Cinecast Episode 427 – Stretching the Bubblegum

Was it the weather or is it the shitty inconvenient way films are released in theaters these days? Or does it depend on your geography or disposition? Or a little bit of everything? In short, we didn’t get to the “main releases” (of boats in storms or feminist westerns) this week and instead opted for some VOD experimentation with Vincent Cassell in Partisan. A solid film with problems is the verdict. The Watch List is fairly eclectic this week but a whole lotta witchin’ going on. From Winona Ryder to Vin Diesel, we cover the gamut. Andrew and Kurt also spend some time in the kitchen cooking up some spaghetti westerns before heading to Southeast Asia for a thriller and some kung-fu. Like a snake in the eagle’s shadow, there is no escape for the good the bad or the ugly; there most certainly will be blood inside Llewyn Davis.

#sorrynotsorry

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

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Review: Black Swan

 

“I kill myself for you people every night!” so the unspoken cry of the stage actor, or in this case the professional Ballerina, goes. Darren Aronofsky continues his examination of the psyches of performers, started with The Wrester but comes at it from the opposite direction to his previous picture age- and experience-wise. Black Swan charts the anxieties and temptations of a young ballerina, Nina (Natalie Portman,) as she gets her shot at the big-time in a production of “Swan Lake.” Nina has just been picked by legendary Ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, oddly restrained) to replace his aging muse (Winona Ryder) and take the central dual role of the Swan Queen in his ‘visceral’ production of the most famous (or overdone) ballet. Nina is young enough that she is still living at home with her mother, amongst her pink stuffies and white laced bedspreads. She is a perfectionist, but not yet an artist, naïve and a career surrogate for her mother who only made it so far in the dance world in her day before having children. It is nice to see Barbara Hershey in this film, but I wish she had a little more to do. That applies to pretty much the entire cast with the exception of Portman. Aronofsky keeps the camera on her face when things are happening to her, but also favours that ‘behind the head’ technique used frequently in The Wrestler. There is something about the technique that undercuts the film. It worked for the sad optimism of Randy The Ram, but for the acute performance anxiety and burbling internal pressures of Nina, the more aggressive techniques he used in pi and Requiem for a Dream may have better served things. As it stands, there is something about Black Swan that feels muted. For the high melodrama of the story and the cliché feel of many of the scenes, not the least of which that ‘there is always someone younger and hungrier to replace the lead,’ ‘it’s lonely at the top,’ etc. a little more bombast may have helped things along. This certainly is not a character study as the characters are all in total subservience to the metamorphosis (physical, psychological) angle of the story.
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DVD Review: The Informers

TheInformersOneSheet

Director: Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers, Ned Kelly)
Screenplay: Bret Easton Ellis, Nicholas Jarecki
Producer: Marco Weber
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder, Mickey Rourke, Jon Foster, Amber Heard, Rhys Ifans, Chris Isaak, Austin Nichols, Lou Taylor Pucci, Mel Raido, Brad Renfro
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 98 min.

1.5/

On the surface, The Informers appears to have everything going for it: great source material, a fantastic cast, a good director so what went wrong? The film, which premiered at Sundance earlier in the year, has been universally panned and for good reason too, it’s a mess of a film with no direction and nothing to say.

TheInformersMovieStillBased on a collection of short stories from a man infatuated with the 1980s, Ellis’ original work from which the script was based is itself a mess; a collection which was put out as a gap filler for his (at the time) continuously delayed “Glamorama.” Frankly, Ellis’ work started getting old sometime after “American Psycho” and though I can appreciate his stories, he has mined his own themes to the point of obscenity.

It’s difficult enough to adapt a film from one book but The Informers suggests that it may be impossible to create any semblance of a film from a collection of loosely tied short stories. Robert Altman may be able to pull it off but as much as I like director Gregor Jordan’s work, he’s no Altman and as they say, the proof is in the pudding.

So what’s the film about? If you know anything about Ellis, your guess of “excess of the 80s and the me generation” is pretty accurate. The joy of watching adaptations of Ellis’ works is seeing how different filmmakers get at that theme but Jordan fails to do get at anything beyond the surface. The film is a mess of threads and ideas varying from complete disaster to mediocre. Add in the fact that the stories run their course interspersed between each other and it’s all that more confusing. There are simply too many characters and stories to keep track of and the film would have been better served by having each story told independently of the other. Heck, this would have made a great anthology film.

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Pippa Lee’s Private Lives on Display

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee Movie StillI’m not familiar with Rebecca Miller’s work but I appreciate that she’s a talented writer and director who has gained wide acclaim for both her films and her books. Her second film Personal Velocity: Three Portraits won the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award and though she’s only made one film since that win in 2002 (though that too won some accolades) she’s one of these female directors to watch.

Her new film The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, an adaptation of her first novel, stars Robin Wright Penn as Pippa Lee, a woman married to a much older man (Alan Arkin) who begins re-evaluating her life when her husband decides to move them from the city and into a retirement community. In her re-evaluation, she thinks back to her turbulent youth as a 17-year old, pill addicted teen and how her life unfolded, getting her to where she is today. Along with Arkin and Penn, the film also stars “Gossip Girl” Blake Lively as the young Pippa Lee, Maria Bello, Monica Bellucci, Julianne Moore (triple threat!), Winona Ryder, Mike Binder and Keanu Reeves.

Though I’m not particularly interested in this story (the trailer doesn’t even appeal to me), there are a whole lot of factors urging me to see this: the cast which features quite the collection of female actresses (it’s nice to see films with great casts like this), then there’s the Keanu factor but trumping all is Miller’s track record which, from the surface, suggests mainstream films with legs. I’m willing to find out; I’ve added her previous films to my DVD queue.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee will play the Edinburgh Film Festival on June 18th and will open in the UK on July 10th. I can’t find details on a US distributor but the film has been picked up for Canadian distribution by Maple Pictures. I expect we’ll have a chance to see it later this year.

A Martin Scorsese Marathon

Basically, you make another movie, and another, and hopefully you feel good about every picture you make. And you say, ‘My name is on that. I did that. It’s OK’. But don’t get me wrong, I still get excited by it all. That, I hope, will never disappear.” – Martin Scorsese

For the better part of the last three decades, I have been a fan of Martin Scorsese. My admiration first took bloom in the summer of 1985, and happened to coincide with what I consider to be the discovery of my young adult life; set off the main drag of the town I grew up in, I found a small video store. Now, this in itself was no great revelation; in the years before Blockbuster came barreling into my area, forcing all the smaller video chains out of business, there were at least half a dozen such stores within a 3-mile radius. But the moment I walked into this particular video palace, I knew it was special. Where most were lining their shelves with numerous copies of the ‘hot new releases’, this one had titles like Midnight Cowboy, 2001: A Space Odyssey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, films that the others simply didn’t offer. For me, this store was a treasure trove, and I returned there often, sometimes 3-4 times a week, uncovering classic after classic, films that, to this day, I consider some of the finest ever made.

And it was here that I first found Mean Streets.

Tough and unflinching, Mean Streets was like a punch to the head for a 15-year-old from the suburbs; a marriage of images and rock music, violence and pain the likes of which I had never seen before, offering a glimpse into a lifestyle that I found all too real, and a little bit frightening. I must have rented it at least six times that summer, and as a result, Mean Streets fast became my favorite movie. More than this, it was my jumping-off point into the career of Martin Scorsese. After Mean Streets, I moved on to Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, two more shots to the head. Through these three films, I realized just how deep, just how down-and-dirty, and just how moving the cinema could be. They marked a turning point in my development as a film fan. Movies were no longer limited to the land of make believe; they would also be a window overlooking the real world.

Now, almost 24 years after I first walked into that video store, I’ve decided to take my admiration to the next, perhaps the ultimate, level. Over the course of the last several weeks, I sat down with everything that home video has to offer of Martin Scorsese’s work behind the camera, 26 films in all, and what I uncovered on this love-fest of mine proved to be just as enlightening as that first viewing of Mean Streets all those years ago.

As I sat watching one Scorsese movie after the other, I found myself asking, “What exactly is it that constitutes a Martin Scorsese film”? It was a question I had to pose, because I quickly realized that most of my initial beliefs, the pre-conceptions I had built up about the man and his career, only told part of the story.

For one, there was my presumption that the recurring trait in every Scorsese film was a down-to-earth quality, where the genuine, the realistic, would be favored above all else. Well, this is certainly true in some of Scorsese’s finest films, especially those where actual events served as a foundation (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, The Aviator). However, it was wrong of me to discount the role that fantasy played in Scorsese’s work. The opening scene of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore looks as if it was lifted right out of Gone With the Wind, and the musical numbers of New York, New York were obvious nods to the Hollywood big-budget spectaculars of the 40’s and 50’s. There is the dreamy romance of The Age of Innocence, and the hilarious bad luck of Paul Hackett in After Hours; in short, films that have little or no basis in reality whatsoever, proving that the fantastic plays just as important a role in the great director’s work as reality does.
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