Thursday, December 29, 2011
In the meantime, I'd like to close out this year remembering my favorite movies and shows from the past go around the sun. Not necessarily the best or most innovative things, just my favorites, for whatever reason.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
First off, it just wouldn't be the holiday season if I weren't nose-deep in Christopher Moore's hilariously blasphemous novel The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror. Having read nearly all of Moore's writing (save for his last few books I've been too buried under school work to get to), this one shot to the top of my favorites for two reasons: it's one of his funniest and it's a giant crossover. I love crossovers to the pit of my sickly fangirl heart and this is a doozy. Taking place in Pine Cove, CA it combines at least one character from nearly every book he'd written up until that point, save for a few that just wouldn't fit in. It stands well enough on its own legs, providing enough back story for everyone so new readers wouldn't be too lost without bogging things down for the people already familiar with them. It's the one book I go out of my way to re-read every year-- eggnog just doesn't taste the same unless I'm reading about a broadsword-slinging former B-movie actress, her stoner constable husband, an angel who wants to be Spider-Man, a pilot with a talking fruit bat, and a group of zombies obsessed with DIY Swedish furniture. Like everything Moore writes, there's a biting ribbon of dark humor underlying the surface-level silliness-- there's considerably more homicide, cover-up, blackmail, mental illness, recreational drug use, middle-aged romance and zombie attacks than your traditional Christmas story-- so it's more like an interesting cross between black comedy and broad slapstick. If it sounds like your cup of tea, I'd highly recommend picking a copy up if your shopping takes you anywhere near a bookstore.
There also seems to be talk of a movie adaptation in the works which might be interesting provided they can get that pesky tone right. According to Movie Insider the cast includes Milla Jovovich, Crispin Glover and Cloris Leachman so it sounds like they're on the right track. (Personally I think Alex Skarsgard would have made a pretty good Archangel Raziel since he's tall, blond, ridiculously gorgeous and able to do mind-bendingly stupid and uncomfortably inhuman with a straight face. But that's just me.)
The Doctor Who Christmas Special from 2010 is a recent but most likely permanent addition to my annual tradition. The title of this blog entry is taken from the opening and closing narration of Michael Gambon in this very cleverly self-conscious retelling of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, only in addition to the familiar bah-humbugging miser learning how to not be miserable it also features time travel, a crashing spaceship, a frozen opera singer, the most sympathetic celluloid shark possibly ever, and a very cool bow tie. Setting aside my ardent adoration for anything that shows a shark to be anything other than evil or terrifying, this is still a really smart, witty, funny, touching production that I cannot recommend highly enough. But seriously, sharks and time travel, come on.
The Hudsucker Proxy isn't one of the Coens' more highly praised movies but it's definitely one of my favorites. It's a tip of the hat to Frank Capra and the screwball comedies of the 30s, featuring some beautiful cinematography, a snappy script and some fantastic performances from Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Paul Newman. Also keep an eye out for John Mahoney, Bruce Campbell, Peter Gallagher and the late Anna Nicole Smith. Considering the economic climate over the past few years, maybe a good laugh at the antics of big corporations shooting themselves in the foot is something everyone could use. I've seen this movie too many times to count over the years and it never ceases to be fun. It's also currently streaming on Netflix, so if you have an account check it out.
Tokyo Godfathers, along with anything else the late (and still sorely missed) Satoshi Kon ever did, has been written about several times on this blog already, but it's still very much a holiday tradition for me to pop this in the DVD player at least once a December. Not many holiday movies-- or non-holiday movies, for that matter-- feature three homeless people in a dysfunctional surrogate family as the three protagonists and as funny as this movie is it also doesn't pull its punches when it comes to showing some of the harsher realities of being homeless and of life in general. As grim as the reality can be, this is a film that is unflinchingly optimistic, at times even over the top in terms of the sheer number of coincidences that occur on this quixotic quest to return an abandoned baby to her mother. It's heartwarming without being cloying or too treacly which can be nice this time of year.
Moving past the nagging certainty that I've left something important off this list, it's time to look ahead to the movies I'm anticipating in the coming year. Not all of them, of course, just the ones that have trailers up. Some of them are already out but I haven't seen them yet, so on the list they go.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Joon Ho Bong is one of my favorite directors working today; he also directed The Host and Mother but this is, in my opinion, his best movie to date. Memories of Murder is based around the first actual recorded serial murders in South Korea, events from the mid-80s. The film's atmosphere swings from actually comical in the beginning, when the small-town police force is dealing with something so far beyond their training that they can't even see what's going on. It's often funny but in a sad, uncomfortable way as they fake evidence, torture suspects for confessions, and generally blunder around in such ineptitude you can't help but laugh at the tragedy of it all. They honestly, earnestly think they know what they're doing. It isn't until a cop from Seoul joins the investigation that they make headway, inevitably along with clashing egos and territoriality, but even then it isn't enough. No matter how much they figure out, there are bigger issues at work than their small-town murders. The conflict with North Korea is playing havoc with the resources they need, more and more women are turning up not just dead but mutilated, and the cops begin to realize how deep in over their heads they are. The ugliness of the killer's hatred for his victims is evident in the increasingly upsetting things he does to them. Upsetting in part because we know he doesn't hate them for who they are but simply what they are. We need to believe there are answers just as desperately as the cops do, but there's no way we can be sure of any of it. How many leads were real and how many are we clinging to simply because we so desperately want to believe them?
Le Boucher is probably Claude Chabrol's most well-known film and it lives up to its reputation. Chabrol is often cited as the French Hitchcock and it's clear the two filmmakers influenced each other, as they both play in the same arenas using many similar techniques and comparable levels of skill. They both made movies that are about much more than whatever the plot is and this film is absolutely no exception. It is a murder mystery, a romance, and a fascinating waltz with the dark sides of our own psyches that repel and attract us. The mystery is not what you think it is, and if you go into it expecting a who-done-it, you will be disappointed. That isn't what's going on here at all. We know who did it, we even know why; the mystery is not with the killer at all. Watch it very carefully, especially Stephane Audran as Helene because that knockout performance is the whole reason why this film works. I'd even go so far as to say it is the entire point of the story at all. Watch the scene with the long drive more than once and tell me I'm wrong.
(Chabrol's film The Bridesmaid is currently streaming on Netflix, and is also worth watching. Again, surprise isn't the point of it, but rather knowing what's inevitably coming and simply watching it unfold.)
Of course everyone knows the shocking twist to this film, and most of us have probably seen it at least once. But it's one you can watch over and over because like with Le Boucher, the point isn't the story itself-- it's about something much bigger and quieter and unspoken. Possibly the only true horror film Hitchcock ever directed, the horror doesn't lie in what happens onscreen; it's in the things we never really see happen at all. How many answers do we really have about the whys of Norman Bates? Are monsters born with their monstrosity or are they created from love and innocence and ignorance? How much can we really trust the answers the film tries to give us? How much does the film want us to believe the doctor at the end of the film? How much can we trust anyone's account of the Bates family and what went on in it? Norman's house gives us the only facts we can really trust and even then we're only guessing. But the real question is how much does it matter when we realize the only person there we really love is the villain?
A woman who doesn't know who she is, lost in the city of dreams and new beginnings. She's running from something; she doesn't know what it is, but she knows it's terrible and it's catching up to her. There is nostalgia for a simpler, more innocent time, when we were earnest and good, where everyone got what they deserved and mysteries were meant to be solved to put our fears to rest. We forget that sometimes it's worse to know what it is looking back at us from the dark. We knew the whole time it wasn't real-- we bought the ticket, after all-- but sitting there in the dark we forgot about the real world and who we're sitting next to and even who we are. There are moments when we remember it's all an illusion but we want so badly to forget the real world that the winks from the person behind the curtain are jarring and unsettling. We have invented our own fantasy, but we're so busy enjoying the dream that we don't want to wake up. The monsters are scarier in the daylight because we know what they really are.
The distinction between reality and fantasy is drawn much more distinctly in this film than in Lynch's, but there's still plenty of ambiguity left. However, trying to decipher if Ofelia's encounters with the Faun and other creatures is actually happening is a bit beside the point. We'll all have our own opinions on the ending, of course, and that's how del Toro wants it. There is no "right" answer for it. The real meat of the film is in the relationship between innocence and, for lack of a better word, "evil," and how in some ways they are each others' doppelganger. The palate del Toro works with seems stark on the surface but the darks are rich and complex, with the lights serving primarily as a contrast. Sergei Lopez's performance as Vidal is terrifying and utterly riveting.