Monday, December 27, 2010

The Killer Inside Me: Movie Review

     Michael Winterbottom isn't a stranger to extreme cinema. A couple of years ago he released the controversial film 9 Songs, which contains actual sex acts on screen, sparking a debate that brings us back to the obscenity ban on Ulysses. With that film, Winterbottom uses real sex acts to show the audience the relationship with these characters instead of conversation. The film, unfortunately, does not work because of its total lack of context and almost zero dialogue between the characters. With The Killer Inside Me, Winterbottom is working with another extreme, violence, and seemingly finds more success with the characterization in his film this time around.
     Based on the Jim Thompson novel of the same title, the film follows the deputy sheriff named Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) in a small West Texas town in the late 1950's. Ford, engaged to Amy(Kate Hudson), falls in love with a prostitute named Joyce(Jessica Alba), and falls into a blackmail deal with a powerful construction company owner played by Ned Beatty.
     Ford, as his friends call him, is played by Affleck in his usual low-key style reminiscent of his portrayal of another character named Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Affleck holds the movie together with his gentle mannerisms and the almost childlike innocence of his voice. Once the blackmail deal inevitably falls through and Ford finds himself in a corner, he kills (SPOILER) Joyce with his bare hands and makes it all look like the construction tycoon's son committed the murder.
     We've all seen death in a movie before, but Winterbottom's film seems to take too much delight in the violence of Lou Ford. Every now and again we'll catch a glimpse of Ford's past and see that he was a troubled child who may have experienced sexual abuse. In his adult years he seems to have started implementing that abuse on others. In fact, Ford can't even make love without bruising the woman he is with. It is hard to determine whether Ford hates women or if this is how he thinks he should love them because of the flashbacks that are shown. The ambiguity becomes more disturbing when, in the moment he commits murder, he always tells the victim that he loves them, seeming visibly upset by his own actions.
    The film deals with murder the same way 9 Songs deals with sex. That is not to say that people are actually killed on screen, but that the violence is never offscreen and it is brutally, uncomfortably explicit. In one case, Ford punches a character's face with his fists so hard, and so many times in a row, that layers of skin have sunk past the bone and the face is rendered unrecognizable.
   It's hard to call The Killer Inside Me a "Good Movie," but I can't say I didn't enjoy it. The violence is absolutely horrifying, yet it never feels excessive, it just feels real. I feel like realistic violence, which shows the true consequences of a person's actions, is far less dangerous than the James Bond method of death, which more or less shows people falling down with no blood or damage to speak of. The film makes the viewer uncomfortable, but it also never forgets to entertain. Some scenes are dryly funny, and the film follows standard Noir conventions that never deviate too far from what's expected.
    The performances, for the most part, work very well. Affleck, Hudson, and Beatty are particularly great with the screen time they're given, but Jessica Alba feels distant from the film, and it is hard to believe her character when she can barely even react to a heavy punch in the face, but she is good enough as not to pull the viewer out of the film.
     The filmmaking style is no different from the famous Noir films of the period, and Winterbottom restrains from camera tricks or special effects, relying (smartly) on the mesmerizing performance by Affleck. Some critics may argue that the film relies too heavily on the harsh realism of the violence, but I suggest watching the quiet moments in between, and you may see something in Affleck that haunts you far more than the explicit violence.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Revisiting Nostalgic Movies as an Adult

 Since I've been home alone while the family has been at school or work, I have used my downtime to watch some movies I loved as a kid to reevaluate them. From the movies Good BurgerHookRaiders of the Lost ArkBlank CheckHeavyweightsBrink!Muppet Treasure IslandBack to the FutureHoney I Blew Up the KidRescuers Down Under, and Mary Poppins, I have found that some movies have actually managed quite well against my ridiculous criticism of movies that has formed since I loved Blank Check. At least 7 of the 11 movies were enjoyable, and among the 6 I found 3 to be more enjoyable now than I thought they were when I was 7. However, 4 movies out of the 11 really let me down. 

The Bad
I'm looking at you Blank CheckGood BurgerHoney I blew Up the Kid, and Brink! (Sacrilege!). From these films, I have to confess I couldn't even finish Blank Check and Honey I Blew Up the Kid. They were irresponsible with their audience. Why would any film for 8 year old boys depict a father as blatantly verbally abusive as the one in Blank Check? This guy is a horrifying parent. Just watch the first ten minutes of it on youtube and you'll wonder what the screewriter was even thinking. Not to mention the moral of the story being something between "you don't need money to be happy" and "money is the only thing that brought the protagonist happiness." Oh, and the limo driver is really scary. Why does he hang around at the non-alcoholic wet bar that clearly belongs to an 11 year old with no other people around? He's just asking to be arrested. Speaking of which, why doesn't he ever get fired for never working? Or is this kid paying him? It is never explained... 
Honey I Blew Up the Kid is irresponsible to its audience as well. Wayne, the scientist, blows his kid up into the size of Godzilla (Hahahahaha) and then...oh yeah that's the whole plot. Take away a few of those Ha's, there. Well, okay, there's a subplot where the nerdy brother seduces a supermodel, but lets stay focused on the more plausible story for a minute. This kid, at one point in the movie, is rushed through a building in safari clothes (??) and nobody seems to notice that a 9 foot tall person, who is clearly a toddler, is running around. Even if the disguise somehow worked, he is 9 feet tall. I'd look. It's like how we're supposed to believe the Ninja Turtle disguise of a...trenchcoat. Anyway, after the toddler is 60 feet tall he is electrocuted twice (Giant guitar and giant ice cream bar), shot (cops and people in dark clothes who are allegedly FBI agents. We don't know, those scenes giving us context are probably on the cutting room floor), and, oh yeah, steps on buildings and does millions of dollars of property damage in Las Vegas, and if my logic is right, kills the people in those buildings. None of these things are brought up in a serious manner, but are done to be funny. It's not funny to watch a baby get electrocuted or shot. Or to watch people in buildings get crushed. Hmmm, maybe things were different when I was 8. 
For Good Burger and Brink!, it isn't that I hated them the way I did for the two prior movies, but that they just didn't do much of anything at all. They have their moments, but I got bored for most of them. Whatever I saw in them is lost on me now. However, Abe Vigoda's presence in Good Burger certainly helps its cause. But it's also kind of sad that he's in Good Burger

The Good
The three movies I liked better now than I did then are HookRaiders of the Lost Ark, and Mary Poppins. I have to say that I can defend Hook all day long. Is it too long? Yes. Is it self-indulgent? Absolutely. But you know what? I love it. I love that there are cameos by George Lucas, Carrie Fischer, Glenn Close (The pirate thrown into the booboo box, look it up), and Jimmy Buffet. I love Bob Hoskins as Smee. And Robin Williams gives a completely adequate performance. But to be fair, I think I love the idea of the move better than I love the movie these days. It's just a bold move for Spielberg, coming off of the success of Schindler's List and Jurassic Park, he makes an almost 3 hour epic about an intentionally boring man who doesn't battle the titular villain until after the 2 hour mark. And for the most part it works. You have to give them credit. Even though the middle drags and Julia Roberts mugs the camera, you have to love the obvious work and love that went into the making of it. 
Need I explain Raiders of the Lost Ark? It's a movie that is exciting, funny, dangerous, and fast. Nothing is wrong with it, in my opinion. And I enjoy it even more now, you know, now that I know what the Ark is, and a Nazi for that matter. 
Mary Poppins is a visual effects masterpiece that has appeal to any age group. The movie is long, sometimes slow, totally preachy, cheesy, and sometimes silly, but what is more appealing than an offensively bad cockney accent and a bag with no bottom? How about the absurdly brilliant chimney sweep sequence? What about the sincerity of "Feed the Birds"? The film is full of moral lessons. It has got a huge supply of interesting characters. The character that seems to have stuck with me the most in my latest viewing is the man who lives on top of his house, on a roof that has been fixed up as a battleship. It is never really explained why this guy does this. We get a semi-excuse, but this guy is totally insane. Why is he allowed to shoot canons? How long has this gone on? When are we going to get a movie about him? Mary Poppins has great sequences of special effects and a performance by Julie Andrews that is eerily endearing. 

What are some movies you've revisited in recent years that you loved as a child? Did they cut the mustard? Why? Why not?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's Wrong with Mentioning a Screenwriter?

       I've been reading film reviews for quite some time. Something I've noticed over the years is the constant refusal to mention screenwriters at all. Unless you are Charlie Kaufman or the person who also directed the film, you will not be mentioned by any critics for your work.
     For example, I've read several reviews for Darren Aronofsky's newest directing gig, Black Swan, and the screenwriter is never mentioned. Was his screenplay just this barebones treatment that Aronofsky magically turned into a film? No, it was the dialogue and actions of the characters in the film. What's the deal? How about the films of David Fincher (Pre-highly publicized Aaron Sorkin collaboration). Can you name any of the screenwriters? Probably not, because the director is always mentioned first. There's even a review of Seven that commends Fincher's decision in ending the film the way he does. As if Andrew Kevin Walker's screenplay had nothing to do with this.
     This isn't how we treat playwrights or novelists. We even treat the writers for television shows with a certain prestige that isn't given to television directors. Matthew Weiner is the star of Mad Men's crew, yet he has only directed four episodes. I'm just confused, world. Why aren't screenwriters given the credits they deserve? Of course, the director decides the tone of the film and projects the screenplay how he sees fit. It is definitely a director's medium, but this does not excuse leaving the screenwriter completely without merit. I mean, if you didn't have a screenwriter you'd just end up with Gerry...

     Thoughts? Anything to add?

When Movie Trailers are Better than the Actual Movie

(Written in September. Still relevant...)

What makes a good movie trailer? 

The other day I sat down, like a good nerd, and watched all the newest trailers on One preview in particular, The Social Network, really caught my interest. The Social Network, seemingly by definition, should be a bad movie. Why make a movie about Facebook? What's the point? I like Jesse (Zombieland) Eisenberg fine, I think David Fincher is always interesting, but what's interesting about the creation of Facebook that I can't probably just guess? I bet people argued over who created it. I bet one creator made more money. etc. But you know what?
               That trailer is awesome.
               Really for no other reason than a wonderful cover of the Radiohead song "Creep" by a girl's choir and fast cuts between angry people being sarcastic to one another. Watching this trailer, I went through an emotional experience and I didn't even know why; I just felt connected to what was happening. When it was over I couldn't stop thinking about other movie trailers that had made an impact on me. And further than that, I thought about the trailers I had seen in the past that blew the movies they were advertising out of the water.
              I'm going to list some previews that really stand out to me and why, and then I'm going to list some previews that are far better than the movies themselves. I'd like to hear about previews that really stood out to you, and which ones you feel did a better job than their exponentially longer counterparts. 
Best Movie Trailers I've seen

The Man Who Wasn't There

                   The Man Who Wasn't There is hands down the most moving preview I've ever seen for a film. And the most amazing thing about it is that it tells you absolutely nothing about the movie. The line, "The more you look, the less you really know," pretty much explains this excellent one and a half minutes. Take a look at the trailer, it is dark, beautiful, haunting, sad, mysterious, and pretty much forces you to watch the movie. 

The Shining

                  The perfect horror movie trailer. The atmosphere, like in the movie trailer, is the most important part of any horror movie. Stanley Kubrick, who cut the trailer himself, expertly creates an atmosphere that fills the audience with the dread and fear which most full length horror movies can't do in their entire runtimes. 

Where The Wild Things Are

                Absolutely fantastic. The music, the visuals, the editing, the scale. Everything. When I first saw this I didn't stop smiling for a week. 


                 This trailer always makes me want to drop everything and watch the entire series. It was so creepy upon initial release that theater managers had to warn the audiences before going into movies where the trailer previewed. 

Movies outshined by their previews

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

                  Don't act like you didn't pee yourself when you first saw this. Don't act like you didn't pee yourself for a different reason when you saw the actual movie. 

Terminator Salvation

                 This trailer actually convinced me to go see Terminator 4. And then I immediately remembered that it was Terminator 4 when I got in the theater. 


                   This trailer promised so much. I know, I know, a lot of people like this one. But I think that trailer offers so much that is just not delivered in the final, style over substance product. Which I guess the trailer is, too, but that's what they're supposed to be. If I'm going to watch style over substance, I'd prefer one that is three minutes not three hours. 

So what do you guys think? Any trailers that really appealed to you?