20 September 2011



Looking back at the past year of movies, there have been a lot where I wouldn’t have minded at all if the film was cut short at about 60 minutes or so. Some I just wanted to end. Yes, a few kept me interested, but I think this is the first one that had me wishing for an extension; and yet, it ended where it should have, and was better for it.

I haven’t seen the Pusher trilogy, but I have seen Bronson, and that was enough to raise my interest in this Nicolas Winding Refn (such a sweet name) movie, never mind all of the praise it’s been getting, including Best Director at Cannes. I just checked and I have not in fact seen any Ryan Gosling movies, which explains why I didn’t really get all the hype on that end. His performance here hasn’t really made me a huge fan but I’d be okay with trying out some more.

So the movie is about this guy who drives cars. He’s a stunt driver, a mechanic, and a getaway driver for criminals. He does all this without saying much, and almost always remains entirely calm. A little bit of romantic involvement with Carey Mulligan brings him into a dangerous situation, and we begin to find out that his past might not be all roses, surprise surprise.

The cool thing with that bit about the past is that we’re not given any actual information about it. All we learn is that this guy is capable of some pretty intense actions (he’s also very good at staring contests and not saying anything when asked questions). We never even learn his name, he’s just the Driver. Pretty awesome. We’re also treated to a ton of breathing space between the action sequences. The contrast this brings to said scenes is just fantastic, although even without the space they’d still be shocking. All of this is done with beautiful shots and an occasional backdrop of 80s-ish nostalgic synth music (strangely not cringe-inducing in this context).

The film also features some great Ron Perlman and Bryan Cranston performances. It’s nice to see Cranston as someone other than Walter White. Perlman of course elevates everything he touches, and he does a fine job as usual. I said before that Gosling’s part wasn’t that impressive, but it’s definitely very good considering how few lines he actually has. Most of the performance is body language.

So it’s a super great movie. Go check it out.

08 September 2011

Red State


I’ve been listening to Kevin Smith’s myriad podcasts for a few months now, so I’ve been keep quite current on this movie and all of its strange distribution, but I didn’t manage to catch it during his premiere tour. So now that it’s on On-Demand I figured I’d check it out. I’ve heard lots of good things and a few not-so-good things. One thing that always comes up though is that this movie is a reinvention for Smith, a complete departure from everything he’s done before. I’ve gotten a little tired of his style so this concept is anything but a deterrent.

The film is inspired by the Westboro Baptist Church and their ridiculous, hateful antics. It’s not about them, although it does mention them, but only in comparison to the antagonists who are much much worse. The initial protagonists are the most similar to Smith’s usual characters, a bunch of horny teenage boys who just want to have some fun like normal people; the Five-Point Church has something of a vendetta against this normal fun.

I don’t think I’ll go into any more detail about the story than that. It’s a pretty good one, but it’s not really what makes the movie good; it’s mostly the performances. Red State has some very good actors, including John Goodman, that guy with the stapler from Office Space (Stephen Root), two actors who star in Breaking Bad (Matt Jones and Anna Gunn), Melissa Leo (who recently got an Oscar) and a bunch of other great people I recognized. I don’t remember seeing Michael Parks in anything before, but he probably had the most impressive scenes of anyone else in the movie. Downright scary dude.

As for Smith’s reinvention, I’d say it’s definitely true. There were very few moments past the first 15 minutes that felt like anything I’ve seen of his before, except maybe near the end where the flow of conversation broke down a little bit. I’ll put that down on editing though. The guy threw this together very rapidly, mostly while very high. That said, it’s a beautifully shot movie and I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s very serious, troubling and thrilling. Much like Dogma it might not be the best theological treatise but it’s a good horror flick with a little more applicability to our current reality than something like Paranormal Activity.

Now that I’ve finally seen this, I’m a bit more interested in Smith’s supposedly final upcoming movie Hit Somebody. I think it might be great.

06 September 2011

The Devil’s Double


So Fright Night and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark sadly turned out to be busts. I was hoping the latter’s association with the awesome Guillermo del Toro would make it something more than its other pedigrees, but apparently that wasn’t really the case. I’m not that big into horror most of the time anyway. I’ll probably check out the original Fright Night at some point though; it seems it’s pretty well liked. Anyway, with those two down the drain, my prospects for movies these last couple weeks have been slim. This one here was basically a lark. I’d heard some mildly good things but it took a friend’s uncharacteristic invitation to go see a random movie to get me to try it.

It’s about a guy who ends up being a double (against his will of course) for one of Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday, during George Bush senior’s administration. It follows that Uday is “The Devil” in this case. The film definitely drives this home. He’s a pervert in many many ways, a drunk, a cocaine addict, a murderer and a sadist, never mind being a touch insane and very narcissistic. Our hero Latif is decidedly none of these things and loathes his boss immensely, while Uday keeps saying he loves him like a brother in between bouts of violent punishment whenever Latif tries his patience. Eventually Latif gets sick enough of it all to take more definitive action.

It’s pretty obvious that both Latif and Uday are played by the same actor, but he does a fine job of portraying two different characters. There weren’t many moments when I couldn’t tell which character was which, except maybe for a couple where Latif was imitating Uday’s antics. Mostly an impressive performance overall. The rest of the cast is good too, and it all looks quite nice. The story is engaging, the stakes are high, the use of real-life war footage is good, and while I think it might have been a bit more convincing film if it had been subtitled, the dialogue was snappy.

I don’t know a whole lot about the real story, but I suspect this is mostly on-point, at least for the major events. Apparently Latif is still out and about somewhere, living a life untethered to a madman.