Los Muertos (2004)

A strange, strange and hypnotically beautiful film, which isn't, as it usually is, euphemistic description of a poorly shot, slow-moving "art film". Los Muertos is the real deal, and its deft balance of startlingly beautiful natural imagery and creeping menace is masterful. Yes, it is slow moving, but that's the whole point - it's not your movie, after all. It seems as if the director is calling out all the viewers who want to be cultured and sophisticated, but secretly wish they were watching Norbit; which isn't to say that Los Muertos is a pretentious, alienating art film - it is anything but, and at its core, it touches the most base and primal emotions and actions of man. This is what Into the Wild should have been, if Sean Penn had any balls. If this all seems rather cryptic, that's because it's supposed to be - in the way of plot, Los Muertos has Vargas, recently released from a lengthy prison term for a vague, foggy memory of a brutal crime - hinted at in the prodigious, searingly beautiful, and terrifying opening sequence, which, thinking back now, is the film in a microcosm - and on a mission to reconnect with his daughter. And that's it. No twists, no explosions, no car chases, just a lazy trip up the winding river, and a few seemingly meaningless encounters with various people. If this sounds boring, skip it - you don't deserve it anyway. But if you can get beneath the surface (which is quite stunning), then you'll find a whole nest of subtlety teeming therein. Remember the opening scene in Blue Velvet? Well, this movie is the realization of that - everything calm and perfect on the surface, but a dark, unmentionable horror lurks just below; a rot, a decay; not a decay of anything corporeal, but of that most intangible of intangibles, the soul. And that, precisely, is what makes Los Muertos so haunting, so ambiguous, so menacing, so essential - it is a film that dares the viewer to declare that they are bored and to move on, leaving some scrap to be picked up in media res by a curious soul who will have their view slightly skewed throughout the journey of a life. One of the more terrifying - or gorgeous (I'm still not sure, and I'm not sure if there is an "answer") - and ambiguous endings in film I can remember. Stick around for the credits - that music is da bomb, and only serves to ratchet up the tension. This film is the closest adaptation to Conrad's Heart of Darkness that I can think of, and there is no indication that the former is based on, or influenced by, the latter. There are some familiar tropes in this one - the fallen angel, forgiveness, the need for redemption, and man's inborn desire to dominate, possess - none spelled out explicitly, but all certainly there. I could be reading this one completely wrong (which is highly likely, given the openness to interpretation that the director has built into the film), but I felt afraid. Pretty impressive, and the work of someone who I would consider a major new voice in Argentinian/world cinema.

ps: vegans, animal lovers, and anyone else with a similar character flaw take heed - there is an extremely graphic (i.e. real) goat butchering that may upset more delicate sensibilities.
pps: f paragraphs


World for Ransom - Don't pay

I’ve had a good run… the last dozen or so movies I’ve watched have held some real gems. Tonight, that ended. Robert Aldrich directed one of my favourite Film Noirs – actually favourite films for that matter – Kiss Me Deadly in 1955. KMD has everything – thrills, chills, tough guy humour and a truly apocalyptic ending. Aldrich pulled out all the stops on this one and it remains one of the most vibrant, exciting and claustrophobic thrillers to ever come out of Hollywood.

The year before, he produced and (although uncredited) directed another noir starring Dan Duryea called World For Ransom. I’d heard and read about it but it’s tough to find.

Don’t bother. It is an atrocious Monogram quickie, reportedly made on a budget of $90K and you’ll wonder what they spent the extra 80G’s on. Part crime drama, part detective noir and all shite. Dangerous Dan is fine as always and there are a couple of decent turns by the likes of Nigel Bruce (Dr Watson to Rathbone’s Holmes) and Key Luke (Number One Son in the Oland Charlie Chan series). Everything else about World for Ransom blows.

I guess the lesson learned here is that not all films done by normally solid directors work. Some suck… like say, World for Ransom. The only interesting thing I could find about the film is that Aldrich didn’t have his name removed from the director’s credit because the movie is a complete hunk of trash, but rather because he wanted Duyrea’s love interest to dust him off in the end because she was a dyke and hated men. The studio said no and the only thing worth watching this movie for ended up on the cutting room floor.


Hey Ralphie-Boy!

I don’t know what it is about some movies from the 1970’s that I like so much but I’ve found another great one. The plot behind The Late Show is simple enough - A private detective (Art Carney) is hired by a woman (Lily Tomlin) to find her cat, and stumbles onto several murders. The film, directed by Robert Benton and produced by Robert Altman, works as a late entry noir, a dark comedy, and a gentle human drama. Carney, Tomlin and the rest of the cast are terrific and the dialogue is as good as it gets. Our only copy currently sits in the FBE, but I’ve ordered one with the FBW too.

While on the topic of ‘70s films you might not have seen, here are a few great ones;

Charley Varrick - Walter Matthau's laconic, resourceful bank robber in an outstanding one-man-alone-against-the-mob thriller from director Don Siegel. If you like this one check out Matthau’s The Laughing Policeman and The Taking of Pelham One, Two Three.

The Seven Ups – One of the great car chases in history and a terrific cop procedural starring Roy Scheider and Tony Lo Bianco.

Serpico - Directed by Sidney Lumet and featuring Al Pacino in another brilliant ‘70s role, Serpico is about police corruption and remains as valid today as it was 30 years ago.

Cockfighter - Director Monte Hellman and actor Warren Oates who delivers one of his best performances in a film partially written by Charles Willeford and based on his book.

You could do worse than any of these.



It's gonna be a long summer - a look at some 2008 summer blockbusters thus far

I don’t need to go on about the state of mainstream film today, I think everyone gets it. The industry is a cash cow, pumping out sequel after sequel, adaptation after adaptation. 2006 saw the highest number of films based on continuing moneymaking franchises ever and every year since things have been on about par with that. It has gotten to a point where even if the first film is a failure, as long as it made cash that’s reason enough to make two more of them (like tomb raider, Blood Rayne, Fantastic Four, arguably the Blade trilogy though that second flick was freaking awesome). Since public interest wanes when more films go on in a series because they become less entertaining (think Spiderman 3, Batman & Robin eww) a new trend in Hollywood has emerged where film studios make sequels (or prequels) based on old popular properties. These trends in themselves are distressing; are we getting to a point as a society and more so, as a species where we are running low on ideas? Or are we more than ever just trying to make the quickest buck possible? But that’s fodder for another post. Anyways…

The 2008 summer blockbuster season was officially kicked off pretty well with Iron Man. It’s another comic book adaptation but it’s my favourite kind: the origin story. Origin stories are usually the first in a series of comic book films though that’s not always the case i.e. Batman Begins.

Iron Man isn’t anything new or groundbreaking, in fact it’s a pretty basic first of a series comic book movie. What’s different here is that the titular hero is so much fun to watch that it overshadows all the other action or non-action around him. Robert Downey Jr. carries the film completely by his wittiness and his charm. The film plays just like the first Spiderman, but take out the geekiness and weakness of Toby Maguire and substitute that with the charisma and sex appeal of Robert Downey. This is the same Downey we’ve seen in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Zodiac but as a superhero, it’s a bloody brilliant casting call. Besides him, yeah there are explosions and some baddies but it’s still an origin story so a lot of time is spent on becoming Iron Man rather than just being Iron Man but I dig that.

Then the behemoth arrived last week to theatres, the crown jewel of this years summer blockbusters. A new Indiana Jones flick! Hey, it’s only been 19 years why not dust off the old fedora and pump out another Indy adventure. Not like they could have waited another year and called it an anniversary go for the fans. No it’s just the natural and proper time to bring the old hero out of retirement.

I wasn’t expecting much of a new Indiana Jones film. I thought that as long as Harrison Ford was there then it would genuinely work. No matter what the subject matter I could watch one of my favourite heroes that i watched to no end of as a kid and just dull everything else around him out. Then the lights dimmed and the opening frames rolled and I was greeted by a CGI groundhog. Now I remember reading how Spielberg said this wasn’t a cash-in film. They made it because they always wanted to do it, and always planned on another adventure and they would do their best to not use CGI and have stuntmen and shoot this baby just like the old ones. So, something cold happened in my stomach when the first thing I see is a CGI groundhog, I mean maybe they couldn’t find a real groundhog to poke it’s head out of a hole and look around on such a tight budget. Yeah, that’s probably it. So the film went on and here it comes our first lead up shot of Indiana and the camera is panning up to his face and now we see… an old Indy. Hmm, don’t know what I was expecting. So there’s Indy and some stuff is going on and it’s feeling… cold and off for some reason. And they have references to the old films and he’s teaching at the same school and they mention Brody and his father and yeah. Something just isn’t clicking. Nothing clicked even after the credits rolled. I watched an Indiana Jones film and felt not the least bit excited, not the least amount of tension, not the least bit entertained. It felt like two things to me. It felt like visiting some old friends you haven’t seen in awhile and you’re excited because of how fun they were and your history together but when you do see them they’ve changed. They’re older and less witty, and make you feel like an idiot. It also felt like one of the Star Wars prequels. Completely devoid of any magic of the originals and there’s a lot of colours and wow does this ever feel complicated and silly for Star Wars.

So for me it became apparent that George Lucas will continue to ruin my childhood by banking on my love for his old properties. He knows I’ll be there opening night 15 dollars in hand regardless of substance. Hell, that’s capitalism baby. Where’s the 2nd Willow? I’ll be lining up for that no problem.

The rest of the blockbuster season is coming up and nothing has got my blood pumping more than the one film that is already on my short list for best film of 2008 The Dark Knight. This Batman sequel based on director Christopher Nolan’s dark and fantastic Batman Begins is guaranteed not to stink. In an age where trailers tell us everything you already know that this one is gonna take the cake. Alright nerf herders Dropkick is outtie 5000


Road to Awe - The Fountain as a matchmaker

Enjoying my Thursday evening listening to Clint Mansells film score for The Fountain. It's funny how the score evokes many of the same emotions felt every time i watch the film.

I've seen The Fountain roughly about 5 times now. Twice in theaters and 3 times in the comfort of my own home. Last time i watched it was this past Valentines day for a little film fest i set up with films all very mushy and love oriented. Only, it blew away all other films i watched that day. Eat your heart out John Cusack.

There's 3 kinds of people who dislike this film, these people unfortunately also make up most of the people who have seen the film. There are those who've seen it and hate it because it makes completely no sense to them and trying in any way to understand it is out of the question. Others find the film to be one big arty pretentious metaphor that is way too obvious to be taken seriously. And lastly the worse of the bunch are those who claim there's an obvious message that makes the film itself completely too "obvious" yet they can't for the life of them explain what that message is.

The rest of those who have seen the film are like me. They are completely in love with every frame of it. It's overflowing with life, emotion, and meaning. I have yet to meet someone who has said The Fountain was "just Ok". It strikes a chord with some but far from all. For those it does resonate with i can't help but feel somewhat of a connection with these people, i know how weird that sounds. but it's true, the first question i have on a date is "how do you feel about The Fountain?" and if they say something along the lines of "ah, it's alright. Blood Diamond was much better." or "It's way too pretentious. It cons people into thinking they're watching something artful or with meaning, but all it evokes in me is a sense that the film thinks i'm stupid." yeah, goodbye dolly.

It is very much one of the best films of the past decade and for me it's one of the best films i've ever seen. It's a film that sums up many things i love about cinema.

All that can really be said about it is that it's an epic love story that transcends time, reality, and space. The focus of which is mans inability to conquer death and being able to accept not just death, but the thought of death. The idea of it, what it actually means.

Shit if this one isn't a beauty. A permanent resident of the recommended and staff picks wall. I could go on. and i probably will. but i have a headache so there, maybe i'll do another post about the specifics. About the shots, the effects, the casting and all other things that i feel culminated to make a masterpiece. but for now, for today i'm hitting the showers.


Crunchy Snog?

Overheard on this fine evening within the classy confines of the Film Buff East:
"If you don't buy me an ice cream, I'm not gonna let you sleep with me tonight."
No joke. East end don't play.