Monday, April 5, 2010

Some Updates Before Embarking On a Large Project

Hi everybody, just thought I'd throw a few random thoughts on here since I haven't updated in a while.

I caught Steve McQueen's (no, not that Steve McQueen) Hunger, an excellent film that I likely would have included on my belated best of 2009 list if I had seen it in time. (Or maybe not. It did screen in limited release in the US in December '08, but didn't become available on home video until this year. Either way its a newish movie worth discussion.) The film is a harrowing account of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, the first half detailing prison life leading up to the strike (both the IRA prisoners and the guards), the second half focusing, in grueling detail, on IRA member Bobby Sands' (played by Michael Fassbender) slow, grotesque death from self-imposed starvation. Amongst other things, the film boasts some very impressive long takes, for example a brutal, extended beat-down of prisoners by the guards, and a bravura 17-minute unbroken shot of Sands consulting/verbally sparring with a priest about his hunger strike. Fassbender, after his small but awesome role in Inglourious Basterds and now this, has shot up the the top of my list of actors to look out for.

The best new film I've seen so far this year might be the Korean drama/thriller Mother. I enjoyed Bong Joon-Ho's Memories of Murder, but was seriously underwhelmed by his beloved The Host. After Mother, I'm finally seeing what the big deal is. Bong's film is strange and idiosyncratic, yet confidently crafted, building suspense with Hitchcockian precision while deepening the story and characters in supremely powerful and unexpected ways. The story involves an overprotective mother whose retarded, 20's-ish son is arrested for murdering a young girl; she believes her son is innocent and takes it upon herself to find the real killer. It's perhaps not a surprise to see how far she is willing to go to protect her son, but what her actions slowly reveal about not only herself, her son and their relationship, but about the victim as well, elevates the film from a great thriller to a complex, heartbreaking tragedy. At time's the film's oddball sense of humor seems to undercut its seriousness and mysteriousness, but then again this kind of impressionist, no-holding-back filmmaking seems to be a common trait in Korean cinema. Best to sit back and marvel at the wide range of notes Bong successfully hits than to nitpick the few he doesn't.

Also currently in theaters is Atom Egoyan's criminally underrated Chloe, a mysterious, fascinating, erotic melodrama with vague thriller elements, which is being misconstrued by a lot of critics as a tawdry Hollywood thriller in the Fatal Attraction vein. (Jonathan Rosenbaum works up a good, brief defense of the film here.) Julianne Moore (on a roll with another excellent performance after last year's A Single Man, and still gorgeous even as she's pushing 50) stars as a woman who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of having an affair, so she hires an escort (Amanda Seyfried, also very good in this and blindingly, white-hot sexy to boot) to make a pass at him and see if he succumbs. Yes, this could be the stuff of high camp, but as with his (also underrated) Where the Truth Lies, Egoyan brings his mysterious, dreamy touch and precise visual style to the material, cutting through the mechanics of the plot so that the film turns more on the personalities and inner lives of the characters. The film is far more linear than most of his work, and I believe it marks the first time he's worked from a screenplay that he didn't write, but he still returns to his favorite themes (intellectual sexuality, voyeurism and the unearthing of buried secrets) with aplomb. I did not realize it at the time, but Chloe is a remake of a French film called Nathalie... starring Fanny Ardant, Gerard Depardieu, and Emmanuelle Beart in the Moore, Neeson and Seyfried roles. I may have to check that one out soon.

Also in the underrated camp is last year's The Invention of Lying. We've been spoiled by some great comedies in the last few years, and Invention isn't nearly as heavy on laughs as, say, Superbad, but I can't remember the last time I saw a comedy that was so pointed and purposeful. It's not a great film, but its much better than I was lead to believe. What starts out as a more typical comedy with an amusing gimmick (a world where everyone always tells the truth, disrupted when Ricky Gervais begins telling lies) becomes a bold religious satire, essentially positing that religion wouldn't exist in a world without lies, that it is a lie we tell to make ourselves feel good. More broadly, though, the film observes that lies are necessary in crafting a better world. The film is both touching and deeply cynical, often in the same breath.

Finally, as I mentioned in the title, I will be starting a long project on this blog soon that will likely take a month or two to finish. It is not movie-related. I hope to have an introductory post up this week.


Thomas said...

I just ordered the Korean DVD of MOTHER but haven´t received it yet, but I´m really looking forward to it. MEMORIES OF MURDER and THE HOST were fantastic, I thought.

However, I have seen THE INVENTION OF LYING and I can understand where you´re coming from but I found it a bit disappointing. I am a huge Ricky Gervais fan but I think that with this movie he tackled material that were too "big" in its scope for him.
I really liked the whole concept of everyone telling the truth but I was kind of put off by the fact that not only did everyone tell the truth, it was like everyone suffered from Tourettes. I didn´t buy that just because you have to tell the truth, you have to say exactly what you´re thinking, all the time.
I also found it quite distracting with the many cameos from well known actors. It took me out of the movie and the speech that Gervais gives where he explains God and everything just didn´t work, I thought.
I wouldn´t go as far as to say that the movie is a failure because I did enjoy it and I have to admire Gervais for wanting to take his comedy a bit further and not just keep doing the same thing. However, I´m much more looking forward to his upcoming CEMETARY JUNCTION, which he´s co-written and directed with Stephen Merchant. I think that Gervais style of comedy works much better if it´s grounded in reality and since this one is based on their childhoods, I think it has potential to be great.

Joseph said...

Hey, I was just gonna drop in and ask if you'd see CHLOE, and here it is, already laid out. You da man. I have to admit, of Egoyan's films Ive only seen EXOTICA (which I thought at the time was a little meh) and FELICIA'S JOURNEY which was fantastic. I should watch more but I always forget that I haven't seen more of his stuff because I explicably confuse him with Adrian Lyne. Anyway, my point is Im taking the wife and a sexually adventurous female friend to see CHLOE this weekend at the ol' Cinema Arts. If I land a threesome out of this, I owe you a coke.

As far as INVENTION OF LYING goes, I'm sorry to say it I loved the first half immensely, but felt like after things take a turn for the serious in the second half the laughs get fewer and fewer and the whole thing kinda deflates. I love the film's boldness and ambition, and even its willingness to get serious about its characters. But the second half feels too much like a listless rom-com to deliver on the promise of the first half. Also, I'm not 100% sure Gervais' point is that lying is necessary for a better life -- after all, he tells the big religious lie in an act of kindness, but finds that it does at least as much harm as good. For such an interesting idea, I'm not sure if I can quite tease a perspective on lying out of the film. I guess its ultimately positive, since he teaches his SPOILER son to do it too, but I don't know if that's exactly backed up the the rest of the plot. Definitely an impressive effort though, and I was certainly glad to have seen it.

Now, have you seen GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO yet? I hear its awesome. And while we're on the subject, have you seen that girl with the dragon tatoo in PISTOL WHIPPED? Holy shit, man. Holy shit.

Dan said...

I don't know, you guys may be right, and perhaps I'm overrating THE INVENTION OF LYING a bit. I can certainly agree that it's not as consistently hilarious as some recent comedies have been. But that's because we've been spoiled with some great ones in the last few years, and I thought this one was funny enough and deserved extra props for ambition.

Joseph, I'm gonna go ahead and predict SPOILER ALERT that CHLOE will not put you guys in the mood for a threeway. If you do manage to ride the tricycle, it will be of your own doing.

I am pretty much out of the loop of Seagal's DTV career (Vern's reviews more than satisfy my curiosity, and I'm not as benevolent and forgiving of cheap action films as he is). But I may just one day get drunk enough to watch one of them on Netflix Instant Viewing.

I've heard great things about GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO also, but I bet that will be a classic case of me never finding the time to sneak over to E Street before it's gone and then I have to wait for DVD.

Joseph said...

Dan --
I don't want to be too harsh on LYING, because I thought it was a great concept and had some really inspired bits in it. I have been reccomending that people see it, just with the caveat that it stops a little short from true greatness.

as far as Seagal goes, both URBAN JUSTICE and PISTOL WHIPPED are marginally worth your time in the sense that they are decent films with some above average qualities and uniquely Seagal touches (especially the aforementioned naked dragon tatoo girl. Did I mention she was naked?). Other DTV possibilities include BELLY OF THE BEAST, INTO THE SUN, and the awful but endearing OUT OF REACH. Have you read "Seagalogy"? I am not really a huge action film guy and I'd never seen a Seagal film before, but I did buy the book and as a result have seen all his films (except the slippery CLEMENTINE) up till now. I'd urge you to do the same if you haven't, its a really fun multi-media experience. I'll even lend you my copy if you want to avoid the apparently morally nebulous territory of amazon widgets.

Dan said...

I actually do own a copy of SEAGALOGY (the early, self-published edition) and I even watched most of the theatrical Seagal movies as a result. I love a good action movie, but the operative word there is "good." I think action movies can be undervalued as works of visual art, but unlike with horror films, I'm not willing to wade through a lot of DTV crap.

I did catch the end of INTO THE SUN on TV one time and it amused me, so late night Seagal-ing isn't out of the question. But with some many actually great movies out there I haven't seen, it's sometimes hard to devote time to mildly amusing crap.