Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Thin Red Line [USA, 1998]

Nine Things about the Movie The Thin Red Line

1. I first saw this film about the year 2000. I wasn’t ready for it. All I remember thinking is, “this is the strangest and most beautiful war movie I’ve ever seen.” I had just discovered director Terrence Malick without realizing it.

2. I need to make a clarification. This is actually the strangest and most beautiful ant-war movie I’ve ever seen.

3. I’ve seen plenty of movies that show the physical and mental trauma of war. This is the most powerful depiction of the emotional and existential trauma of war that I’ve ever seen.

4. The actual plot of the movie involves one of the key battles of Guadalcanal in World War II. But it’s really about the inner monologues of soldiers talking about death, existence, and God.

5. The cast itself is strange and eclectic, containing performances from John Cusack, Jared Leto, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Nick Stahl, George Clooney, and John Travolta, among others. Some of them only really appear for death scenes. There were also stars who were filmed and then cut out of the movie.

6. Sean Penn gives a wonderful performance as a sergeant who wishes he didn’t care about anything. Nick Nolte is awesome as a political and cowardly colonel. Adrien Brody is in one of the shortest and most memorable scenes, when his crew discovers a dead soldier. And it should have been obvious from Jim Caviezel’s role that 16 years later he would play Jesus on film.

7. There is a lot of physical violence in the film. But the real damage is dealt to the characters that live.

8. The title of the film does not become clear from the movie itself. It’s actually from a Kipling poem that calls foot soldiers “the thin red line of heroes.”

9. This is a gorgeous, profound film that a lot of people don’t like. It uses war against itself to show the savagery - and the humanity - of violence.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction [USA, 2014]

Nine Things about the Movie Transformers: Age of Extinction

1. You can tell a Michael Bay movie from miles away - they have the same visual style, like everything takes place on a clear, windy, late afternoon. His movies are also big, loud, and dumb. Well, this is Bay’s biggest, loudest, and dumbest movie yet. But that's OK - you don’t go see a Michael Bay film for the story (which is good, because this has the worst script of all the Transformer movies).

2. This fourth Transformer movie is almost three hours long, because it’s really two different movies smashed together like cement and steel after a Decepticon attack.

3. The first story is about a Transformer named Lockdown who is hunting Autobots in order to capture Optimus Prime, who, it turns out, is some sort of galactic knight. There’s an unfocused religious tone to this film, where Autobots talk about having souls and looking for their Creator.

4. The second story is about how a corporation has discovered a new element, “Transformium”, which is an unstable metal. The corporation “mapped its genome” and can turn it into anything they new Transformers. This is a stupid plotline (any high school chemistry student can tell you that elemental metals don’t have genomes) that only serves as a way to bring Megatron back from the dead.

5. The advertising for the movie highlights the Dinobots - kind of like Transformers, except dinosaurs. Yes, the Dinobots are totally badass. Too bad they only show up for about 20 minutes during the final battle.

6. The dialogue of the movie is clunky, and the humor is terribly cheesy. There are plot holes large enough for Optimus Prime to walk through. Speaking of clunky dialogue, it’s weird to see Mark Wahlberg spend more time being a protective dad than an action hero.

7. However, the action sequences are probably the best of all the Transformer movies. And let’s face it, that’s why we go to them. This movie provides ever-increasing spectacle, where bigger and bigger things get destroyed until it becomes almost numbing.

8. I know product placement is a thing, but it got out of hand in this movie. Why would you use Transformium to make Beats speakers or a My Little Pony toy? And when you see a Transformer painted like a package of Oreos, you know a line has been crossed.

9. As Bay himself once famously said, “I make movies for teenage boys. Oh dear, what a crime.” And that’s exactly what this is - a loud, shiny movie with fast cars, giant robots, lots of destruction, and a hot girl. And that’s it. If you can tap into your inner teenage boy, you will love this film. If not, then you might want to pick a different movie.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Are All Men Pedophiles? [Netherlands, 2012]

Nine Things about the Movie Are All Men Pedophiles?

1. This is an unusual documentary about the natural attractions that men have to younger girls. It weaves together threads from evolution, religion, psychology, and society.

2. A lot of time is spent explaining that what a lot of people consider pedophilia is really hebephilia (which is attraction to adolescents). This distinction is very important to narrator/director Jan-Willem Breure.

3. There are interviews with victims of pedophiles, and admitted pedophiles.

4. The movie highlights the hypocrisy of western culture, which condemns attraction to younger girls while simultaneously portraying girls as sex objects, especially in the fashion industry.

5. The movie does a remarkable job of walking a fine line on the subject... as much as one can. It seeks to understand the different forms of men’s attraction to girls, without condemning all forms outright. This has caused controversy, and the director has been accused of not having a strong enough agenda, making him kind of suspicious.

6. The movie also makes the case that the fear of pedophilia has gone too far, that paranoia is taking over, and that men and boys are being taught that they are naturally a danger to girls.

7. There is a weird strangeness to the film, due to the way the interviews are edited. The people move and talk in slightly abnormal ways, almost like they were computer generated. It’s very creative, but it’s also very distracting.

8. After the credits, you see director/narrator Jan-Willem Breure give his own answer to the question in the title of the film. It’s sort of a bold answer.

9. This is an interesting, confrontational, and sometimes uncomfortable examination of human sexuality. It leaves you feeling that love and desire are hopelessly uncontrollable, no matter how society tries to structure them.

As I Lay Dying [USA, 2013]

Nine Things about the Movie As I Lay Dying
1. I was in college the first time I read Faulkner’s mysterious, profound, stream-of-consciousness novel “As I Lay Dying”. It blew my mind. I didn’t know people could write like that. I also agreed with the general consensus that it was one of those books that could never be made into a movie.

2. James Franco took on the challenge to make it into a movie. So with a fellow student, Matt Rager, he turned the book into a script. Then he directed it and starred in it, as well.

3. It’s about a Mississippi family in 1930 that is nearly destroyed - mentally, physically, and emotionally - while on a trek to bury their dead mother.

4. In order to capture the unique and difficult style of the book, the film often breaks up into a split-screen form, with the same scene playing from different angles or different times. Sometimes there are two separate scenes playing simultaneously. There are a lot of voiceovers. It uses a lot of Faulkner’s actual writing.

5. Yes, the coffin is built on a bevel. Vardaman's mother is a fish.

6. While Franco is technically the star, and plays Darl (probably the biggest character in the book), this is truly an ensemble cast. The most memorable performance is from Tim Blake Nelson, who plays Anse, the hopeless, luckless, toothless father. His performance is mesmerising.

7. Even though the movie is American, you will probably need to turn the subtitles on, since the dialogue is spoken in an uneducated Southern drawl.

8. The studio that made the movie decided not to release it in theaters.

9. I don’t use the word “masterpiece” very often, but this is one. In it’s own way, it is as mysterious and profound as the novel itself, while also making it (slightly) more accessible.

And you can say what you want about James Franco, but he continues to be one of the only true artists around that can bring unique visions to cinematic reality.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tiny [USA, 2014]

Nine Things about the Movie Tiny

1. Capitalizing on the “maker” movement and the “downsizing” movement, this is supposed to be a small documentary (it’s barely an hour long) on the recent popularity of building tiny houses, which are houses under 400 square feet. But it’s not really a documentary. It’s a home-brewed screed against consumerism. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I was hoping for a more balanced and informative piece of filmmaking.

2. The movie follows a guy named Chris as he buys a piece of land in the middle of nowhere in Colorado, and builds a tiny house on a trailer. Chris is assisted by his angst-ridden girlfriend, who stresses on what is the meaning of “home”, probably because she wants to move to New York City while her boyfriend is getting ready to leave the entire civilized world behind.

3. Even though the movie is only lasts an hour, it’s about 30 minutes too long. It makes all of its points very quickly, and then repeats them over and over. This is why, in between watching scenes of Chris building his house like an HGTV special, we see lots of pictures of other tiny houses. Lots of pictures. Lots of them.

4. The movie also interviews other “tiny housers” while they wax romantic about their life perspectives. They are earnest and friendly, but they come off sounding a little smug and pretentious. They give us nuggets of wisdom like:
“The world gets a lot bigger when you’re living small.”
“The whole world is now my living room.”
“I wanted to be larger than the small person that I needed to be in my big house.”

5. Very little discussion is given to the problems of tiny houses, such as storage, occupancy, and privacy. And only once does the movie acknowledge the elephant in the room: Chris admits that there’s a weird irony in what he’s doing. He loves open spaces, so he bought some and built a house on it. But if everyone did that, there would be no more open spaces left.

6. I think it’s funny that one of the gurus of tiny housing lived for a decade in buildings of less than 100 square feet, but then broke down and bought a 500 square foot house to live in with his family. He has another tiny house in his backyard.

7. One thing the movie never really touches on is the psychological makeup of these tiny housers. A lot of them are the crunchy granola types. But Chris literally wants to live on a 10 x 12 foot slab of wood hundreds of miles from other people. He’s determined to do it whether his girlfriend stays with him or not. That’s really interesting, but it’s never explored. Probably because it’s his girlfriend doing most of the filming.

8. The movie tries to make you feel bad if you don’t want to be like these people, or if you are not in a position where you can do it (like if you have kids). And in case you don’t learn the lesson that tiny houses are a wonderful, natural state of being, the film ends with an aerial shot of Chris’s house surrounded by grass, trees, and a rainbow.

9. This movie is mildly interesting, but a lot of it is nothing more than personal home movie footage, and doesn’t really explore the topic like I was hoping. Perhaps most critically, the movie backfired on me. While I was neutral on the topic before I saw this, now I find that the fad of tiny housing is kind of silly, creepy, and hypocritical.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Apocalypse Now Redux [USA, 2001]

Nine Things about the Movie Apocalypse Now Redux
1. I saw “Apocaypse Now” for the first time when I was in college. And I didn’t totally get it.
I understood it intelletually, but I didn’t totally get it.

2.It was made in 1979. But in 2001, director Francis Ford Coppola did a complete re-edit of the film, and he added in almost an hour of footage that was cut from the original version.
Now I get it.

3. If the saying is true that “war is hell”,then this is the tourist route. It’s a gonzo, trippy, epic Vietnam war masterpiece. I don’t even know how this movie got made.

4. It’s about an ex-soldier named Benjamin Willard, that obviously suffers from PTSD. He talks about his disastrous attempt to regain his old life, only to return to Vietnam to hunt down a renegade colonel named Walter Kurtz, and kill him.

5. Most of the movie chronicles Willard’s experiences before he even finds Kurtz.

6. The picture of Vietnam that is shown to us is of a morally desolate landscape where no-one is usually in charge. If someone is in charge, they are insane.

7. Vietnam is a place where sex is negotiated for gasoline, soldiers take acid to make their tour more enjoyable, and special forces soldiers become gods.

8. The cast of the movie contains many actors who were famous at the time, and some that would become famous later - like Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, Lawrence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper.

9. Vietnam was a unique chapter in American history. “Apocalypse Now Redux” is a unique, depressing, insane chapter in American cinema. Love it or hate it, you won’t forget it.

Berberian Sound Studio [Britain, 2012]

Nine Things about the Movie Berberian Sound Studio

1.This mindbender is a movie about making a movie. It’s partly a drama, and partly a tribute to the giallo films of the 1970’s. It’s by a fairly new director, Peter Strickland.

2. It’s about a shy, introverted foley artist (that’s the guy in charge of sound effects in movies) named Gilderoy that makes a trip to Italy to work on a film that he thinks is about horses. Gilderoy discovers the movie is actually a horror movie, and he is responsible for making the torture and killing scenes sound realistic. This does not sit well with the more peaceful nature of Gilderoy, and he has trouble doing it.

3. The producer and director of the horror film are rude, egotistical, and sexist. Their behavior gets progressively worse. The horror scenes get more extreme. Gilderoy is feeling more stressed and uncomfortable. 

4. Eventually, his reality begins to crack. He starts to become detached, and the boundaries of his life get fuzzy. And then, well, it’s hard to explain what happens next. He seems to slowly become fictionalized. His life transforms, in bits and pieces, into the movie he’s working on. I think.

5. While the movie being made is a horror film, we never see any of it.The director of the real film, Strickland, reverses everything. Instead of seeing the various tortures and murders being depicted, we just witness the ways in which the various sounds of it are created. This makes the movie quite educational.

6. Fans of 1970’s Italian giallo directors like Argento and Fulci will appreciate the camera work and the soundtrack of this movie (and the one in it).

7. As you might suspect, this movie is all about the sound. Pay attention to how and when sound is created, used, and repeated. They provide one of the few clues to what is actually going on.

8. It’s hard to say if the movie actually means anything, or if it is just a “Twilight Zone”-ish head scratcher. If Strickland is trying to say something deeper about movies, or life, or whatever, it probably comes from the fact that the killers in giallo films stereotypically wore black gloves and a trenchcoat. Look for where that shows up in this film.

9. This is an impressive film for the director, who had only made one film before this, with his uncle’s inheritance money. It’s a creative, strange tale of movies and madness. And lots of garden vegetables.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

ReGOREgitated Sacrifice (USA, 2008)

Nine Things about the Movie “ReGOREgitated Sacrifice” (USA, 2008)

1. The second in Lucifer Valentine’s “Vomit Gore Trilogy”, this is the sequel to “Slaughtered Vomit Dolls”. In case you needed one.

2. It’s made for a niche audience into extreme and violent fetishes, including vomit fetishes. It’s also made for people who want to learn how far they can push themselves into watching extreme fetishes.

3. As for the almost non-existent plot, it seems to be the continuation of the death of Angela Aberdeen, the sweet girl who was abducted and turned into a devil-worshipping, bulimic prostitute. But it also seems to be a bloodier and more traumatic remake of “Slaughtered Vomit Dolls”.

4. There’s a strange tribute to Kurt Cobain towards the end of movie.

5. The camera and audio work provide a slower, more methodical assault on the senses than the first film. This makes it simultaneously more interesting and more difficult to watch.

6. I wish I could dismiss the film as being a pretentious, boring piece of crap, like the “August Underground” series. But I can’t. There is something going on here that I can’t explain, but which is disturbingly compelling.

7. The depiction of the psychological outlook of the abducted girls being used as sex slaves is hauntingly authentic.

8. The sadism and sexual torture in this film are… noteworthy. There are things done in this movie that are so bizarre that you wouldn’t believe it even if I described them to you.

9. If you have the slightest question about whether you should see this movie, then you shouldn’t. You can’t unwatch this movie. It’s made by a psychologically unstable person for a psychologically unstable audience.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Amores Perros [Mexico, 2000]

Nine Things about the Movie Amores Perros [aka Love’s a Bitch]

1. This movie is the first of director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Death Trilogy”. Don’t take the word “death” literally here - there are different kinds of death. 

2. It consists of three separate stories in Mexico City that intersect in one random, life-changing moment. 

3. The first story is set around the dogfighting culture. A young man is obsessed with his sister-in-law, and attempts to win her away from his brother who is an abusive, small-time criminal (this story was Gael Garcia Bernal’s first film role, who is one of the best actors to come from Latin America in a long time).

4. The second story is about a supermodel and her secret boyfriend, who is cheating on his wife. When things go bad for the supermodel’s career, and her dog gets trapped under the floorboards of the apartment, the stress on the couple reaches a breaking point.

5. The third story is about a homeless man who collects stray dogs, follows people around the city, and sometimes shoots them. When he collides with people in the other two stories, he begins to question what he’s doing.

6. The script is engaging and well-constructed; the choices a character makes in one of the stories cause consequences in the other stories. But none of the characters ever actually meet each other. It’s like a chain of dominoes that you didn’t even know was set up.

7. Dogs play a significant symbolic role in each of the stories, and serve as metaphors for the deeper themes of love, loyalty, freedom, exploitation, and violence.

8.There are a lot of graphic depictions of dogfighting and other cruelty to animals. Iñárritu was heavily criticized for this, but he wanted to give an honest depiction of the underground economy in Mexico City, which includes dogfighting.

9. “Amores Perros” is an examination of different forms of love, and different ways that love can cause chaos in life. It’s a smart, original drama that makes you care about the characters. And in the end, it makes you reflect on your choices, and how those choices may impact people you’ve never even met.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Slaughtered Vomit Dolls (USA, 2006)

Nine Things about the Movie “Slaughtered Vomit Dolls” [USA, 2006]

1. This vile, experimental film is the first of a trilogy.
98% of people don’t need to see this movie. They don’t even need to know that it exists.
1% of the population will be turned on by it, which probably means they need to seek psychiatric help.
1% of the population may be able to distance themselves from the content of the film and look at it from a cinematic and cultural perspective.

2. There isn't really a plot. I think it's about a cute little girl that grows up and becomes a pretty young woman. Then she becomes a prostitute that dedicates her life to Satan. Then she becomes bulimic. Or something.

3. The visuals and audio are distorted and upsetting. Jump cuts and strobes seem deliberately intended to cause seizures. Dialogue is slowed way down or played in reverse.

4. There are scenes of people being slaughtered and dismembered. We see one extended sequence where a woman’s eyeballs are slowly dug out of her head.

5. Between the scenes of torture and killing, we get to see people puke. Not fake movie vomit. They make themselves actually vomit onscreen.

6. In another scene, a woman gets her arm cut off and then she is handed a guitar, like she is supposed to play it.

7. The movie gets more unpleasant from there.

8. At first I thought the movie was just pretentious. But as I kept watching, unable to make myself turn it off, I realized that it passes way beyond pretentious. For such an obviously low budget, the movie has an undeniable, if shockingly ugly, power.

9. This is transgressive cinema at its peak. It seems determined to assault your psyche until your mind either recoils in instinctive, visceral disgust, or else breaks through to a zen-like place where it can emotionlessly witness the horrors that humanity can dream of.

Monday, June 16, 2014

V/H/S 2 [USA, Indonesia, 2013]

Nine Things about the Movie V/H/S/2

1. In 2012, “V/H/S” was released. It was an anthology horror film, about some people that break into someone’s house in the middle of the night. They find a room of VHS tapes, and one person stays behind to watch the tapes, which turn out to be “found footage” horror films. There was about 10 minutes of interesting material in the wholemovie.

2. Here’s V/H/S/2”. It is an anthology horror film, about some people that break into someone’s house in the middle of the night. They find a room of VHS tapes, and one person stays behind to watch the tapes, which turn out to be “found footage” horror films. There is about 5 minutes of interesting material in the whole movie..

3. The first story is about a guy that gets a video camera for an eyeball, which lets him see dead people that move his video game controller and teapot. He meets a girl that got an electric ear, which lets her hear dead people, including her fat uncle. She has to take her clothes off to get him to leave. Together, they meet other dead people, who are mean.

4. The second story is about a zombie attack. Now, you might think that a zombie attack, told from the point of view of a camera on a zombie, would be interesting. But you would be wrong.

5. The third story is about a cult that waits until a documentary crew arrives before they go on a murderous rampage and give birth to a demon. The story makes absolutely no sense, but it’s the best story of the whole movie just because it has the most gore.

6. The fourth story is about a group of teenagers that like to have sex and masturbate. But their fun is ruined when aliens invade their house and start killing them. This time, we know the whole terrible story because a camera was attached to the family dog.

7. This movie underscores the problem with “found footage” horror films. Everybody needs to be filming everything at all times. People need to have cameras in their eyes, on their bikes, on their helmets, in their clothes, in their house, in their car, and on their dog. And they need to all be filming 24/7. And once everybody is dead, someone has to find all the footage and edit it together into a story.

8. If you think the “Paranormal Activity” films are documentaries, this movie might scare you. Otherwise you will laugh at the cheap effects, the cheap scares, and the cheap acting. Characters will think of the stupidest thing to do, and then do it. Not to mention the fact that each story barely has a plot, anyway.

9. This movie proves that “found footage” horror films have not only jumped the shark, they’re not even in the water anymore.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

22 Jump Street [USA, 2014]

Nine Things about the Movie 22 Jump Street

1. In 2012, “21 Jump Street” was released, which was surprisingly funny, and kind of freshened up the buddy cop genre, 

2. Here’s “22 Jump Street”. I was afraid this movie would fall victim to the problem that plagues comedy sequels - that the filmmakers only had enough good material for one movie, so that the sequel sucks. But this movie does not have that problem.

3. Channing Tatum returns as Jenko, and Jonah Hill returns as Schmidt, and their bromantic partnership takes them undercover at a college looking for the source of a new synthetic drug.

4. Jenko meets a football player frat guy named Zook, and they immediately hit it off. Jenko’s new bromance (actually, they are lambros) causes Schmidt to feel rejected. He finds solace in dating an art major with a super bitchy roommate.

5. Honestly, there isn’t a lot of thought given to the actual investigation part of the story. It doesn’t make sense and it kind of just repeats the basic plot of the first movie. It’s pretty worthless.

6. Luckily, nobody goes to see the “Jump Street” movies for the plot. The rest of the movie is hilarious. Tatum and Hill have awesome chemistry together. The humor ranges from dumb physical comedy to insightful jabs at society and modern culture.

7. The movie has no problem making fun of itself, and there are some wonderful meta-moments, where characters are speaking in the movie, but you realise that they are actually speaking *about* the movie. There are also various sly jokes in the background that are fun to find.

8. The credits are just as funny as the rest of the movie.

9. Whether you like your comedy smart, or dumb, or a mix of both, you’ll find something to laugh at here. This is a rare comedy that I am willing to pay for in the theater, instead of waiting for Netflix.

Warning: This is the Red Band trailer. NSFW

Nymphomaniac [Denmark, 2013]

Nine Things about the Movie Nymphomaniac

1. This is the third film Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, after Antichrist and Melancholia. It’s a 4-hour movie that was released in theaters in two parts. The original version is over 5 hours long, but, as of the time of this writing, has never been released anywhere. It’s the most straightforward and easily understood of the three films, but it still requires focus, stamina, and an open mind.

2. While all three films can be seen as stand-alone films, they should be seen in order, as “Nymphomaniac” shares the casts of the first two movies, and brings the themes full circle. There are several explicit references to “Antichrist” in this movie.

3. Charlotte Gainsbourg returns once again in the third episode, exposing herself in new and humiliating ways. This time, she plays a sex addict that is found beaten in the street by a kindly, intellectual old man who brings her home. She tells her life story to him.

4. The movie makes the claim that sexuality is the single most powerful force in a person’s life. As a consequence, this is an extremely sexually graphic movie - all of the main actors had to employ body doubles (which means porn stars) when filming the actual sex scenes.

5. In this movie, sex is described not only literally, but also in metaphors. Music, fishing, mathematics, delirium, religion, and systemic violence are some of the perspectives through which the movie looks at sex.

6. Von Trier deconstructs sex and love and shows that they are really manifestations of loneliness, emptiness, and meaninglessness. They are sometimes useful distractions, and sometimes destructive forces, in a random and coincidental world that cares nothing for us.

7. The anti-woman themes that many people see in “Antichrist” are explored and expanded in this film, which is a raw and anguished cry of a woman’s struggle with her natural power.

8. The acting in this movie is uniformly good; Shia LaBoeuf does a great job (although his accent sucks), and Uma Thurman delivers a jaw-dropping performance of an abandoned wife. But Jamie Bell almost steals the whole movie in his portrayal of a sadistic man offering his services to discerning women.

9. This movie is a long, angry look at the hypocrisies and social inheritances in modern life. I would hesitate to recommend this movie (or the other two films in the trilogy, for that matter) to anyone who has never experienced Lars von Trier before. But for those that are ready for this scorching, sexual, existential howl, it’s a fascinating conclusion to a remarkable trilogy.

WARNING: This trailer is NSFW.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars (USA, 2014)

Nine Things about the Movie The Fault in Our Stars

1. This film is based on the young adult novel by the same name. It's about a girl with cancer that falls in love with a boy she meets at a support group. I never read it, because that's just not my kind of story. But friends that did read it were frothing at the mouth, proclaiming how good it was. So when the movie came out, I decided to give it a try.

2. A romantic drama about kids with cancer screams exploitation. Exploitation of cancer, and exploitation of the audience. I expected an emotionally-manipulative, sugar coated piece of crap that would give me diabetes.

3. I was so wrong. The movie knows what the conventions are for this kind of movie, and deliberately subverts them. It's a smart, clear-eyed look at terminal love.

4. The burgeoning relationship is handled well. The girl, Hazel, and the boy, Gus, struggle with their feelings for each other, knowing that the relationship can't go anywhere.

5. The movie stares death straight in the face. Hazel admits to an existential loneliness, while
Gus struggles to find a deeper meaning to his life.

6. There's a subplot where the two travel to Amsterdam to visit their favorite author (played with acidic gruffness by Willem Dafoe). The meeting does not go as well as the two had hoped, and the resulting feelings ripple through their world-views.

7. Hazel is played by Shailene Woodley and Gus is played by Ansel Elgort. They also played brother and sister in "Divergent". Woodley and Elgort are astounding in their portrayal of the characters. It's some of the best acting I've seen this year.

8. There are several times that the movie has the chance to veer into the typical romantic angst, or a depiction of courage in the face of impossible obstacles. But each time, it refuses to go there, staying on a more realistic path.

9. This movie sparkles with intelligence and wit and sorrow. Especially considering it's targeted at young people, it openly struggles with the harder truths about life, and doesn't flinch when it gives sad answers. I can see some parents having problems with letting their kid go see this. But the realistic trajectory of the movie is exactly what gives the movie a real heart, so when it does get emotional, it feels much more natural, not exploitative, to go with it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Melancholia [Denmark, 2011]

Nine Things about the Movie Melancholia

1.This extraordinary film is the second in director Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, after “Antichrist”. It’s not a sequel, it is a companion film. It examines similar themes, although this time in a science fiction genre. This movie is not as extreme as “Antichrist”, and is easier to understand. But that doesn’t mean this movie is a walk in the park. After all, it is Lars von Trier.

2. Von Trier wrote the movie based on a depressive episode he actually had, and the insight that depressed people tend to be more calm in situations of high pressure - because they are already prepared for the worst result.

3. The opening sequence of the film is a breathtakingly beautiful, surreal montage of scenes that represent themes explained during the course of the film. These scenes are juxtaposed with images of the destruction of the Earth as another planet collides into it.

4. The first half of the movie takes place at a wedding reception for Justine and Michael at a secluded country estate. The reception slowly unravels, partly because so many attendees make the evening about themselves. But the main problem is that Justine suffers from a debilitating depression, and is unable to hold herself together.

5. The second half of the movie takes place at the same country estate, shortly after the wedding. Justine is living there with her sister Claire and Claire’s family. A rogue planet, aptly named Melancholia, is making a near approach to Earth.

6. Claire is terrified that the planet will hit Earth. Her husband tries to convince her that the planet will miss Earth. Justine is calm in her knowledge that Melancholia will actually destroy our planet.

7. Charlotte Gainsbourg, who starred in “Antichrist”, plays Claire here. Her two roles in these movies make fascinating counterpoints. Kirsten Dunst almost burns a hole through the screen in her portrayal of Justine. It might be her best performance ever.

8. Von Trier wasn’t concerned with making the collision of the two planets scientifically realistic - his point was to illustrate the behavior of the human psyche under extreme circumstances.

9. This movie is a gorgeous, intimate apocalypse. Von Trier is telling us that whether it’s a brain problem or a cosmic one, we are all alone in this universe. Nothing we do ultimately matters, and we’re all helpless to control our own fate. We are just thrown around by forces greater than us until we die. But it’s still beautiful.

If that’s not a message you want to hear, then you should stay away from this movie.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Blue Valentine (USA, 2010)

Nine Things about the Movie Blue Valentine

1. This movie is a brave portrayal of the last part of a relationship, when “Happily Ever After” turns out to be false.

2. It was written and directed by Derek Cianfrance. It stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Three years after this move was made, Gosling and Cianfrance paired up again for “The Place Beyond the Pines”.

3. The movie moves back and forth between two times: The first is the “love at first sight” period when they genuinely believe they will be together forever. The second is the disintegration period some five years later, when they realize “for better or worse” is not what they expected.. The genius here is that eventually you realize you are sometimes seeing almost the same scene being depicted in each period...but with different circumstances.

4. Gosling and Williams have a genuine, believable chemistry. You believe that they are in love, and you believe the bitterness that grows between them. They should have won some kind of acting award for their performances.

5. To make it more realistic, Gosling and Williams acted like a couple before filming the downhill slide. They rented a house together, and lived according to their characters’ budgets.

6. In some of the scenes, Gosling and Williams went without scripted dialogue; they improvised it as they were being filmed.

7. The power of the movie comes not only from the big arguments the couple has, but the small moments, too: the ignored caress, the eyes that hide the truth, the awkward silences.

8. At first, the film got an NC-17 rating, for it’s depiction of Michelle Williams receiving oral sex. The rating was appealed, and Gosling accused the ratings board of sexism and misogyny, noting that plenty of movies depict males receiving oral sex, and it’s not considered a big deal. The rating was changed to R.

9. None of the relationships in the movie are happy, not even the long-lasting ones. Everyone is dealing with the death of love in some form or another. Well, unless they are admitting that they never felt it in the first place.

Antichrist [Denmark, 2009]

Nine Things about the Movie Antichrist

1.This is the first film in director Lars von Trier’s remarkable “Depression Trilogy”. I had to watch it twice to really start unpacking it enough so that I could start writing my thoughts about it.

2. It’s not really about the Antichrist. At least, not as most people think of it.

3. The “Prologue” is one of the most gorgeously tragic and sexually explicit opening sequences in film history.

4. It’s about a therapist and his wife whose child has died. The wife is undergoing extreme grief over the loss, and her husband tries to help her by taking her to a secluded cabin in the woods. Once they get to the cabin, he starts getting visions of things like foxes eating themselves. She thinks the ground burns her feet. It just gets worse from there.

5. The cinematography is entrancing, trippy, and gorgeous. The soundtrack is surreal and disconcerting.

6. Nick is the only named character in the movie, and he’s dead five minutes into the film. The husband and wife (played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsborg) are never given names. In fact, every other person in the movie actually has their faces blurred out.

7. This film is an examination of many things - death, grief, internalized misogyny, the evil of human nature, and the meaninglessness of everything. It requires a lot of reflection to make sense of what’s actually going on. Von Trier does not make easy movies.

8. This movie was quite controversial when it was made because of it’s extreme sexual imagery and violence. A few scenes were filmed with porn stars taking the place of the main actors.

9. This movie is definitely not for everyone. It’s a difficult, brave, important, psychosexual nuclear bomb. It’s not a horror film, but it uses horror movie conventions to make the point that the real horror is life itself… and maybe our own souls.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Charlie Countryman (Romania, 2013)

Nine Things about the Movie Charlie Countryman

1. The original title of the movie (and the title that appears onscreen) is “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman”.

2. For some reason, mainstream critics tore this movie apart, perhaps because it denies easy classification. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t deserve the hate that was heaped on it.

3. It’s kind of a violent, drug-fueled, romantic drama wrapped in magical realism.

4. Shia LaBeouf stars in it, and I think this may be his best performance ever. LaBoeuf plays Charlie, a depressed young man who has a tendency to talk to people even after they’re dead.

5. Charlie’s dead mother tells him to take a trip to Bucharest, where he meets a cello player with a dead father and a psychotic husband. Charlie falls in love with her, and he gets drawn into her problems.

6. The guy that played Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter movies, Rupert Grint, does a good job here playing an over-eager druggie. He’s definitely not at Hogwarts anymore.

7. The movie is bafflingly good at capturing that “damn-the-consequences-I’m-in-love” feeling that young people tend to fall into.

8. The soundtrack fits the movie perfectly. The original score meshes well with tracks from Moby and M83 to keep the slightly hallucinatory, dreamy atmosphere going through the whole film.

9. The ending wraps everything up a little too neatly, but this is an oddly beautiful film that needs to be better appreciated.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (USA, 2014)

Nine Things about the Movie Edge of Tomorrow

1. This movie is basically the "Groundhog Day" of alien-invasion films.

2. Tom Cruise gives a strong performance as Cage, a craven military officer forced into battle against a supremely powerful alien species that had been dominating Earth for the past five years.

3. When Cage is killed in battle, he mysteriously respawns the day before. He must figure out what's going on, and how it's involved with a living battle legend, Rita Vratasky (played by Emily Blunt).

4. The acting is solid all around - Tom Cruise can still pull off a movie when he wants to (and he still does his own stunts). Emily Blunt is great as the bitterly fierce war icon.

5. The aliens are genuinely creative and threatening. The action scenes are gorgeous and well choreographed.

6. The filmmakers do a good job of moving the story forward, but you do need to have some patience as the characters go through some scenes repeatedly as a result of the time loop. And speaking of the time loop, don't focus too hard on why the time travel is happening - you just have to accept their explanations and go with it

7. The movie was clearly influenced by other space military movies, especially "Starship Troopers" and "Aliens". Bill Paxton is even in it.

8. The battle suits were based on actual designs of powered exoskeletons being developed by different companies.

9. This is one of those rare creatures - a blockbuster with brains. Although there are a few problems with the story, the movie as a whole is a clever, interesting science fiction action film.