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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Blink - A Film Review

I re-watched Blink, this mystery thriller from 1994 that I really liked. It has a noir vibe with an interesting heroine. The film stars Madeleine Stowe as a blind woman who is a violinist in an Irish band in Chicago. She gets new eyes via a donor, and as her eyes are adjusting to her new sight and the world, in her blurriness she has visions of a serial killer who is striking, but nobody else sees him. Aidan Quinn is the cop who is skeptical at first, writing her off as a drunk lonely woman who can't see anything clearly, but helps her and falls in love with her. The story was very interesting, and I liked the dry humor and cynicism that Stowe brought to her character, it made her seem more real and less like a victim of her circumstance. I enjoyed the Chicago setting and seeing Aidan Quinn and Laurie Metcalf in the movie, because I don't see many movies set in Chicago, it's often New York City or L.A. I do find the movie suspenseful, but really enjoyed the setting, the acting, and the humorous moments as well. It's just an interesting B-level noir thriller that I recommend.

Killer Toon - A Film Review

I really enjoyed seeing Killer Toon around Halloween at the Museum of the Moving Image. It is a South Korean horror movie that is a ghost story. It has a little gore in it, but not excessive. It was about a web comic artist whose artwork was predicting gruesome murders, and she is the prime suspect. It was haunting and unsettling, and I loved how the movie would switch from still comic panels of the action to live action, illustrating the film like a graphic novel come to life. The film came out last year and was a huge success in South Korea. I was happy to watch it as a haunting Halloween treat.

Nightcrawler - A Film Review

I saw Nightcrawler recently. It was very good, but unsettling and creepy to watch. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, and is about a drifter named Lou who videotapes crime scenes and car accidents, tracking them through a police scanner, and sells the footage to a local TV network. He is a sociopath who is a confident talker, is a thief, and doesn't have any remorse or guilt from profiting off of filming gruesome accident scenes for sleazy news stories.

Gyllenhaal gave another brilliant performance, playing a sleazy, amoral fast talker, his gaunt face making his eyes look more open and menacing. I've underestimated Gyllenhaal's versatility a lot, because of his cute puppy-dog looks and Hollywood-raised background, but I am continually impressed by his versatility in films like Zodiac, Source Code, Prisoners, Brokeback Mountain, End of Watch, and earlier movies like October Sky, Donnie Darko, and Moonlight Mile

I looked up the director Dan Gilroy, and am pleased to see that he did the story adaptation for Real Steel, a movie that seemed silly on paper (boxing robots) but was much better than I had expected, due to Hugh Jackman's performance and the father-son story of bonding through creating a boxing robot.

The other name actors in this movie are Rene Russo as the news director who compromises journalistic integrity for higher ratings of gruesome crime scenes, and Bill Paxton as a fellow videographer of accidents. For Paxton, I thought, "Bill Paxton has gone from chasing tornadoes to chasing crime scenes."

The film is really good, but was very uncomfortable to watch, very dark and blunt in its sleaziness and brutality. I was cringing at various moments in it for how far Lou would go to get what he wanted for "good video." I still recommend it, and feel like while Gyllenhaal is often critically acclaimed, he still seems underrated to me, perhaps thought of as a "pretty face" despite the risks he takes in his films. Perhaps he will get a major award that he missed out on when he should've been nominated for an Academy Award for Prisoners.

John Wick - A Film Review

I enjoyed seeing John Wick. It doesn't have a complicated plot, it's a revenge movie about a hitman who comes out of retirement to kill Russian mobsters that stole his car and killed his puppy, a gift from his dying wife. Keanu Reeves was awesome in it. He is excellent at playing stoic and quiet, just stalking across a room taking long strides as a very tall and lanky man, and just delivering pain to countless goons and mobster jerkoffs. I know he gets a lot of knocks for his acting, but this is one of his best movies he's ever done. There were a couple of scenes with him delivering raw emotion: one full of pain, the other full of anger, and I was impressed by how deep he dug into those scenes, it was really great.

The filmmakers are two stuntmen named Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Stahelski doubled for Brandon Lee in The Crow and for Keanu Reeves in the Matrix movies, and is a highly accomplished stunt coordinator (Serenity, Ninja Assassin, The Expendables). Leitch has doubled for Brad Pitt and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and did stunt coordinating for V for Vendetta and Conan the Barbarian (the 2011 one). The fight scenes in John Wick are excellent. There are long pans where it's Keanu Reeves swiftly moving through goons using kung-fu and jujitsu, and the long shots without jumpy cutaways not only make the fight scenes look more brutal, but it feels like a breath of fresh air to watch a fight scene that is not all quick cuts, and full of excellent and beautiful staging of fight moves. And the fight choreographers took advantage of his long legs by having him do jujitsu grappling moves and being on the floor a lot.

The film has some good cameos and supporting roles by known character actors: Ian McShane as a hotel owner; John Leguizamo as a chop shop owner; David Patrick Kelly as a "cleaner," Willem Dafoe as John's best friend; Lance Reddick as a hotel manager, and Dean Winters as a mob lawyer and the comic relief.

I really like dark movies and action thrillers, especially when they remind me of gritty movies from the 80's a la Death Wish, The Punisher, Manhunter, and Maniac Cop. I recommend John Wick for the fight sequences and Keanu Reeves' performance.

Observation on Steve Buscemi in Airheads

I watched Airheads recently, and I've seen it several times, but came to this relevation: Steve Buscemi was pretty much the best actor in the whole movie. He just dominated every scene he was in, and was a total scene-stealer from everyone else. I don't know how famous he was in 1994 apart from Reservoir Dogs, but he gave the best performance in the whole movie. It was like if Mr. Pink joined a scuzzy rock band and was desperate for attention, and resorted to holding people hostage in order to get his music heard. Buscemi is a celebrated talent, and directed one of the best episodes of The Sopranos ("Pine Barrens," where Paulie and Christopher are lost in the snowy woods), but I didn't realize how much of a charismatic scene-stealer he was until watching this movie for the fifth or sixth time. You're awesome, Steve Buscemi.

Tank Girl - A Film Review

I really enjoyed this look at the making of Tank Girl (1995) and why the movie bombed. I saw the movie when I was 12 on video, and really enjoyed it. I loved the post-apocalyptic cyber-punk look of it; the weirdness of Tank Girl and Lori Petty acting like a comic book character; the mutant kangaroos and hearing Ice T's voice coming out of one of them; the desert setting a la Mad Max; Naomi Watts' performance as Jet Girl, the Australian shy and nerdy pilot/mechanic; Malcolm McDowell as the hammy villain; the kickass rock soundtrack that I bought a copy of soon afterwards (Hole, Belly, L7, Bjork, Joan Jett, Portishead), and the comic panels and animated sequences that I later found out were only in there because the movie ran out of money to film action sequences. I've seen it again as an adult, and while I can see flaws with it (I can't stand the musical sequence, the plot gets messy in the last third; Petty can be annoying sometimes), I still like the movie. The movie failed because of studio intervention to cut scenes and mess around with the director's work and the movie turned into a big mess. 

I looked up the director Rachel Talalay to see what she's doing now, and she directed two episodes of Doctor Who this year and has done a lot of TV directing over the past decade. Lori Petty was on Orange is the New Black season two and directed a decent indie movie called The Poker House starring Jennifer Lawrence pre-fame. And while I liked Naomi Watts, I didn't hear of her for several years afterwards, thinking she'd just be an obscure actor, and was happy when she became an A-list star.

This movie isn't for everyone. It can be really weird and loud, and it is very 90's, which can be good for being an experimental, risk-taking movie and also for being really dated and old. If this is your kind of movie, I suggest checking it out.

Birdman - A Film Review

Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman was a really interesting film to watch. I loved how close and personal it felt with the characters' relationships, showcased through the long continuous takes and close-ups. The editor deserves an Oscar nomination for putting seamless edits in between continuous takes to make sequences linked together like one continuous take. That filmmaking style got me into the story very quickly, and the cast were all fantastic in this film.

I agree with the comparisons to JCVD, a movie where Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself and gets caught up in a robbery in Brussels (he's a hostage, but the police and media outside think he's the robber due to a misunderstanding). Particularly, it does feel similar with the hero actor making a meta statement about his past roles and his offscreen life, as well as including an amazing sequence where Van Damme "floats" above the scene to deliver a long monologue about his life in films, his challenges and his obstacles, and playing the hero and movie star while dealing with his insecurities and issues (drugs, women, maintaining his worth as a person). This scene had me holding my breath throughout all of it, and it was a surprise to see Van Damme do the best acting of his career. Not just playing himself, but being emotionally vulnerable and bare onscreen.

Similarly, Michael Keaton brought that onscreen, just being open and honest onscreen. I've been thinking in the last couple of years that he is an underrated actor, someone who fell below the radar after doing Batman Returns, due to him choosing supporting roles and largely character actor work, and it's awesome to see him back in a lead role in a meaningful film.

While I think Edward Norton is a egocentric dick in real life (from stories I've heard of him), he always kills it onscreen (I forgot that he's been very good in quite a lot of movies since the mid-90's) and managed to bring sympathy to such an obnoxious character.

Emma Stone was wonderful in this, I love how electric and charismatic she is onscreen, especially in films like this, Zombieland, and The Amazing Spider-Man. It seemed like she was being overshadowed by Jennifer Lawrence in the past couple of years, so I'm happy to see her back to her A-game in this film.

Naomi Watts was also great in this too. She didn't have as much to do as the other characters, but she's always been a very interesting and talented actress that takes risks onscreen, and I like seeing her in whatever she's in.

Another favorite performance of mine in this was Lindsay Duncan as the theater critic. She was so great at playing a cold, cynical writer who loved theater so much that she would rip apart anyone who she felt desecrated the art of it. I loved how she spoke in a quiet, mannered tone that would cut through anyone's heart. She was in only a couple of scenes in this movie, but was fantastic, and was one of the best parts of the film.

This was just a really interesting movie. I've included the monologue from JCVD because it had similar filming techniques and themes from Birdman.