane and De Niro as La Motta? You know, maybe I can... Maybe. Further viewings are necessary to be absolutely sure, but it's a damn fine show he puts in.

After Punch-Drunk Love, we were all a little scared of what to expect next from PTA, I think. Hard Eight was a nice little thriller; Boogie Nights and Magnolia so perfect; Punch-Drunk Love so... so... not what we wanted, at least not in my house. It's due a second viewing, for sure...

But There Will Be Blood is very, very good. The acting just right throughout. Just spot-on. The photography beautiful. The sets sublime. The music (and this from a guy who doesn't care for scores) was good, if perhaps slightly too much in places.

Arguably the film could be 20 minutes shorter. Arguably. But it matters not. There is such a boldness, a ballsiness to PTA on this movie that you can allow him the tiniest of indulgences. Because what we are witnessing here is a fucking great attempt at something enormous. And it comes pretty damn close. Not once did my attention wander, truly. And I didn't fall asleep during the last words, as was virtually the case in that other Oscar contender this year.

I liked this. A lot. It was far better than No Country for Old Men. I give There Will Be Blood a massive 88 points out of 100, and I look forward to buying the DVD.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Knocked Up

Oh, wow...

Knocked Up tells the story of a girl who gets pregnant on a one-night stand and what happens afterwards.

This is one of the worst films I have ever had the misfortune to sit all the way through. And it feels like it lasts about nine months. Absolutely horrible. And almost completely unfunny, unconvincing, and unlikable. Wow.

Since I have to score it, I'll give it 14 points out of 100 -- one point for each good line, and two points for the feat of getting it made.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

La Vie en Rose (aka La Môme)

So, I was looking forward to La Vie en Rose, not least to see Marion Cotillard's Oscar-winning turn as Edith Piaf.

It's tough to give a synopsis other than it's a bio-pic about a French singing superstar. It spans her life from the age of about 10 to her death at an incredibly old-looking 47.

Hers was a tough life and no messin'. Jesus, it makes Johnny Cash's look like a charmed one, full of love and happiness. Not only was it tough, it also had a lot going on, and this is the main problem with the film. There is just too much information crammed into the running time.

The other significant problem is that unless you have even the most basic knowledge of her life already, you may find yourself wondering what the fuck is going on every once in a while.

Cotillard is phenomenal in the lead role, of that there can be no doubt. As she ages, you can feel every ache in her bones. Her tiny shuffling frame towards the end of her life is almost heartbreaking to behold. And her scenes on stage are quite magnetic. (Don't be put off or swayed by the haters who bitch about her not singing her own songs. The lip-syncing is so good that you never notice anyway.)

But the film is simply not quite as good as she is. I half-wonder whether one day an extended cut might surface on DVD, or perhaps a mini-series-type adaptation, because I'll wager shitloads of footage hit the cutting-room floor to get this work down to some 130 minutes.

All that said, it is a beautiful-looking film, with amazing sets, costumes, and use of colour throughout. And the performances are good from the supporting cast, too, even though many are very brief.

I score La Vie en Rose a "worth watching but slightly disappointing" 70 points out of 100.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Walk The Line

Synopsis: Walk The Line is the story of country-and-western singer Johnny Cash.

Y'know, it's funny. Growing up, I seem to recall my dad had the Johnny Cash Fulsom Prison album. And I seem to recall thinking it was extremely dull. And despite the recent renaissance afforded Cash, in light of him being dead and all, I still find myself thinking the same way.

In a world of Presley and Holly, Richard and Lewis, Berry and Cochran, Cash (admittedly in a slightly different genre) just doesn't cut it for me.

And you've seen one bio-pic, you've seen 'em all.

Joaquin Phoenix is one of my favourite "young" actors, though, and I will gladly give him a couple hours of my viewing time. Reese Witherspoon was good, too. But I can't help feeling that, like Cash's music, IMHO, the movie was a whole lotta hoopla about nothing, albeit well-acted and well-directed (by James Mangold, of Cop Land fame) nothing.

I award Walk The Line, story notwithstanding, 64 points out of 100.

Labels: , , , , ,