Posts Tagged ‘roger ebert’

Calvaire (The Ordeal): Fabrice Du Welz’s Calvaire is a very watchable backwoods thriller because of Benoît Debie’s cinematography and Manu de Meulemeester‘s set designs. Shot in the Belgian province of Lièg, the film appears so brilliantly wet, dark and dingy that you react to its inherent violence like a junkie kept away from his/her drug of choice for months. The film’s premise is rather familiar as it keeps track of lounge singer Marc Stevens following his car’s breakdown nearby a creepy village. He seeks lodging with the local caretaker – Mr Bartel (Jackie Berroyer) – and pays for it dearly. Apparently, Bartel’s a psycho who thinks the singer is the second coming of his dead wife and takes to him like no dude should to another dude. Jackie Berroyer is in fantastic form here, grimacing and scowling with peculiar intent, taking us through the contours of his delusions.

Some of the stuff in here really doesn’t work at all. Laurent Lucas‘ acting, for instance. Sheesh man, if I were attacked by hog-humping sodomites, I’d think twice about pouting my lips. The arty side of Calvaire ends up looking visibly pretentious because it isn’t backed by anything substantial; the crucifixion imagery and romanticism of tragedy stand out as the worst of the lot. Phillipe Nahon is criminally underused too. The director should have given him a solo performance at that polka song-and-dance sequence at the bar, which (by the way) is the most surreal fucking thing I have seen all year.

The Human Centipede, The First Sequence: The mixed response to director Tom Six‘s latest addition to the genre has obliterated the ‘no shit’ barometer with such velocity that Captain Obvious might come out of retirement. Poor fellow hasn’t had a gig since everybody and their brothers from different mothers loved and subsequently hated Zack Snyder’s 300. The high-brow mainstream critics sure despised the concept behind The Human Centipede, The First Sequence; they called it a derogatory excuse for film-making and an ultra-cheap substitute to Italian barf-worthy films of yore. Hell, even Roger Ebert took the time to channel Don McLean for his dear readers through one of his starry, starry night routines. Most of the underground-dwellers had a hard-on for the film and hailed it as one of the nastiest masterpieces ever. Well, minions, the barometer didn’t fuck around this time.

The malevolence in this film does have its moments. Veteran actor Dieter Laser, who plays Dr. Heiter, is creepy to the point that it distracts us from his ridiculous sunglasses. Also, his moment of euphoria upon creating this twisted Siamese Triplet is very touching; as he sinks back into the couch, the gleaming in his eyes comes across as being scarily genuine. Later on when he snarls, “feed her, feeeeeeeed her”, goosebumps cried themselves to sleep at back of my neck. Akihiro Kitamura is quite possibly on another planet as the head portion of the centipede. The director/actor brings the kitsch like a Tobe Hooper character would and hypnotizes us with his ridiculous delivery of dialogues. Maybe the subtitling was ill-conceived, but for fuck sake, it really doesn’t  get any more gloriously kitschy than this. The highlight being his confessional towards the end. “Hey girls! Hey mister! What an insane world we live in”. Oh Akihiro..you, wonderfully weird centipede, you.

Ashley Williams (Lindsay) and Ashlynn Yennie (Jenny), who play the other two victims/parts, are irritating as hell and almost give us no room for feeling sympathetic towards them. Lindsay even snatches the proverbial ‘defeat from the jaws of victory’ cricket headline and makes us violently shake our fists at the screen. The quality of gore is overshadowed by the lack of quantity. The first time the good doctor brings the scalpel to skin, I was ready to cringe like never before, but ended up feeling distraught about the execution, considering the crisp eloquence and disquieting aplomb with which he describes their impending doom. The dissection of his victims’ kneecaps in particular left a lot to be perversly desired.

The concept of stitching people ass-to-mouth and parade them around like a domesticated pet seemed grotesque to me until I heard that it was based on a joke that Tom Six once shared with his buddies about punishing child molesters. I’d much rather believe that Tom was just insane or had experienced a head trauma as child that led to him wanting carnival folk as pets.

He does make it up with a non-gimmicky ending that works itself into the film’s lack of poetic justice. Even the poorly choreographed swimming pool shoot-out blends in nicely. The high angle camera zoom-out in the last frame (I don’t know what people who study films call it) is probably the single factor that keeps The First Sequence away from the category of extremely forgettable torture porn films.


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Tyson: I’d bought this thinking it was James Toback’s documentary. It turned out to be director’s Uli Edel straight-to-video take on Mike Tyson’s life. Truth be told, it was lame. Nothing that we haven’t read about on tabloids or stared at on E! and VH1 specials. Minor props to the Paul Winfield for his portrayal of Don King. He wore his Afro like only a king could.

great-buck-howardThe Great Buck Howard: First Charlie Bartnett, now this. Great. Maybe now I’ll listen to Metallica and wallow in abject mediocrity. Now look…there’s nothing wrong with The Great Buck Howard on paper. It’s got a nifty little story somewhere in there about people finding their place in the world. Several minutes of John Malkovichthe mentalist – ranting and raving about his place in pop culture. The dreamy damsel Emily Blunt is in there too, along with a cameo by the King of Mediocre Tom Hanks. However this film somehow just doesn’t cut the Chutney (I friggin hate mustard). It’s one of those independent films with mainstream actors that desperately hopes to appear quaint and quirky. But they end up being hasty and boring. The Great Buck Howard does a few things right though. You can send in your thank-you cards to John Malkovich. First, he almost saved Con Air. Now this. Waah what a man.

synecdoche2Synecdoche, New York: I think Charlie Kaufman possesses that sort of malaise that makes him jump on that line between ingenuity and pretension and scratch the fuck out of it. Synecdoche New York, like many others penned by him, is a remarkable film. Theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour) has his sights set on Broadway and he is on the verge of unleashing a brutal masterpiece of candour. He assembles actors together in a warehouse and chucks metaphors at them, both figuratively and almost literally. And there’s his personal life too. A daughter ailing from a mysterious illness, a self-indulgent psychotherapist and caricatures of others. In a nutshell, the one might find the story to be slighty artsy fartsy, but that would be akin to finding plots in Robert Altman’s films to be a bit boring based on how they IMDB describes them. Funny thing is, Roger Ebert praised the hell out of it while The Observer called it the worst movie ever made. Only Kaufman could stir such extremities in opinions.

stationagent-1The Station Agent: I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed Thomas McCarthy’s Station Agent yet. For the past five years, it has been firmly lodged in my top Five Indie Films like ever. Hell, it even replaced Nick Willing’s awesome Photographing Fairies as the perfect afternoon film for me. So, the story is about Finbar McBride, a dwarf who shifts base from a city to an abandoned train depot in rural New Jersey to live a life of seclusion. In time, he meets Bobby Cannavale, a goofy mobile hotdog vendor and Patricia Clarkson, a divorcee doing little to get over the death of her son. The allure of Station Agent lies in its ability to rise above the obvious, despite keeping it fairly simple. Of course, McBride hates being short. Dam right he gets pissed off with the way people look at him. And sometimes, with the right amount of beer inside, he might even fancy giving this godforsaken life a chance or two.

The word “heartwarming” gets tossed out a lot. It is widely used nowadays to describe any sub-par drama in which the protagonist suffers through an unnecessarily tragic climax and comes out as a better person. Well, I consider Station Agent to be genuinely heartwarming. The best part is that the director doesn’t want you to recognize it; he just wants you listen to gentle crackle and pop noises that your senses make when in contact with something as beautiful and warm as this. Fantastic performances by Peter Dinkage (McBride), the always awesome Olivia Harris (Clarkson) and Joe Oramas (Bobby).

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1992lessonsofdarkness021Lessons Of Darkness: About four summers ago, a bunch of us sat in front of the television and stared at Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (Life Out Of Balance) for a good couple of hours. With its visually stunning cinematography and grandiose depiction of nature, we could do little else but chase rainbow-coloured rabbits down the silver screen holes. Despite the oohs and aaahs it drew from our lips, (in retrospect, perhaps) I did find Reggio’s anti-globalization propaganda way too distracting. Sort of like the Bible; pretty decent content, but an almost piss poor commitment towards objectivity.

Documentary filmmakers should not establish a firm opinion on a subject before taking off the lens caps, I think. Few things can claim to be as beautiful as an artist’s disregard for morality towards his subject matter. I know that it’s almost wrong that there is so beauty in nonchalance, but Werner Herzog’s Lessons Of Darkness is perfect example as to why the fact remains so. He discovers rare beauty in the aftermath of the Gulf War. It’s quite clear from the start that Herzog has distanced from the humanity of the situation. He does not contemplate on George Bush, hungry Middle-Eastern kids and decapitated birds floating around in a pool of oil. Instead he turns on the night vision to watch bombs fly hither and thither like ghostly snowflakes gone mad. He precariously observes the ashes that fall like rain near the petroleum fields of Kuwait. In essence, Herzog does what he does best. He observes reality from a distance and then dismisses it from every diminutive perspective while taking notes of how beautiful it all could have turned out to be. And for the sake of our humanity, he chooses to make art, not peace. Watch Trailer

Sin Nombre: Despite Roger Ebert’s recent magnanimity in giving away three-star ratings as though they were oily French fries at a backyard barbecue, a four-star rating from him still demands a certain amount of inquisitiveness. Recently he wrote this about debutant Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre….” I want to say something about the look and feel of the film…Fukunaga’s direction expresses a desire that seems growing in many young directors, to return to classical composition and editing. Those norms establishmo-sinnombre20_p_0499702720 a strong foundation for storytelling; there’s no queasy-cam for Fukunaga” After watching the film, I can say that Ebert sure as hell does not whore out four-star ratings. The film, as he so aptly describes in his review, tells a story. Not the best one you’re going to hear all year, but still the rusty kaleidoscope through which the director communicates the story’s nuances makes it a very special one. This one’s about illegal immigration and the consequences it stems from and eventually releases onto society. The film revolves Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a hopeful immigrant who “crosses paths” with Casper (Edgar Flores), a reckless gunslinger for “terrifying real-life gang named Mara Salvatrucha”. Right the brutal storytelling of gang lives and train rides to Adriano Goldman’s picturesque shots of El Norte and Marcelo Zarvos’ original score, this is a fantastic film; one which works remarkably well because of the director’s attention to detail. Footprints’ Shane Carruth Award for Directorial Maturity on Debut for the class of 2009? Sure, why not. Watch Trailer

deadsnowDead Snow: It’s no secret that I nurture an odd sort of love for gory splatter films. Not slasher or horror films, mind you. I really don’t give a shit about what a bunch of teenyboppers did last summer. I’m talking about movies in which a dude’s kidney is likely to crawl out of his ass and go to work on his kids with a switchblade. Or those wonderful tales of deranged hillbillies frothing at the mouth and forcing you to watch them make fucking soup out of your best friend’s limbs. Haven’t seen that one either? Well, daaaam.

See, here’s the thing about gore films. They can be really, really entertaining (even those untouched by the genius of George Romero) and if you ask me, they come at you with a two-pronged pleasure pang (yeah that’s right). One makes you commend the directors’ genuine efforts at drawing chuckle or two with bloodstained caricatures and whatnot. The other pokes you right in the head and reminds you that sometimes unbearably stupid shit is hilarious. Norwegian indie-horror flick Dead Snow has that bit of the cathartic stupidity that made Malanowski’s Curse Of The Cannibal Confederates watchable during a very drunk post-graduation party. But this one has a lot more going for it too. Yes. Now watch me feverishly defend a film about skiers getting dismembered by Nazi Zombies from an aesthetical point of view since. Screw that. Dead Snow…blood on ice and twice as nice. Watch Trailer

bad_reaction1The Haunting in Connecticut: If you want to see a suburban horror film, go watch Exorcism of Emily Rose. Watch Sideways if you desire a whiff of the freshness that Virginia Madsen brings to Hollywood as an actress. Now if you feel the urge to stomp on the necks of kittens and crush their spines, watch Haunting In Connecticut. Horrible, horrible movie. Don’t Watch Trailer

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9780786267538I am an arrogant person. Most people who know me really well would testify to that. Maybe it’s my presumption that I am more perceptive than almost everyone else or perhaps it has something to do with how monstrous my ego can be. Whatever it is, it seriously inhibits me from appreciating new forms of art that my fellow brethren (and soul sistas!) have discovered before I did.

But I’m thinking that it’s not entirely my fault; especially with respect to movies. I have been exposed to a plethora of horrid films over the years that came with very high recommendations from friends. Citizen Kane, Unforgiven, Cold Creek Manor, The Air I Breathe, As Good As It Gets, and pretty much any film by Akira Kurosawa – each of them came with a recommendation tag but ended up being thoroughly disappointing. Jerry comes with some decent recommendations every now and then, as the ninja from Darjeeling once did. But it was never enough to become a habit.

During my yearlong stint in one of those online marketing firms in Bangalore, I met Vivek Pinto – a mild-mannered Manglorean, quiz master, blogger, film enthusiast and probably the most versatile writer I have worked with. During the first few weeks, I gave him a really difficult time with my alarming lack of understanding of the industry and terms such as “data warehousing” and “enterprise application management.” Like the workhorse that he is, Pinto even picked away at my brain until I stopped being stubborn about getting Jack Kerouac to sell Wipro’s IT solutions and started using words like “best-in-breed”, “cost-effectiveness” and whatnot. Soon enough, we recognized each other’s undeniable qualities as film geeks, which eventually led to the very first time I had a thorough discussion about David Cronenberg without the other person looking quizzically at me in utter dread.

For the next 11 months, from Monday to Friday, we talked about films. Our favourite thread of discussion often centered on Werner Herzog, Roger Ebert and American Indie culture. The geekdom further gained credibility with the inclusion of D – Bangalore’s version of The Talented Mr Ripley – in our morning discussions.

7184pngSo a month ago, Pinto calls me frantically in one of his “dude, you have to watch this or you will suffer a terrible death that even Beelzebub wouldn’t wish upon his enemies” tones. He told in length about this television drama series called Dexter. Based on Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the series chronicled the life and times of Dexter Morgan, a blood splatter analyst working for the Miami Police Department. But what he really does is track down serial killers and wreak bloody havoc on them. Despite it’s outwardly quasi-Seventies film noir vibe, Pinto assured me that it was anything but that.

I think I’ll take a rain check on elaborating further on Dexter since Pinto’s alter ego – Papa Bear – would do a better job at that. In fact, he already has. Read his review here. He was also nice enough to send me copies of Season 1 and 2 and after seeing the debut episode, well, I can safely say that I am thoroughly intrigued. It seems to have everything that made Six Feet Under fantastic…melancholy, claustrophobia, great music and actors who know when they have to take themselves seriously.

To paraphrase Ebert…Thumbs way, way up.

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Tfond-decran-jcvd800he very first time that I went for a film at the theatre all by myself was for Jim Carrey’s Mask. Only it wasn’t. I think I was 12 years old. The imbecile who booked my tickets somehow confused Jean Claude Van Damme’s Time Cop with one of the most-talked about films in Chennai. So I sat for nearly two hours at the theatre, surruptiously peeking over my shoulder to see if someone was looking to steal my popcorn or worse yet, discover that I had no clue what the hell was going on. In what could only a stroke of dour cinematic irony, thanks to the absurd plot of Time Cop that pretty much defied all the laws of the universe that preserved either logic or gravity; it was also the first time that I ever heard of the Civil War (watch the opening scene) period. As for the film, well…from what I could fathom as a nervous teenager, Van Damme played a depressed policeman-type guy who could travel through time.

vandammeStreetfighter was memorable; if not for its throwback to the good-old fashioned uber-unreal action flicks of the Eighties then at least for the arcade-like duels that stayed true to the videogame’s original gameplay. Look closely and you might even find several nods to the original Godzilla and Giant Robot series. The storyline was sort of messed up with heroes and villains switching sides faster that you can say, “Florida voters suck donkey balls”, but it was completely forgivable considering the awesomeness (!) of characters like Honda, Dhalsim, Vega, Sagat and Balrog. My only regret was that Colonel Guille didn’t have that ultra-hip spiked hair in the film; instead we got Van Damme sporting a French army cap. Small woes though; after all Streetfighter did help me sink the memory of the horror that was Time Cop.

Then there was that weekend when I stumbled upon Kickboxer on Star Movies. Continuing the tradition of films that are so friggin bad that the audience can’t take their eyes off the screen, Kickboxer punched, scratched, clawed and er kicked its way into becoming a really funny and seriously unintentional self-parody. Imagine the late MGR acting in an amateurish John Woo film and you are still nowhere close to how incredible “bad” and “entertaining” this film was.

During the years of cinematic decadence and uncouth experimentation, I kept watching Van Damme films such Double Impact, Hard Target and the tremendously lame Knock Off. It was the sort of amusement I had for Prabhu Deva. No matter how horrid their films are, I still force myself to watch them wallow in the agony of pretending to be actors. Until Death broke the mould. Released in 2007 and directed by Simon Fellows, it is probably the only film of Van Damme that had a passable storyline with a bit of acting throw in, as well. For what it’s worth, it was fun watching him play a dirty cop hooked on heroin and cheap whiskey. And I swear, the first 30 minutes of film was really well shot.

Fast forward to today morning when I was checking Roger Ebert’s latest film reviews. I came across an odd action film called JCVD directed by short film enthusiast Mabrouk El Mechri. It stars Van Damme as an action movie star JCVD – a character who is an exaggeration of the actor himself. It even seems vaguely reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero with Van Damme’s existential angst replacing the stone-faced desperation of the Governor and with JCVD’s intense catharsis subbing for LAH’s B-movie shenanigans.

730244861Roger Ebert’s two cents are as endearing as ever. He says…“The new film from the Muscles from Brussels is the surprisingly transgressive ‘JCVD,’ which trashes his career, his personal life, his martial arts skills, his financial stability and his image. He plays himself, trapped in a misunderstood hostage crisis, during which we get such a merciless dissection of his mystique that it will be hard to believe him as a Universal Soldier ever again. On the other hand, it will be easier to like him. This movie almost endearingly savages him… Damme says worse things about himself than critics would dream of saying, and the effect is shockingly truthful. I sorta enjoyed myself.”

Well, I am certainly intrigued by all this talk about a really bad actor who does a really good job of impersonating how bad he really is. And I don’t think anyone expected Van Damme to star in such a film; maybe Bruce Willis or Mickey Rourke, but certainly not a dude who was fond of being called the Muscles from Brussels.

Robert Bresson once said, “films can only be made by by-passing the will of those who appear in them, using not what they do, but what they are.” Too bad the French filmmaker didn’t live long enough to see someone like Van Damme add credibility to his theory on acting.

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