Saturday, July 07, 2012

Seen in June

"He's flown the coop!" - from Moonrise Kingdom

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
The documentary of Conan O'Brien's comedy tour after his Late Show fiasco with NBC reveals O'Brien to be hard working, often gracious and very funny. In fact, O'Brien seems funnier in his off the cuff remarks and behind the scenes moments that make up this film than he is on his own program. That said, this is probably only of interest to O'Brien fans and people interested in how funny people are funny.

Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson's fable of love and belonging (I guess. Does it matter?) If a film could be a model railway town, this would be it. The plot, two twelve-year-olds, one a loner in a passionless home, the other a loner without a home, is as simple as it gets. Yet it's the tone of the film that sticks with you. I might be more susceptible to Anderson's sentiment and nostalgia-for-a-time-that-never-was for some reason. If you were a fan of the mid-sixties CBC series Forest Rangers you'll know what I mean.

Life on Mars (UK) series 2
Finally finished this excellent British series. While the acting was often full of mugging and puffing and uneven, the episodic stories were great fun as the longer story arc kept you wondering how it would all turn out. The ending was both open, ambiguous, and still strangely satisfying.

Damages Season 4
Another show I had abandoned but finished. I shouldn't have bothered. Season 2 was just the beginning of the very rapid and awful decline with Season 4 being completely abysmal. Poorly written, edited and terribly directed. You can actually see the actors struggling and thinking, "What am I doing here? What is going on here?"

John Carter
Based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs series John Carter of Mars tells the classic pulp sci-fi tale of a civil war vet who stumbles upon a portal to Mars and lands smack in the middle of another civil war on Barsoom (Mars). The story is that of a lost man finding redemption in a cause and finding the love of a (rather stunning) woman who happens to be a princess. This film failed miserably at the box office mostly due to its incredible and perhaps irretrievable costs. As pure entertainment, I enjoyed it immensely. Who doesn't want to slough off the weight of a failed past life and be hurled to a place where no one knows your name? A place where you can reinvent yourself as a powerful warrior who can jump hundreds of feet through the air? Sure. A place where you can rescue a beautiful princess? Don't mind if I do. Its utter fun and fantasy with some kind of message about being master of your destiny if only you take responsibility for it. Or something like that. This film has baddies who get theirs, 11-foot tall, four armed green guys and a lovely, ass-kicking princess. What more could you want? I would like to see a sequel where John Carter is out jumping around one day and accidentally lands on the Mars Rover. Oh no he didn't! Oh yes indeed.

Take Shelter
Slow building but as tense as any heist drama, this film depicts a man struggling with terrifying dreams and hallucinations of an impending apocalyptic storm. He's not sure if he's losing his mind or not so in preparation, he sets out like Noah, to build an expensive survival shelter in his back yard which he hopes will protect his wife, Samantha and their young daughter. The building of the shelter threatens his marriage, his family's finances, his friendships and his job. All the while he continues to seek counseling for his mental health. Michael Shannon is incredible as the anxious and struggling Curtis and Jessica Chastain, who has made the excellent career move of only appearing in great films, portrays Curtis' wife Samantha as resilient, loving, fraught and resourceful. In the final scene we are left wondering if we're seeing another of Curtis's delusions or a premonition come true. In an odd way this film reminds me of another film, A Serious Man, the Coen brothers film where a man is also caught in an allegorical and existential storm. These are difficult times when people only have worries, fears, and questions and have very few answers or comforts.

Shut Up Little Man
The tale of an infamous series of cult audio recordings (or audio verité) made in the 80s when two Wisconsin lads find themselves living in San Francisco next to two bickering old drunken men. Pete and Ray become viral underground icons as the tapes are shared amongst friends. What makes the tapes so compelling is how this odd couple, Peter, a bitchy aging homosexual, the other, Ray, an angry raving homophobe redneck continue to live together despite bitterly and loudly arguing night after night about the most inane things. The neighboring lads record the pair without and sometimes surprisingly with their knowledge. The history of the tapes, their fame and the efforts to make a film based on the two men make for a funny, sad and at times thoughtful piece of documentary filmmaking. Of course this pretty much falls into the "radio with pictures" / talking heads category of documentary but that's fine because the heads doing the talking are equal parts foul-mouthed and fascinating.

Tiny Furniture
Lena Dunham plays Aura, a recent college graduate returned home to her affluent New York artist mother while trying to deal with a recent break up, her unemployment, her unemployability and her general malaise/ennui/generational angst. This exchange between Aura's mother and friend Charlotte sums it up:
Aura's Mother:"Do you have the same sense of entitlement as my daughter?"
Charlotte: "oh believe me, mine's much worse.
This film also has one of the worst sex scenes committed to film and an even more frank discussion of how awful that sex was, which is its saving grace. Here are awful people who haven't a clue about much except their sneaking suspicion of their own awfulness. This film is pretty much the prototype for the HBO series "Girls". Dunham, who stars and wrote the film and created Girls, has created an anti-"Sex in the City". These young women have crappy jobs, crappy sex with crappy boyfriends (who all seem to practice moves they've learned from watching online porn) and have no money, and few prospects yet expect their ship to arrive soon. Which seems to reflect a strange generation of twenty-somethings whose parents pay their way while they work in unpaid internships or otherwise dead-end jobs while they wait to become successful. At one point, as Aura is smoking up with a chef who is talking about food she says, "I think it's great you have a thing. Like food is your thing." While Dunham herself actually does have "a thing" she's depicting young people who generally don't. I hate these kind of people. They are smart, attractive, articulate and completely useless. They are the kids that expect to find fame on American Idol and when they don't somehow it was because the thing was rigged. They are the kids in your office who voice their shit and uninformed opinions with confidence and are surprised that you think they are uninformed and a bit daft. I hope Dunham can unearth the soul of this generation as well as she captures the zeitgeist of our times or else we'll never understand them. Until then, I'll use a Simpsons quote to generalize them; when some cool kids dismiss Bart for trying too hard to be liked they claim "the whole thing just smacks of effort" — funny line, written by an aging nerd with "a thing" for writing, no doubt.

The Skin I Live In
I'm not even sure where to begin. This Pedro Almodóvar film, while similar in some respects to his other work (Talk to Her, Bad Education… maybe) it's also very different from anything else I've seen. It's almost a mash-up of Frankenstein, Sutures, Face-off, John Frankenheimer's Seconds and Hitchcock's Vertigo all wrapped in one beguiling tragedy. Antonio Banderas plays Robert, a brilliant surgeon, who has imprisoned in his home a mysterious and beautiful woman, Vera, whom he has been experimenting on for 12 years. Vera turns out to be the result of Robert's attempt at redemption, revenge and his obsession with both his deceased wife and daughter. Yeah, so let's say the themes are revenge, redemption, obsession, sexuality, sexual violence and sexual identity. There's even a dark comic wink to the expression, "…walk a mile in someone else's shoes". You can't beat that.

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