What to Watch in October

October appears to be the month of Hollywood uninspired remakes and throwbacks. Why is it so acceptable in the megabucks film industry to be unoriginal? Anyway, this installment of my “What to Watch” series shows you just how few amazing films are pumping out of the studios these days. Strikethroughs are strongly discouraged viewing.

October 7, 2011

Dirty Girl by Abe Sylvia. An interesting cast rounds out this indie-feeling teen road movie/comedy which was helmed by a former-Cats-dancer-turned-UCLA Film School Grad. I say give it a chance. With tinges of Raising Arizona and Easy A it appears to have a nice balance of comedy and drama.

The Ides of March by George Clooney. Political intrigue Clooney style looks to be light on the politics and heavy on the intrigue. Clooney’s smart-man genre has both stood out and fallen through the cracks in the past, but I’m looking forward to this one. The addition of the of-late, ever-present Ryan Gosling certainly can’t hurt either.

Real Steel by Shawn Levy. So the brilliant movie concept here was to make a film based on that game with the boxing robots 10-year old’s used to play in the 80s? Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Something or Other. What actually bothers me more though is that I’m fairly certain this idea has already been put to celluloid by Spielberg, Scott and/or Cameron at some point in the past 30 years. And while Michael Bay is my favorite summer movie director of the lot, I’m pretty sure any Transformers flick will overshadow this thing to a middle schooler.

Texas Killing Fields by Ami Canaan Mann. Is it wrong to wish you were related to a famous filmmaker? That seems to give a number of young filmmakers in recent years the power to write and direct and actually find backing for their projects. Oddly enough though their projects are many times not nearly as great as someone unrelated to a hit director. So this run-of-the-mill crime drama doesn’t really stand out, but the trailer is relatively taut and looks like it will fit right in between two more movies on Cinemax on a Friday night.

Toast by S. J. Clarkson. Standard British coming-of-age drama with Helena Bonham Carter and Freddie Highmore. Nothing to get to excited about, but it’s bound to be endearing.

The Way by Emilio Estevez. Ok, so we’re back to classic Hollywood nepotism in our October lineup. This time in a film starring Martin Sheen and directed by none other than Emilio Estevez! Interestingly though, even for a real life father and son to play off each other in the film, their acting almost comes across a little subpar. Check out the trailer, it almost feels like their conversation is scripted, when even if it was, you’d think they’d play off each other a little better. Anyway, it’s a cute, typical looking journey film, but nothing career defining.

October 14, 2011

The Big Year by David Frankel. Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson as comedic trio in a film about competitive bird watching? Yeah… I’m not really feeling it either. Sounds like a fun rental though!

Footloose by Craig Brewer. It pains me greatly to say that the stellar Brewer, coming off creating some of the best neo-exploitation films of the past ten years, would stoop to the level of a remake – already. In the realm of cult classic dance movies of the 80s, you’d not expect to see Footloose cropping up ahead of that other one… but, alas, here it comes. So kick off your Sunday shoes and get comfy.

The Skin I Live In by Pedro Almodóvar. There’s no way I would miss any new film by this Spanish auteur, but this one just looks gloriously dark, creepy and quite apropos for October. Antonio Banderas, working with Almodóvar for the first time since their last disturbing work together (the 1990 NC-17er Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), plays a sociopath/plastic surgeon who experiments on women he holds captive in his mansion. And, if you like this film, definitely check out the amazing short by filmmaker Sébastien Rossignol, Le Miroir.

The Thing by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Watch the red band trailer here. Ok, I admit, I’m kind of a 70s and 80s trashy film nerd, so yeah I love John Carpenter’s The Thing, and while it disheartens me to see that it’s being remade (like everything else lately), I’m a little excited underneath it all to see it in maybe a slicker, gorier version than before. I’ll have to go a little hypocrite here, and say I appreciate the facelift on this schlocky horror gem.

October 21, 2011

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey by Constance Marks. I really dig personal journey and inspiration documentaries like this, so I may be a little biased here, but I would recommend giving this film a shot.

Father of Invention by Trent Cooper. 2010 holdover and weak comedy about a Kevin Spacey character who is released form white collar prison life and has to shack up with his daughter and work at a Hollywood-type Walmart. Pass.

Margin Call by J. C. Chandor. High drama in the banking and investment world seems to be a theme of a lot of films lately (no surprise), this one is run of the mill and sports a 50/50 cast. This seems a genre better suited to the likes of Oliver Stone and/or David Mamet.

Martha Marcy May Marlene by Sean Durkin. There’s a new Olsen girl in town! Her name’s Elizabeth. From the looks of it, she’s not interested in following in the footsteps of her sisters oeuvre, and instead has debuted her acting career in this indie Sundance word-of-mouther about the titular, multi-personaed girl who is part of a religious cult. See? Now here’s that originality I’ve been looking for!

Paranormal Activity 3 by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. The first was relatively captivating, but two sequels since then? Paranormal stuff is better viewed on basic cable when it comes on without knowing after an Anthony Bourdain marathon.

Revenge of the Electric Car by Chris Paine. I can only hope this film makes some waves.

The Three Musketeers by Paul W.S. Anderson. Another unnecessary remake of a perfectly suitable classic. The story is one of those that really looks better in classic film form anyway, so upgrading this one seems a little gratuitous. On the other hand, Paul W.S. Anderson has been known to do some pretty decent action flicks, and the obvious addition of Milla Jovovich is more than welcomed.

October 28, 2011

Anonymous by Roland Emmerich. Summer movie maven Emmerich slows it down for the Fall and tries out Shakespeare instead of catastrophe. Same premise, of course: he wants to turn The Bard on its head (sort of like humanity). Yes, this film is of the position that Shakespeare did not actually write his world-renown plays, and that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford did. Pleasantly surprised; this appears to be a step up for Emmerich. Rhys Ifans’ and David Thewlis are always great, too.

In Time by Andrew Niccol. No stranger to this sub-genre, director Niccol creates a future where humans are genetically engineered and designed to die at the ripe old age of 25. In the cliched future-film/suspense genre there’s always one individual who breaks away from the mold and goes on the run, chased by whatever futuristic armed and uniformed drones the screenwriter has come up with – and, while this film doesn’t really look any different (despite the unique life-span concept), it does have the gorgeous Olivia Wilde playing a (…wait for it) mom. Commence dirty acronyms… now.

Johnny English Reborn by Oliver Parker. The inimitable Roman Atkinson dusts off the 007-parody character Johnny English and gives it another try after almost a decade.

Like Crazy by Drake Doremus. Director Doremus is a Sundance veteran now, but as I’ve said many times on this blog, don’t see a movie just because it played Sundance. Do, however, see Like Crazy because it’s heartfelt, realistic, humorous and painful all in one – and for me – it’s hits home all too much (but that’s for another blog, another day). This is solid work and great indication of what’s to come from this fledgling filmmaker.

The Rum Diary by Bruce Robinson. Okay, well you’ve got three things to consider here: 1.) Hunter S. Thompson; 2.) Bruce Robinson; 3.) Johnny Depp. Add them all together and you’ve got a winning combination in my mind, however I haven’t seen the film yet, but if Robinson’s cult classics How to Get Ahead in Advertising and Withnail & I are any indication, this film will be witty, effervescent, and full of colorful characters.

Sleeping Beauty by Julia Leigh. In a film “presented by” Jane Campion you can expect the material to be pretty raw and jolting, but Leigh’s film has the eerie, off-kilter presence of Dogtooth and the concept and tone of Eyes Wide Shut. Not to be confused with the children’s story, this is very adult-oriented material. A young college student (Emily Browning) takes a job as a “sleeping beauty” in a venue where men pay to watch her as she sleeps.

Advertisements

Stereo MCs Video Trilogy

I love slow-motion, gritty, British slice o’ life dramas, so maybe this mini-trilogy by the UK hip-poppers Stereo MCs is a bit dull for some viewers, but it’s a really nice unison of the three individual songs off their new album with a rather tender overarching storyline. They’re like Andrea Arnold-via-Lynne Ramsay-crossed with Tricky music videos. Superb.

Part 1 – “Boy”

Part 2 – “Tales”

Part 3 – “Far Out Feeling”

All songs are from the MCs’ forthcoming album Emporer’s Nightingale. Find out more about the band and the album (plus download a new mixtape for free!) at their website.

Hunger

Hunger may have been directed by Rembrandt. At least, he had to be the cinematographer. This film is glorious to watch in all its squalor. Ninety percent of the film is set in the gleaming, industrial Irish institution that is almost comically known as Her Majesty’s Prison Maze (referred to here as just the Maze). The other ten percent of the film takes place outside the prison walls, just long enough to depict the justifiably paranoid lifestyle of one of the British guards.

The rancor that comes with watching Steve McQueen’s incredible Hunger is almost tangible in your living room. Yet everything about this film screams beautiful new-Asian cinema, such as Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry, (I’m re-appropriating the term “new-Asian cinema” for myself here, because I’d rather a film like Poetry take that credit, than the recent run of torture-horror flicks that seem to flood the Asian-via-America cinema markets). McQueen’s cinema is about experience. He wants to make you submit to his story when the lights go down. So get your color bars adjusted, fire up the Blu-ray and crank up the volume on the surround.

As McQueen himself says about the film, he wants to take you on a journey through the Maze, but bring you in two different ways. We see the guard as he begins his shift and we also see the new IRA prisoner Davey as he gets processed and immediately refuses to conform to the standards of the prison by not wearing their uniform. He is promptly delivered to his cell, naked, where he finds the walls that hold him in covered in fecal matter and his cellmate starved, unshaven and unwashed.

The incarcerated IRA here are on a no wash protest and so every so often the guards have to pull them from their cells, dragging them to a place in the prison where they can hold them down, cutting their long hair and beards with oversized pairs of shears and subsequently throw them in a bathtub, run a bar of soap over them and drag them back to their cells. Prison life gets worse as the film progresses and another scene depicts riot police called in to basically beat, and at turns violently and degradingly search the prisoners.

After a brutal and somehow expected killing of the British prison guard whom we are initially introduced to, comes the best scene in the film: a nearly twenty-minute, unedited, static two-shot where a priest attempts to convince the prisoner Bobby Sands not to start the hunger strike he’s planned out in his head. As opposed to other IRA-prisoner-led hunger strikes, Sands has the fortitude to envision this one happening on a more cataclysmic scale, basically tiering the order of the men who strike, so the strike can never really cease. The purpose of his tiered approach is to create more opportunity for serious casualty if the the Queen doesn’t respond, whereas in previous hunger strikes, all the men just stop eating at the same time in a more clumsy act of rebellion.

It’s a hugely integral scene to the film and a hugely integral moment in Sands’ life. His conversation with the priest is at turns witty and devastating as it soon becomes clear that his martyrdom is inevitable. Aside from the clear aesthetic reasons for shooting the scene this way – there’s no chance for the viewer to escape the inevitability of his fate as Bobby virtually confesses his premeditated suicide to a priest – it’s the filmmaker’s tool for catching you up from the entire first third of the film which had little to no dialogue. It’s now also been touted as the longest shot in a film.*

From this point on, we are forced to watch as Bobby destroys his body from the inside out. While the first third of the film is rooted in a sense of gritty, British cinema realism, the middle is a segue with priest and confessor that stands out as a slice of American independent cinema from the 70s, and the final stretch of Hunger is almost Bergman-esque avant-garde.

There’s an amazing sequence where Sands, virtually immobile, bed-ridden, malnourished and delusional, follows a crack in the ceiling above him all the way down to the wall, where the crack ends and the POV framing reveals himself as a young ghost, standing there, staring back at him. The film goes out on a relatively high note even though while he disintegrates in real life, we watch him as a lean, young man, racing through the woods near a river (which we’re familiar with from a story he tells the priest). Abruptly, he stops dead in his tracks. The foliage around him is a deep emerald green and the water of the river flows alongside. He looks over his shoulder behind him.

It’s really the perfect ending to his life.

Bobby Sands was not the only prisoner to die during this hunger strike. Nine other men did as well, ultimately prompting British government to yield to the IRA’s demands. During the strike Sands was also elected to British Parliament representing two counties in Ireland.

Editorial Note: As I was scouring the ‘net for some good stills from the film, I came across a Guardian article from November 2008 where – what did I find but this pictorial comparison of McQueen’s film to a Rembrandt painting! I find this extremely interesting, in that, when I began writing this and that first sentence came out where I compared the images in Hunger to Rembrandt, I had not heard of any comparisons as such, and I thought anyone who read mine would think me merely proselytizing on the side of the critic-debate that Hunger is more concerned with style over substance. While, granted, it is very stylistic, it’s not so in a way that I believe detracts from the film. As I detailed above, I find the film to be inspired by various cinematic movements and styles and I feel like it blends them all together to create a portrait of a man that surely could not be summed up in the most straight forward of terms.

Welcome

Welcome is an amazing film. A tapestry of drama interweaving politics and emotions as if it were some one-of-a-kind, hand-blown glass vase that was so fresh it was still cooling. A brutal depiction of how immigrants in France are treated, it’s also an inspiring portrait of how strong the bonds of love can be. I wish I was hearing more about Welcome here in the States, because I think it is something that should be seen by Americans – especially when you compare our treatment of illegal immigrants to Europe’s. The irony of the title (and its awesomely integrated scene), make this beautiful film a slap in the face that will sting long after.

Set in Calais, France, a coastal town that is also notorious for it’s influx of immigrants (primarily those from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan), the film centers on a seventeen-year old Kurdish boy, Bilal, who is working his way to London to accomplish three things: send money back to his family, play football for the Manchester club and reunite with the girl he loves. Initially we meet him while he’s en route, hiding within the cargo of a tractor-trailer. He’s caught, processed, branded with a number on his hand and soon is standing in front of a judge.

Seeing as though Bilal is a minor and a refugee from a war-torn country, the judge decides not to send him back, but not to let him stay either. So, like many other refugees and illegal immigrants in Calais, he is forced to live in a Ghetto-like community, which is continually raided by law enforcement. It’s so bad, as a matter of fact, that even the individuals who come to provide food to the immigrants are under threat of arrest by the police – labeled “activists,” though all they do is hand out hot meals. Sadly, this was not fictional, for more on it check out the video I’ve embedded at the end of this article.

To make it to London, Bilal will have to sneak into the back of another tractor-trailer that is on its way there. The key to that is learning to breathe with a plastic bag over your head. Because the carbon monoxides that enter the trailer would eventually kill them, illegal immigrants traveling by this method have learned to adapt by breathing in bags (or when possible, venting the trailer somehow). Bilal, however, hyperventilates and panics with a plastic bag over his head. So he’s decided to try another way; a way that hasn’t been attempted by any other immigrants (that I could find record of). Bilal is going to swim across the English Channel.

Calais, of course, is the perfect place for this (and a big reason for some of its immigrant influx); because its beaches are so close, you can almost touch England. On a clear day you can probably even spot the Cliffs of Dover; smartly the director did not choose a clear day for his beach scenes. In order to swim the English Channel, there are a couple of things Bilal will need first: 1.) to learn how to swim, 2.) a friend (for support); and, 3.) a wetsuit (ten degrees for a ten hour swim is pretty heinous). The beauty of the story is Bilal gets everything he needs, and all because of one man. His guardian angel, you may believe.

Bilal’s narrative is only one streak of color in this beautiful work of art; then there’s his guardian angel’s streak. Simon is a swim instructor at the local pool. We meet him as he’s in the middle of a divorce and seemingly dejected with his life as it is. It becomes clear later that he is still in love with his wife, although the same does not go for her. Maybe it’s the banality of running the women’s water exercise class everyday or maybe it’s the fact that his soon-to-be ex-wife is one of the few in Calais who brings aid to the illegal immigrant communities and he wants to re-gain her love, or maybe it’s the need to vicariously re-live the dreams he once had as an Olympic swimmer, but when Bilal finds his way to the pool one day in order to start swimming lessons, Simon is almost immediately sympathetic to his cause. Its part of the beauty of the film that, true to life, there are so many reasons for why people do the things they do.

Because I care so much about this film, I’m careful here to not spoil the story any further, but I will say that the will of Bilal to make it to London is matched only by that of the will of Simon to get him there. It’s a poignant story that unfolds perfectly and needs no frills, special effects or huge stars to carry it (although Vincent Lindon is a big star in my mind after this and Mademoiselle Chambon).

According to Wikipedia, almost 1,000 people have swam the English Channel (whether successfully or not), so in terms of a unique idea – this is not – for Bilal. It’s coupled with his back story and the constantly intriguing presence of Simon in his life that this becomes such a unique, brash idea. Clearly not an impossible feat, but emotionally and physically taxing, we watch in awe as Bilal attempts and attempts again. Its inspiring for not only the viewer, but for Simon who at one point tells his wife (in a superb line of dialogue), how he reveres the young man for crossing foreign lands and his will to cross the Channel all for the love of a girl, when he himself couldn’t even cross the street for his wife.

It seems like less than political of a film as I re-read my thoughts above, but I’ll re-affirm here that it’s only due to the smart direction of the storytelling and the movie that allow it to be digested as this kind of drama, when underneath it all lies the hypocrisy and indecency of the French attitude towards immigration. It’s a powerful film and was a hugely attended one in France when it premiered in early 2009. The director actually held debate with the French Minister of Immigration on the TV program “Ce soir ou jamais.” You can find it online, but only in French. I have, however, posted below another interesting brief discussion with the director from an interview in Australia. Check it out and then see this film. You’ll not be disappointed.

44 Inch Chest

44 Inch Chest is an amazing film. It is a chamber play of Death and the Maiden proportions. Its rich, vile characters burst off the screen with great wit, depravity and comedic timing. Perfectly lit, gloriously acted and with a story that leaves you questioning your own emotions, it’s a shame this film didn’t get more attention. It’s got some nice homages to the British crime movies of recent years, even a Guy Ritchie or two, regardless it is the opposite end of the spectrum from any of them: Layer Cake; Gangster No. 1; Sexy Beast; Snatch; The Long Good Friday; I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Croupier; Mona Lisa; hell, even The Limey!

I don’t want to reveal much because I love the story so much, but it’s about a car salesman/gangster named Colin Diamond (played by Ray Winstone) whose wife tells him she’s met another man and wants to leave him after 21 years of marriage. Colin is madly in love with her and always has been, and he takes this news terribly. He calls up his mates and they kidnap her young lover from his place of work and lock him up in an armoire with them in their hideout, while Colin figures out his feelings.

So yeah, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, a touchy-feely crime drama, which for the most part takes place in both the dilapidated hideout and Colin’s deteriorating mind. Eventually he’s having waking nightmares, faced with a future minus his love and the prospect of immediate vindication via vengeance. The acerbic wit and violent egging-on comes forth from the mouths of Ian McShane, John Hurt, Stephen Dillane and Tom Wilkinson who fill out his entourage exceptionally well. John Hurt, bad dentures and all, stands out among them all as a hateful, aged man and the father of Colin.

McShane plays a dapper, chain-smoking, out-of-the-closet “puff” who seems to be the only one that can get through to Colin in his disjointed state of mind. Wilkinson plays a squishy, middle-aged gangster who still lives with his mum and doesn’t seem to really like his life all that much. Dillane rounds out the supporting cast as a hard-to-read friend of Colin, who consequently plagues his waking nightmares later. The beauty of this film is how each character plays off of the other and while they form a cohesive circle of on-screen personalities, Winstone always remains front and center as the emotional, volatile void that he is. His hair trigger reactions to things are the beauty of his acting (see Scum for the pinnacle of his work), and every time I watch him in a film, I get physically nervous.


If that’s not reason enough alone to see this movie, see it for the inspired re-telling of Samson and Delilah as seen through the eyes of Colin’s curmudgeon of a dad. A beautifully crafted, tightly edited sequence, it’s the kind of scene you’d expect to see in a Tarantino film; the kind of scene you skip ahead to and show your friends on movie night. The film’s score is perfect, a fusion of strings and electronic instruments from Angelo Badalamenti and Massive Attack, it puts a great finishing touch on the movie. The only thing I can’t figure out yet is the title. I assume it has something to say about how despite the broad shoulders and chest that Colin looms over his nemesis with, he’s not too large to be broken down himself.

An Education

An Education is a film that tries to be powerful by not overtly being powerful, and I like that about it. I do think, however, that somewhere along the line the message it’s trying to send gets lost in the naïve fun we’re allowed to have while traveling with our characters. The director Lone Scherfig feels fresh this time around, even though this is by no means her first effort. Many of her work are of the Danish variety, but her last “US” film (if you can call it that) was the drop-deadpan funny Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. An Education is not quite on those same lines, instead dealing with familial relationships in a superbly understated time warp.


Everything about the film tricks you and works around your common sensibilities. Scherfig and author-turned-screenwriter Nick Hornby work hard to make the obvious sneak up on the audience when they actual expect it to happen. Its masterful storytelling in a filmic sense when in reality Scherfig and Hornby know that their audience is intellectual more than likely. They are not going to be easily put upon; they know something is set to happen, and only will be validated in their knowing when the filmmakers’ decide it so. I love that kind of power and confidence in a filmmaker.

Dead Man’s Shoes

British independent drama is at its finest in this 2004 film from director Shane Meadows. In the perpetual drizzle of the sleepy England countryside are the less than desirable bullies, drug dealers and general scum of any city/town/neighborhood. In Dead Man’s Shoes we focus on seven guys like this who slowly meet their fates over the course of five days, when Richard (Paddy Considine), returns from a stint in the army. Richard’s brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) is a feeble-minded young man who, we come to find out, endured a shameful humiliation, being force-fed drugs, beaten and finally, essentially coerced into killing himself at a remote, abandoned, countryside castle.


Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows both wrote the dark, revenger’s tragedy of a screenplay, and as Meadows tells it, part of the inspiration behind the story was from an experience he had growing up in England and attempting to join a gang of skinheads. Well, regardless of where it spawned from, Meadows here has put together a masterful ninety minutes of gritty cinema, and a nice departure from some of the other films in his oeuvre. Considine also shares some thoughts on how the film came to fruition in the interview snippet below.