Tuesday, November 23, 2010


If there's people out there who still have a hard time accepting the fact that Sofia Coppola isn't like here father, and has no interest in making movies like her father, they're going to hate her latest film; 'somewhere'. now, if you're a fan of her work, chances are you're going to love this. As far as I'm concerned, 'Somewhere' is the best thing she's done since 'Virgin Suicides'. That might not be saying much because many people considered 'Lost In Translation' to be both; boring & overrated (i personally think its a good movie...just not great) and 'Marie Antionette', although ambitious, was kind of a disaster. But nevertheless, 'Somewhere' is a great film. It represents Sofia Coppola saying; "this is my style, and I'm not compromising anything".
In the film, Steven Dorph plays a Hollywood "bad boy" who's forced to re-examine his wild life after he has to take care of his 11 year old daughter for an unspecified amount of time. I give Coppola a lot respect for keeping my interest in a character that i wouldn't normally care about. For anyone who's seen 'Lost in Translation', by now you should know that Sofia is known for basing characters in her movies on real people (in 'Lost in Translation', Giovanni Ribisi was clearly supposed to be Spike Jonze, Anna Farris was supposed to be Cameron Diaz and Scarlett Johansson was supposed to be Sofia). I haven't been able to pin down who Dorf's character is supposed to be based on, but imagine a movie about Colin Ferrel (or someone like him) taking care of his daughter while juggling an acting career and trying to maintain a typical A-list actor lifestyle. Sounds pretty uninteresting, right? Normally i would agree too, but Sofia was able to make an interesting movie, and give a typically shallow character some depth.
What i loved most about 'Somewhere' is that this is the first time she's really stepped out of her comfort zone (as far as the plot goes. I'm aware that 'marie antionette' was her first big budget movie). Her first 3 films have all been slight variations of the same basic plot: attractive, blond, privileged females trying to find themselves in a suffocating world. I guess there's nothing wrong with that, but at certain point its time to move on, and try something new (which she did). I'm starting to think that a lot of these modern day female directors (lynne ramsey, andrea arnold, claire denis & sofia coppola) are better at showing the sensetive side of their male characters, than male directors.
Like all of her movies, the soundtrack is great (although its still not as good as the score Air did for 'Virgin Suicides'). The cinematography is beautiful, like all of her movies (courtesy of cinemetographer; Harris Savides, who's work can be seen in the films of Gus Van Sant and David Fincher). Now, like i said earlier, if you aren't a fan of her previous work, chances are you may not like this. There are a lot of extended scenes, minimal editing and there's not a lot of dialogue (when compared to your average movie).


Phillip Ridley's 14 year absence from film was not worth the wait. And it doesn't help that the last movie he left us with 14 years ago was 'The Passion of Darkly Noon' (a heavy-handed religious film, with a waste of a cast that included; grace zabriskie, ashley judd and viggo mortensen). I guess i have so much hope for Ridley because he's responsible for one of my all time favorite movies; 'The Reflecting Skin' (something Ive been watching a lot over the last year). For a first time effort, The Reflecting Skin is one of best psychological thriller/horror/coming of age/dark comedies ever made. Unfortunately, Phillip Ridley wasnt able to tap in to the talent he once possessed, and instead he gave us a Polanski-esque, split personality/"its all in your head" thriller.
In Heartless, Jim Sturgess plays; Jamie, a depressed, introverted, socially awkward photographer who still hasn't recovered from the death of his father. He has a huge red birthmark that takes up half of his face (along with one of his arms and some of his chest), which not only makes it impossible for him to meet girls, but he's also the subject of ridicule from his neighbors (their nickname for him is "elephant man"). He lives in a rough London area which has been taken over by a gang of thugs, who might not even be human (one night Jamie quickly snaps a picture of one of them, and he discovers that they're these lizard-looking people with vampire teeth). He's finally pushed over the edge after his mother is mugged and murdered one night. This sends him in to a depression worse than ever. From that point on, the movie turns in to a story that's been done a million times. Jamie makes a deal with the devil (who just shows up out of nowhere) to give him a happier life. In return the devil asks for one favor; that he must kill a random person, cut his heart out and place it on the steps of a random church. That task alone is hard enough, but after completing the task, the devil (being the evil person that he is), goes against his word and wants to use Jamie for something even worse. On a side note, for some reason, the devil character keeps a little indian girl around as his sidekick/helper. I didn't really get that part of the movie.
Some of the scenes, acting and music are SO melodramatic that its kinda funny sometimes. And there's a "twist" ending, that you can see coming half way in to the movie. Now there are some positive things about 'Heartless'. As disappointing as the movie is overall, its still had a pretty cool, moody atmosphere (courtesy of Ridley's direction). Half of the cast is made of Mike Leigh's regular actors (Timothy Spall, Eddie Marsan and Ruth Sheen). Eddie Marson is the best thing about the movie. Phillip Ridley carefully places him in the middle of the movie (which is right around the time i started losing interest). Eddie Marson's quick appearance (similar to William Hurt's appearance in 'History of Violence') manages to keep you interested for a little while, but he's only in the movie for a one scene. Once Marsan's character goes away, the movie keeps getting worse until the disappointing ending.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


wow, sometimes i see so many movies a year i forget a few. 'Died Young, Stayed Pretty', a documentary about the underground world of concert poster art within indie music, would be a nice companion to this year's popular documentary; Exit Through The Giftshop'. Normally i avoid movies that are labeled; "a hit at sxsw". Because to me, the sxsw logo on a movie poster means nothing more than mumbling 20-something year-olds in a movie about love triangles or "finding yourself" (a genre some call "mumblecore"). Although 'Died Young, Stayed Pretty' has some flaws, it doesn't fit in to that typical sxsw film mold. Its still a solid film on something that's hardly been addressed in the world of film. Even if the subject of this documentary doesn't sound too eventful, at least watch it for the unique poster artists ("print mafia", ron libreti, bryce mccloud, etc) ), and the wide variety of colorful art that they produce ranging from loud & colorful to pen sketches on notebook paper.
This documentaries main problem is the structure (or lack of it after a certain point). As the documentary goes on, the director just kinda jumps around from one interview to the next. This didn't really bother me so much, because the artists and the exhibition of their art was enough to satisfy me, although i totally understand if some people get annoyed at the movies schizophrenic style. There's not much focus on the history or origin of movie poster art either. The documentary mainly focuses on the present day artists, and their views on love, life, and the current state of poster art. One unique quality about this documentary is that it doesn't really focus on the actual music or musicians that the artists make their posters for (although one of the artists does give us some history and insight in to the supposed closet homosexual life of elvis presely). Along with 'Exit Through The Giftshop', 'Died Young, Stayed Pretty' also shares a similar vibe and structure with 'Beautiful Losers' (the documentary about the young 'alternative' artists of the 1990's like Harmony Korine and Shepard Feary). So chances are if you like either movie, you'll like 'Died Young, Stayed Pretty'.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010


***please keep in mind im excluding active legends like martin scorcese, werner herzog, woody allen, jean luc goodard and people like that. i just think putting them on a list like this would be kinda obvious.***

I think as of right now, he might be the most untouchable as far as im concerned. Of any director, he's made the most memorable movies of the last decade (the piano teacher, cache and the white ribbon). And even his recent movies that may not be considered "the best" of the past decade are still better than most (code unknown, funny games and time of the wolf). Similar to lars von trier (who's also on this list), Haneke is so great at fucking with the audience, raising questions that people are affraid to ask, and his movies leave you with an uneasy feeling (although he does all of this in a much less "prick-ish" way than Von Trier does). In one decade, he's taken on some serious issues, has tried different genres and has succeeded each time: the birth of facism (white ribbon), both: "white guilt" and race issues (code unknown & cache) and he even took a realistic stab at the post apocolyptic genre with time of the wolf. And id put code unknown up against crash any day of the week.

I grouped these three directors in to one, because they all pretty much represent the same thing. None of these directors are affraid to take risks, try completely different genres from one film to the next (soderbergh: bubble-> the ocean's 11 movies-> che, linklater: school of rock -> scanner darkly -> me and orson welles, assayas: demonlover -> clean -> summer hours -> carlos). They can work with either; big budgets or almost no budget, release 2 movies in a year, and they can get amazing performances from their actors (weather it be an ensemble or an individual standout performance). Of the three directors mentioned, Olivier Assayas might have the best track record (in my opinion, he hasn't made a bad a film yet). Soderbergh and Linklater both fall in to the same category, in that they actually do have more bad movies than great movies, but the great ones completely overshadow the bad ones. For example, all the of the ocean's sequels and full frontal seemed like silly movies, but just Che and Traffic alone overshadow all of that stuff. And of the three directors mentioned, Soderbergh is best at working with non proffesional actors (in fact with the exception of Gus Van Sat, he might the best of anyone on this list). Soderbergh even did the unthinkable and remade Solaris. RELAX, i recognize the original is way better, but his version isnt as bad as people make out to be. I use to hate it myself, but gre to like it. And the same thing with Richard Linklater. The Bad News Bears remake was pointless, but he still made Me and Orson Welles, Before Sunset and School of Rock which totally cancel out bad new bears (and other slip ups like fast food nation). And as overrated as scanner darkly was, it was still a fun movie, and a him trying something different.

I know they had a shitty first half of the last decade (although they did make O Brother Where art Thou), but No Country and Serious Man brought them redemption. I almost didn't wanna put them on this list simply because i hated Burn After Reading SO much (and it couldve been a great movie), but if im going to have one entry on this list for "the people", which basically means the one that wont have people bitching at you because you left them off your list (you know, the tarantino's and the christopher nolan's), i'll chooe the coens (although Nolan does get an honorable mention).

That shy/asshole grin that he always has makes me think that Von Trier is well aware of what he's doing, which is fucking with people. He started the last decade fucking with us by giving us the unexpected ending in Dancer In The Dark, and ended most recently with another headfuck; 'Antichrist'. In any group, you need a prankster. And Lars Von Trier fits that description to a Tee. Just about every movie he's made in the last 10 years has some kind of flaw, but similar to Soderbergh and Assayas, hes not afraid to take risks (although the risks Von Trier takes serve a different purpose). Also, almost all of his movies from the last decade, with the exception of 'Boss of it All' are bound to bring out many serious discussion, debates and stir up some serious emotions, which i think at the end of the day is his ultimate goal. So no matter what way you cut it, he's succeeded.

its almost like she was groomed for greatness. if you go from working for jim jarmusch to wim wenders (as well as working as casting director for tarkofsky at one point) you almost CANT fail as a filmmaker. Unlike many of her fellow popular female directors of the moment (specifically Sofia Coppola), Denis has no problem focusing on issues besides female problems. And even her films that do deal primarily with female issues aren't cliche and overdone (rape, abuse, etc). One of her most recent films; 35 Shots Rum was a great example of this. Many other directors would have taken the basic plot of that film; the relationship between a father and his daughter, and turned it in to a predictable story of incest or abuse. She did the complete opposite. In Beau Travail she was able to make a film with obviously homosexual undertones, and yet still make it feel masculine. She can do both; straight forward storytelling (35 Shots of Rum) as well as surreal & subjective storytelling as well (The Intruder). All of her movies contain beautiful cinematography and AMAZING music (courtesy of Tindersticks). She even took a stab at horror (or Denis's own interpretation of horror) with the somewhat disturbing; Trouble Every Day.

He can go through periods when you're kinda like "wtf" (even cowgirls get the blues and the psycho remake), but for five films in a row, he hasnt slipped up yet (although as good as paranoid park was, he was very close to doing a repeat of 'elephant'). Kinda of like Soderbergh, some of Van Sant's films are so different in; the look, film making style and subject from one film to the next that some people aren't even aware that the same guy responsible for Good Will Hunting is also responsible for 'Last Days' and 'Gerry'. Also, as an openly gay director, he's never afraid to touch on homosexuality, but at the same time does it in such a subtle way that its not even the issue of the film (with the exception of 'Milk', which is still still a good movie too). In a decade he covered school shootings, did 2 bios (harvey milk & kurt cobain), worked with A-list actors (matt damon, sean penn and james brolin) to high school kids who've never acted before (elephant & paranoid park) and has had equally successful results each time.

He's probably the best new director to emerge from the past decade, and one of the few people worthy enough to fill tarkofsky's shoes (especially with japon and silent light which are both obvious homages to tarkofsky's style). This might be the one debatable entry on this list because his movies aren't for everyone, but i personally think he makes some of the most beautiful movies out, so i kinda feel like its too bad for people who may not enjoy his movies.

Mike Leigh is one of the few directors left that represents real people and real issues. He walks in the shadow of John Cassavetes, yet manages to copy NOTHING from him (usually when people claim to show realism or express truth in film, they always have to resort to that knock-off handheld camera, improv style of cassavetes as if they're actually doing it justice). Mike Leigh is great at both getting an amazing performance from his entire cast (all or nothing) as well as getting standout performances from his actors as well(vera drake and happy go lucky). Although all his movies are set in the UK, and some people label his movies has "british films", anyone can relate to them.

Honorable Mention:
*LYNNE RAMSAY - if she was more active, she would've been on my current top ten for sure (only 2 movies in 11 years).
*CHRISTOPHER NOLAN - he brought batman back and inception is probably one of the most fun movies of this year. Even though he does get overrated sometimes, he still deserves to be mentioned
*MICHAEL MANN - put down the 1980's camcorder, and you'll be on this top ten list no question.
*DARREN ARONOFSKY - Another one of the best directors to emerge from the last decade who deserves to be mentioned.
*PT ANDERSON - I personally think he's done a great job of carrying Robert Altman's torch

Monday, November 8, 2010


I got a nice sneak peak of Claire Denis's latest; 'White Material' last night (a movie that i wish i saw at last years NY film fest over Todd Solondz SUPER disappointing; 'Life During Wartime'). Honestly, I've had my fill of movies set in Africa that are from the perspective of a white person. If its not Morgan Freeman sacrificing his life for Stephen Dorf in 'The Power of One' or Donald Sutherland and Marlon Brando saving South Africa in 'Cry Freedom', its Clint Eastwood making an oscar bait film with Matt Damon as the 'face' of south africa as a rugby player, conveniently released after Spike Lee called him out for his lack of representation of black soldiers in his war movies (which i think is a pretty pointless argument and also conveniently came about just as Spike Lee released his disappointing 'Miracle at St.Anna). And dont get me started on all the movies that portray african soldiers as senseless murderers (like 'Black Hawk Down' or 'Tears of the Sun'). Only recently have films that are set in the Continent of Africa actually deal with something other than apartheid or some other type of economical or political struggle ('waiting for happiness' and 'u-carmen'). But for Claire Denis, probably one of the best directors out right now, i'll make an exception and put aside all my preconceived notions about films set in africa (lets not forget that she, unlike many other white directors, actually grew up in africa and has a better perspective on things). If her films aren't actually set in Africa ('chocolat'-not the johnny depp movie, 'beau travail' or 'white material'), then they at least focus on africans or african immigrants living in france ('35 shots of rum', 'i cant sleep', 'no fear'). In fact, even though the location of 'White Material' is supposed to be anonymous, it was filmed in the same country as her first film; Chocolat (a semi-autobiographical film about Denis's childhood in Africa).
Much like how 'Inspector Bellamy' (as disappointing to me as it may have been) was with Claude Charbol and Gerard Depardieu (a long overdue collaboration of two french film legends), 'White Material' was the first (and yes, long overdue) collaboration between Denis and Isabelle Hupert (two modern day french icons). In addition to that, Denis brought along many other familiar faces and regulars; Michael Subor (The Intruder, Beau Travail), Isaac Debankole (chocolat and no fear) and Tindersticks, who had previously done the music for 4 of Denis's previous films (nenette and boni, trouble everyday, 35 shots of rum and the intruder). In 'White Material' Hupert plays; Maria, a white coffee plantation owner in an unnamed African region that's in the middle of a civil war between the army and the rebels (who are mad up of mostly AK-47-carrying children and teenagers). Because the climate is becoming more and more dangerous, all of the locals are starting to leave, yet Maria feels she and her family have to stay in order to save their crop and not lose money. This task becomes more and more difficult due to the fact that there are hardly any workers left to hire (almost everyone has left in fear of their lives). Also, Maria's ex-husband and co-owner of the plantation played by Christopher 'Highlander' Lambert (where the hell has he been??), is trying to sell the land and get out as well, behind Maria's back. In addition, there's a subplot that focuses on a character known as; 'The Boxer' (played by Denis regular; Isaac Debankole). The leader of the rebels who has a bounty on his head by the military. He eventually finds his way to Maria's plantation, where she helps him to hide out. The trailer for this film may mislead you to believe its a film that's nothing but a sympathetic look at a white women living in a dangerous climate in Africa. It really isn't. Its a bit more complicated than that (much like many of Denis's other films). If anything, 'White Material' focuses on the assumption that just because a white family has been planted in Africa for generations that they will be an exception to the violence around them. Maria, aside from her obvious pride in not wanting to leave her coffee plantation, almost assumes that she's just like any other local black person. She almost looks at herself as an equal. But through a series of "reality checks", she slowly comes to realize that's not the case.
In a way, the atmosphere of 'White Material' kinda draws some comparison to Denis's earlier film; The Intruder (although white material has a much more straight forward plot). This is mainly due to Tinderstick's amazing soundtrack (which is very similar to their music in the Intruder). In true Denis fashion, there are many small implications and hints to things that at the same time tell the whole story. There are also many unanswered questions, and open ended issues (mainly the ending), and the angle about Maria's son kinda going insane. Like always, Denis doesn't miss a beat, and 'White Material' is on par with all her other work. I have yet to see a film by her that i'd rate less than 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I'm pretty disappointed just for the simple fact that i sat through a 5-1/2 hour movie only to come out saying; "Yeah, it was ok". If i sit through a movie that long i wanna come out amazed. That shouldn't be too much to ask especially when I've dedicated the majority of my day to watching it. Olivier Assayas' biopic (his first in fact) about pro-Palestinian terrorist; "Carlos The Jackal" (Ilich Ramírez Sánchez) had many problems. Don't get me wrong, it was well acted, especially by lead actor; Edgar Ramirez (who's set to portray Pablo Escobar in his next role). It was also shot very well. I was so excited to see this mainly because aside from Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater, Olivier Assayas has the most eclectic range of any director working today. Watch 'Demonlover' and 'Summer Hours' back-to-back, or watch 'Irma Vep' and 'Clean' (both films star Maggie Cheung) back-to-back to see what I'm talking about. Now i give Assayas respect for taking on such a tough project. As a filmmaker he's never made a movie quite like this (although on a personal level for him, it actually makes sense that he directed 'Carlos' seeing that he grew up in France during the time period where Carlos The Jackal was very active and most known).
For some reason these super-long biopics that are based on true events ('red riding') or focus on both; the rise and file of a famous historical figures (che guevarra or carlos the jackal), always seem to start with a bang, but the last half of the film always seems to fall short and just drag on. Take 'Che' for example. The first part of 'Che' was almost perfect as far as I'm concerned, but the 2nd part seemed to have no direction at times. But because the first part was so great, it still kinda made up for the problematic 2nd half (i cant say the same about 'Carlos'). 'Che' is probably the perfect movie to compare 'Carlos' with. Both films are about controversial historical figures who some consider terrorists while others consider heros (i personally think Carlos was way worse than Che Guevarra, but that's just me), both movies are long as hell, neither get too much in to the childhood/early years of the subjects (although 'Che' didn't really have to do that because we already have 'Motorcycle Diaries') and like i said earlier, both have somewhat disappointing endings.
In the film Olivier Assayas takes us from Carlos's first mission to prove himself for the pro Palestinian organization; PLFP, to his most notorious mission (raiding the OPEC building in Vienna) to his downfall into obscurity due to too many failed terrorist attempts and the fall of the Berlin wall (marking an end to the cold war). In my opinion, there's no real mention as to why Carlos was so gung-ho on being this pro-Palestinian terrorists, when he was Latino. I understand wanting to fight for other oppressed people, but there's gotta be a REALLY good reason to wanna risk your life so many times for something that doesn't really directly affect you. Carlos was Venezuelan-born and raised in England. Neither; Palestine or Israel have that much to do with him (although I'm sure someone will find a way to prove that statement wrong). I mean Che Guevarra may not have been Cuban, but he eventually (TRIED) to take his fight to all of Latin American (and pretty much failed). I could sense that the film was trying its best to be fair and balanced and not take a side, but no matter what at the end of the day this movie kinda portrays Carlos as this cool, womanizing, globe-trotting, gun-carrying agent, when in fact he was just a terrorist responsible for many innocent deaths.
I understand that there is a shorter 160 minute version of 'Carlos' (the version i saw at IFC was in fact a mini-series that was turned into a long roadshow movie with an intermission). Maybe the shortened version is better. But at the end of the day Olivier Assayas tried something different and I still consider him one of the 10 best directors working right now.

Well its over a year later and I'm still conflicted with Carlos. After chatting with a few folks about it recently (specifically Eric Prfiender - another contributor, like myself, at the pink smoke and Sean over at the World of Video) i get that Carlos was essentially the first "rockstar terrorist", he came about during a time when French people (like Assayas and his father) were very much in to revolution, communism, socialism, etc. and that's part of what Assayas was trying to convey in the film. Cool. The more I learn about Olivier Assayas' upbringing (raised by anti-fascist parents and was an impressionable teen in France during the height of revolution, revolt and counter-culture being "cool") the more it makes sense that he was the perfect person to make this film (like originally said in my review). To be honest Olivier Assayas could direct anything and I'd watch it. He made an erotic thriller/espionage film centered around animated pornography and i loved it. He's slowly moving in to that Michael Haneke/Claire Denis category of "can do no wrong". I also realize that upon my first viewing of Carlos I completely overlooked that the film was quite action packed and entertaining. To quote Eric on facebook: "It plays like one of the Bourne movies, but its real. Its six hours long but never boring". I even dig the fact that this film/mini-series got Olivier Assayas a little bit of mainstream attention (it was nominated for a golden globe). I now see that all these things are true, but I still have a problem with Carlos the person. And I know you don't have to like or root for someone just because they're the main focus of a film. Alexander Sokurov made a great film about Hitler ('Moloch') and I had no problem with it. But the main difference between a film like 'Moloch' and 'Carlos' is that its almost impossible to not feel like Carlos is this awesome person when in reality he wasn't. Were parts of his heart in the right place? Sure. ...Kinda. ...Maybe. But I still have a hard time accepting that Assayas doesn't have a little bit of a crush on him.
I'll continue to be more open-minded about 'Carlos' but I don't think I can ever fully LOVE it. There's plenty of bad people I like and root for in movies but they're all fictiscious. Carlos The Jackal was real.


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