Archive for February 25th, 2010

25
Feb
10

Movie Review: The Road

Falling trees, cannibalism, suicide, and a long walk across post-apocalyptic America.

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, and Robert Duvall. Directed by John Hillcoat. Based on the book by Cormac McCarthy.

Oh future, why are you so bleak? What happened to flying cars, food pills, jetpacks, or anything on “Star Trek?”

The apocalypse has come and Man (Mortensen) lives in a cabin with his pregnant wife(Theron). Something catches woodland areas on fire and the world goes to hell in a handbasket. She has the child, a son (Smit-McPhee), and for a while they make it while the world outside is in chaos. Eventually she can no longer make it through the desolation and, late one night, strips down to nothing and disappears into the winter night.

“The Road” is a “road movie” by most standards (people traveling across America for a singular goal) as much as it is a post-apocalyptic movie in the vein of “Road Warrior,” and “Children of Men.” This is a world in which the sky is set on gray overcast all day, every day; a world in which trees are dying and falling left and right while horrendous fires consume forests. Men have taken to cannibalism by gathering in large groups and killing any outsiders and eating them, especially any children. There is no fuel left to find and no birds fly in the sky. The place is as depressing as it is desolate.

Through the movie we have no real background on Mortensen’s character; he doesn’t even have a name (then again, neither did the horse in that America song). He’s just a man standing against the end of days; a savage Grizzly Adams who keeps the fire inside him going for reasons known only to him.

His son travels with him but aside from being his son, there’s not a lot of connection between the two. The son, just born in the beginning of this Armageddon, doesn’t remember or know days of sunlight, or birds, or any of the happier days that his father can call upon during sleep. He desperately wants to meet another kid, to go out and play, to see his mother again, or just to be happy.

Following his wife’s last words to go south and get to the coast, the two do just that. With the only narration being Mortensen’s feelings on the oblivion surrounding him we piece together now so much what happened as what the world became: animals mainly out for themselves, or just to be left alone. The duo is cold, hungry, dirty, and want to part ways with the other but need to stay together to survive. Along the way they meet an old man (Robert Duvall), packs of marauders, and a guy who steals their stuff but spares them. And the road they’re on is long, cracked, and barren.

This is more of a visual-intellectual movie than say “Children of Men,” or the “Mad Max” movies. As shown in his previous film, “The Proposition,” Hillcoat uses long takes and exposures to give the audience a feeling of being there. And also like his previous film he likes pitting characters on a quixotic quest across the barren wilds.

The film is a journey. It’s a brutal, honest character study of two people as they make their way across the landscape for the purpose of getting to the ocean. There’s nothing else to do and nothing else to live for but they try to not let it on. Meanwhile, Death itself surrounds them in the form of houses where groups host cannibalism and farms where entire families have committed suicide. It’s a story of struggle and survival between man and man and man and a crumbling environment.

Did I like this film? Yes. It’s cerebral, bleak, but beautiful in its portrayal of oblivion. Mortensen has always been a good actor and this film showcases how great he really can be. Impressive as well is newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee whp plays his son.

Watch for “Proposition” alum Guy Pearce in a small role at the end, as well as Molly Parker playing his wife.

My grade: A-

25
Feb
10

Movie Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Visually fascinating and bleedin’ boring.

Starring Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Andrew Garfield. Directed by Terry Gilliam

I’m not a big fan of fantasy movies. There are a few I’ve liked such as “Legend” (Tom Cruise, Tim Curry, Mia Sara) the “Lord of the Rings” saga, and even “Stardust,” but Terry Gilliam is a different type of fantasy movie director. On one hand I can appreciate the fact that the guy can craft a scene and make it feel three-dimensional through the use of various lenses. On the other his ambition can exceed his grasp and the story he’s trying to tell suffers. Such is the case with “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”

The film opens with a wagon that’s seen better days navigating the streets of London like a naval carrier. It stops outside a bar and the stage unfolds. A guy (Garfield) dressed up as the messenger god Mercury traverses the stage, calling for people to hear of the exploits of the 1,000-year-old Doctor Parnassus (Plummer). A drunken guy climbs onstage and is thrown into a mirror. Once inside he is treated to a few punches from Valentina (Cole) and his undoing is wherever his imagination takes him, which happens to be jellyfish aliens that release him to crash to earth where he stumbles into a bar that explodes soon after he enters it.

And who is Doc Parnassus? Parnassus was once a monk living a thousand years ago. He held a sacred order in one of those inaccessible mountain areas where it snows all the time. On a personal note I’ve always wondered how these places are made, why they have a fairly decent population, etc. (movies never explain this). The monastery’s monks share a magic that allows them to float on carpets and their one mantra is that by telling stories the world continues to perpetuate existence. Hence, if no one tells stories then the world ceases to exist. The Devil (Tom Waits, wouldn’t ya know?) visits the Doc and gets him to gamble. The Doc wins and the Devil gives him immortality as well as the “itch” and in return, Parnassus becomes the Devil’s pet project.

Fast forward to modern day where Parnassus falls in love with a woman at first sight. He makes another deal with the Devil to become young and youthful again but the Devil puts in a stipulation: his first child would become the property of El Diablo once they turned 16. Parnassus’s wife turns 60 and dies during childbirth. Parnassus now finds himself an aged, immortal single father who has to keep the secret of his pact with the Devil from his daughter. This little fact becomes the subtext the movie rides on.

Fate or fortune intervenes when the crew of Anton (Garfield), Valentina (Cole), and Percy (Troyer) find a man (Ledger) hanging from the bottom of a bridge. When he comes to he can’t remember who he is, why he was hanging from the bottom of the bridge, etc. He exerts his wile, professional demeanor, and smooth capacity for salesmanship and brings money and attention to the traveling troupe’s show. It also attracts the Russian mobsters that tried killing him by hanging. He throws himself through the mirror (the entrance/exit of Parnassus’ mind) to get away from them.

For a moment let me discuss the mirror. The mirror allows people to enter a world they imagine. If more than one person enters the one with the most vivid, or prevalent, imagination trumps any other imagination. Otherwise the world is whatever the main person’s makes it. Eventually the “ride” ends when the Devil comes to claim the souls of the pure, part of the pact Parnassus makes with him.

Back to Ledger’s character Tony Shepherd. Tony apparently took money from the Russian mob for a children’s charity and didn’t know they were laundering their money through it. Or that’s the story he tells. While in the “mind” of Parnassus, Tony’s face keeps changing and it symbolically reflects the changing of his lies. He goes from looking like Johnny Depp, to Jude Law, then finally Colin Farrell. All the while he tries holding onto his flute which he shoves down his throat in order to keep his windpipe from crushing while hanging.

Note: this probably makes more sense while you watch it as opposed to me translating it on the page here.

So how did I feel about this one? If you’ve worked a full 8-10 hour day you would seriously need some coffee to get through this one. There are some really cool visual moments but Gilliam’s leaning on CG environments doesn’t always work and some instances look as if the graphics weren’t completed. The story flounders majorly and Ledger’s death caused various shifts in the movie. Or maybe Gilliam isn’t great on directing the “quiet moments” of the movie as opposed to the fantastical sequences. Whichever it may be I was hoping for more “umph” from the movie or at least something that felt more magical. This felt like someone going through the motions interjecting sad footnotes along the way.

And hey, I may not be the audience on this one; this plays more for those fans of Gilliam’s work. I liked “Tim Bandits,” and “Brazil” is almost a guilty pleasure for me, but that’s it. If you’re a Gilliam fan, this may be your movie.

Most of the actors do well with the parts they have to play. Plummer is good, Waits as the Devil was interesting, and Ledger worked for the scenes he was in but again, the tonal shifts with the various actors playing his character throw the story off. Lily Cole was beautiful and did a great job. Then again, the story didn’t really feel complete to begin with. My friend John said that it’s a literal re-translation of the Parnassus tale and I’ll have to research that…

Can I honestly recommend this? I recommend coffee (or some form of caffeine) before seeing it but if you’re a true blue Gilliam fan, go for it. Otherwise you may want to rent it.

My grade: C

25
Feb
10

Movie Review: Youth in Revolt

I know this because Francois knows this…

Starring Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifianakis, Fred Willard, Justin Long, and Ray Liotta. Directed by Miguel Arteta. Based on the book, “Youth in Revolt: the Adventures of Nick Twisp” by C.D. Payne

Meet Nick Twisp (Cera), certified and bona fide wuss. His unemployed mother Estelle (Smart) lives off the child support checks of his dad, George (Buscemi) and shacks up with any guy who will look her direction; the guy she’s currently with is Jerry (Galifianakis), a trucker and habitual liar. Nick’s dad is doing the midlife crisis-thing; he drives a BMW and his live-in girlfriend Lacey (Ari Graynor) is young, hot, and blonde.

Nick is a sixteen-year-old sitting in a sea of sexual stagnation. He’s the “nice guy” when all the attractive girls are looking for macho jerks. His record collection contains jazz love songs and would love for Frank Sinatra to be played once a day. French films are his specialty; at the video store he was renting a copy of Fellini’s “La Strada.” In short, there’s no way he’s going to get laid and even he knows that. His only solace is the fact that his friend Lefty (Erik Knudsen) isn’t getting any and his weird neighbor Mr. Ferguson (Willard) is too busy being a political activist.

Fate intervenes in the form of three sailors who show up with a 70s clunker they paid Jerry $900 for. The car blew up a few blocks down the road and they found a banana peel in the engine; they’re pissed and they want their money back. Upon Nick relaying the info Jerry decides to take them on vacation with the new Cadillac he just bought (with the sailors’ $900).

Cut to Ukiah. Jerry is borrowing a friend’s place (read: decrepit trailer) by the beach. Upon return from the showerhouse Nick meets Sheeni Saunders, a girl his age. She takes to Nick’s awkwardness and finds it cute. Showing Nick around her home he finds out that her dad is a lawyer and both are majorly Christian. Nick finds that Sheeni wants to move to France but really wants to travel the world. By the end his vacation, Nick is in love and must find a way to get back to Ukiah.

Enter Francois Dillinger. The Tyler Durden to his Jack; the devil on his shoulder. Francois wears a light blue long-sleeved shirt and white pants, smokes cigarettes, and acts like the badass Nick wishes he was. Through a series of events involving the Cadillac and a POS trailer Jerry bought, Francois sets a business on fire. Nick’s mom’s new love interest Officer Lance Wescott (Liotta) suggests getting Nick out of town so it’s back up to Ukiah.

But everything doesn’t go as swimmingly as possible. Sheeni’s parents know what’s happened and send her to a private, all French-speaking school. Her better-than-you well-to-do boyfriend Trent (Jonathan B. Wright) is also switching to the school. Sitting in Ukiah with newfound friend Vijay Joshi (Adhir Kalyan), the two hatch a plot to meet up with her to bring her back. When the police here of Nick’s location, he tries to keep the tailspin under control in the ultimate hope of getting laid before going to Juvenile Hall.

I liked the movie and it was funnier than I thought it would be. Let me address some questions up front: is it funny? Yes, far funnier than you would think although it may not be for everyone. This is designed more for “emo”/indie likings as opposed to having a strong, male character presence (that I don’t think Cera could pull of just yet). Is it funnier than the trailers? Yes. There are moments in the film, specific for it, that are laugh-out-loud funnier than what you see in the previews.

Cera is definitely in his element here with the character Nick feeling somewhat like Paulie Bleeker from “Juno.” Both are awkward, sensitive, aware of their surroundings (with deep cynicism), and do not have any clue as to how to act/re-act to women. Bleeker went into sex casually while Nick beats himself up trying to get to it.

The rest of the cast do well enough and Portia Doubleday holds her own. Justin Long shows up as Sheeni’s druggie brother Paul (who ends up running off with Lacey). M. Emmet Walsh plays Sheeni’s father. Steve Buscemi (where has he been?) and a few others show up just to be a part of it. Really, this movie is more for Portia and Michael.

My only complaint about this movie is that I’m not a huge fan of animation and certain segments of this movie “wrapped up” events via animation. Some of it was funny but again, not a big fan.

Do I recommend this one? If you’re of the emo/nerd/geek/indie variety of person, yes. Would I recommend full price? I recommend matinee initially but if there’s nothing else to be watched, sure.

My grade: B