Friday, April 01, 2011

Seen in March


Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter image via screencrave.com

March seemed to be about pugilists of all kinds; gang members, Roman soldiers, prosecutors, politicians and professional fighters. Maybe you'll find something worth renting in this list.

The Warriors
Take one part Escape From New York, one part After Hours, and one part Fame (stir in elements of Clockwork Orange) and that might explain The Warriors. This film from 1979 of a large meet-up of New York city gangs in the Bronx which goes badly, stars… well, no one you'd remember. A gang leader is killed and a small Coney Island gang, The Warriors is wrongly pinned for the shooting. They spend the rest of the film trying to get back to their home turf while being chased by police and every gang in NYC. The odd part is how many of the gangs are rather theatrically themed and costumed. We see mime-gangs, baseball team-gangs, Kung Fu gangs, a lesbian themed gang (acting the part of the Sirens here) and even a gang of orphans called The Orphans. The fight scenes are badly dated and the geography of New York seems a little confusing as the Warriors have to make their way from the Bronx back to Coney Island (via Central Park?) The movie winds up like a psycho-geographic tour of New York through various neighbourhoods, subway stations and even subway lines, right out to the boardwalk of Coney Island. It is definitely reminiscent of After Hours which followed a few years later, especially in depicting an epically violent and surreal night in New York City. A bonus is how Massimo Vignelli's NYC Subway features in the opening sequence ("No one can understand those maps anyway"). Oh and the fact that the largest gang called the Riffs are an all black gang armed with street hockey sticks.

Centurion
Set in Roman occupied Briton, this is an invented telling of the missing legendary Ninth Legion. The myth is something like the Ninth Legion marches North into what is now Scotland and — hushed silence — disappear. In truth there are all kinds of theories about what became of the Ninth, mostly disputed. The funny thing is that this film, despite the epic landscape, lore and gore is really similar to The Warriors. It's the tale of 8 guys behind enemy lines on the run trying to get home. It got mixed reviews but it's not a bad bit of fun, including sexy barbarian ladies, balls of fire and loads of sword fights and if that's not fun then I don't know what is. I will say this however, worst title sequence and sub-title typography ever. It's one of those things you should never notice.

Chloe
When a successful couple, Catherine and David, start to drift apart, she suspects him of having an affair. By chance, Catherine meets a young prostitute, Chloe, and decides to test her husband by having Chloe seduce him. If that's not strange enough, Catherine seems to be having feelings for Chloe and vice versa or something. It's all very awkward, creepy and weird. I guess that's what an Atom Egoyan thriller is like. Unfortunately, this film lacks "juice". It does have a great score and actually makes Toronto look like a sexy and vibrant city which is a twist in itself. Also, Amanda Seyfried, who plays Chole, is so pretty she appears almost alien. For all its virtues there is an unsatisfying ending and some confusion about what really happened versus what Chole tells Catherine. It did remind me a little of Damage and I Am Love if only for the complicated cross generational relationships.

Saved
This is one Mary who didn't have a virgin birth. We follow a group of teens who are students at a "Born Again" high school. It's a little like a check list of teen misfits; the over achiever, the kid in the wheelchair, the closeted gay, the only Jewish kid in the school and the little pregnant teen who tries to hide her sin throughout the school year. It's an enjoyable "lite" comedy that says I'm alright, you're alright, let's live, love, and learn that some Conservative Christian values aren't very Christian after all. I would say this is the kind of movie you'd see on a plane but I understand inflight movie choices have greatly improved.



Still from title sequence of The Fall. Image via Art of the Title
The Fall
Imagine it's your birthday and someone brings you an amazing looking cake with multi-coloured icing braided into an intricate lacy ribbon wrapped around a helix of marzipan, gold leaf and shavings of chocolate. You're given a knife and cut yourself a slice but there's only icing and no cake at all. That's what this film is like — all image and no real substance. However it does have one of the most incredibly beautiful opening title sequences I've ever seen.

Louie Season 1
Comedian Louis CK's sharp and smart humour is becoming increasingly less autobiographical and more absurd as the season continues.

Portlandia
The dream of the nineties is alive in Portland. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein create hilarious and insightful vignettes of characters that inhabit this rainy Northwest city. The most pointed jabs are really reserved for, as Elvis Costello might say, the "tragically hip", who move amongst us on fixed-gear bikes, espousing known provenance of their organic chicken and sporting neck tattoos, ridiculous earrings and over-sized, nerdy eyewear.

Let Me In
Well considered and expert re-staging American adaptation of the Swedish thriller-horror Let the Right One In, which tells of an isolated, bullied and lonely 12-year-old boy who meets an isolated and lonely 12-ish-year-old girl vampire. Take that "Twilight".

Persepolis
Marjane Strapani's personal telling of her and her family's experience of the tumultuous times before, during and after the Iranian revolution. The outstanding design and animation are true to the source material and becomes one of the few animated films for adults. Not fun for kids & parents, or family friendly. Like Waltz With Bashir, this is a movie for grown-ups both in the depiction of violence, language and in emotional depth.

The Yes Men
Humorous documentary of a merry band of artists who intend to subvert media by portraying themselves as representatives of the WTO. Surprisingly few people question either their credentials, identity or even their absurd speeches given at accredited conferences. Tellingly, the only place one of their stunts really gets the reaction they expect (anger, outrage and argument) is at a university. The future may have a future after all.

The Inside Job
Most. Depressing. Film. Ever. Well, not ever — but close. This film explores and explains the largest global financial crisis since the Depression and leaves you feeling that all the people and reasons for the Great Recession are still in place. The rich get incredibly richer and the poor, basically everyone else, is just grist for the mill. Sometimes even unpopular rich people are grist for the mill. Like Eliot Spitzer, who, after his success as a prosecutor charging bankers for fraud became New York Governor. It is implied that Wall Street orchestrated his downfall. They're busy right now orchestrating everyone else's downfall.

The Fighter
Oscar winning true story of half brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund and Micky's rise as a pro fighter. The film highlights how family can be both toxic and inspiring. Great story, well written, well directed with some exceptional performances from pros and amateurs alike. Mark Walberg was overshadowed by award winning Bale and Leo but he turns in one of his most understated performances. No one else could have played Micky Ward. This film aims to be Rocky but goes beyond by hitting touchstones such as On the Waterfront and Raging Bull as well. Probably the best staged fights put to film.

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spizter
One of the people who went after Wall Street bankers for derivatives fraud, insurance fraud and executive over compensation and tried make changes was Eliot Spitzer. I'm not a subscriber to conspiracy theories but here is a carefully told case of how powerfully placed businessmen and Republicans within the FBI used considerable federal resources to uncover Eliot Spitzer's use of high end prostitutes. Strangely, two senior Republican representatives were confirmed to also have used the same prostitution ring have not resigned, yet a Democratic Governor was forced to. This is a story of Private Investigators, misuse of power, the compartmentalization of identity, and misdeeds of men that just makes you shake your head in disbelief. An incredibly wealthy trio of businessmen seemingly pulled the strings to avenge a politician who chipped their armor of hubris, namely Dick Grasso (former CEO of the SEC who made hundreds of millions of dollars as head of what was then a not for profit organization), Ken Langone (billionaire co-founder of Home Depot who approved Grasso's compensation at the SEC), and Hank Greenberg (billionaire former CEO of AIG whose oversight and practices at AIG led to its collapse and claimed his AIG stock was worthless at $100 million). The lesson? Don't piss off the Monied because they have means to bring you down. It was a little like watching a season of Damages except this happened. No wonder Americans are so disillusioned with democracy. They get to see its demolition play out right before their eyes. As a side note, this movie could play well with The Inside Job and the BBC drama The Last Days of Lehman Brothers.

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