Archive for August, 2012

The Bourne Legacy (Tony Gilroy) 2012

Posted in B on August 16, 2012 by moviemoses

My initial reaction to a movie pitch like this would be that it is a cheap Hollywood cash in to keep a franchise alive.  Which this is, but I was still somewhat looking forward to it.  It is directed by Tony Gilroy who wrote some of the previous installments and directed the excellent Michael Clayton.  True, he did then go onto direct Duplicity but I’m willing to chalk that up to sophomore slump.

Unlike The Bourne Legacy, I will get to the point rather quickly.  This film takes way too long to get to where it is going and where it ends up isn’t all that interesting.  The writers had two problems when they were drafting this movie.  First was how does Aaron fit into this universe (and the Bourne storyline) despite no one in any of the previous three movies even hinting at this program.  The explanation is long and drawn out and doesn’t even completely fit once you know everything.  And which seems like the easier solution to your problem: simply recast Bourne with Jeremy Renner, or spend forever during your movie explaining another super secret sect of the government that wants to chase another rogue agent that totally has to do with Bourne but doesn’t?

The second problem is what the hell do you have Aaron do in this movie?  I’m not really spoiling anything by saying the government tries to kill Aaron in the beginning and they think they do it.  The issue comes in when our protagonist really doesn’t care to get revenge.  All things considered he would be happy at being ghosted since he didn’t like being in the program at the time of the movie.  It is not until we are well over half way in the movie do we figure out what Aaron is going to do for this movie.  Yes, we know he wants these mysterious “pills“ but we are not explained why until that point and we therefore don’t care until that point.  See how unnecessarily complicated this is?  In the Bourne trilogy, Bourne had very clear goals outlined from the start whereas in Legacy we spend over half the time with the writers justifying why we should give a crap about not-Bourne Aaron.  Just make Renner Bourne already!

Keep in mind that during all of this there is hardly any action.  The other Bourne movies were able to cut quickly between the action scenes and the talky intrigue scenes and it all flowed smoothly.  Here it feels like we are trapped in a board meeting with Edward Norton followed by Renner and Weitz putzing around their respective work places.  Even the final action scene feels like Gilroy felt obligated to throw in an action scene for this since it’s a Bourne movie.  It seems like it is chucked in there at the last minute so fans wouldn’t be pissed at a non-action Bourne.

The only thing I can hope for is that now they got all the dirty business out of the way, if producers do decide to continue the series, they can just get on with it and deliver the action fans want.  I can’t say I hated this movie.  I like Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weitz and would like to see their characters return.  The action scenes, when they actually came, were fun of the time they lasted.  Everything else is just so flat and uninteresting.  The writing has to bend over backwards to both justify its existence in this universe and provide something for our protagonist to do and it gets bogged down in endless uninteresting exposition dumps.  I think anyone going in looking for the same action in the previous Bourne entries will be severely disappointed and should wait (if they haven’t gone already) for DVD.

Buffalo ’66 (Vincent Gallo) 1998

Posted in B on August 16, 2012 by moviemoses

Buffalo ’66 follows Billy (Gallo) as he is released from prison.  During his stay, he lied to his parents he was going away for a great job and had married a beautiful woman.  Upon his release and wanting to impress his parents, he kidnaps Layla (Christina Ricci) and has her play the part of his wife.  Along the way, Layla falls for Billy.

I think dark comedies are some of the hardest to accomplish in the whole genre of ‘comedy‘.  When a director attempts one I feel he is walking a very narrow tightrope.  Go even a little too far and you turn off your audience by being too dark and if you don’t go far enough then your comedy has no teeth.  And you need to have some deft comic writing for the audience to forgive a main character who is a violent kidnapper and to think Layla falling for her is anything but Stockholm syndrome.

I must be in the minority (most of the IMDb reviews are glowing) as I don’t think Gallo pulls that off at all.  I seriously wonder if I saw the same movie as everyone else becuase all the other reviews love this movie and praise the romance.  They will proclaim it as one of the few honest stories about romance.  They will say Gallo’s character is not perfect (unlike all those other fakey Hollywood romances) and Layla falls for an imperfect person which makes it all the more romantic.  I am fine with a story about imperfect people falling in love and will happily give those people recommendations for movies better than this.  My problem is we are given no reason at all for why Layla would find this person likable in the slightest.  When we meet him he is rude, angry, physically violent, a kidnapper, and socially awkward to everyone he comes across.  And the way he is presented, I don’t even see Layla being physically attracted to someone like Billy.  Layla will profess Billy is the nicest person she ever met but all we ever see is him being an asshole and talking down to her.

There are movies of emotionally cold people being romanced, and there are movies about jerks being turned around.  It helps to have someone who can play a funny dick like Bill Murray or James Spader (Secretary sprang to mind) and it helps to have any kind of redeeming quality for our protagonist.  But for 105 minutes he is an unfunny, unrelenting asshole and in the last five minutes turns on a dime to decide he won’t be an asshole anymore.  What the hell does Layla see in this person?

I don’t even have  a problem with the concept of the movie.  I think just about anything can be done comedically if done right.  The Ref is about a guy who kidnaps a dysfunctional family for Christmas and is starring another funny dick Denis Leary.  That’s a funny movie.  Maybe because I have Woody Allen on the brain from my retrospective that I thought this material would be fine in Allen’s early days.  I could totally see a Bananas type movie where Allen is so beat down by his domineering mother that the only way to impress her is to do this plan.  Woody Allen is unthreatening and clever though; Vincent Gallo looks and acts like a rapist.

It also doesn’t help that Layla is an underwritten and IMO an unbelievable character.  She has no backstory or character development because apparently she doesn’t matter.  And, as mentioned before, her only response to any kind of verbal abuse is something to the effect of “He is the nicest guy I ever met.“, or “He is so sweet and handsome“, or “I love him.“.  It is a smidge misogynistic we don’t have to know anything about her but she must be giving unconditional love at all times to her abusive kidnapper.

Most of this hinges on finding the writing or Vincent Gallo to be funny and I don’t think either pull the job off.  Gallo does a fine job directing as he keeps the visuals interesting but he just doesn’t not click with me as a comedic actor.  As I said before, you can have lovable jerks and losers, but with Gallo you have a pathetic jerk.  I know I haven’t mentioned everything in this movie like Christina Ricci, Anjelica Huston, Ben Gazzara, or the subplot of Billy trying to murder a former Buffalo Bills kicker.  However, Gallo is the person that is supposed to carry the movie comedically, and when he fails, the whole movie ultimately fails.

Blow Out (1981) Brian DePalma

Posted in B on August 2, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $18 million

Domestic Gross: $12 million

I really have been sitting in front of my computer for a long long time trying to figure out how to put into words my feelings of Brian DePalma.  I mean, I like many of his films; “like“ the word I’d like to emphasize.  Going through his IMDb list I am reminded I like Carrie, I like Untouchables, I like Carlito’s Way (at least as much as I can remember it), I like Casualties of War, I like Mission Impossible, and I like Snake Eyes.  But that is as far as I’d go with him.  In fact, the only movies I’ve ever had an interest in watching more than once are Mission Impossible and Casualties.  Then I am reminded I didn’t like the The Fury, I hated Mission to Mars and Femme Fatale, and I downright loathe The Black Dahlia and Bonfire of the Vanities.  I don’t even want to get into Scarface at this time because that is a whole can of worms.  At his best he can mimmick the masters (and sometimes steal shots *ahem* Battleship Potemkin) to create an interesting visual style to match an effectively tense atmosphere.  At his worst I wonder what incriminating photos Uwe Boll had of DePalma to let Boll write screenplays for him.

So to make a long story short (too late) I figured I would see Blow Out which got released on Criterion and just so happens to be a box office bomb.  Blow Out is about a B movie sound editor Jack Terry (John Travolta) who is out in the woods one night getting new sounds when he catches a car crash on his sound equipment.  The person killed in the crash was a Presidential hopeful and while hearing the recording Jack hears a gunshot which leads to the titular blow out.

To a film nerd with no life like me, I could easily point out this is very strongly inspired by Antonioni’s Blow Up about a photographer catching a murder on film and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation which is about a surveillance expert caught up in a secret plot.  Those movies take a more complicated approach while Blow Out is content with being a thriller.  Believe me, I’m not slighting the film when I say that.  DePalma is great with suspense but he is shit when it comes to subtlety.  And by focusing on the murder plot, we are invovled in Jack’s paranoia and voyeurism without having to personally hammer it home.

I also have to think DePalma was taking some cues from Hitchcock.  DePalma sets up several set pieces where we know the danger is looming around the corner and the tension is wrung out for all its worth.  The visuals and the sounds are great as we are coaxed into focusing on minute details.  I can’t say enough about how well it was done when you are listening for the slightest creak or squak or bang.

Travolta does a great job as Jack.  He is not playing his usual cool personas but as the man who is in way over his head trying to keep his cool. We see the range of his character from confident, to vulnerable, to rattled, to full on wreck.  His performance really did carry the film.  You also get good supporting roles from Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz, and John Lithgow.

If I were to criticize the movie, it would probably be if you were to really scrutinize the actions of the villain, they don’t make a lot of sense.  In fact, even some of the conspirators question what the hell the killer is doing at certain points.  Also, I wasn’t exactly sold on Nancy Allen’s ditzy character.  While Allen does a good job, I figured her character would be more sexy and charasmatic rather than basically  Marissa Tomei’s character from My Cousin Vinny.

So because this movie is Criterion and I am a film snob I therefore have to like it.  In all seriousness this is probably my favorite DePalma movie.  I clearly don’t love this director as his previous works inspire either mild enthusiasm or utter contempt.  But this is the movie where I think DePalma puts it all together: great sound, great visuals, great acting, and effective suspense.  There are a few nitpicks and gripes but I thought it was a very entertaining movie.

Husbands and Wives (Woody Allen) 1992

Posted in H, Woody Allen Retrospective on August 1, 2012 by moviemoses

This movie is considered more an infamous chapter in Woody Allen’s life than is talked about for the quality of the film.  This was released in the middle of the scandal involving Allen’s affair with his stepdaughter Soon-Yi Previn. I honestly didn’t know anything about it at the time due to my young age.  I wasn’t even familiar with Allen because he never made a film that would have appealed to me at the time.  While this was a personal jumping off point for many Allen fans, I simply have to review the art on its own merits.

Husbands and Wives feels like the spiritual successor to Crimes and Misdemeanors.  Except where Allen got on his soapbox about how we are in a godless universe with no supernatural justice or external morality, Allen is now getting on his soapbox about how marriage sucks and how we do it basically for fear of being alone rather than love.  Is it strange that I find the latter more depressing than the former?  Maybe because the concept of a god really isn’t relavant to me anymore whereas I am aware of my failures romantically and having the feelings of being a lonely bastard.  It is more personal and universal rather than the more philisophical prattlings of whether a god exists.

Personal and uncomfortable are probably the words that sum up my feelings on this movie.  It feels like being trapped in a room with my parents where they argue for two hours about how they are miserable.  Insults and resentful barbs are thrown one after the other and there is a lot of screaming.  You find out people got into a relationship for the wrong reasons such as purely selfish ones and cannot stand when the attention is not on them.  All the while, you would rather just leave than deal with all this petty and spiteful behavior.

If there was one thing I missed from Crimes and Misdemeanors was any kind of escape.  Crimes had a comic relief subplot which was very much the definition of relief.  While not ‘ha ha‘ funny necessarily, it was a more light breather in between the grim moments where people darkly ponder the existence of god and justice in this universe.  In Husbands I would spend time with a couple shouting and saying hateful things, and then immediately cut to another group of selfish pricks.  I just wanted a cut to something that didn’t make me feel like shit.

The movie is shot is a fake documentary style which has it’s positives and negatives.  For the positives it does feel like you are getting the raw emotions of the situations.  This is one of the few times where it seems like the dialog was more improvised rather than Allen’s usual tightly scripted prose.  Everything seems more natural and that is why the arguments feel like they do.  That being said, the documentary doesn’t really work within the context of the plot. This is a documentary about affairs, but the movie flashes back to events that this film crew could not have possibly been there to film.  How would they know to be in the apartment when Sally and Jack reveal the news they are separating?  Why would Gabe see another woman with a film crew when he is lying to his wife about an affair?  It is like the film crew found out about these people and their affairs and got in a time machine in order to film it.  I understand the motives behind the filming, but it was handled with lazy and shitty screenwriting.

The characters are all fleshed out executed well by the actors.  Sydney Pollack does a great job as someone feels stifled by an overbearing wife and wants to be a young man again.  Mia Farrow gives one of her better performances as a very subtly manipulative woman.  Woody Allen even does a great job with his non-comedic role.  He is tempted by a younger student (Juliette Lewis) not because of her looks but because she is more of a challange intellectually.

Woody Allen considers this one of his best movies and I can see why.  While I can appreciate the genius of the movie, it is one of those films that I am perfectly content with seeing once.  This is a brutal and emotional film that does not let up.  While I admire it, that doesn’t mean I want multiple relapses into depression.