Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bob le Flambeur

This 1956 French crime drama by Jean-Pierre Melville was his big breakthrough. It tells the story of Bob, a sort of elder statesman of the Paris crime world. Everyone likes him, even the police, but he's begun to live a pretty boring life as a expert for the police. Problem is, this means fellow criminals don't trust him and the police are always watching. His itch for adventure leads him to a plan to rob a casino. All he needs now is a plan and a team. It's classic. It may not have been the first of it's kind, but it unified a distinct style approach that influenced pretty much all movies of it's kind to follow. This and Kubrick's The Killing are basically the parents of every heist movie to follow. They may not know it now, but movies like Ocean's 11 and the Bond movies are direct descendants. Now, that doesn't mean that your liking those movies means you will like this one. Whether or not you like Bob depends on how you approach it. The acting is pretty poor and the story is really not that great. Melville also loves to keep a pretty darn slow pace. What makes it worth a watch is the style. His visuals and approach are just classic. If you like the heist genre, it's worth your time, like a blues guitarist listening to early blues recordings. Know what I mean? Seeing where what you love comes from.

Saturday Afternoon.

Sin Nombre

This 2009 Mexican drama by Cary Fukunaga follows two stories that intersect because their stories are not only headed to the same place, but are, in reality, the same story. One is that of a Guatemalan young man who goes by Casper and is a member of MS13, the nasty gang that stretches from California through all of Mexico and Central America. He is beginning to doubt his ways, but only in harmless ways, that is until something awful happens, at which point his doubts become a straight up drive to escape. He sees the possibility on a train that runs from south of Honduras clear to Texas. Problem is, the train ride itself may well be more dangerous than his life in Guatemala. But the train, has a defined end, his life, outside of death, doesn't really. The other story is that of a good, but very poor, Honduran girl, who was abandoned by her father 14 years ago. The movie picks up with her father showing up out of the blue, begging for her to come with him back to his home in New Jersey. Problem is, he's also pretty damn poor and spent just about all his money getting back to her. His solution, take that same train. This movie is really about the present state of things in our little Western world.This idea that one always has a choice, each individual shapes his or her life by their choices. This doesn't mean they are easy one's or that what we think will lead to betterment will actually do so, but it's our choice to make. It's also a movie about the quest for autonomy. We want more choices, more options. I don't mean this in a selfish way, sometimes, I can only imagine, it feels like we must seek more autonomy. What I mean is that there is something imbedded in our Western way of doing things that makes so many feel like there is always a better option out there. In the case of some characters in this flick, the grass on the other side was decidedly worse and they never should've made the decision to leave, but for others in the film, deciding to leave was likely the best decision they'd ever make. The point is, catching that train, heading out of town, to another place, another country, is indicative of our Western way and the results vary widely. Fukunaga spent two years in Mexico and Central America living with members of MS13, traveling on the very train line from the movie and trying to come to an understanding of those willing to take such risks, to go so far. He also shot the movie down there, on that train and cast many unknowns and non-professionals. It shows. The movie feels genuine, it feels truly informed. It's like, not only are you really seeing it, but you're experiencing it. The stories are engaging, the performances fantastic and the maverick style of shooting it makes the visuals very interesting. See this movie, even if you're not a subtitles kind of person.

Worth Watching.


Recently my parents were in town and we were headed to see Couples Retreat. I really didn't want to and joked that we ought to instead go see Moon. The reason this is a joke is because it appeared like these movies couldn't be more dissimilar. One is a big budget, vastly distributed and marketed, please-all comedy full of big stars. The other is a low budget, barely distributed, almost unheard of dramatic sci-fi movie person, Sam Rockwell. We arrive at the giant megaplex where couples retreat was playing and find that there are only a few seats left and they were practically buttressed against the screen itself. So, I brought up Moon again. We end up seeing Moon at one of my favorite movie houses in Portland, a place called Livingroom Theater, where it's never crowded, the seats are plush and have ottomans and waiters come in and serve you cold beer and good food on real plates, set with real silverware. Well, I'm pretty sure I can guess what Couples Retreat was like, but I was shocked by Moon. It was fantastic. Truly. Even my parents loved it, we all did. I say all this to point out the funny thing about movies and how they are marketed. One is clearly a better movie watching experience, yet most of the people who will ever read this review will never see it. The other is inferior and, even though we all know it won't have any surprises and very few memorable moments, most of us will most likely see it. Odd. Well, consider this my plea to skip the megaplex, find Moon and see it. This movie is sci-fi, but in the old school sense. In other words, it's quiet and tense, instead of action-packed and overbrimming with special effects. Moon may be low budget, but it's absolutely beautiful. Clearly every penny was well spent and in the hands of artists who knew how to use them. The acting is good too, but not over the top. Rockwell's performance was just natural, it seemed like he simply was who he was. And the story was great. Here's the basic story to get you interested, but, unfortunately, I can't tell you more without lessening the experience for you. A few decades from now America's discovered that the minerals of the moon are fuel rich, so, of course, we've begun harvesting them. Sound crazy? Well, don't think that, Bush actually proposed this in a speech about 6 years ago. Anyway, machines do the majority of the work, but someone has to be there to do repairs when needed and to send the fuel canisters back to Earth once they're full. But the moon is hostile and very very far away, so one person goes there and stays there for several years per stretch, when his or her replacement comes for a sort of shift change. Moon picks up during the last two weeks of Sam Bell's stint and, well, he's kind of losing it. Just when he thinks he's not going to crack, that he's going to make it out just fine, things get really really weird. See this movie. It is tense, interesting and never stalls for even a second, despite the fact that it's only one person on the screen for like 98% of the movie. This is a rare one and shouldn't be missed.