Friday, April 27, 2012

THE RAVEN: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE RAVEN (Dir. James McTeigue, 2012)

The questionable casting of John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe is the least of this film’s problems.

Basically what director McTeigue (V FOR VENDETTA), along with screen-writers Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare (that’s right), have done here is just like what Roland Emmerich and co. did in last year’s ANONYMOUS - they’ve taken the broken shards of centuries-old speculation and made pure modernized malarkey out of it.

Set during the last week of Poe’s life, the film depicts him as a broke drunk, unable to produce works anything like the ones that made him semi-famous. As Cusack’s Poe plods through the foggy Baltimore streets of 1849, a madman has been committing a series of murders based on methods described in Poe’s published work.

The detective on the trail of the killer (an intense unsmiling Luke Evans), doesn’t believe Poe to be a suspect so he gets him to join the investigation, because he knows all the gory details of the stories being severely re-enacted, you see?

There’s a love story wrapped up in all of this with Alice Eve as Poe’s fiancé who gets abducted by the man in black, who is always disappearing into the shadows and fog no matter how many policemen are about. Eve's father (Brendan Gleeson, who really works a lot) had previously disapproved of the Master of the Macabre, but now that his daughter has disappeared, he's on Team Poe.

Though he wrote detective fiction, I’ve never thought of Poe in the role of crime-solving sleuth, and I sure won’t after this fades from my memory. I’m already hearing comparisons to the superior Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, and they are indeed apt, but the only plus here is that there are no overly stylized slow-motion fight scenes.

There is, however, a sewer chase scene involving gunplay that cribs so heavily from THE THIRD MAN that it made me roll my eyes way back into my brain. But maybe seeing how it goes down here might help discourage the proposed remake of that 1949 Carol Reed classic so maybe that will rank as another plus.

The more convoluted THE RAVEN got, the less it held my interest. There are too many twists on top of twists with NATIONAL TREASURE-style mechanics, and a narrative that often cheats with its handling of the mystery.

It’s competently crafted, with okay to fair cinematography by Danny Ruhlman, but this film so wants to have an engulfing gothic atmosphere and it just can’t cut it.

I also dislike that the Poe they portray is apologetic about the contents of his work. They throw in instances of gore (you can guess what the pendulum sequence is like), presumably to sate the SAW kids, so then why do they give us a meek guy who is guilt ridden about the effect of his writing?

Seems like it would’ve been more interesting if Poe had a dark twisted sensibility (you know the one the actual guy had?), and was secretly turned on by the atrocities foisted upon him.

That might be the real problem this film has - it has plenty of plot twists yet it’s far from twisted enough to really do justice to its subject.

More later...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Obligatory Road-Trip Vegas Scene #1: LOST IN AMERICA

As I said at the start of this 5-part series, there are tons of movies that are completely set in Las Vegas, but here, inspired by wife's trip to Vegas this week, I’m talking about those scenes in cross-country road-trip movies in which the Nevada gambling mecca makes a brief cameo appearance.

We're now down to #1 on the list of Obligatory Road-Trip Vegas Scenes and it's a doozy:

LOST IN AMERICA (Dir. Albert Brooks, 1985)

Now this is the opposite of those scenes (like in STARMAN and RAIN MAN) where the characters breeze into town and win big. In this should be comedy classic, married couple Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty decide to quit their jobs and hit the road in a Winnebago. An excited Brooks tells Hagerty: “This is just like in ‘Easy Rider,’ only now it’s our turn!”

But Brooks doesn't know his wife has a gambling problem when they roll into Vegas and get a suite at the Desert Inn. Their plan was to get re-married the next morning, but Brooks wakes up to find that Hagerty has left the room. He finds her frantically gambling in the casino repeating “come on back to me, 22, 22, 22…”

The Desert Inn Casino Manager (a great cameo by Garry Marshall) takes Brooks aside: “She’s been here all night; she’s not on a lucky streak. I think you should talk to her.” 

Check out the scene here:

An equally amusing scene follows in which Brooks tries to get Marshall to give them back their money, which Brooks calls their “nest-egg,” by trying to sell them an advertising slogan: “The Desert Inn has heart.”

Like many other movies road-trip movies that have a Vegas detour, there's a scene at the Hoover Dam after Brooks and Hagerty leave town.

LOST IN AMERICA is available on DVD.

More later...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Obligatory Road-Trip Vegas Scene #2: HARRY & TONTO

It’s now time for #2 in my 5-part series focusing on those scenes in cross-country road-trip movies in which Las Vegas makes a brief cameo appearance. This series was inspired by my wife Jill’s trip to the Nevade gambling mecca over the last week for the NAB Show.

Obligatory Road Trip Scene #2: HARRY & TONTO (Dir. Paul Mazursky, 1974)

Art Carney won an Oscar for his part as a retired widowed schoolteacher who takes a trip across country when he's evicted from his Upper West Side apartment in New York City. Carney's best friend in the world is an orange tabby cat named Tonto, who he walks on a leash.

In this charming road-trip movie's Vegas scene, Carney visits a casino (one that's not identified) has a few drinks and is accused of being a “cooler” by a guy at a Blackjack table who loses everything. After exiting the establishment a drunk Carney gets arrested for urinating on the casino's wall.

It's a good thing this will stay in Vegas because it's hardly anything to write home about.

The highly recommended HARRY & TONTO is currently available on Netflix Instant.

More later...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Obligatory Road-Trip Vegas Scene #3: BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD DO AMERICA

We’re down to #3 in my 5-part series focusing on those scenes in cross-country road-trip movies in which Las Vegas makes a brief cameo appearance.

So here’s Obligatory Road Trip Scene #3: BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD DO AMERICA (Dir. Mike Judge, Mike de Seve, Yvette Kaplan, & Brian Mulroney, 1996)

It’s not a very significant scene (is any scene significant in this movie?), but it’s one that stands out to me because of how Vegas is depicted. The exterior shots of the Nevada gambling mecca resemble the backgrounds that Bill Meléndez created for the Peanuts movies in the early ‘70s.

According to IMDb: “All of the hotel/casinos shown in the Las Vegas scenes actually exist. In contrast, Mike Judge’s ‘more serious’ show, King of the Hill, used fake hotel/casinos during a visit to Vegas.”

In the scene, which I think is supposed to take place at the Luxor Hotel Casino we see folks rolling dice, and playing the slot machines (of course, Beavis mishears slots as ‘sluts’), while a band is playing “Love Rollercoaster.” Beavis & Butthead though, are preoccupied with this:

Before long the iconic immature duo are escorted out of the establishment by security guards, but not before busting some moves on the dance floor. Surprisingly B & B and their only feature film to date does little to exploit the city of sin. Decent little detour though.

Check back for Obligatory Road Trip Vegas Scene #2.

More later…

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Obligatory Road-Trip Vegas Scene #4: RAINMAN

As my wife is in Las Vegas right now for the NAB Show, in this 5-part series I’m taking a look at those scenes in cross-country road-trip movies in which the Nevada gambling mecca makes a brief cameo appearance. Because of scenes like these, when I was a kid I never thought anybody actually lived in Vegas - I just thought everybody on a road trip would have to stop there, gamble then got back on the road to somewhere else.

Only when I visited there for the first time in 2009, did I see it as an actual living breathing community and not just a place that pops up on the big and small screen every now and then. I understand why I held onto those cinematic visions of Vegas for so long – the place is so surreal and outlandish that it seems like it could only exist in the movies.

So here’s Obligatory Road Trip Vegas Scene #4: Barry Levinson's RAINMAN (1988)

This one is similar to the Vegas scene in #5 (STARMAN), except Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbit doesn’t have supernatural powers – he’s an autistic savant who has an incredible memory. Raymond’s brother, Charlie (Tom Cruise) realizes that he can exploit it by counting cards in Vegas and winning big. In the car on the way into town, Charlie tells Raymond: “Casinos have house rules. The first one is they don’t like to lose. So you never never show that you are counting cards. That is *the* cardinal sin, Ray.” “Counting is bad.” Raymond replies.

Once in Vegas, Charlie pawns his watch and the film cuts to a quick montage of shots of Caesar’s Palace. The brothers aren’t there to take in the sights though – Charlie briskly takes his brother to one of the clothes shops in the Forum so they can get suited up in Armani and hit the Blackjack tables (Incidentally the shot of them making their entrance on the escalator into the casino was memorably parodied in THE HANGOVER).

Check out the RAINMAN Vegas scene here:

For folks who’ve never been to Vegas, but only fantasized about it while playing online casino games, scenes like this give them all the noisy spectacle of the strip in an appealing glitzy flash. Love that funky Hans Zimmer synthesizer score driving the sequence too.

More later...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2012: Days Three & Four

I certainly got my fill of non-fiction films over the last several days. It was another fine Full Frame at the Carolina Theatre in Durham (in case you haven’t tuned in lately), and I saw as many documentaries as I could of the 102 being screened.

Here’s what I saw on Day 3: Saturday, April 14th (Oh, yeah – please visit my recaps of Day 1, and Day 2):

DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL (Dirs. Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent Jorgen-Perlmutt, & Frédéric Tcheng, 2011)

“The first thing to do, my love, is to arrange to be born in Paris. After that, everything follows quite naturally.”

The late Diana Vreeland was an influential fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar (1937-1962), Editor-in-Chief of Vogue (1963-1971), and a consultant to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but its her blustery acerbic wit that makes her such a great subject for a doc. This one, which utilizes interviews that Vreeland did with esteemed author George Plimpton, exploits her hilarious quotes grandly, while colorfully flipping through the magazine pages of her life. As I tweeted, it's a “a savvy stylish film about a savvy stylish lady.”

JONESTOWN: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PEOPLES TEMPLE (Dir. Stanley Nelson, 2007) Full Frame is paying tribute to Stanley Nelson this year with re-screenings of 4 of his films, including this stirring breakdown of the events that led to the largest mass murder-suicide in history (909 poeple), at Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. I remember hearing about the tragedy when I was a kid - Time Magazine images of the bodies on the ground around vats of Kool-aid are seared into my psyche forever - but I was unaware of how exactly it all went down.

The scene of the crime is laid bare by interviews with the survivors mixed with footage, and photos (thankfully no re-enactments). Nelson makes makes plain-spoken yet profound, deftly designed docs that pack a huge emotional punch. This is one of the best of them.

RADIO UNNAMEABLE (Dirs. Paul Lovelace & Jessica Wolfson, 2012) Another almost forgotten figure gets their well deserved bio-doc: Bob Fass, a free-form radio personality who broadcasted on WBAI, New York for half a century. Fass's show, also entitled “Radio Unnameable,” was a late night program in which Fass took calls, spun records, and interviewed a who's-who of '60s and '70s musicians (including Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Arlo Guthrie who premiered "Alice's Resturant" on the show).

Being an outspoken member of the counter-culture, Fass got involved in various controversies involving unions, free speech battles, and political rallying - all of which this doc defly covers with choice audio excerpts from Fass's archives.

BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!* (Dir. Fredrik Gertten, 2012)

“When you go to a documentary screening at a film festival, it’s almost always about some kinda controversial story, who knows, war crimes or corporate abuse, family abuse - documentarians tend to traffic in misery and horror. And I’ve been to many films like that, but never to one that had this feeling that the room could kind of…blow up.” – Alex Rivera (Jury member of the LA Film Fest)

This is a film about a documentary filmmaker getting sued by a large corporation. You see, the Dole Food Company took issue with Fredrick Gertten's 2009 doc BANANAS!* and did everything they could to suppress its distribution. Gertten is amazed by Dole's scare tactics and how much money and effort they put into trying to stop his small film. Since Gertten's film was about Nicaraguan banana workers involved in a legal battle over Dole's use of a banned pesticide, one can see why they were nervous but it's ridiculous and self defeating that they would go to such lengths to discredit this man. A must-see for anyone who dreams of picking up a camera and sticking it to the man.

THE BUS (Dir. Damon Ristau, 2012) My last film of the day was thw World Premiere of this 63 minute tribute to the legacy of the VW Bus. Ristau draws together testimonies (mostly by hippy folks) to the German utility vehicle turned counter-culture icon with vintage advertisements and many clips of the camper's cameos in the movies including EASY RIDER, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, CARS (firringly George Carlin voiced the vehicle) and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (What? No Lost?).

There's also the Grateful Dead connection - the bus was so associated with the historic jam band's fans that the company took out a large ad depicting a VW bus with a tear in its left front headlight/eye in Rolling Stone when Jerry Garcia died. I didn't really learn anything new in THE BUS, but it was a fun trip, especially when he get a look at the world's largest VW Bus (13 feet high, weighing 19,500 pounds), that's named Walter incidentally.

Here’s what I saw on Day 4: Sunday, April 15th:

UNDER AFRICAN SKIES (Dir. Joe Berlinger, 2012) Paul Simon returns to Africa in this celebration and examination of his classic 1986 “Graceland” album. In the mid '80s, Simon recorded the bulk of the album in South Africa with South African musicians (including Ladysmith Black Mambazo) and courted controversy by breaking the cultural boycott against the apartheid regime. In an affecting one-on-one with Dali Tambo of Artists Against Apartheid, Simon makes his case for the collaboration, but Tambo states that the music, as much as he liked it, wasn't helpful at the time.

Berlinger (the PARADISE LOST films, SOME KIND OF MONSTER) keeps the very musical movie going with studio footage from the original sessions, film of live performances from then and now, and interviews with “Graceland” fans David Byrne, Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, and Peter Gabriel.

THE IMPOSTER (Dir. Bart Layton, 2012) This was one of the 'To Be Announced' Sunday selections, which are usually made up of the films that won awards at the Awards Barbeque at the Durham Armory earlier in the day.

“The Imposter” didn't win any awards, but Full Frame Director of Programming Sadie Tillery said in her intro for it that it was one of the most popular docs at the fest with a much talked about sold-out screening Saturday afternoon. I myself had heard folks raving about it, so I got in the last minute line.

I'm glad I did - Layton's film is a both chilling and funny true-crime story about a 23 year-old Frenchman who is able to convince a Texas family that he's their missing teenage son, despite his different appearance and, ahem, strong accent. Frédéric Bourdin, the serial imposter who pulled it off, appears to give his side of the story, while the deceived family members and authorities give theirs. It's as compelling as many thrillers (especially these days), with even the dark re-enactments hitting the right notes.

A couple of films I saw on screeners in the Press Lounge:

BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING (Dir. Neil Berkeley, 2012) I missed this when it screened on Friday afternoon, so I was glad to catch up with it via screener. It's a snazzy bio-doc of Wayne White, the guy who brought his awesome art skills to Pee Wee's Playhouse, Beakman's World, Shining Time Station, and the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” video. White tells us: “I’ve worn many hats: painter, sculptor, cartoonist, puppeteer, set-designer, art-director, illustrator…” as we see tons of examples of his work, in particular his word paintings which feature vast landscapes with giant letters spelling out phrases like the title of this film.

White might want to add comedian to his list of occupations, because his anecdotes told from the stage while he's showing slides are hilarious. “Art is a lifestyle,” White says more than once in this doc, and, man, that’s an appealing ideal when you see this guy’s life’s work.

CATCAM (Dir. Seth Keal, 2012) This very amusing 16 minute doc short concerns a German engineer (Jürgen Perthold) living in South Carolina who outfits his cat, Mr. Lee, with a tiny camera (on a collar on the front of the cat's neck) so he can see what his pet does and where he goes. The pictures that come back are quite interesting - the cat encountering other cats, a street sign in an area Perthold doesn't recognize, and some almost artistic shots of nature. Bet anything none of my cats would take pictures anywhere as good.

Well, that's another Full Frame. Stay tuned for more extensive reviews of the best of the documentaries this year, as many of them may be making their way to a theater (or streaming service) near you soon.

More later...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2012: Day Two

There was a lot more hustlin’ and bustlin’ about for the second day of Full Frame 2012, which is always the case because of the bigger Friday crowds. I made my way through them to see:

MR. CAO GOES TO WASHINGTON (Dir. S. Leo Chiang, 2012) Well, I’ll be! An actual likable Republican congressman! Serving from 2009-2011, the Vietnamese American Joseph Cao was the first Republican to serve in Louisiana since 1891. Cao was also the only Republican that voted for Obama’s health care plan, which caused a wee bit of controversy in his party to say the least. Chiang’s well constructed narrative makes for a punchy polidoc which eschews flashy conventions in telling a straight story. Sort of like its subject.

Next up, a special program: the 40th Anniversary of New Day Films, a major distributor of social issue documentaries made by filmmakers that run the company. Four films from the early ‘70s (mostly ’71) were shown: “Anything You Want To Be,” “Betty Tells Her Story,” “Growing Up Female,” and “It Happens To Us.” After viewing them I tweeted that the shorts: “seemed like the link between the artier '60s educational films and '70s afterschool specials.”

Then it was time for one of the big events of the fest – the U.S. Premiere of Ross McElwee’s PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY. McElwee is a long friend of Full Frame, and this year he’s curating the Thematic Program, so it was no shocker that the line to Fletcher Hall stretched well around the block. In his intro he acknowledged the huge turn-out, but joked that 50% of the crowd are his relatives.

PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY deals with McElwee’s relationship with his teenage son, Adrian, who is always lost in screens (TV, laptop, cellphone, video cam, etc.).

McElwee compares how he was at that age to Adrian, and gets lost himself in the memories of living in France in the ’70, working as a wedding photographer and falling in love with a young woman named Maud.

It’s a rambling film, but quite a lot sharper and breezier than McElwee’s work in the past, even if it really doesn’t offer much insight except that, yep, it’s a small world and that the more things know. But that McElwee’s movies are really just unassuming visual diaries than they are hard-hitting documentary studies is the crux of their charm.

The final features I took in to finish off Friday night were Colm Quinn’s 2010 short NEEDLE EXCHANGE, and Jesse Wile’s feature-length JASON BECKER: NOT DEAD YET. Quinn's film is about a couple of long-time friends who tattoo each other – it’s amusing but so brief it’s barely there.

NOT DEAD YET tells the incredibly affecting tale of the virtuoso heavy metal guitarist whose career was cut short when he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Becker lost the ability to speak, yet has still kept composing by communicating with his eyes via a system developed by his father, artist Gary Becker.

It sucks that the guy can’t get on stage and shred in front of thousands of fans, but he’s still alive and thriving as this heartfelt rock biodoc amply displays.

Whew! Another day of documentaries is done. Please check back for coverage of Days 3 & 4.

More later...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2012: Day One

Just got home from the 1st day of the 15th Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival at the Carolina Theatre (and a few accompanying venues) in Downtown Durham.

I'm getting up early and going again tomorrow for day 2 of 4 of jam-packed infotainment, so I'll get right to what I saw today:

This year, Full Frame is paying tribute to noted filmmaker Stanley Nelson, who was there in person to introduce his 1999 documentary about the history of American black-owned and operated newspapers from 1827-the present.

The film, which is a very compelling blend of interviews with archive photos and original newsprint narrated by actor Joe Morton, is one of those docs that makes you think 'why haven't I heard about this before? Why is such interesting stuff so obscure?'

The anecdotes about papers like the Chicago Defender, and the California Eagle being where African-Americans turned to for news because they "didn't exist in the other papers," as interviewee former reported Vernon Jarrett puts it, pull the heartstrings and get in some humor too. Great doc to start the fest with.

Next up, a couple of short docs: Nellie Kluz's YOUNG BIRD SEASON and NATION. I think I choose poorly for this time-slot. For some reason, I picked a 20 minute short about competitive pigeon racing, and a 66 minute one about an athlete (Jesus Navarro) training to dodge and leap bulls for sport.

YOUNG BIRD SEASON which focused (maybe too kind a word) on a group of New England bird-racers was too slight and unwieldy (I can't really remember much about it except for some folksy banter and shots of mobs of pigeons being freed into the sky) to be much to write about, and NATION is well shot but deadly dull. Long (and I mean * long *) unbroken shots of Navarro running, jumping, and working out in the Catalonia countryside go on so tediously that people were walking out. The film picks up a little when Navarro enters the local arena, but a few more people still left.

The next couple of shorts fared much better: Fiona Otway's KISS THE PAPER and Andrew Beck Grace's EATING ALABAMA. The first is a charming 20 min. short about letter press printer Alan Runfeldt, who owns and continues to run a number of old printing presses.

The second, the hour-long EATING ALABAMA, concerns filmmaker Grace and his wife's plan to only eat only food grown by Alabama farmers for 1 year. Despite the Morgan Spurlock-esque gimmickry of the premise, the film is a sincere look at the challenge of eating locally, how dependent we are on the modern food industry, and its got a nice homage to the dream sequence ending of RAISING ARIZONA to boot.

The opening night film of the festival was the World Premiere of Lauren Grant's JESSE OWENS (produced by Stanley Nelson), a biodoc about the track and field star whose triumphs at the 1936 Olympics really pissed off one Adolf Hitler. Lots of fascinating footage plus fond recollections from family, friends, and historians drive this riveting re-telling. It's a pretty comprehensive doc despite its length (54 minutes). There was a after-film discussion with Grant, Nelson, and guest Jeremy Schaap, but I missed it because I had to get to my final film of the day:

MARLEY (Dir. Kevin McDonald) Reggae superstar Bob Marley isn't a new subject for a documentary, but McDonald's film is the best I've seen yet, a vast improvement on Declan Lowney's 1992 biopic TIME WILL TELL. A lot of the same footage is in both, but MARLEY weaves together a much more intimate and absorbing portrait, especially in the huge amount of previously unseen photos and in the sad depiction of Marley's final months alive before succumbing to cancer at age 36 in 1981.

Alright! Well, I better crash. Stay tuned to this space for more coverage of Full Frame 2012.

More later...

Monday, April 09, 2012

Obligatory Road-Trip Vegas Scene #5: STARMAN

Of course, there are tons of movies that are completely set in Las Vegas, but in this 5-part mini-series (inspired by wife's trip to Vegas this week) I’m talking about those scenes in cross-country road-trip movies in which the Nevada gambling mecca makes a brief cameo appearance.

Because of such scenes, when I was a kid I never thought anybody actually lived in Vegas - I just thought everybody on a road trip would have to stop there, gamble then got back on the road to somewhere else.

Only when I visited there for the first time in 2009, did I see it as an actual living breathing community and not just a place from the movies. I understand why I held onto those cinematic visions of Vegas for so long – the place is so surreal and outlandish that it seems like it could only exist in the movies.

We’ll start the countdown of Obligatory Road-Trip Vegas Scenes with:

#5: STARMAN (Dir. John Carpenter, 1984)

Way before he was “The Dude,” Jeff Bridges got an Oscar nomination for his role as an alien being (only identified as “Starman” although nobody calls him that in the film), who has taken the form of a recently deceased Wisconsin man. Karen Allen plays the man’s widow, Jenny Hayden, who has to deal with the craziness of having the physical presence of her husband back again, but his body is being controlled by something that came from Outer Space.

Jenny is abducted by Starman, but, as expected, she falls for him during their road trip to Meteor Crater in the desert of Arizona where he can meet up with his alien buddies on a very CLOSE ENCOUNTERS-looking mothership.

Before they get there, they catch a lift into downtown Las Vegas (Bridges’ bird-like movements when reacting to the world of bright lights surrounding him is priceless), where Jenny sees that the Starman can make the slot machines do what he wants them to do.

Carpenter cuts to Starman and Jenny walking through Binion’s Horseshoe Casino. Despite his earlier win, Jenny is skeptical about pulling this off, and wants them to start small, but Starman is already working his magic on a Super Jackpot machine that advertises a $500,000 Payoff.

Those amazing alien powers work like a charm.

The next cut is to Starman and Jenny driving a brand new Camaro out of town. It’s one of the funniest shots in the movie.

I always loved scenes like this when I was a kid. An alien or somebody with super natural powers can easily make a bunch of money by taking a trip to Vegas and manipulating the machines with their minds. How would these gifted ones deal with playing poker online on sites like this I wonder.

So I suppose the house always wins unless a member of a superior alien race is playing the game.

Stay tuned for Obligatory Road Trip Vegas Scene #4.

More later...

Friday, April 06, 2012

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN: The Film Babble Blog Review

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Dir. Lynne Ramsey, 2011)

Last year I wrote that Pedro Almodóvar’s THE SKIN I LIVE IN was the creepiest film of 2011, well, I hadn’t seen this yet. Albeit it's creepier in a completely different (and much more preferable) way.

A intensely invested Tilda Swinton, who surpringly didn't get an Oscar nomination, stars as a woman who once was a successful author married with kids in a expensive house, but now is living in a dump of a home in a poor neighborhood.

How did she get there? Bit by bit her flashbacks tell us what happened, but the movie takes its sweet time in revealing the actual event. We can tell something incredibly tragic happened, as glimpses show a police scene with a crowd of shocked, crying people reacting to something offscreen.

It obviously has something to do with Swinton and husband John C. Reilly's first born, a nightmare of a child who stonewalls his mother, vandalizes her office, and puts his sister's hamster in the garbage disposal - just a few examples of his awful behaviour.

But Swinton is no great mother here. She dislikes the kid right from the start - she prefers the sound of a jackhammer in the street to her constantly screaming baby. Which is understandable, but less comprehensible is how Reilly is so oblivious to his wife and son's issues. Reilly is more involved with encouraging the boy's interest in archery, which you can sense will be very important later on.

The present day Swinton works an entry level position at a travel agency, and suffers through her lonely existence in which she is apparently octracized by the entire community.

This is one of the most draining, and often extremely unpleasant movies of recent memory, but it's also one of the most compelling without a dull moment right up until the end.

Swinton's performance is a study of focused anquish. I felt myself loathing her, yet at the same time I had equal feelings of pity and pain for the tortured character.

As I'm still processing it, I'm not sure if there was more humor in this picture than I grasped when watching it. Some of the soundtrack choices, like the Beach Boys' "In My Room" playing over a scene with Swinton snooping in her son's bedroom, made me think the film was trying to be too clever for its own good, but they didn't make me cringe like the stuff that was supposed to make me cringe.

I can't remember the last time I was so excruciatingly entertained. I kept cringing in advance of finding out what the kid (mostly played as a teenager by the effectively dead-eyed and acerbic Ezra Miller) did that was so horrific.

It may be a bit anti-climatic when it gets there, but the finely-crafted construction of the film doesn't falter, especially when concluding with a stirring, and blinding, final shot.

I suspect that Swinton wasn't Oscar nominated, because WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN may have been a conversation Academy members didn't want to have. If you're an adventurous movie-goer that's not afraid of dark material done well, don't make the same mistake.

More later...