Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
2011 USA. Director: Rob Marshall. Starring: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush.
The best since the original, the two in between were well-directed in need of scripts, here is a film that has a script in need of a director. Rob Marshall is serviceable, and visually there are some great moments (the mermaid attack for example), but you can instantly tell despite the same visual palette and same general actors and characters, something is off, something is not quite right in how they are playing out. It is not the script, it is just as funny and adventure-heavy as the original, but Marshall is no Verbinski, say what you will about the quality of the franchise under his direction, he did give some life to the proceedings, made all the more apparent from his absence here. Despite this deficit, because there is an actual story capable of being followed and because it feels at times like a Allan Quatermain romp in search of the Fountain of Youth, I will gladly take On Stranger Tides over the previous sequels, flaws and all. [Originally published on Letterboxd]
1939 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Mary Boland, Joan Fontaine, Virginia Weidler, Marjorie Main, Lucile Watson.
Don’t ask me to count how many times I’ve seen this movie. I couldn’t do it, and yet every time I’m just as delighted (probably more) than if I were seeing it for the first time. It’s gimmick film to a degree, with its no-men-on-screen conceit, but it hardly depends on that gimmick, relying rather on an incredibly sharp script by Anita Loos (from the play by Clare Booth Luce) and some of the cattiest, most entertaining performances by some of the biggest stars of the era. The dialogue and delivery is enough to praise on its own, but I also love the way it brings so many different perspectives on relationships and marriage into the spotlight. I wouldn’t call it a particularly deep look at marriage, but pretty much everything is represented here, from the woman who loves her husband almost unconditionally, to the young wife who’s still figuring out how to make decisions jointly to the hopeless romantic who’s been married six times to the one who’s just after what she can get to the mother of eight to the matron with decades of experience to the young child who can’t understand why her parents don’t just “do something” to save their marriage. It’s got everything, and everyone has surprises up their sleeves without ever breaking character. Can’t get enough of it. [Originally published on The Frame]
Good Night, and Good Luck
2005 USA. Director: George Clooney. Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson.
Not as amazing as I thought. The movie is commendable on several levels. The cinematography (anyone need a cigarette?) and performances are outstanding. The film’s message is a good/interesting one too. But it kinda says what it wants to in about 5 minutes and then is pretty matter of fact, flat line dialogue for the duration. It’s entirely watchable, but it’s not particularly riveting. There’s a dark shadow that hangs over the movie as if something bad could happen at any moment (in the plot) – but nothing ever does. It kind of just bangs the same simple message over and over again. Again, the look of the film and the performances makes this worth a watch, but after a second viewing, I’ve determined that this movie is very very overrated. [Originally published on Letterboxd]
The Raid: Redemption
2011 Indonesia. Director: Gareth Evans. Starring: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno.
This was hyped up to hell before I saw it, but it delivered in spades and truly felt like the best action movie I’ve seen in a long time. I loved the no-nonsense approach, keeping narrative and subplots lean and mean. One worry I had before watching the film was that it would just be a never ending stream of fights and get dull because of it, but I found the pacing spot on, with the actual brawls being broken up with some nicely tense moments and a minimal spattering of plot driving here and there. Speaking of spattering, the film is gloriously gory and violent too which makes a change to the 12A action we usually get these days or the godawful comic-book CGI blood in The Expendables (The Raid did enhance the gore with CGI, but actually pulled it off). Action is fast and intense, shot with style and pace without ever getting confusing or blurring the technique or brutality of the moves. Director Garth Evans sure knows how to shoot this stuff and it looks slick and stylish without ever going OTT with slow-mo or moving cameras. The only minor problem I had with the film was with the sound mix which I found a bit inconsistent and weedy at times, but that was more than likely just the cinema I was in not pumping it out loud enough. I did leave the film wanting more of it too, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think it just means I’m desperate to buy it when it’s released on Blu-Ray. [Originally published on Letterboxd]
Call Her Savage
1932 USA. Director: John Francis Dillon. Starring: Clara Bow, Gilbert Roland, Thelma Todd, Monroe Owsley.
What a strange little film. Hoping to bring her silent stardom into the sound era despite scandal in her personal life, Clara Bow was given carte blanche for this film, and she used it to make this bizarre mishmash of a Pre-Code film. She’s an uncontrollable rancher’s daughter, carrying (according to the title cards) the saved-up iniquity of her promiscuous and wild pioneer forefathers. Unhappy with simply flirting with the half-breed Indian she’s grown up with as best friends, she steals a rich man from his straying wife and goes to the city, where she’s also unhappy and scandalous. It plays like a scathing comedy for most of the first half and then suddenly her life falls apart and she’s living in a tenement alone with her baby. Then it gets comedic again as she gets back into society and catfights it out with her former husband’s former wife. Then she ends up back on the ranch. It’s quite a ride and certainly never a dull moment for Clara, but it is a MESS. Not saying whether that’s a good or bad thing, as I’m not totally sure myself. But it’s certainly something that would never have gotten made five years later, so there’s that. Real comment I made to some fellow TCM Fest-goers right after: “So this movie happened, and then they clamped down on the Code because of The Story of Temple Drake?” Yeah, that gets outright banned, yet compared to this, it’s like Sunday School. [Originally published on The Frame]
2011 Norway. Director: Morten Tyldum. Starring: Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund, Eivind Sander, Julie R. Ølgaard.
So apparently Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi had a love child. Solid crime thriller than doesn’t hold back its punches. You know the old saying “…and the plot thickens” ? This movie is the type of story that saying was written for. Every turn takes another step up a rung on the ladder of wtf. Yeah under some closer examination it probably has some holes and it certainly has one or two eye rolling, convenient moments, but if you just let the story take you on a ride, it’s impossible not to have a load of fun. Not much to say other than that. Definitely a blast in the cinema – along with Cabin in the Woods or The Avengers. Not that the films compare – just that they are cinematic experiences you’ll have a ball with and won’t soon forget. [Originally published on Letterboxd]
Pierrot le fou
1965 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina.
Me and Godard don’t mix. I have tried many, many times but almost always I end up so frustrated by his conceits that I can’t even finish the movie. Well, I finished Pierrot le Fou, and I can now say I like two Godard films, this and Breathless. Pierrot le Fou is no less up its own ass but the conceits can at least here be superficially enjoyed irrespective of any of the meta ambitions underlying it. It helps that it is a comedy, and that it is about something as simple as a daydream on-the-run from the law and falling in love, a seemingly make it up as you go Bonnie & Clyde farce. I prefer Jarmusch’s play in this sandbox with The Limits of Control, but there is enough genuinely fun and funny bits in Pierrot le Fou to satisfy. My one problem is that is goes on beyond its welcome, should have ended twenty or so minutes earlier, something this silly does not need a near-two hour run-time. [Originally published on Letterboxd]
Fruit of Paradise
1970 Czechoslovakia. Director: Vera Chytilová. Starring: Jitka Novákova, Karel Novak, Jan Schmid.
Quite an experimental number from the director of Czech New Wave Daisies (which is basically pure anarchy in cinematic form), yet it does have a strong narrative throughline. It’s basically the story of the Fall, from Genesis 3, which is read/sung by an imposing voiceover chorus at the beginning and end of the film. After very abstract imagery of a naked man and woman wandering through the Garden of Eden while the set-up for the Fall is read, the film drops into a sort of modernized version of the story, with a husband and wife in a forest, fairly content until another man enters and the wife is fascinated by him, following him out of the garden and into his palatial mansion. I actually found a lot of it fascinating, especially in some of the imagery – like representing fallenness with a flowing red cloth that the other man eventually uses to drape around the woman when it becomes clear that she’s succumbed to his way of life. The film also does a pretty good job of portraying the shift from innocence to knowledge that goes with the Fall, and not in a facile way, either. All that said, this could’ve been done in like a thirty-minute short. There’s a poetry, I suppose, in the pacing and repetition, but it gets to be a bit much after a while, and rather self-indulgent. [Originally published on Letterboxd]
The Salton Sea
2002 USA. Director: D.J. Caruso. Starring: Val Kilmer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Goldberg, Luis Guizmán, Anthony LaPaglia, Peter Sarsgaard.
Pulpy neo-noir mashed with a Lynchian sensibility and Tarantino wannabe dialogue. It shouldn’t really work for its scattershot sloppiness but it’s so damn over the top that its hard to not enjoy and even harder to look away from. Crazy, drug dealing dude without a nose recreating the Kennedy assassination with pigeons dressed in suits duct taped to a remote control car? Or how about an inexplicable throw-away scene headed by Adam Goldberg in which they scheme to steal Bob Hope’s stool sample. A montage of the history of some crazy drug is funny and Oliver Stone-ish in its tendencies. The casting director just never gives up either, just when you think you’ve seen every character actor you can think of, Luis Guzman shows up. 20 minutes later: oh hey, it’s R Lee Emery! 20 minutes later there’s Danny Trejo, and 20 minutes later… yup, that’s Meatloaf. And this is back when Val Kilmer was awesome and he remains awesome in this film. But the real star was the cinematography. What an excellent, artful and interesting looking picture. I can’t think of one I’ve seen recently that is this good looking. Yeah, it’s definitely a product of the 90’s. No doubt about it, but there’s just so much to look at and distract you with that it ends up being a really entertaining ride. [Originally published on Letterboxd]