I apologize for my extended absence. It was necessary.
In returning to share the films I love with you, I went back and watched some films that I had always intended on watching, but never got around to. Why the hell did it take me so long to get up to speed? I, like so many others, fell victim to marketing. Over and over again, I’d rush out to see the star-studded major releases that “needed” to be seen on the big screen, and assured myself that I’d go see the film-festival award winners later that week. Then something else big would open and the art-house films (the movies that were more than just popcorn for the senses) would again get pushed back for something that made more money. Here are some of the weekend battles that I’ve finally gone back to revisit.
Poor Transsiberian never stood a chance. It wasn’t enough that The Dark Knight was a long-awaited sequel to a successfully rebooted franchise, had more stars than an Ocean’s 11 sequel, and the Oscar award winning performance of the late Heath Ledger. If you didn’t like it, then don’t bother reading anything posted on this website… ever. Lost in The Dark Knight’s shadow was Brad Anderson’s third amazing film in a row (following The Machinist and Session 9, two of my favorites). With great performances by Woody Harrelson (one of the most watchable actors there is), Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer and Kate Mara (who I’ve always felt should be in more movies), Transsiberian continues Anderson’s trend of telling stories in uniquely gripping settings, relying on storytelling rather than special effects. The story is told in such a way that you try and piece together what you think is the mystery only to find out that you were right, but that there is a whole other piece of the puzzle you never even knew was being developed. Directing episodes of amazing television (The Wire, Treme, Fringe and the upcoming Boardwalk Empire), he also has a few big screen projects in the works that I will not let myself miss. Not again. Not ever.
It’s hard to blame anyone for rushing out to see Shutter Island. Despite the divided reviews (I’m on the “I loved it” team), Scorsese alone is enough to command your attendance at a theater (and shortly, in front of your TV with the aforementioned HBO show Boardwalk Empire). Add in a killer cast and a throwback “trapped on an island/insane asylum, murder/conspiracy mystery” and Polanski was doomed. Still, the buzz about The Ghost Writer’s quality kept it high on my list of “inevitably, eventually, I must see this”. Boy am I glad I did. Forget the supporting cast (I know, I can’t stand Kim Cattrall, either) this movie could have been just Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams. It’s not entirely unpredictable but it is captivating in its deliberate unwrapping.
The final scene in this was so perfectly filmed that I have watched it a few times since. I’m glad that Polanski has managed to survive through his legal troubles and continues to make movies that make we wonder if there are enough story-telling directors left to keep making art when so many others are resting on the crutches of special effects and gimmicks.
Ok, so The American vs. Machete isn’t quite the same as the above pairings, but they came out on the same day, they’re current, I saw both and I wanted to mention them.
First, Machete. We all knew what to expect and that’s exactly what we got. Nothing more, nothing less; just a 90-minute version of the trailer. Everyone in it did a fine job with what it was (I actually didn’t hate Michelle Rodriguez, and Jessica Alba was fine, except for her one unbearably bad speech). The “bad-guy” triple threat of De Niro, Seagal and newcomer Don Johnson were great, but I can’t help but feel that the high budget somehow made Machete less than it could have been. The result was a tongue-in-cheek movie that felt like it was trying to be a real movie. Having recently seen (and loved) Piranha 3D, I couldn’t help but compare the campy intents of the gore, and I have to admit it but Piranha did all of it better. Maybe if they had kept the Grindhouse wash to the film it would have embraced its B-movie roots more, but it felt a little forced, which is not what you want when you’re going to see an action-gore-fest. It is great to see Danny Trejo getting a starring role, and he is the only part of the movie that is perfect.
Now back to The American, an Anton Corbijn film, another director like Polanski who has mastered the art of subtlety and nuance. Some friends of mine saw it in another city and were underwhelmed; I can only imagine that this is the result of ignoring the trailers and just focusing on the words “Clooney” and “Assassin”. It’s not an action movie in the contemporary sense; it’s so much more.
Maybe because it felt like Three Days of The Condor, which has always been high on my list of favorites, but I was riveted by every single shot and every single performance. It was a welcome change to see Clooney act alongside of a cast full of Europeans; refreshingly free of the go-to Hollywood stars. This added to the belief that he really is as charismatic as he seems, and it turned the focus on to the story and the mood, rather than the faces and names. Every single actor/actress was absolutely fantastic with the standouts being Violante Placido and Paolo Bonacelli as two very different people, trying break through the mysterious outsider’s shell and know who this American is. From the opening scene in Sweden through every shot in Italy, Corbijn brings his music video history into creating absolutely beautiful scenes that enhance, but never distract from, the story unfolding. Yes, you’ll probably predict almost everything, but since when does that have to be a criterion for quality? I’d rather see something old, done perfectly than something original butchered. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t managed to see Corbijn’s previous film, Control, but I aim to rectify that immediately.
The next fight I’m looking forward to:
With The Hangover and the Iron Man movies fresh in everyone’s minds, it’s a no-brainer that Due Date is going to be huge. Who isn’t going to rush out to see RDJ and Zach “Between Two Ferns” Galifianakis go head to head in a road trip movie? I know I’ll see it.
I’m also going to make a point of putting aside time to see 127 Hours. Hell, I’ll probably see it first just to make sure I don’t miss it. I’ve already expressed my draw to Kate Mara, but add to that, James Franco, who’s been gold ever since Freaks & Geeks, as well as Lizzy Caplan, who proved with True Blood and Party Down that she is one of the most entertaining actresses out there. And let’s not forget that despite a couple of missteps (see: The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary or rather, don’t), he’s a pretty bankable director (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and 28 Days Later are enough without even mentioning his Slumdog success) and this film is generating quite the buzz in the film-fest circuit.
Me vs. Me (endless battle)
As long as the rules of Mad Men apply, it will always be desirable to drink heavily, womanize and succumb to advertising. With The American’s box-office success of late, I’m happy that the non-Hollywood films still have a fighting chance in an industry that can be so money driven that they’d actually remake Death At a Funeral and I can’t help but feel that I’m part of the problem when I shell out $15 to see The Expendables, only to wait 2 years and pay only $5 to see something as good as Transsiberian.