Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Joey Guitar: Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

An overlong, weird, and messy take on a punk rock legend that this movie made me a lot less fond of. The movie is a mess, and that has to be what director Julien Temple ("Glastonbury", "Earth Girls Are Easy") is attempting. The beginning is jammed with random images from movies (e.g. "If...", "Animal Farm", "1984"), which make telling Strummer's story harder. As in, the audience has a limited attention span. I could not keep track of what was going on onscreen. Plus, another problem was that the interviews were not subtitled, that is to say, I could recognize Bono, Johnny Depp, and Matt Dillon, but I could not pick out some of the people. Surely Temple has watched enough documentaries to know that you subtitle interviews with information about the person giving the interview. Also, the interview sequences were actually quite strange, including a huge campfire with slowed down flames for the most part. Beneath all this is a pretty engrossing story, about how a guy wanted success, which he got with The Clash (which is one of my favorite bands) and how he fell from glory not only with losing bandmembers and selling out, but having his music played as a victory tune as bombs were dropped in Iraq in the early 90's. Also, he appeared in a few movies ("Walker", "Mystery Train", "Straight to Hell") on his way to obscurity. He is a very interesting guy, but also a jerk. He kicked out two of the key bandmembers out of the Clash and then put in some fill-ins who were less than stellar. Which sucked, because it brought upon the downfall of the band. By the end of the movie, though, you could care less about Joe and the campfires and the interviewees and all the bands he was in and who went to college with him and when they appeared on "South Park." To sum it up in a short, sweet manor, the movie is a mess (however intentional), it is hard to review, Temple needed help editing it, and though it was good, it wasn't worthy of Joe Strummer. C+

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Factory: Schindler's List

After such summer smashes as Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and Jurassic Park, and the success of his primitive but utterly fun TV movie Duel, Steven Spielberg finally makes a serious and gratifying movie that still stands to this day as his magnum opus. This may not be the 8th greatest American film of all time (as said by the AFI), but it deserves a spot in at least the Top 50, as it is fearless in taking on one of history's most difficult subjects, the Holocaust. (As a friend said) save Liam Neeson's emotional "I should've saved one more" breakdown towards the end, this film is note-perfect. Neeson plays Oskar Schindler, a industrial member of the Nazi party who is focused on one thing: money. He decides to hire an accountant (Ben Kingsley) and start a business of assembling pots and pans that Jews can work in. We see early on that Schindler is not at all caring about his workers. But this all changes with a new mindset later. Another factor: Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), a faux-enigmatic Nazi who snipes Jews in his spare time from just killing them on the streets of Krakow. Why do I say faux-enigmatic? Well, how do you explain the fact that after hearing a thought from Schindler about pardoning Jews he releases a Jewish servant and then momentarily kills him after a change of mind? The straight truth is that he is a devoted killer of Jewish people, but he is also helping Schindler out a bit in his cause of freeing some Jews. The similarities that these two very different men bare are strange and eery. Anyways, between the folds of the main quest are mini-stories about Jews who are on the run from the Nazis. These are extremely compelling, and within minutes you are familiarized and acquainted with these people. Also, beneath the lead idea are some of the most violent scenes of all time, in which many Jews are executed and it is very disturbing. There are also other very memorable but disturbing scenes scattered through the movie as well. Speaking of memorable, this movie is unforgettable and is a cinematic wonderland, filled with sparing amounts of color in the majority of black and white, such as the red dress that a girl is wearing which Schindler sees in the stages of running through the streets and dying. Also, a final scene shows the real life survivors alongside the actors, in a brilliant and great touch. Now, to the acting: Neeson is pretty good, but is memorable for his stern and heroic presence. Fiennes, though, plays Goeth with flare and does a great job. All the minor performances are also spectacular. Bottom line: a near-flawless, no-nonsense movie that is flat-out outstanding. A

Friday, July 11, 2008

Auto Body: Chop Shop

The most realistic film I have seen for a long time features a cast of amateur actors and is extremely compelling, to such a point it has you on the edge of your seat in worry for the young hero (Alejandro Polanco, who is top-notch in his debut). He lives above an auto shop in Queens (near Shea Stadium) where he works hard for Rob (Rob Sowulski), who runs it. He has a sister named Isamar (Isamar Gonzales) who he accidentally finds out is a prostitute and who is less in control of things than he is. The plan: to take a van ride down to Florida and for Ale to get tuition there, as he has never gone to school and she didn't make it past tenth grade. Anyways, this movie is basically his life and times in the shady neighborhood where he toils day after day. He is an expert mechanic at a young age, but he sometimes uses his expertise in the black market of chop shops and other shady joints. He makes a lot of money, but he depends on his sister for a lot of it. He might need to watch the same money hiding tutorial that Jim Sturgess' gambling idiot from 21 has to watch. He is, at one point, driven to steal the handbag of an unsuspecting woman at the US Open, because he has to pay for more work on his van. He also steals from his sister, too. So life in his area has driven the smart Ale to steal tons of cash from a lot of people. I guess what you would call the climax is when he finds his sister prostituting and she is mad that she embarrassed herself in front of him. Then the film ends on a strange note, as the two are treated to a pigeon show outside their dwelling as tons of pigeons flock to get seed and are scared away by Isamar. Anyways, simple plot, complicated story. Ramin Bahrani, director previously of "Man Push Cart", another film like this one. That one pushed itself onto the 2006 Top Ten list of Roger Ebert. This one may not have gotten the same honors, but it more than definitely deserved them. This film is definitively and outrightly amazing. It does so much with so little, using 10 sets or less (estimating). It features fantastic acting, cinematography, and directing, and is deserved of many awards. No tune-ups necessary. A

Chop Shop has violence, and might be disturbing because of its very realistic nature.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Riding Shotgun: The Passenger

Antonioni's first english language film, Blow-Up, was for the most part successful, but was overall trying too hard to be artistic. This film, about an identity switch, works in many ways while not even really trying to be artsy. The film's subject is David Locke (Jack Nicholson), a journalist who is renowned but depressed. "I prefer men to landscapes" Locke admits, revealing his personality, but also setting an ironic tone. How? This movie really is more about the blending in to the surroundings then the man itself. Anyways, on assignment in Africa, Locke finds a man dead in his hotel room, and, because he feels like it, decides to assume the man's identity. With a switch of a passport photo, he is David Robinson, and David Locke is pronounced dead. At this point, the newly appointed Robinson finds out his occupation: gun running. Also, he finds the TV producer who produced his journalist interviews (Ian Hendry) on his tail for a talk about Locke. Also involved, Nicholson's character's wife, Rachel Locke (Jenny Runacre), who is after him on personal accounts. So, Locke/Robinson is being pursued by the producer when he meets a young woman (Maria Schneider, famously of Last Tango in Paris) who he asks to get his bags from his hotel in order to avoid the TV guy. So these two team up on the run as Locke/Robinson makes his travels in and around Barcelona, Munich, and London. In the end, everyone is against Locke/Robinson (pretty obvious) and he suffers the real Robinson's fate: a heart attack. Anyways, this movie for the most part is deceptive, as at the beginning it leads you to believe it is a desert-set story, then switches into high gear, and converts into a Euro drama/thriller. All the while, it is intertwined between Locke's interviews of foreign presidents, witch doctors, and execution footage. But it is the settings that move the movie along. Nicholson is great in a well-done performance that ranks up with Five Easy Pieces, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (which was released simultaneously), and Chinatown. Schneider provides good support, as a predictable but memorable girl on the edge. I can't say the same for Hendry and Runacre, though, who turn in run-of-the-mill performances. One other thing: the movie is finished off with a penultimate take that is very long, including a dolly from the inside of Locke's hotel room into the outdoors, courtesy of a professional gate parting that proves amazing. Bottom line: Antonioni proves he can hold an entire movie together, adding this time not useless scenes (remember the Yardbird's scene in Blow-Up?), but polished landscapes, to supplement a great plot. A-

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mr. Roboto: Wall-E

Pixar's CGI films are critically acclaimed, but many of them don't deserve so much praise. Toy Story was good, Toy Story 2 was fine, A Bug's Life was pretty good, Finding Nemo was light and cute, but wasn't very substantial, Cars was mediocre, and Ratatouille was above average. Up to now, the only films I liked from Pixar were Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles. But now, the animation giant has actually come to and made a film that was great. It is most definitely the studio's least accessible flick, as it uses dialogue sparingly and when it does, it is actually well done. Plus, the plot is driven by something few animation films are: love. You could argue that Finding Nemo was, but it wasn't well done. This film, though, works, and it works on all levels. Wall-E (voiced by Ben Burtt, sound designer great) is a robot living in a dystopian Earth which humans have abandoned to live on a giant spaceship where they pretty much slack and eat and sleep and are overweight. Wall-E lives a sad existence, though: his only friend is a small bug, his only enjoyment is from watching musicals and listening to baritone sentiments, and all he does is roam around, gathering chunks of wasted materials and depositing them as blocks. All that changes with a routine inspection of the Earth by the spaceship. One robot, named Eve (voiced by Elissa Knight of Cars) comes down and Wall-E falls head over heels in love. She is amused by him at first, but soon the love is mutual. Then, Wall-E offers her a plant, which makes her freak out and shuts her off. This is because the Earth was deemed unlivable. This plant proves this wrong. So when the ship sucks her back in, with Wall-E on her tail, the inspector robots start going nuts and alarms go off and stuff. This disturbs the routine Eat-Sleep-Eat-Sleep existence, run by the Captain (Jeff Garlin) who is lax and has depended on technology so much, he has lost his reading ability, and needs to learn the definitions of words again. As I said before, although Eve is being dragged through many corridors and up and down passages and everything, Wall-E follows faithfully, as he is driven by love to pursue her. Anyways, there has really never been a dystopian movie for children, but this movie paves new ground for such masterpieces to be made. This film is beautiful, which many other animated features (with the exception of the master Miyazaki) have missed by a mile, and smart and funny. Pixar actually works around the clock, using their resources (for example, Apple affiliations), and ideas from past Sci-fi classics (2001, Blade Runner) to construct a great, amazing, and wowing blast from the past. No longer is Pixar a five-letter word. A-

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Man on the Bike: The Bicycle Thief

A great Italian film, and one of the most manipulative movies I've ever seen. It's one of the greatest films about work of all time. It triggers your desperate side as you relate with the main character within minutes. That man is Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), who has been selected for a high-paying job where it is required that the person in the position (which is poster applier) own and use a bike. His first day on the job, his bicycle, which he had paid 6,500 lira to repair, is stolen by a mystery man, who blends into the wide expanse of Rome. This sets up the main tension: find that bike or your in deep trouble. He goes after the thief with his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) and a few others. This involves tracking down an old man who made a deal with the young guy and chasing him through a mass, plus the fact that the bike could have been taken apart. They also go to an unhelpful soothsayer who tells them the irrelevant advice "you must find it today or you will never find it." She charges fifteen lira, so that's basically fraud, except people trust her so much that they won't bust her. Anyways, the dynamic duo actually finds the thief, but the bike has been disassembled. When they go to get the help of a cop, he states the simple truth: it's you vs. them. They refuse to press charges. Now the law is not the same. Justice has not been done, so Antonio decides to steal a bike himself, his own kid watching. But again his luck runs dry. The owner is just coming out of his apartment when Antonio is swiping. He then gets the entire neighborhood to pursue him and the bike stealing attempt is thwarted. He is let off, but he and his son blend into the crowd in one of the most depressing endings of all time. No wonder the film was given an honorary Oscar: it has power that few films have ever channeled. The choice by director Vittorio De Sica to cast amateur actors pays off big time and it really paints a portrait of 1940's, post-war Italy. Maggiorani is a great actor, as is Staiola, who proves to be amazing as the confused and saddened son. This film shows that you don't need a complicated plot or famous actors to do a great job. Bottom line: De Sica creates a cinematic masterpiece in every way possible, managing to blow minds on every level. He does not miss a beat. Enough said. A