Archive for February, 2008

McDonagh’s “In Bruges” is a wholly unique piece of work

February 25, 2008

R, 107 minutes, Focus Features

My first visit to the art cinema in 2008 started with a mesmerizing bang with In Bruges, the directorial debut from playwright Martin McDonagh that manages to weave together what seems like every genre ever created into one, sprawling event that is very singular. Fading in to the intriguingly beautiful town called Bruges, located in Belgium, McDonagh gives us the opportunity to become acquainted with the architecture of a place that we’re going to need to fully inhabit shall we become truly involved with the story and the characters for the film that will follow. McDonagh wisely uses the entire opening credit sequence to present us with a quick tourist attraction and introduction to the surroundings, beautifully photographing the ancient buildings after dusk, beneath the still moonlight. We are being thrust into this environment just like our two main characters, hitmen Ken and Ray, who are on different ends of their “careers” and trying to gel together on a hideout after their first assignment goes somewhat not according to plan.

Ken is the older of the two, a man who has been in his line of work so long that he is immersed to the point of no return. Brendan Gleeson is cast in this role, an old friend of McDonagh who also appeared in his Oscar-winning short film, Six Shooter, and it’s wonderful to see the underrated Irish veteran get such a meaty and well-written individual. Colin Farrell is perfectly placed at Gleeson’s side as Ray, a naive soul who just clearly isn’t cut out for what he so openly calls “shooting people for money”. They are told to hide out at a fairly secluded little inn in Bruges, to sightsee by day and shack up at night until they receive a call from the boss, named Harry, which could be up to two weeks. Ken has absolutely no problem with being in Bruges for whatever amount of time needed because he has long anticipated being able to witness the sites of the land that he considers to be beautiful. Ray could not be more opposite in every way. The first moment of dialogue heard in the film is the start of Ray’s impatient mumblings about how boring and un-hip Bruges is. The two actors play their parts to a high level, bouncing off of each other so well and taking the already polished words to a new realm, ultimately fashioning what is arguably the best work of their careers to date. There is a great deal of time spent on the two men walking the streets of the town and just rapping about at different monuments, with Ray constantly begging Ken to go out to the pub each night, nagging like an incessant child. The two are so different but can easily just be around each other as they spend more time together, and without them even realizing it they form some sort of bond that can only be felt in real friendship. With a true friendship comes extremely tough choices, especially in a profession like theirs, because conscience comes into play and that is something that hitmen just cannot have if they want to continue to perform in a manner that makes their bosses happy.

When Ken goes against the demands of Harry and decides not to take out Ray in favor of sending him on a train out of Bruges and the profession altogether to start over, Ken knows that he is to meet inevitable doom when Harry makes a visit to the town to clean up. The film is a superb piece of entertainment, both comedically and in an insightful and unexpectedly deep manner, and knowing that it is a directorial debut makes it all the more fascinating. When Harry is finally seen on screen in all of his maniacal glory, the third act of the movie is set in motion, where we are sent down a spiral into even more absurd actions, emotions, events, and strange humor that isn’t uninvited, just spontaneous and unexpected. Ralph Fiennes plays Harry so energetically and deranged and devious that he makes the character even more memorable than he should have been. There are only a handful or less of moments between him and Gleeson, but they are so singular and amazingly constructed and acted that they count, for me, as some of the best sequences I’ve witnessed in film in quite some time. The film will most likely be a hard sell to the normal audience member, but please give In Bruges your time, because if it affects you like I think it will, you will find yourself unlocking something like a treasure chest of fresh filmmaking. I had a ball of a time with the films of 2007, especially in the last three months, indulging myself with film after film of strong storytelling. It almost felt like I was a person spoiling my eyes and ears to no end, and I didn’t think the performers of the world could ever come close this year to even half-matching the greatness of that all. With McDonagh’s film it just goes to show that the emergence of a flourishing amount of original ideas that sort of began last year did not end with last year, it only marked a beginning to something that could go on for a very long time. We can only hope so. Do yourself a favor and see In Bruges, especially if you’re looking for something that dares to shock you in more ways than one. Each year there is t least one early release that deserves to be remembered later in the year. This is certainly the first movie of the year that should be included in later talk of the best pieces of work in 2008.

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DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: 2 Days in Paris

February 9, 2008

(originally written in September of 2007)

I haven’t reviewed a directorial debut by an already seasoned actress in a long time before this day, yet here I find myself writing about two back to back. It took a little while longer for Julie Delpy than say, Sarah Polley, to convince a studio that she could write and direct her own film and make it appeal to more than one type of audience. I’m sure what finally sealed the deal for her was being nominated for the original screenplay Oscar a couple of years, along with Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke for Before Sunset. If not, it had to play a major part in giving her a shot at creating something herself. I’m not sure if this film, called 2 Days in Paris and starring herself and another Linklater-used actor and altogether big-headed role player, Adam Goldberg, will particularly find more of an audience outside of those who are comfortable with Delpy’s original thinking, but I found it to be majorly entertaining.

The point in this film, I assume, is to not try to be innovative with the setup, because there have already been enough culture-clash romances in recent years alone. I think Delpy knows not to try and pry open anything on the outer core of what it’s essentially about, but only to tell a story of two people now together for enough time to start thinking about long-term, permanent commitments, being put through a seemingly harmless trip through one’s hometown of Paris, 2 days before going back to the place they call home in New York. They are Marion and Jack, and throughout the film’s timeframe of 48 hours, they visit her parents and travel in and out of the streets of Paris. It is in various confrontations with significant people from Marion’s past, among other various disasters, that there relationship will truly be tested. I might be getting a little away from telling what the film is trying to be as far as genre, because despite what I’ve written here previously, the movie is certainly a comedy, and uproarious quite frequently.

There are definitely moments in this film that tinker with tearing apart at the seams, but that’s simply normal for a first-time filmmaker. What’s key in the film is that Delpy manages to right the ship and create something that she can be proud of, and I hope she is, because it is purely, indepently hers all the way, and has all the great attributes from what we’ve known her by as an actress all these years. The supporting cast is headed by Delpy’s real mother and father, Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet, who provide great, memorable humor in numerous sequences. What ultimately makes the film really worth more than what one wouyld expect is the performance by Godlberg, who has played the ego-tripping character so many times that the casting choice seemed like it could doom the film. But here he is so charmingly arrogant and has a terrific role written by Delpy that he finally hits the right notes with a role that he’s done what seems like a dozen times already in his career. The two share a chemistry I didn’t expect and it helped it’s outcome greatly. 2 Days in Paris ends up extremely likeable and should give Ms. Delpy her freedom should she choose to continue down the path of writer and director in the future.

Rating: A-

R
94 minutes
Samuel Goldwyn

Effective “Untraceable” a misunderstood thriller

February 8, 2008

Diane Lane as FBI agent Jennifer Marsh.

R, 101 minutes, Screen Gems

I have a feeling that director Gregory Hoblit’s cyber-thriller, Untraceable, which is his second film in less than a year, would garner a smorgesboard of controversy if it were to be a box-office sensation. In the two weeks since its release on January 25th, the numbers for the film have been less than staggering to say the least, and mostly due to the lack of widespread advertisement mixed with wrongly harsh reviews from nearly every critic nationwide. The majority of the criticisms being thrown at the film regard the alleged hipocracy of its themes. It centers around a group of FBI agents from the cyber crimes division, whose job of tracking a nation full of “torture porn” or “snuff film” enthusiasts is growing as fast as the future is approaching. The movie is clearly making a point that Americans have become all-too obsessed with torturous acts, to the point of considering them entertainment. This is certainly true as far as national audience reaction is concerned, with films along the lines of Saw and The Hills Have Eyes drawing major crowds and spawning sequels that frequently get turned into studio meal-ticket franchises. Although Untraceable is taking a stand and calling out torture films like the aformentioned atrocities, many are accusing it of being no different and in the same league as those stylized, brainless pieces of garbage. This is something I do not agree, even if I can understand how some could react this harshly.

One of the persuading elements of the film is the central casting of Diane Lane, an actress that can immediately add credibility to a role or even an entire movie, and just by showing up. She turns in a very fine performance as Jennifer Marsh, an agent who is a widower, mother of one, and existing in that very familiar world of crime fighting heroine cliches, letting her job consume her while she battles with the uncontrollable grief of losing a companion to the very same field. There is really nothing new brought to the table character-wise in Untraceable, but what it lacks in that department it makes up for in other areas. Curiosities are sparked (at least mine are) when one ponders the impact the internet has had on our world, and what this film does is let us peek inside the everyday workings of those behind the scenes, involved in tracking the actions of those using the limitless technology in harmful ways, like hackers or predators, etc. The film has a fresh quality because it really focuses on the cyber crime investigation far more than any film I’ve seen to this point in Hollywood, and in the hands of a seasoned suspense director like Hoblit, (Primal Fear, Fallen, Fracture) it is slick and effective. The focus of the film involves an internet killer that hosts a website called “killwithme.com”, which puts human beings on a stage and up for sadistic ways of being tortured. The individual is a mastermind of both internet technology and contraption architecture, and in combining each of these skills creates a website that determines how fast the victim’s fate approaches by however many people visit it.

This is where the lashings come in from critics everywhere, accusing the film of wanting to “have its cake and eat it too” by speaking out against “torture porn”, yet displaying these images itself. I have a simple counter argument to that accusation, which is simply that this movie has an obligation to itself to be a suspenseful thriller while still getting a thoughtful and important point across, which means that it still has to portray horrible and disgusting acts of violence if that’s what the antagonizing themes represent. The movie has a handful of moments that are almost painful to watch, but the film is never executed in a way that makes it seem like an entertaining thing being created for our standing ovations or enjoyment. Yes, it is hard to sit through at times, and maybe even in a way like some of those brainless films mentioned earlier, but there is a point to continue treading through to the end with Jennifer Marsh in Untraceable. I will appreciate and remember this movie for being really the first to come out and tackle an important detriment to our society. It is certainly not a perfectly made movie that can become a classic, but I certainly will not let it slip my mind, and I hope it finds a comfortable home on video later this year. Another quick comment on the film – I think Colin Hanks does considerably good supporting work in this movie, and I anticipate very good things from him in the near future.

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My 30 Favorite Films of 2007.

February 6, 2008

Last week I finally caught a showing of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, a film that goes beyond bold risk and delves deep into madness. I had a strong feeling of obligation to see the movie before completing my favorite films of 2007 list, and I was right. Now the book can pretty much be closed for last year, at least for the sake of this list’s construction…

30
DISTURBIA
29
I’M NOT THERE
28
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
27
BREACH
26
THE SAVAGES
25
THE DARJEELING LIMITED
24
A MIGHTY HEART
23
GONE BABY GONE
22
3:10 TO YUMA <thanks to Bob for the mention!
21
SUPERBAD
20
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
19
WAITRESS
18
RENDITION
17
AMERICAN GANGSTER
16
EASTERN PROMISES
15
KNOCKED UP
14
THE GREAT DEBATERS
13
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
12
NO END IN SIGHT
11
AWAY FROM HER
10
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
09
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
08
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
07
THE KITE RUNNER
06
INTO THE WILD
05
ZODIAC
04
ONCE
03
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
02
JUNO
01
MICHAEL CLAYTON

The 10th Annual Fergy Film Awards – WINNERS

February 5, 2008

BEST FILM

BEST DIRECTOR

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
(No Country For Old Men)
BEST DIRECTING DEBUT

Tony Gilroy
(Michael Clayton)

BEST ACTOR

Daniel Day-Lewis
(There Will Be Blood)

BEST ACTRESS

Ellen Page
(Juno)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Tony Gilroy
(Michael Clayton)

 BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
(No Country For Old Men)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Roger Deakins
(No Country For Old Men)

BEST DOCUMENTARY

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Javier Bardem
(No Country For Old Men)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Ryan
(Gone Baby Gone)BEST EDITING

John Gilroy
(Michael Clayton)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Jonny Greenwood
(There Will Be Blood)

BEST  SOUNDTRACK

BEST CAST

BEST ANIMIATED AND/OR FAMILY FILM

BEST EFFECTS

Beowulf

MOST UNDERRATED FILM

MOST SURPRISING FILM

BEST SOPHOMORE DIRECTING EFFORT

Jason Reitman
(Juno)

MOST OVERRATED FILM

MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM

MOST MEDIOCRE FILM

WORST FILM
TIE