Friday, November 19, 2010

Netflix Short Takes

I've been filling my head with lots of movies via Netflix recently.  I must be working on some idea lurking in the deep recesses of my subconscious that may eventually become a new short movie.

Or... I'm just giving myself nightmares for no good reason.

Anyway, here's a quick look at some of the movies that have been washing over my brain:

Moon  2009 - Directed by Duncan Jones

Moon is a quiet, atmospheric sci-fi film that effectively captured my attention.  Sam Rockwell is brilliant, delivering two great performances as a man and his clone.  Or a clone and a man.  Er - as a clone and a clone - whatever.  This movie borrows ideas freely from 2001, Blade Runner, Silent Running and Solaris, but mostly captures the loneliness and madness that would ensue from being isolated on the moon.  As an interesting sidenote, the director just happens to be David Bowie's son, so I found it impossible to watch this movie and not sing to myself, "Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do..."

4 stars (out of 5)

Trick r' Treat 2007 - Michael Dougherty

This little Halloween treat recalls some of the classic horror anthology flicks like Creepshow, as a number of storylines intertwine on a night when all the spooks come out to play. With tongue planted firmly on cheek, Dougherty still manages to set up some nice scares and easily the best Halloween atmosphere since... well, since the original Halloween.  The fact that this movie (which features Anna Paquin) was unable to get a theatrical release proves how broken the current distribution model is today.  Sure to be a Hallows Eve classic for years to come.

3 1/2 stars

Ginger Snaps  2000 - John Fawcett

If Heathers and American Werewolf in London had a quickie, this would be their lovechild - the movie Jennifer's Body wanted to be, but couldn't get it right.  A clever coming of age story of two sisters, their morbid fascination with death and the teenage bummers that come with being a werewolf, this movie, brilliantly written by Fawcett and Karen Walton, shines brightest in the relationship between the sisters.  While the tone in the first act is perfect, the movie becomes a one-note song and drags a bit in the middle when it becomes obvious that older sis is becoming a hairy beast, and lil' sis is going to try to stop it.  However, the film redeems itself with a powerful ending as it focuses again mostly on the bonds of sisterhood, and less on the bloody scares of lycanthropy.

3 1/2 stars

Inland Empire 2006 - David Lynch

For diehard fans only, Inland Empire is Lynch's most inaccessible and unabashedly surreal movie since Eraserhead.  The story of an actress, Laura Dern, who gets a part on a new movie, whose story may be cursed, who then gets involved with her leading man and then literally falls into her role - blurring the lines of reality, dream, cinema, consciousness, and a room with rabbit-headed people speaking in non-sequitors, Inland Empire is simultaneously frustrating, tedious, brain-fatiguing, thought-provoking and amazing.  Oh yeah, and there's another whole plot-line involving eastern-European prostitutes.  And a crying woman who watches the whole movie with you, on tv.  Or is it radio?

Trying to decipher the riddle of this movie is pointless - it speaks directly to your subconscious.  Let the images and concepts bathe you and take you.  No one does dream-logic like Lynch, and this is his most intricate and rudderless journey yet.  But there are moments of pure Jungian cinema that no one but Lynch can pull off.

3 stars

For an inside look at Lynch's ground-breaking filmmaking techniques for Inland Empire (shot on DV video over the course of a couple of years, with no finished script - which explains a lot) be sure to check out the documentaries, Lynch and Lynch 2.  Again, these are for true Lynch fans only - those who would enjoy a verite look into the mind and working habits of this true auteur.

Antichrist 2009 - Lars von Trier

The most controversial movie of last year, Antichrist is a love letter to depression and madness.  When it premiered at Cannes, it received a large share of jeers and hisses, along with a special anti-award as "the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world".  Seeing the movie already knowing all the hype and fuss actually sets it up much better - I was able to go in, already aware of the "shocking bits" and focus more on the amazing tone and courageous performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

If nothing else, von Trier showcases amazing cinematic chops and scenes of pure brilliance and horror that stick with you long after the more talked about provocative self-mutilating shocks.  Of note are the tour-de-force black and white prologue; the dream scenes of her walking through the woods, her body magically illuminated as she moves in super slo-motion; the shots of bodies and hands rising through the earth; and especially the self-disemboweling fox who mystifyingly utters the words, "Chaos reigns".

Indeed it does.

3 1/2 stars

Deep Red 1975 - Dario Argento

Argento's finest movie not called Suspiria, Deep Red is an almost-masterpiece filled with wondeful giallo shocks.  Argento, like Lynch and von Trier, excels mostly in producing singular moments, memorable scenes of extraordinary beauty and horror.  If you pay too much attention to the actual plot, glaring cracks appear, so instead focus on those moments: the opening murder scene where shattered glass inevitably takes on a major role; the amazing art direction of the Hopper-Nighthawks inspired night club; and the crazy scene of the self-propelled cackling toy.  Argento's masterfully suspenseful setups are as critical as his lovingly gore-filled murderous climaxes.

4 stars

Funny Games 1997 - Michael Haneke.

I loathed this movie.  Really.  I can't remember a movie I hated more.  Haneke has created an anti-movie wrapped up as a home-invasion thriller that is a big F.U. to his audience.  He essentially mocks his audience the whole way through - breaking down the 4th wall - goading them to examine why they are watching such perverse violence.  Well you know what, I didn't make this meaningless violent dreck - you did.  I hated everyone in the movie - the stupid family who deserved to die for their lack of survivor instincts (I mean please... PICK UP A FRIGGIN WEAPON ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!??!), the smug, cheeky lunatics whose faces I wanted to smash in, and even the dog who barks incessantly.  Oh, isn't it clever when Haneke lets his sadistic killer pick up the remote and rewind the movie to change the outcome - yeah, watch this buddy as I fast forward through your movie so I can see if there is any point to this Brechtian meta masturbation.  This is the only movie I can recall flipping the bird to as it painfully got to it's final shot. Let me outta here.

Haneke, please leave the big ideas to filmmakers who can handle it. If you want to watch a movie that deals with themes of violence in society and the media, do yourself a favor and watch something of value like A Clockwork Orange or Taxi Driver.
1 star (only because of the first act suspenseful buildup of the cheeky, ever-polite intruders)

Godzilla: Final Wars 2004 - (does it really matter?)

Step 1 - Connect PS3 player to Plasma screen
Step 2 - download Netflix Watch Instantly App to PS3
Step 3 - stream movies from your Netflix queue through the PS3 to your big-ass screen
Step 4 - pick out the loudest, biggest, Godzilla-est movie ever
Step 5 - tell your two kids they're gonna see something really cool
Step 6 - non-stop giant monster-on-monster action
Step 7 - happy kids
Step 8 - happy dad
Step 9 - do it again (what Godzilla movie are we watching next, Dad?)

3 stars


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