Haywire

Scorecard: January 2012

This was a pretty dismal month in terms of movie-watching, but since I was filling my time with things like getting married and going on honeymoons, I guess I can forgive myself for slacking off in the movie department. Got through six new-to-me films this month, including a few new releases that eluded me toward the end of December, and a relatively decent number of rewatches. Now, we’ll have to see in February if the wedding excuse is accurate, or if I just need to buckle down a bit more and watch moar movies.

What I Loved

Haywire

For me, this is exactly what a popcorn action movie should be. It’s not cerebral, it’s not complicated, it’s not flashy, and it doesn’t rewrite any rules of the action thriller genre. But it is solid, well-shot, well-acted, well-directed, as clever as it needs to be, and has some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen ever. The story is pretty much what’s laid out in the trailer – Gina Carano is a private security operative, she’s betrayed by her employers, and then she beats the crap out of them. In real life, Carano is an MMA fighter, and it shows. Every hit looks (and sounds) sickeningly real, and the way she moves, the way she fights, even the way she runs are all totally believable. Soderbergh knows just how to support her, too, holding long shots instead of cutting away, as if to say, yeah, she can really do this. But it’s not just a showcase for a fighter – the story is simple, but it’s effective, and Carano is nearly as convincing an actress as she is a fighter, and the supporting cast is all superb, fitting in perfectly with the ’70s aesthetic Soderbergh pulls out here. I’d trade most any big-budget blockbuster if we could get two mid-budget action films like this in their place.

2012 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton.
Seen January 21 at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.
Flickchart ranking: 475 out of 2880

What I Really Liked

Hugo

I was so afraid Scorsese’s early cinema homage masquerading as a children’s film would leave theatres before I got a chance to see it (yes, in 3D; I was hopelessly curious), but either thanks to the sheer number of screens in LA or the multitude of Oscar nominations the film got last week, we made it with time to spare. I’m not sure I can totally say I loved it, though, quite as much as I wanted to. I did really like it, and the last twenty or thirty minutes are like crack if you’re interested in film history or early cinema (which I am), but a lot of the earlier parts of the film are uneven, the comedy with Sascha Baron Cohen doesn’t always totally work, and it’s overlong as a whole. Even so, by the end, I found myself really enjoying even all the day-to-day station vignettes that had kind of annoyed me earlier – whether they really worked better or I was feeling magnanimous because the Méliès stuff was bringing me to tears, I’m not sure. In any case, I walked out happy, even if the confection wasn’t quite cooked all through.

2011 USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sascha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee.
Seen January 23 at Arclight Sherman Oaks, in 3D.
Flickchart ranking: 510 out of 2880

Carnage

This turned out to be quite difficult to find only a few weeks after its release – we had to hit up the independent theatre chain at 11:00am on a Saturday to see it. I wonder what’s gone wrong with the marketing for this that there’s so little buzz around it? Are people just hating on Polanski that much? Because this is a solid and often hilarious film, with one of the best scripts of the year (unless you’re an Academy member, apparently), performed with vicious glee by four tremendous actors. It all takes place essentially in one room, as two sets of parents meet to discuss what’s to be done after one of their sons brains the other pair’s son with a stick. The situation quickly devolves from forced politesse to frank screaming, and everything in between. Informal alliances between characters shift rapidly, as it becomes clear that these couples’ marriages aren’t all they should be, and months and years of repressed frustration come out. But yes, despite all this, this is a laugh-out-loud comedy, with all four actors clearly enjoying the hell out of it – none more than Christophe Waltz, who proves Inglourious Basterds was no fluke. Pretty lightweight when you get down to it, but a whole lot of fun.

2011 France/Germany/Poland/Spain. Director: Roman Polanski. Starring: Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly.
Seen January 28 at Laemmle NoHo.
Flickchart ranking: 525 out of 2880

Drop Dead Gorgeous

I gotta say, I was a little surprised when Jonathan picked this out as one of the films he wanted me to watch. I mean, a movie about a bunch of girls vying for a beauty pageant crown? But it wasn’t very far into the film that I understood. Miss Congeniality this ain’t. It’s a mockumentary in the style of Christopher Guest, with a bunch of soon-to-be-famous starlets as the Minnesota girls (seriously, we were all like, hold up, is that Amy Adams? AND IT WAS) trying to win their podunk town’s pageant, from feted favorite Denise Richards (and her stage mom Kirstie Alley) to trailer park resident Kirsten Dunst, and everything in between. I’m pretty sure a good chunk of the reason Jonathan likes it can be traced to the satire on Minnesota itself, but everything else is pretty spot-on as well. This film should’ve gotten way more attention than it did – I remember it coming out, but only as a little blip on my late ’90s pop-culture consciousness. And I was watching everything in 1999. Almost not exaggerating there.

1999 USA. Director: Michael Patrick Jann. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, Kirstie Alley, Denise Richards, Amy Adams, Brittany Murphy.
Seen January 27 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 717 out of 2880

What I Liked

Down Terrace

I missed watching this when other film blogs were talking about it a year or two ago, but after loving Kill List, I had to go back and check out Ben Wheatley’s earlier film, said to be in the same vein in terms of out-of-the-box genre filmmaking, but applied to gangster films instead of hit-men and horror. There are definitely resemblances, though Kill List is a step up in confidence, I think. Down Terrace starts off really slow and casual, to the point that it’s really difficult to figure out what even is going on or who these guys are as they sit around and chat. But that’s all very deliberate, and when shit starts going down, SHIT GOES DOWN. I’m still not totally sure what the ground zero event was that set everything in motion, but it doesn’t really matter – what matters is how it plays out, with suspicion leading to accusation leading to murder leading to cover-ups, etc. Plus there are a lot of surprisingly funny scenes, like when a cleaner comes to take care of a potential loose end but brought his kid along and thus can’t get with the violence the way he needs to in order to finish the job. The beginning is a bit of a slog, but it’s definitely worth it for the second half.

2010 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Robin Hill, Robert Hill, Julia Deakin, Michael Smiley.
Seen January 29 via Instant Watch.
Flickchart ranking: 1064 out of 2880

Casanova

It’s pretty unusual for the Silent Treatment folks to show a non-American film; generally it’s rare and forgotten Hollywood films that they pull out of their vaults, but this time around they snagged a French film with a Russian director and cross-European cast, telling the oft-told story of Italy’s most famous lover. Of course, with silent film this doesn’t matter very much (and didn’t then, as intertitles don’t present as much of a language barrier problem as subtitling). The film itself is a pretty good romp, following Casanova through various love affairs and skirmishes with angry husbands and the law, including a bit of a tussle with Catherine the Great herself. The tone of the film is difficult to pin down, alternately comic and melodramatic, with a bit of rather fun if totally unbelievable special effects as Casanova convinces one town official he’s a magician. It’s a bit overlong, too, and suffers a lot from the fact that in the 18th century, everybody wore white wigs that made them all look identical. Especially the women – I know based on how Casanova acted that a few of them were repeat lovers, but I couldn’t tell you who or how they all fit into the narrative. Still, lead actor Ivan Mozzhukhin is pretty charming – thanks to his stellar career in Europe, he was hand-picked by Carl Laemmle to be the next Valentino, but conflicts with the studio and the coming of sound forestalled his American career after only one film.

1927 France. Director: Alexandre Volkoff. Starring: Ivan Mozzhukhin, Suzanne Bianchetti, Diana Karenne.
Seen January 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1620 out of 2880

Rewatches – Loved

Pierrot le fou

I missed a good bit of Cinefamily’s Godard retrospective due to being out of town, but of all of them, this is probably the one I wanted to share with Jonathan the most (outside of Band of Outsiders, which I made sure to show him very early in our relationship, heh), so I’m glad the scheduling worked out. For me, Pierrot le fou is the culmination of Godard’s pre-1968 style – not his most extreme (Week End) or most elusive (2 or 3 Things I Know About Her) or most pop cultury (Made in USA), but the most coherently synthesized example of his style and themes, starring his two most enduring and iconic actors. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun. This is probably the fifth time I’m seen it, so I don’t really have anything new to say from this viewing, except that I loved it once again, and was very glad to see it in a theatre full of people who actually understood it’s a comedy. The first time I saw it was in a museum screening, and my gosh those people didn’t even crack a smile ONCE. It’s okay to laugh when things are funny. Just saying.

1965 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina.
Seen January 25th at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 44 out of 2880

L.A. Confidential

It’s been several years since I last saw L.A. Confidential, and I honestly wasn’t sure it would hold up. AFter all, last time I saw it, I was a greenhorn at the whole movie game, just barely starting to get into film noir at all – now that I knew more about what L.A. Confidential was homaging, would the homage seem as good? But I think the film actually improved for me this time around. There’s not a wasted moment here, and that’s a wonderful thing in a movie longer than two hours (it feels much, much shorter). The balance between the mystery and the character arcs is held perfectly, and while there’s not a lot of humor, a sardonic wryness sneaks through anyway (and a broader irony overlays thanks to Danny DeVito’s tabloid voiceover). The cast is magnificent, introducing Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe to American audiences with a bang that I’m not sure either of them have totally matched since, and the narrative unfolds its twisty-turny path with remarkable clarity, yet without ever hand-holding or condescending. It’s a fantastic film, and putting fifteen years on its clock hasn’t changed that a bit. (Relatedly, HOLY CRAP, L.A. Confidential is fifteen years old.)

1997 USA. Director: Curtis Hanson. Starring: Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell.
Seen January 19 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 88 out of 2880

Rewatches – Liked

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I watched this along with L.A. Confidential for a podcast, and like L.A. Confidential, it had been a while since I first saw it. Unlike L.A. Confidential, however, I hadn’t loved Kiss Kiss Bang Bang the first time I saw it. Thinking back, I couldn’t really pinpoint why nor remember the movie that well (though my capsule review that I unearthed after rewatching it is pretty spot-on), so I’d been meaning to rewatch anyway. Especially since I know a lot of people who practically worship this movie. And….it’s still fun, and I still don’t love it. It’s a bit too clever and stuck on making everything funny to actually make its story work. That isn’t always a problem for me, but in this case, writer-director Shane Black tried to have his cake and eat it too, and didn’t quite make it, though he came close. See also my Rewatched and Reconsidered post on Row Three.

2005 USA. Director: Shane Black. Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan.
Seen January 16 via Zune Marketplace.
Flickchart ranking: 945 out of 2880

Week End

I happened to be volunteering for Cinefamily one of the nights this played, or I probably wouldn’t have rushed back to see it. Or maybe I would have, because my experience with Godard tends to be that I don’t totally get his films the first time I watch them, but the second or third time they click and become, like, my favorite film of all time. Slight exaggeration, but not by much. Maybe the same thing would happen with Week End? Only kinda sorta. There are a lot of things about Week End that I like very much, even love. Actually, I’d say I love the whole first 2/3 or so, with the petit bourgeous couple wandering through the French countryside aimlessly. It’s savagely funny, and bits here and there are awesome (like when they hit another woman’s car and start driving off, and the other woman tries to get them by serving tennis balls at them; or when they interrupt Jean-Pierre Leaud having a sung conversation in a phone booth; or yes, like the traffic jam). But the film flies completely off the rails for me toward the end, just before they run into the cannibals. Up until this point, the narrative at least follows some internal sense of flow, but it breaks just there, and never recovers. I get that Godard is being purposefully confrontational and to some extent “destroying” cinema, and I don’t mind that, but after that point, the film just doesn’t work for me.

1967 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Jean Yanne, Mireille Darc.
Seen January 11 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1617 out of 2880

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