Friday, February 25, 2011

Cedar Rapids

Tim Lippe is in his mid-thirties. He’s having an affair with his ex-elementary school teacher who is now in her mid-sixties. He dreams of one day erecting a small green house in his backyard. He’s fervidly devoted to his employer (Brown Stone Insurance), and is stoked to represent them at Cedar Rapids’s annual insurance convention. Enter Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) and Ronald "The Ronimal" Wilkes (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), conference veterans eager to break Tim from his conservative shell.

Cedar Rapids features infidelity, prostitution, drug use, alcohol use, bribery use, foul language use, crude humor use and is overwhelmingly charming. It is that rare type of movie that feels genuine while never forcing itself to conform to the conventions of modern cinema.

Ed Helms is brilliant as the fish-out-of-water Tim Lippe – a role not too distant from the dainty character he portrays on The Office. The supporting players seldom put a wrong foot, hurling comedy like it were vomit all over the screen. No one plays a middle-age child like John C. Reilly. His performance as the obnoxious Ziegler is irredeemably funny.

Kudos to Whitlock for his convincing impersonation of Omar from the HBO program The Wire. Strong Praise to Reilly for his R2-D2 imitation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Barney's Version

Barney Panofsky loves hockey. He loves cigars, scotch and opiates. He's politically incorrect, belligerent and unreserved in speech. He loathes weight reduction plans, cosmetic therapy and the affluent. He loves his Jewish father. He's been accused of murdering his best friend. He's been married three times to three beautiful women and he's managed to exasperate them all.

Paul Giamatti grabs hold of the character with every part of himself. The anecdotal story is full of witty commentary and humorous observation. It paints a very sweet, very candid picture of romanticism. Even Dustin Hoffman, whom I often find highly annoying, is endearing. Look for cameos by directors Adam Egoyan and David Cronenberg.

Though highly successful on the festival circuit at the end of 2010, Barney's Version only recently received a limited release. Had I the opportunity to see it a bit earlier, it may have broke onto my top ten list for last year. It's that good people.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

top 10 horror 2010 (Part 1)

I'd like to get vile for just a moment if you don't mind and discuss the best horror flicks of 2010. Many of you gore enthusiasts have been waiting with bated bad breath for months for me to release this head-spinning, eye-gouging, throat-slitting, paint-the-walls-red list. Well, with less
first-run selections and fewer straight-to-dvd releases, compiling said list proved a difficult task. However, my preoccupation with criticizing other people's art compelled me to push on. And so, without further rambling, I give you, well, a few ramblings on the best frightfully shocking pics of 2010. Hope you enjoy.

THE LAST EXORCISM: Ever since Linda Blair spewed split pea soup all over Father Merrin people have been familiar with the process of evicting demons from small children. In The Last Exorcism, Reverend Cotton Marcus has been doing the head-spinning, Latin spewing dog and pony show since before he could say Hail Mary. He’s decided to bring us along to rural Louisiana to witness his final exorcism in the hopes of debunking the religious practice. It seems sweet Nell’s been offing Daddy’s livestock during the night and is in need of a cleansing. Of course, Satan’s not one to go easily.

The faux documentary has lost its impact in the years following Heather Donahue’s on-camera snotting in The Blair Witch Project. The Last Exorcism, however, utilizes the conventions of the genre to shocking effect. The picture sustains suspense via strong characterization and an acceptable story. Though the final moments are a bit hokey, the movie is edge-of-your-seat frightening throughout.

VALHALLA RISING: So you’re a tough-as-nails warrior with one eye and an undefeated record in the ring but since you can’t speak nobody knows your name and refers to you only as One Eye. All you want to do is walk the Earth like Kane in Kung Fu but Norse tribes and Christian Vikings keep enlisting you to do their bidding.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn resists the typical conventions of cinema with the same level of force used by his protagonist to off his adversaries – limbs are severed, torsos are flayed, brain matter is flung at the screen with aesthetic delight . Deliberately paced and uncompromisingly violent, the movie will linger in your mind days after viewing.

BURIED: US contractor Paul Conroy leaves his wife and young son in the country of the people, by the people, for the people and gets himself buried alive in Iraq. A triumphant exercise, Buried manages to be both suspenseful and entertaining despite taking place entirely within the
confines of a coffin. Director Rodrigo Cortes employs a number of useful tricks to establish interesting compositions and Ryan Reynolds earns his chops in a role that dismisses from the minds of genre fans the vampire detective with an aversion to sleeves he played in Blade: Trinity.

ZOMBIE GIRL: THE MOVIE: You know Emily. She’s the cute twelve-year-old with the porcelain skin, sweet voice and unhealthy obsession for all things zombie.

Okay, so it’s a documentary about a girl making a horror movie and not an actual horror flick but Zombie Girl is one of the most inspirational, funny, entertaining and (insert superlative indentifier here), movies of the year. Anyone who’s ever experienced the terror that goes into making a movie will get a kick out of the very real troubles that plague Emily’s amateur set.

SEVEN DAYS: I can’t imagine how many maniacs I’ve observed doing their thing during my lifetime. I can say though that Dr. Hamel is unlike any I’ve seen. He’s clean cut, soft-spoken, polite and severely meticulous when torturing the man who raped and murdered his daughter.

Slick direction and an important message propel 7 Days beyond the torture porn genre. The decisions of its characters will work on the conscience of even casual horror fans. The movie touches on the same moral matters as its counterparts, however, features characters that, even at their most dismal, remain humane.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

TOP 10+ movies of 2010

1. MESRINE: Biopic detailing the rise and fall of notorious French gangster Jacques Mesrine. An unabashed exploration of vicious, vainglorious criminality that merits a place among perennial gangster greats. Vincent Cassel boldly brings into being one of the most badass characters in cinema history.
2. BLUE VALENTINE: A heartbreaking examination of the ebb and flow of relationships, Blue Valentine hits close to home anybody who has fallen in and out of love. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams deliver the type of performances that exceed the duties of acting and become something much more. He’s an ambitious romantic happy to have a cool, pretty wife. She’s physically and mentally exhausted by his inability to grow and change with her. Neither is right or wrong, good or bad. They’ve simply lost touch with that thing that initially pulled them together. During a technologically booming age, Blue Valentine is a subtle reminder that story is what truly drives a movie.
3. THE AMERICAN: George Clooney is The American, a professional assassin stationed incognito in Italy for a final job. A deliberately paced thriller that is equal parts sexy and cool, The American abounds with existential symbolism and appealing imagery. I thoroughly enjoy observing people engaged in occupational activities. Rarely is a film bold enough to linger on characters involved in mundane exercises for extended periods of time. It is in the still moments, where Clooney pieces together custom rifles, where the movie truly flourishes.

4. ANIMAL KINGDOM: When 17-year-old J loses his mother to a drug overdose, he’s sent to live with his grandmother and felonious uncles. A moody first effort from novice director David Michod, Animal Kingdom effectively forces viewers to wear the shoes of its central character and substitutionally bear the tremulous fear he endures.

5. THE SOCIAL NETWORK: Adventurous account of the founders of the social-networking site, Facebook. Whether the actions of Mark Zuckerberg’s screen alter ego are accurate or not is up for debate, but what is certain is the power of The Social Network to capture the impersonal world of web socializing and the unfriendly spirit of its greatest contributor.

6. WINTER’S BONE: Ree is not your average American teenager. She manages the household, relying on the donations of neighbors and her skills with a hunting rifle to feed her younger siblings and her mentally deficient mother. When her father pledges the deed to their house as bail security then absconds into the Ozark Mountains, she must head off into the rough terrain to save her home. While the established intelligensia will gush over the emotional triumphs of better known actresses, it is the melancholy performance of Jennifer Lawrence that is more worthy of praise.

7. SOMEWHERE: A hotshot actor reexamines his indulgent lifestyle following a surprise visit from his 11-year-old daughter. Tales of this type (empathetic examinations of wealthy discontent) typically annoy me immensely. Director Sofia Coppola, however, brings something unique to an otherwise tired scenario: she’s had the unusual advantage of having experienced privileged apathy first from the point of view of a malleable child (daughter of New Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola), then from the perspective of a successful adult. Her understanding of loneliness shines through the hypnotizing performances of Setphen Dorff and Elle Fanning.

8. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: The children of a lesbian couple look to connect with their biological father. A warm, bittersweet exploration of the difficulties of love. Regardless of orientation, the family in focus represent middle-class America to a perfect degree. Critics are ogling over 3-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening, but in the opinion of this fan, it’s the emotional performance of Julianne Moore that is more commendable.

9. CARLOS: The epic story of Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan-born terrorist who achieved notoriety for a 1975 raid on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. This film was released in two versions: one a five hour mini-series which played on the Sundance channel; the other a 120+ minute feature which saw a short run at select theaters. I saw both. It is a sprawling achievement that maintains a break-neck pace while examining a career that stemmed from 1975 until 1994 when Carlos was betrayed by former comrades and thrown into a French prison. Carlos was a man driven by vanity. This biopic is a showcase of talent for all involved. It is ambitious, and riveting and never boring. The longer version provides a truer sense of the terrorist lifestyle.

10. CATFISH: Nightmarish documentary about the dangers of online socializing and the illusion of companionship offered via networking sites.


NIGHT CATCHES US: When ex-activist Marcus Washington left the race-torn Philadelphia town of his birth, it raised a lot of questions. Now, years later, he’s returned to answer them. Low key direction and strong performances allow for powerful moments of drama in this refreshing debut from Tanya Hamilton. Her ability to dodge the period aspects of this story on such a miniscule budget is nothing short of brilliant. Despite a rushed ending, this provocative snapshot into the post-Black Power movement era left me mulling over the decisions of its characters for days.

I AM LOVE: Features chillingly beautiful cinematography and a masterful performance by Tilda Swinton as Emma, a Russian woman who marries into a wealthy Milanese family but is never truly accepted.

THE TOWN: A gripping thriller and Ben Affleck’s second go-round as director proves he just may be the real deal behind the camera.

HEREAFTER: Master storyteller Clint Eastwood’s unusual and sensitive examination of sorrow and loneliness offers a potential glimpse into the afterlife.

KICK-ASS: Wildly entertaining actioner that boasts such explicit displays of blood and gore that they come off as cartoony.

And don't forget to check out FISH TANK, my #1 film last year available on criterion disc later this month.


127 HOURS: Am I the only one that finds Danny Boyle’s style to be goofy? James Franco’s performance was okay, but was it really that much better than Ryan Reynolds’s depiction of the trapped Paul Conroy in Buried? Overrated.

BLACK SWAN: Aronofsky’s Oscar candidate is at times chilling, at others it tries a bit too hard. A tad overrated.

CENTURION: Kick-ass epic of violence and mayhem that treats gore like aesthetic beauty.

CONVICTION: True story of a man wrongly accused of murder features okay performances that are never as dramatic or affecting as they should be.

EASY A: Surprisingly good of its type, Easy A is at times charming and at others funny.

THE FIGHTER: At points clumsily directed, the film pales in comparison to great sports movies. Mark Wahlberg is outclassed by co-stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams. Way overrated.

GET LOW: Never as funny as it should be. Robert Duvall plays an archetypical movie hermit whose story is rather anticlimactic.

GHOST WRITER: Roman Polanski returns to form in this thriller about a ghost writer who discovers unsettling lies about the former British Prime Minister when he’s hired to write his autobiography.

GREENBERG: Greenberg the character is somewhat interesting; Greenberg the film is predictable and a bit boring.

INCEPTION: The concept of entering someone’s dream to implant an idea in their head is a brilliant one. Unfortunately, Christopher Nolan builds on the premise with little restraint until it becomes a convoluted, loophole-laden mess.

THE KING’S SPEECH: Cute feel-good film that is well acted and beautifully shot but ultimately, rather thin.

RABBIT HOLE: The film consists of one emotional note throughout, but Nicole Kidman is near flawless as a mother who lost her son.

TRUE GRIT: Good Coen brother’s film; not a great Coen brother’s film. Their classic trademarks are a bit blatant. And why do the characters spend the picture’s running time tracking one ruthless cowboy only to have a showdown with a subordinate one?