Monday, September 27, 2010


Invincible tells the true story of two very different reactions to the rise of Nazism in late ‘30’s Berlin. One is a sleazy, worldly, brilliant con man who has tricked his way across Europe hiding from the Nazis in plain sight, often holding their hands while faking his way through a ‘divination.’ The other is that of a good hearted, simple-minded blacksmith who had never left his small Polish town until being led to Berlin to perform as a strongman. The first hides his Judaism and is in a constant game of cat and mouse, played wonderfully by Tim Roth at peak form. The latter hates hiding and cannot help but shout his Judaism from the rooftops. The movie allows the viewer to see how the two approaches to life pan out for our protagonists.

This movie does many things very well. Tim Roth’s performance is the best of his career and one of the best you’re likely to ever see. The imagery and symbolism is spot on. The production design is robust to the last detail. I would argue there was only one bad choice Herzog made in the entire film. Problem is, it’s a big one. You see, Herzog decided to use non-actors to portray roles that mirror what they do in real life. The pianist is played by a pianist, the weightlifter is played by a weightlifter, and so on. In fact, other than two or three actors, all of the roles are played by people who are in actuality they type of person they play on screen.

This has been done many times in the past and was done very well and often by one of my all-time favorite directors, Robert Bresson. The problem is, this method is great for action (the piano playing is very natural, the Hebrew teaching very natural, etc) but terrible for dialogue. People, like Bresson, who do it well, don’t do allow the actors to do much speaking. Invincible, unfortunately, is dialogue heavy. It’s very much a low action, dialogue focused movie, which means terrible acting abounds. When the performers are not doing what they do, they are truly dreadful actors. But, hey, this was Herzog’s first non-documentary feature in 18 years and like I said, it was only one poor decision, although a broad sweeping, overarching one. But it won’t matter too much, as all the other elements and Roth’s performance are more than enough to make this a very interesting, engrossing picture.


Friday, September 10, 2010

The September Issue

The September Issue is an inside look into the creation of Vogue’s, well, September issue. This giant tome is, apparently, the fashion magazine issue of the year for the fashion world. This particular issue of this particular magazine is one of the most important publications of the year for these folks, again, apparently. The doc focuses squarely on a small handful of people who run the show at Vogue. This is primarily the very influential and infamous (The Devil Wears Prada was about her) senior editor Anna Wintour, but it’s also a glimpse at other lead editors and the magazine’s creative director Grace Coddington. Grace and Anna came over from England together and started in the biz together, years ago, and now, by their work ethic, fashion sense and an array of other elements, have risen to the very top. Of course, the fact that Anna is just a little higher on the totem pole does create more than a little rivalry between the two.
It’s certainly interesting to see all that goes into the creation of such a momentous publication and I like getting to be a fly on the wall, watching people who are way up in their respective fields; however, I never really got all that engaged. To me, this doc was more like an interesting TV doc from A&E or the History Channel, in other words, intriguing, but forgettable. Then again, maybe it’s not fair for me to review this flick, as I still wear shorts and t-shirts I was wearing in high school and care as much about fashion as I do about the local beef prices in Kazakhstan. So, if you’re into fashion and a curious about getting inside the ivory tower of Vogue, this movie is smack in the middle of your ballpark. If you barely know that Vogue is a magazine, like me, then it’s probably going to be little more than a half interesting watch.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Descent Part 2

In The Descent, five adventurous gals head down to chart uncharted caves beneath the Appalachian Mountains. Five went down, one came up. Down there they found shifting chutes, cave-ins, injuries and some sort of freaky demon people that desperately wanted to tear them a new one. Well, Part 2 picks up right where that disastrous trip left off, with the sole escapee running up to a truck covered in blood. Apparently one of the girls who is still down there (dead or alive) is the niece of a powerful senator and all of god and country seem desperate to get the remaining four (mainly her) out. So, they pull some typical horror movie crap by saying the best way to find them is to go back down there with, you guessed it, the girl who just managed to find her way out.
While this and several other moments of the movie were clearly the result of some pretty lazy scrip writing, the movie overall made for a fun watch and definitely had some solid tension. Once the ‘rescue’ team gets down there, they run into the same problems the first team did, meaning the earth starts caving in around them and demon people are running around lusting for their flesh. Of course, since it’s a sequel, everything’s bigger. On the good side, the claustrophobic cinematography and production design is more ever present. On the not so good side, there are way more moments with the monsters and bigger fight scenes (the rescue team has guns, flares and tools after all). For me, possibility of being buried alive = dramatic, actors in monster suits = not dramatic. Long story short, if you want a decent British horror flick with a full tablespoon of action and pressure, this is certainly worth a watch.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Halloween IV

After the disaster of Halloween III (which didn’t even make back it’s budget), the producers behind the Halloween movies decided they needed to return to the core of the Halloween story. The problem is, they didn’t just get back to their roots, they totally repeated themselves. The original Halloween is about a boy named Mike Meyers who killed his whole family and is, thusly, institutionalized for life. Many years later he discovers he has a sister who lived. Well, ol’ Mike can’t stand for this shit. He breaks out and tracks her down to kill little sis. The only one who truly feels he can stop Mike is his doctor from the institution, Dr. Loomis. Got that?

Now here’s Halloween IV. Michael Meyers is locked away and suddenly finds out that he has a niece he never knew about. Well, ol’ Mike can’t stand for this shit. He breaks out and tracks her down to kill his little niece. The only one who truly feels he can stop Mike is his doctor from the institution, Dr. Loomis. That’s right, they even set it in the same town. Problem is, they didn’t even repeat it well. The actors are much worse, the effects much cheesier and the invincibility of Meyers even more absurd. It’s one cheap Hollywood trick after another. Let me put it to you this way. My wife hates horror movies. They scare her too much and it took much convincing for me to get her to watch this with me. She thought it was hilarious. She asked at one point, “is this supposed to be scary or are they trying to be funny?” She was asking earnestly, but all I could answer with was “exactly.” This installment of the series is totally unoriginal and by far the worst so far.


Piranha 3D

Piranha 3D is a remake (think re-envisioning) of a piece of Roger Corman schlock from the 70’s. Anyone who knows Corman’s work, knows those movies were all about big fun, big boobs, big blood and big laughs and most certainly were not about spiritual or intellectual enlightenment. If you went to see Corman’s Deathrace 2000 or Piranha 3D, you went for some good Saturday afternoon, mindless fun. Well, boy did this remake capture that spirit.

Piranha 3D takes place on a big lake in Airzona, well into Spring Break and chock full of college kids, porn stars and the general sleaze that feeds off Spring Break. Well, it just so happens recent seismic activity at the bottom of this lake opened a long shut cavern full of some of the nastiest piranhas around. And, you guessed it, the piranhas are all too thrilled to get their fill of sluts and douche bags. The local sheriff, her son and an very small handful of people in the town with a brain and a heart must do what they can to minimize the carnage. Let me tell you, they don’t minimize much.

This movie is totally ridiculous. There is truly only one word to describe it: gratuitous. Not a second of this movie was necessary. This all sounds like I’m slamming it, doesn’t it? But, I’m not. Actually, I’m saying, it’s classic Corman. This remake captured that Corman spirit and how. It’s campy, it’s over the top, it’s way too full of just ludicrous moments, but, well, it’s a lot of fun too. Like a good Corman pick, if you go in expecting cinematic high cuisine, you’ll be crazy disappointed, but if you’re looking for the hot dog and beer of the movie world, you’re likely to have a blast. Let me phrase up this movie with a description of one moment therein and you can decide for yourself if you want to see it. There’s a scene in which a porn shoot on a boat is suddenly in peril because this glass bottom boat has struck rocks. Now the set has become a buffet for the piranhas and, after the feeding frenzy, there’s an underwater shot of the piranhas swimming away. One of them pauses, looks woozy for a second and burps up…wait for it…a penis. Like I said, totally ridiculous.


The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire is the sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and is also an adaptation of the second book in the Millennium Trilogy. All three movies in the film trilogy were shot around the same time and all with the same cast and crew, outside of the director, who was changed after the first, with Swede Daniel Alfredson, the director here, helming the second and third movies as well as the Swedish TV show based thereon that arrives in fall. Like the first film, this concerns uber-hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist from Millennium Magazine, Mikael Blomkvist, getting their sleuth on and stopping some bad guys. In this flick, however, the bad guy isn’t covering up a murder, but is, much worse, running a sex trafficking ring. And the John’s involved include some high profile fellas. This simply won’t do for the moral Blomkvist and the fem-power Salander.

Like most sequels to good movies, this one is a little more generic and mainstream. The pace is a little faster, the plot is a little less believable, the sex scenes and fight scenes are a lot longer and more elaborate and the dialogue is a little weaker. But even with all that, the movie is still engaging, well acted and very well shot. Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist truly inhabit there respective characters, especially Rapace as Salander. This movie is better than most and if you like gritty whodunit sort of movies, this is sure to satisfy.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Animal Kingdom

How do you watch out for snakes when everyone’s a snake? This is the predicament of Animal Kingdom’s J Cody (played with mouth-breather excellence by Aussie newcomer James Frenchville). J’s mother was the only daughter in what has to be the nastiest family in Australia. This group of brother and the delightfully, totally evil matriarch Janine rob banks, murder, sell drugs and don’t hesitate for a second before killing the police. J’s mother, when J was very young, decided to save him from all this and moved away with him. However, flash forward a few years, and J’s mom has suddenly died. Now, as a minor, the State wants to put him with his next of kin. Unfortunately for J, that next of kin is known as the Cody Gang. Man, they are a rough bunch too. Suddenly he’s thrown into a world of lies, violence and, yet, a family connection he’s never known.
Because of the Cody Gang’s terrible treatment of their community and the police, they essentially live in constant war with the Major Crimes and Bank Robbery Units of the police. When our story picks up the Bank Robbery Unit is being abolished and before those cops get reassigned they’ve decided to take out the Cody’s their own way, since they’ve never been able to make anything stick so far. There’s nothing but aggression and violence from both side and a constant cat-and-mouse form of living. Caught in the middle, J must pick a side, and, from where he stands, both sides look like a terrible option.
This movie is fantastic. It’s a slice of life sort of flick but the slice is of one truly wretched life. It’s like getting a backstage pass to one of the nastiest horror shows in town. While all the actors are great and give truly amazing, natural performances, the greatest of them all by far is Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of the eldest brother, known as Pope. His character is easily one of my favorite villain performances of all time. He is truly frightening. He portrays a man in a constant state of deadly flux, a human who seems capable of conveying the sweetest compassion and the most bone-chilling coldness within the same shallow breath. Pope goes from best mate to ruthless killer in the blink of an eye and Mendelsohn portrays him in the most unique and believable way how. It’s worth the price of admission. While the story’s not perfect and I’m not sure what the moral was, the movie as a whole is really really great.