Get the F– Out!

Get Out is thoroughly entertaining and just plain good — a nice surprise.  I think it likely to hold up in the Top 10, even with the assumption that this year will fare much better than last.  Is it on the level of another ‘get out’ story, Ex Machina from a couple years ago?  Not quite.  But it’s a fun, frightening feature for folks (quintuple-‘F’!!).

Now compare to that last effort by M. Night Shyamalan.  No comparison, and M. Night’s been doing this for decades.  It makes it all the more remarkable what Jordan Peele (yes, of Key & Peele) has accomplished.  Let’s see, he wrote and starred in Keanu.  The cat movie.  Well-regarded, but a silly cat movie.  Very next movie, Get Out.  Whoa, what a turn.  Much respect.  Quite the way to break out of slapstick.

There are a few silly moments in Get Out, which serve nicely as comic relief.  You might call them ‘audience pleasers.’  They weren’t bad at all, but hardly integrated into the larger story as deftly as the Coens or Vince Gilligan would pull off.  So a little incongruity there.  But no matter: I urge you to Get Out and see this movie.  8/10

Comparison Notes (all highly recommended): Being John Malkovich, Invasion films, Sound of My Voice, Martha Marcy May Marlene

A Primer on Mamet: Edmond

Edmond - poster large

David Mamet is a behind-the-lens creative force I’ve wanted to talk about for a while.  Certain filmmakers are readily identifiable by their work — you know a Woody Allen film as soon as it pops on the screen; the same could be said about Wes Anderson, or P.T. Anderson (excepting Inherent Vice), or Stanley Kubrick, or David Mamet.  The difference is that a “Mamet movie” is defined by its screenplay.  All Mamet movies were written by him; he directed about half of them.

The most famous Mamet movie is Glengarry Glen Ross [prior post], which because of its dynamite veteran ensemble established itself within the canon of film.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll remember a certain way the dialogue is presented, Glengarry Glen Ross Poster horizoften in logical, forceful statements by characters who are on the brink.  You could describe it as “play-like” — a term normally used to express a detrimental aspect of a movie — but not with Mamet.  Partially because Mamet movies aren’t strictly play-like, and partially because even to the extent they are, they just work.

The play-like nature of Mamet movies comes as no accident.  Nine years before Glengarry Glen Ross was a movie, it was a play.  Point being, the play’s not the thing that will bring down a Mamet movie.

Which brings me to Edmond (2005), a much lesser-known Mamet movie, but one better than Glengarry Glen Ross.  Edmond stars one of Mamet’s most apt stars, William H. Macy.  The movie received a lot of negative reviews, which you know from my last post means not a whit to me.  Stephen Holden of the Times (SPOILER ALERT alert on the link; Holden gives away too much]:

The play, with its incendiary language and its merciless portrait of a 47-year-old nebbish who embraces his own worst nightmares of racial and sexual subjugation, is really a surreal spiritual fable that riffs on a notion voiced by Edmond that every fear hides a wish. Mr. Mamet shows no interest in offering a tidy psychological explanation for Edmond’s behavior. Hurled at you like a knife, the movie is as reasonable as a panic attack.

Holden ends his review with one of the best recommendations you can give a film:

You may love “Edmond” or hate it, but you will never forget it.

Edmond - text blockFull disclosure: I missed the first 20 minutes or so of Edmond.  But what I saw I loved — a thrilling personal journey through a gritty urban landscape.  Highly recommended, and a good test to see if you like the Mamet style.

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A couple more notes on David Mamet.   He wrote The Verdict (1982, Paul Newman) and The Untouchables (1987, Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro).  I mention it because these films are at least as well known as Glengarry Glen Ross, but they should not at all be thought of as Mamet movies.  Their style is completely different; even the dialogue is unrecognizable as Mamet.  This is likely due in large part to the fact that Mamet based these screenplays on prior material.

At some point I’ll highlight other Mamet favorites of mine — quintessentially Mamet movies as Oleanna, The Spanish Prisoner, and House of Games.  But before I get to those, expect a post on the Mamet movie that isn’t.

Gone Girl, Gone for Good

Gone Girl - poster

For a while I was thinking Gone Girl was like Presumed Innocent turned 360°.  By the end I was thinking The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Desperate HousewivesBasic Instinct, The Last SeductionSleeping with the Enemy and last year’s Side Effects and Prisoners (all recommended) could be mixed in too.  But really, Gone Girl is its own movie, a personal thriller with just enough believable twists to make the whole thing click.

There are a couple moments when the Theory of the Rope is overstretched; as an example that won’t give anything away: very early in the movie, the father of the central character Nick Dunne shows up at the same police station where Nick is being questioned regarding his wife’s disappearance.  His father, at the exact once-in-a-lifetime moment that Nick’s wife disappears, himself goes wandering from the old folk’s home where he lives.  There is no precursor for this occurrence, and neither do we ever see Nick’s father again.  I wasn’t believing it at all, and there was no need for it in the first place.  It served as an unnecessary distraction.  So why put this little tidbit in?  Exactly my point.Gone Girl - text block

There are one or two other moments of incredulity that detract from an otherwise strong film.  And gentle but overloud music in the beginning of the film made it difficult to hear what the wife was saying — another ploy meant to fill a perceived vacuum.  I only mention the misses because if they had been handled better, we would be looking at a truly great film and one of the best of the year.  Another way to put it, this is not a movie that five years from now I’ll be telling someone, “Ooooh!  Remember that Gone Girl movie!??”  No, it won’t win any awards, but it’s a good time at the movies.  8/10

Oldboy: A Postmodern Superhero

Oldboy - poster largeI NEVER SAW the original, highly regarded Korean Oldboy of 2003.  It was on my list, but I did not get around to it by the time I saw the current American release.  So my viewing was not encumbered by its predecessor, but those of most critics was.  The Tomatoemeter is currently at 43%, a score which generally would serve as an avoidance warning.  But it seems every critic entering

The Original (2003)

The Original (2003)

their score is comparing the remake to the original, which I suppose is fair but completely irrelevant to the majority of moviegoers (including myself) who never saw the original.  I will not impugn this as a remake any more than I did The Last House on the Left.  I will judge it based entirely on its own merits.

Now that I have that preamble and disclaimer out of the way, I thought that Oldboy (2013) was a fantastic, fun, exciting and original tale.  It also marks in my mind more activity by the director Spike Lee, though there is nothing old style Spike Lee-ish about this production.  It is reported (see Wikipedia article) that Lee was upset with “heavy editing” of the film which chopped 36 minutes.  That may explain a sense I had of minor incongruities here and there, or of the film being a bit rushed — but maybe the edits weren’t such a bad thing: this movie moves.  Its fast pace, transitioning from one exciting and eclectic plot element to another, helps make this a highly entertaining picture.

To understand what Oldboy is about, I’ll cite Richard Brody of The New Yorker, his entire review:

Hollywood’s wildest cinematic freakout since “Shutter Island” is a remake of—and an improvement on—the Korean original, from 2003. Josh Brolin stars as a swaggering corporate buck and a hard-drinking, philandering divorcé who awakens from a one-night stand to find himself in a motel room that turns out to be a solitary-confinement cell in a private prison. There, he learns from a TV report that he has been framed for the rape and murder of his ex-wife. When he finally gets out, twenty years later, he tries to find his captors, clear his name, and get revenge, but his captors have their own plans for him. The director, Spike Lee, and the screenwriter, Mark Protosevich, have kept the story’s Grand Guignol violence but trimmed its random excrescences and focussed its themes to fit the movie, subtly but decisively, into Lee’s canon. The extreme yet horrific artifice of the setup pulls backstory to the fore and reveals, as if in a sociological X-ray, several lifetimes’ worth of privilege abused, opportunities squandered, and energy (and resources) misspent, and places blame squarely on enablers who blindly encourage destructive behavior and disablers who, with an emblematic lack of compassion, punitively compound and perpetuate the destruction. With Elizabeth Olsen, as a recovering addict now devoted to good works. (In wide release.)

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I just about loved this movie.  To me, I recognize it as a postmodern superhero story, an alternate to the boring Avengers and Supermen and walking dead vampires that are so prevalent and popular these days.  There are both deadly realistic and comic-booky elements (the fight scenes, for example), but the different styles mesh with the corresponding part of the story being depicted to create, again, a wonderfully eclectic and entertaining adventure.

Scott_Tenorman_Must_Die__Season_5__Episode_1__-_Full_Episode_Player_-_South_Park_StudiosCertainly I won’t give away the end, but let’s say that Oldboy is a twisted, wicked story of vengeance sought and served on the order of Seven or the “Scott Tenorman Must Die” episode of South Park.  I’m wavering between an 8 or 9 on this one; for now I’ll give it a high 8/10.

Oldboy_-_Movie_Trailers_-_iTunes 2

Trailer

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

Great Perfomances: The Machinist

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Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik, in his hopeful place

To understand what a great actor Christian Bale is, forget about Batman and watch American Psycho.  Then watch a comedy to reset your mood, and then go right back to the dark spaces with The Machinist (2004).  It is a great movie with an extraordinary performance by Bale.  I can’t add much to the review by Stephen Holden of The Times:

Christian Bale’s 63-pound weight loss for his role in “The Machinist” may take the cake (or is it a diet wafer?) as an example of an actor’s starving for his art. To play Trevor Reznik, the skeletal insomniac who stalks through this bleak psychological thriller, this buff star of “American Psycho” reduced himself to a walking 120-pound cadaver.

“The Machinist” may be an expertly manipulated exercise in psychological horror, but that’s all it is. Don’t look for the kind of metaphoric weight you’d find in a movie by David Lynch or David Fincher. As Trevor’s world fragments and closes in, and friends turn into enemies, the pieces of his decomposing mind slowly come together to finish the story. Not until the very last moment do they snap into a completed puzzle that’s as tight as a steel trap.

Before watching this movie, I was unaware that Bale had slimmed down to do the role, and was unsure what I was seeing — it was such an almost otherworldly, Holocaust-like look I thought it might be special effects.  Bale received no recognition from the Academy for his work in The Machinist, and that’s a shame.  This is a worthwhile and memorable film which deserves some accolades.

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Comparison Notes: Recommended: Raging Bull, Synecdoche, New York, Secret Window, Mulholland Dr., Being John Malkovich, Inland Empire, Fight Club; Not Recommended: Memento; Unknown: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Cinematic Greats: La Femme Nikita

Highly recommended, a masterpiece not only of French cinema but of all cinema.  Make sure you are watching the original 1990 version (also known as simply Nikita) directed by Luc Besson, starring Anne Parillaud, in French with English subtitles.  Do not confuse with the Bridget Fonda remake or the various TV interpretations.  Unfortunately, it is not available for rental — but try to get your hands on a copy.  La Femme Nikita is a great introduction to French film for those who are new to it.  10/10

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