Happy Halloween!

Donnie Darko Poster

I think the original release poster above is the best, but it’s remarkable how certain films capture the imagination of artists enough to create a multitude of alternate posters which too do a great job of representing the film.  The first one below is my favorite.  And yes, I know S. Darko is a direct-to-video sequel of supposedly little value, but I like the picture.

Korean Highlights: The Housemaid

The Housemaid - still

The Housemaid (2010, Korea) is a stylistic tale of conflict between classes, between those who are in positions of power and those who are not.  Roger Ebert:

This story is told by writer-director Im Sang-soo with cool, elegant cinematography and sinuous visual movements. The dominant mood is gothic, with the persistent sadomasochistic undertones that seem inescapable in so much Korean cinema. Why is that? The situation is obviously explosive, but we have no idea what will set it off.

This film has received mixed reactions, but I found it compelling and even gripping.  It exhibits a quiet seething that hints at the forceful current running below its surface, but does not stay quiet for too long — like another film with subtle complexity, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle [prior post], The Housemaid delivers quickly enough on all the explicit action promised during the story’s development.  The last two scenes of the film seem to come out of left field, but render it an even more memorable experience than it already is.  I give a strong recommendation.

There are obvious similarities to Claude Chabrol’s terrific French film La Cérémonie, but I will save that one for a future post.  Also note that The Housemaid is a remake of a 1960 Korean film by the same title which has some high critical praise which warrants further investigation.

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Comparison Notes: La Cérémonie, Stoker, Swimming Pool

Click for Trailer

Click for Trailer

Twin Journeys of the Soul

Marisa Tomei The Wrestler movie image

Marisa Tomei

OCCASIONALLY I PAIR movies in my mind. L.A. Stories are a definitive example — though suddenly I’m thinking Grand Canyon could make it a trifecta.  Another two movies released almost exactly a year apart are bound forever in my imagination.  They are both deeply personal, heart-wrenching voyages by tortured souls — and two of the most powerful films to come out in recent years.  And in each case, surprise surprise — they received (mostly) the recognition they deserved.

The first was Mickey Rourke’s triumphant comeback The Wrestler (2008), a sort of latter-day antithesis to Rocky.  Thinking about it now, it strikes a note or two of the Scorcese classic Raging Bull — except Rourke’s character in The Wrestler is much more sympathetic than De Niro’s — you root for him to succeed and find love and happiness, whereas you feel Jake LaMotta pretty much gets what he deserves.

Roger Ebert’s 4-star review is excellent; two snippets:

Mickey Rourke plays the battered, broke, lonely hero, Randy (“The Ram”) Robinson.  This is the performance of his lifetime, will win him a nomination, may win him the Oscar.  Like many great performances, it has an element of truth….  This is Rourke doing astonishing physical acting.

I cared as deeply about Randy the Ram as any movie character I’ve seen this year.  I cared about Mickey Rourke, too.  The way this role and this film unfold, that almost amounts to the same thing.  Rourke may not win the Oscar for best actor.  But it would make me feel good to see him up there.  It really would.

I couldn’t agree more.  Tragically, the Academy once again robbed their treasured statuette from the movie and performances that most deserved it. The exceptionally lame Slumdog Millionaire won the top prize that year; The Wrestler, an infinitely better movie, wasn’t even nominated.  Sean Penn won the acting prize that year for Milk, which I don’t have as big a problem with, though, again, The Wrestler was the better movie.  Luckily and as consolation, The Wrestler remains available for us to embrace.  Such a great film.

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Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal

The following December arrived another in a long string of successes for Jeff Bridges, one of my favorite actors: Crazy Heart.  I was a little reluctant to watch this movie, and ended up enjoying it much more than I expected — this is a warm and delightful film, but like The Wrestler, deals with an aging man exorcising his demons along a tortuous path.

About a fading country music star, both Crazy Heart’s story and its music resonated with me.  Songs were performed à la Walk The Line by Bridges and supporting cast.  Roger Ebert, again with his highest rating:

One of the ways the movie might have gone wrong is if the singing and the songs hadn’t sounded right. They do. Bridges has an easy, sandpapery voice that sounds as if it’s been through some good songs and good whiskey, and the film’s original songs are by T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton (who died of cancer in May at Burnett’s home). Bridges conveys the difficult feelings of a singer keeping his dogged pride while performing in a bowling alley.

I do not agree with a number of detractors who claim that the story is not particularly original.  I think it is, but either way, it’s the way the story is told, which is masterfully.  Like The Wrestler, I highly recommend the charming, soulful, and lovely Crazy Heart.

POST UPDATED: See comment below.

Film Brief: Gravity (3D)


GRAVITY IS FULL of beautiful visuals that convey — about as well as a movie can — the feeling of floating in orbit.  The story is nothing groundbreaking — a basic story of survival akin to one set on a deserted island or deep in the jungle.  But the space setting is unique, and Gravity‘s technical prowess is in full bloom — in filmmaking terms, that is — it’s masterfully shot.  I’m certain there are a couple stretches as far as the scientific and engineering aspects of space travel are concerned, but it’s of no consequence to the quality or believability of the film.  This is not meant to be the ultra-realisitic portrayal of events that was Apollo 13.

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock give dedicated and engaging performances, and carry the action well.  This movie is quickly paced and entertaining from start to finish; make sure if possible to see in the theaters in 3D — this one is undoubtably better that way.  Gravity did not disappoint my expectations, so I can forgive a plot with no big surprises.  8/10

Cinematic Greats: Good Will Hunting


WHEN MATT DAMON and Ben Affleck burst onto the scene with Good Will Hunting at the end of 1997, I scoffed at the film, dismissing it’s clichéd story of a genius who chooses to work at MIT not as a doctoral student or professor, but as a janitor.  About 10 years went by, and I began to see snippets of it on TV, and my interest was piqued.  Being a big fan of Minnie Driver helped. Eventually I saw the film all the way through, and finally recognized it for the triumph that it is.

Janet Maslin wrote, and I concur:

Mr. Van Sant demonstrates how entertainingly a real pro can direct a strong if not especially groundbreaking story. The script’s bare bones are familiar, yet the film also has fine acting, steady momentum, a sharp eye and a very warm heart.

Good Will Hunting is a bright, spirited picture, and so fundamentally linked to the human experience that I consider it not only a great film but an instant classic and essential viewing.  If you’ve not seen it, do so.