Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I suppose if you've given the world Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas, you've pretty much earned the right to do whatever you want, even if that means making a so-so psychological thriller with an obnoxious twist ending. Scorsese, of course, is an absolute scholar of just about every film genre, and here he seems to be drawing especially on Hitchcockian paranoia and suspense in terms of atmosphere, as well as a long line of other conspiracy/mindfuck flicks (many of them better than this). For awhile it's great fun, and the dream sequences with Michelle Williams, especially, have a memorable, vivid look and feel to them, but the film ultimately doesn't feel as carefully crafted as we expect from even lesser Scorsese, particularly in the protracted exposition that follows the big reveal near the end. Will the film hold up to repeat viewings, revealing early details that enrich the pay-off? (in the way that, say, The Sixth Sense does). Somehow I don't think so. But of course I'll eventually watch it again. It is a Scorsese film, after all!
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Nicholas Winding Refn's Bronson, an odd, fascinating biopic of "Charley Bronson," begins with the title character (who adopts the moniker of the famous film vigilante) addressing an invisible audience in an empty auditorium. "I always wanted to be famous," he says, and in his mind, he certainly is (the empty auditorium suggests otherwise). Bronson (played by Tom Hardy, who offers a fearless, award-worthy performance) gained his notoriety, such as it is, by becoming known as "Britain's most violent prisoner," prone to stripping naked, painting himself with something like war-paint, and beating the ever-loving hell out of anyone that comes near him. The film is not interested in psychological motivation and in fact suggests that a fondness for violence is simply in his nature (along with a destiny of jail: watch for the nice, darkly funny shot of baby Bronson clutching the bars of his crib). He finally lands in jail at nineteen, almost intentionally, it seems, sensing that 1970's Britain has nothing to offer him but a stifling domestic existence that won't tolerate his true nature, and his life from then on out is a succession of prisons and mental institutions (an interesting sequence raises the Clockwork Orange-ish question of the cruelty of "curing" someone like Charley). Refn's film mostly bounces smoothly back and forth between Bronson's stage monologues and brutal prison fight sequences set to classical and techno music before leaving us with an absolutely haunting final shot of Bronson that almost demands sympathy for him. A very good film for those that can handle the brutality.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Benicio del Toro, always brooding and hirsute, seems like he might transform into a wolfman in any of his movies, so he's well-cast in Joe Johnston's The Wolfman, a production that's apparently been delayed and reconfigured so often it's hard to say who's responsible for what. But what's finally been delivered is a pretty unwieldy mix of gothic drama (the production design is generally effective in conveying the eerie moors and insane asylums of Victorian England) and over-the-top CGI-gore (heads and severed limbs are flying, presumably in an attempt to please the teenage boy crowd, who will almost certainly still be bored for most of the film). While the CGI effects of the Wolfman's killing sprees may be run-of-the-mill and ill-suited to the tone of the rest of the film, the transformations (surely the mark of a great werewolf film) are at least reasonably successfully staged, though nothing to make you forget, say, An American Werewolf in London. By the end of the film, all attempts at moderately believable drama have been tossed aside, and we're treated to a werewolf-vs-werewolf battle that's unintentionally comic, proving once again that intelligent big-budget multiplex horror is pretty much a genre of the past.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Bad Blake is this year's Randy the Ram. Like Mickey Rourke's performance in The Wrestler, Jeff Bridges' turn in Crazy Heart is a perfect mix of character and actor that never feels less than fully authentic. Blake is an aging country star who quit writing new material long ago. He's been eclipsed by a younger generation who are all surface flash (one of them, Tommy Sweet, learned everything he knows from Blake himself). But Blake has lived the life he sings, full of failed relationships and hard drinking, and by the time we meet him, rolling up in his old pick-up to a shitty gig in a bowling alley, it's taken his toll on him. Sure, he'll sing you the song you want to hear, but he might have to step outside and throw up midway through it (watch for the little smile he flashes when he returns to the stage). Crazy Heart's material is familiar--it's essentially a story of love and possible redemption (in the form of a lovely single mother and small-town music reporter played by Maggie Gyllenhaal)--but the film feels very honest with its characters and is full of subtle, knowing glimpses into the unglamourous side of the music industry. It may not be the best film ever made about a broken-down old country singer (surely that's Tender Mercies, right?), but its an awfully good one (and as if to confirm this, Mercies' Robert Duvall his own self shows up in the last half hour to take Blake fishing!). I look forward to Bridges' Oscar speech.