Saturday, September 25, 2010

I'm down with The Town

It may seem like Ben Affleck has it easy. Gorgeous, famous wife, an Oscar, two cute kids and some good movies under his belt. However, he doesn't have much cred to film buffs. Sure, he was in those great Kevin Smith flicks, 200 Cigarettes and Boiler Room, but who can forget Gigli and Daredevil? He was never destined to follow in the foot steps of DeNiro. Lucky for us, he stepped behind the camera, and he's actually very good at casting himself.

The Town works in all the ways Good Will Hunting works. Affleck has an intimate knowledge of the Bay State state of mind. He excels at portraying a blue collar tough guy whose only fear is that his buddies might find out that he's got a heart of gold. He's that bad boy with a sweet creamy center that every girl kids herself into believing truly exists. The big romantic streak running down the center of this cops'n'robbers movie throws you off. It's like a French romance set in Boston. I'm a little troubled by Affleck's seeming obsession with stories about men who had devastating childhoods. Just how tough was it being the kid from Cali in The People's Republic of Cambridge?

Affleck plays Doug McCray, a crook from a family of crooks who hangs out with other crooks and skanky girls. A big heist has him cross paths with a goody-two-shoes bank manager who just happens to be the girl of his dreams. But can he quit the life, and can the life quit him?

There's some serious talent flashing around in this movie. Affleck is good, Jeremy Renner is explosive as Doug's seriously demented friend, James. John Hamm shrugs off Don Draper to play a frustrated and ambitious FBI agent. But it was Blake Lively who really blew me away. Having lived my whole live in Massachusetts, I can honestly say I've never seen such a perfect portrayal of a lady Masshole on screen as Lively delivers. She's like a white Precious as Krista, only she's crafting her own destruction. She is deliciously tragic and heartbreakingly sympathetic. A product of her environment, Krista is in love with the things that hold her down. Institutionalized and trapped. I know this girl. I grew up with her. I see her on the T sometimes and at the mall. She is the girl next door, who deserves more but never wanted it for herself because she's too filled with self-loathing. Incredible. Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper round out the cast as the grizzled veterans showing the kids how it's done.

The direction isn't anything mind-blowing, but it gets the job done and the robberies and chase scenes are all good fun. I was on the edge of my seat quite often. That's always a good thing. But it sometimes telegraphs its punches, so Affleck isn't at master-level yet, but I think his next one might be.

The Town delivers some top notch, Boston-bred entertainment. If you liked The Boondock Saints, Gone Baby Gone and Heat, you'll enjoy this one. I know I did.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Write on

Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer is a slick and powerful neo-noir. Ewan McGregor plays a young writer, ghosting to make ends meet, who gets plunged headfirst into a world of political intrigue when he's hired to help Alan Lang, the former PM of the UK played by Pierce Brosnan, complete his memoir.

Most neo-noirs have a claustrophobic and stifling feel to them. The Ghost Writer, instead, channels THX 1138 and other Wellesian distopia future films. The landscapes and interiors are cold, vacant and hollow.
The houses do not feel like home, and even the island itself seems more like a santiarium than a resort. It's interesting to have watched this film so shortly after I had watched Shutter Island. These movies might seem thematically very similar: a man finds himself on an isolated island for his work and discovers a possible conspiracy. But their visual styles could not be more different and it's wonderful to see how the atmosphere the director creates does so much to enhance the plot and reveal the emotional state of the characters.

The casting is brilliant. Some of the best scenes occur in the beginning where familiar faces, like Jim Belushi, deliver surprisingly masterful performances in their small roles. I was especially pleased with Pierce Brosnan in this film. He gives Prime Minister Lang layers which I did not
expect. So much of the plot relies on his character, and Brosnan shows the tiny cracks in Lang's crafted, slick political facade in a nuanced and believable way. McGregor, as always, is so organic as the naive young, un-named artist. His role is one that closely mirrors the role Polanski played in The Tenant/Le Locataire. His innocence is his greatest flaw as he tries, in vain, to swim against the merciless current of fate. Yet, he is so likable and sympathetic that you cannot help but root for him. His nameless character is a perfect foil of other famous nameless character, like Clint Eastwood's hard Man With No Name. He is vulnerable and anxious, but resolute. Olivia Williams is magnetic as the PM's wife, Ruth. Williams makes Ruth into a mysterious woman whose charms almost conceal her darker motives, almost.

However, the cold, clinical atmosphere of the film makes it a little difficult to get attached to the characters. That doesn't make it any less of a well-crafted film, it's just the reason why it could never be a blockbuster.

Coming soon: Doctor Zhiavago, Bugsy, The Town, and more! I've been doing more movie
watching than blogging, but I'll do my best to catch up.

-- Noel
Sent from my T-Mobile Sidekick®


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Island Retreat

Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island is unlike anything else in his filmography. Based on the novel of the same name by Massachusetts author Dennis Lehane, this psychological thriller is the kind of subject matter we're used to seeing from Christopher Nolan. And the dream sequences are very reminiscent of David Fincher's Fight Club. Scorsese has never done anything as visually lyrical as this before. I'm hungry for more.

Shutter Island follows U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels as he investigates a mysterious disappearance at an isolated prison for the criminally insane. Only as he unravels the mystery, it only seems to become further tangled onto itself.

Perhaps the most impressive thing Scorsese does is drop breadcrumbs about the twist throughout the film. Much like in The Sixth Sense, this means astute film-junkies will figure out the plot twist before it happens. But unlike The Sixth Sense, you won't feel like you're wasting your time watching a movie when you already know the ending.

I love the visual style. It's dark, but colorful. The Aviator meets Pan's Labyrinth, and even a little bit of Inglourious Basterds. Scorsese shot the majority of this film in Massachusetts. However, most of the settings are totally unrecognizable because of some CGI wizardry that stitches together landscapes and buildings to create a beautiful Frankenstein's Monster of a backdrop. The weather, the buildings, the environment reflect the mental state of the main character. Pay attention to their cues.

The acting here is solid, if not a little melodramatic. I want to like Leonardo DiCaprio, I really do, but I have a hard time buying him as a disturbed, world-weary veteran. His face seems young to me. Or maybe it's the fact that he can't seem to express mature emotion in roles. I really feel the strongest thing he's ever done is Basketball Diaries, a close second is The Aviator, but that was more imitation than creation. I also liked him in The Departed, Gangs of New York and Inception, but mostly because I felt that his characters were somewhat emotionally stunted. So his adolescent emoting didn't bother me as it seemed appropriate. But in Revolutionary Road, and in Shutter Island, they seem tedious. They seem forced. He is acting. Leo lacks the ability to disappear into a role, but I give him credit because he tries so damn hard.
Perhaps his shortcomings wouldn't be so obvious if it weren't for Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams (who knew?!) and Ted Levine so frequently upstaging him in this film. Ted Levine had a short but amazing scene with Leo. He plays the sinister warden, and his subtle yet powerful performance stole the movie for me. With turns like this one and Silence of the Lambs, I cannot understand why Ted Levine got strapped into "Monk" for eight unbearable seasons playing second fiddle to Tony Shaloub (who was way better in Men in Black than he ever was in the TV show he's won three Emmys for). Mark Ruffalo is stellar, as always, and Ben Kingsley turns out this movie like a seasoned pro. Michelle Williams is a pleasant surprise. She is perfectly fragile, like a piece of glass, so thin and full of cracks you're afraid to touch it. Hers was a role that could have been overplayed, but she did a beautifully understated performance. I hope to see more from her.

The story is brilliant, and it made we want to read the book. Not since Fight Club have I seen such an innovative and original story brought to life on celluloid. I'm now having wet dreams where Scorsese directs a Chuck Palahniuk novel. Let's make this happen people! I'm thinking Haunted or Diary, what about you?


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lost movies?

To continue my mission of watching all of Polanski's movies, I'm looking for the following titles that are not available on Netflix:

The Beautiful Swindlers


If you have any suggestions on where I can find these, preferably on DVD, preferably rented, please let me know.

In the meantime, I'll be working on Knife in the Water, Death & the Maiden, The Pianist, and The Ghost Writer.

-- Noel
Sent from my T-Mobile Sidekick®


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yay! One Hundred Posts!

So, my review of The Young Victoria was my 100th post! To celebrate, I will share with you a piece of advice.

In spite of my love for action movies, I am fully aware that most people wouldn't win a fight in a real world, no matter how righteous or brave they are. I'm one of those people. I'm scrawny, and not athletic in the least. It has occurred to me that at some point, I may be in a position where someone is trying to engage in a physical altercation with me. I have devised an effective and clever response to such a situation:

Dance around like an orangutan and scream crazy things.

I have tested this method on several people, and it seems to do the trick every time. People are so surprised and disturbed by my sudden psychotic behavior that they instinctively move away. This gives me the chance to either flee, or escalate the psychotic behavior in hopes that it will further deter my would-be attacker.

If you have no hope of being too big or strong to fight, you must seem too crazy to fight. No one wants to duke it out with someone who is completely insane. Insane people are unpredictable, and might kill you or fight dirty. But how to appear crazy enough to scare someone away when you're not normally physically intimidating? Nothing makes you seem crazier than adopting a primate-like locomotion while yelling crazy things like:
"I will end you like a dishtowel! My fury is a hot ball of cheese! Get ready for plaid!"
Peppering in curse words where applicable.

And it's really quite easy, you crouch down, knees bent, butt low to the ground, legs and feet spread wide, jumping from foot to foot while swinging your arms up and down loosely like an ape.

When you scream, don't scream like a war cry. Scream like you're on a crashing plane and you're in full flight-or-fight mode. The more high-pitched and irregular, the better.

As I mentioned, my tests of this have gone very well. I ask a person "Get in my face, like you're going to fight me." and once they do, I commence with the crouching, flailing and screaming. They always jump back in alarm. Who wouldn't?

Like the Spanish Inquisition, my chief weapon is surprise. My second weapon is the ability to appear unhinged.

Here endeth the lesson.

The Young Victoria

I've been meaning to watch this one since it was in theaters, but it's hard to get Dan to watch a pre-20th century romance. I admit, I was dying to see the costumes. I heard they were gorgeous in reviews, and watching the Academy Award Best Costume award presentation confirmed that. So when I saw that the movie was available to watch instantly on Netflix. I was thrilled. It took a little convincing to get Dan to agree to watch it, but in the end we both enjoyed it a great deal.

The Young Victoria is a movie in the spirit of Elizabeth. It tells the story of Victoria's rise to power and her courtship with Prince Albert. The plot is very good, and its interesting to see the precarious way a future and sitting monarch has to live her life. She can't really trust anyone, yet she wants so badly to be close with someone. Any misstep can bring a crowd of angry citizens raging outside the gates of her palace.

Emily Blunt is an elegant mix of vulnerability and determination as Victoria. This film shows how under-utilized she is in movies. We got such precious glimpses of her talents in Sunshine Cleaning and The Devil Wears Prada, I'm so glad that director Jean-Marc Vallee took a chance on her. It paid off big time. She is believable as the 18 year old queen, portraying youth and inexperience well without making Victoria seem incompetent. Blunt carries the film very well, and hopefully you'll be as impressed with her as I was. Rupert Friend is charming and supportive as Prince Albert, his love for Victoria and his need to please her is evident and completely disarming. My man Mark Strong (is he in every movie these days?) is a cold calculating viper as Sir John Conroy. Paul Bettany is the picture of cool British reserve as Victoria's right hand man, Lord Melbourne.

The costumes are incredible. Sumptuous and colorful, I swooned almost every time Victoria had on a new dress or Albert was seen in his impeccable outerwear. You just want to reach out and touch the fabric. I can't imagine how it much change one's posture and movements when one wears such costumes. I could happily watch this movie on mute, it so visually gorgeous. Their award was well-deserved
The sets and lighting are also just beautiful.

The direction is very good. This movie feels intimate and genuine, with a few sweeping epic shots to give you the "this happened and it was a big deal" type of feeling. It could have veered into chick-flick territory quite easily, but the characters of Victoria and Albert are so well-developed and the plot has just enough political intrigue that it holds its own as a true biopic. As I said, my wary husband very much enjoyed it, even though the trailers made him hesitant. The trailers really did not do it justice.