Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Usual Suspects

The first time I watched The Usual Suspects it was a turning point in my love affair with movies; I had never been so powerfully affected by a film in my life. However, it wasn’t until years later that I realized that The Usual Suspects was my favorite film. It is that one film that every time I hear the theme, or see a piece of it playing on TV I want to stop whatever I am doing and watch the entire movie. I can quote almost the entire movie line for line; I truly believe that in this film Bryan Singer created a masterpiece.

Before going into my breakdown of the plot I need to lay something out; one of the cardinal, unspoken rules when discussing The Ususal Suspects is to not talk about the ending – to do so would spoil one of the greatest cinematic moments in film history. It simply is not discussed; even AFI adhered to this rule when they released their list of greatest moments/film villains. If you’ve seen the film you know why.

The Usual Suspects is put together like a puzzle, a puzzle laid out by one Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey). It begins with an exchange between two men on a boat; one man, Dean Keaton, is obviously not long for this world and the other we never see, but Keaton calls him “Keyser” before the man shoots Keaton in the head and sets fire to the boat. This enigmatic character introduction is soon brushed aside as the film brings us to the present and reveals the boat has exploded, and Agent Kujan from Customs gets involved with the questioning of Kint about his involvement with the crime and his associates who died on the boat, trying to unravel the fate of a former cop-turned-criminal Dean Keaton; meanwhile, at the county hospital FBI Agent Jack Baer begins to question the lone survivor of the explosion Arkosh Kovash.

During questioning Kovash reveals that it was not as simple a crime as the authorities thought and Kint begins his tale: in New York, weeks prior to the boat explosion Kint along with criminals Keaton, Fenster, McManus, and Hockney were brought in for a false line-up by the NYPD and the cops created a deadly alliance between the criminals. From there the story grows until it takes a sharp turn into the middle as the question is raised – Who is Keyser Soze? The film soon becomes a hunt for not just the motive of the crime that was committed, but a search for the truth behind the identity of the greatest criminal mind of all time.

The expertise with which this film is put together would make you think that this was not Bryan Singer’s first major film but it is. Before The Usual Suspects he had only done the film festival hit Public Access which now meets mixed reviews depending on the audience. As I stated before, this film is put together like a puzzle with multiple timelines, flash backs, and flash forwards that lay out the pieces of the story only as Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie see fit. The visual style is one of the most striking that I have seen in any film, and I don’t say this very often but the lighting is beautiful.

While all of the actors from Stephen Baldwin to Pete Postlethwaite are phenomenal, this is the film that gave Kevin Spacey his first Oscar. Let me tell you he more than deserved this nod for best supporting actor; the entire film hinges on his performance as Kint. Spacey manages to play the character with such ease that you would think he too were a crippled con man who thinks the world is out to get him, there is not a nod of his head or shift of his eyes that is not 100% in tune with the character and the world that has been created in the film.

This film also owes props to the talented John Ottoman. Why more musicians are not editors is beyond me; the skills do actually have quite a bit in common when dealing with rhythm and tempo and The Usual Suspects does benefit greatly from having an editor who also wrote the score. The rhythm of the cuts and the film score blend seamlessly to create some of the most fluid footage I’ve ever watched; it’s so subtle it’s almost beyond description but having seen the film as many times as I have you notice the subtlety.

I do urge everyone to see this film in their lifetime. I promise you that you will not regret it. Just remember, don’t discuss the ending.

Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
McManus: Stephen Baldwin
Keaton: Gabriel Bryne
Fenster: Benicio Del Toro
Hockney: Kevin Pollak
Kint: Kevin Spacey
Kujan: Chazz Palminteri
Kobayashi: Pete Postlewaite
Jack Baer: Giancarlo Esposito
Edie Finneran: Suzy Amis
Jeff Rabin: Dan Hedaya

Verbal: You tell me, Agent Kujan, if I told you the Loch Ness Monster hired me to hit the harbor, what would you say?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tropic Thunder

I have been excited about the prospect of Tropic Thunder for months. I do have a special place in my heart for movies about making movies; add to that the prospect of Robert Downey Jr. and a huge amount of advanced buzz and I was pretty sure that there was no way I could dislike Tropic Thunder.

I adored Tropic Thunder.

Everything about the film was funny to me, but I do not think I have laughed harder in years at a movie. Every time Robert Downey Jr. opened his mouth to deliver a line about the inner workings of Holylwood or the craft of acting I could not stop laughing.

This film has gotten a lot of heat because it is “controversial” and “insensitive”. What drives me nuts is that with these kinds of films (the same with Dogma) people jump to conclusions without seeing them in the text of the film.

Are the jokes about Simple Jack the retard insensitive? Yes. But what they fail to see is that they are more insensitive towards why Tugg Speedman chose to play Jack than the mental condition of the character. The entire joke is based around the insensitivity of Hollywood towards the individual and the outsider, and that their main goal is to win awards and make money – period. This is actually the theme of the entire movie; somehow Ben Stiller and the writing team found a way to poke fun at the system while completely endorsing the system to get the movie made.

Tropic Thunder is filled to the brim with cameos, inside jokes and memorable characters that completely endorse the Hollywood stereotype that people believe in. While I adored all of the stars and cemeos in this film I do have to say that two people stood out for me as my favorites – Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise is Les Grossman, the head of the studio that is making the movie within Tropic Thunder - Tropic Thunder. This is the tent pole movie of the decade for the studio and Les is personally involved, even getting people to assault the films director as he is on teleconference thousands of miles away and cannot do it himself. This role is the Tom Cruise I know, love and have missed ever since his couch jumping incident; this is the Tom Cruise that is in the business because he loves it, and is the biggest star in the world without trying to be anyone but himself – the Tom Cruise that does things because he knows his fans will enjoy it.

This truly is the summer of Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man was brilliant, and I think Tropic Thunder was made by his portrayal of Kirk Lazarus – Australian method actor, multi-award winner, who is so committed to the role that he has undergone a procedure to dye his skin black so he can portray the platoons sergeant. This role is one of the funniest I have seen since my personal favorite comedy Blazing Saddles where I fell in love with Gene Wilder’s Jim.

I highly recommend Tropic Thunder to all. It is a highly enjoyable movie that will entertain adults to no end. Just remember to go in knowing that this movie is not PG-13, and that the jokes are meant to be taken within the context of the film – a knowledge of film history helps as well.

Director: Ben Stiller
Writers: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Ethan Cohen
Kirk Lazarus: Robert Downey Jr.
Jeff Portnoy: Jack Black
Tugg Speedman: Ben Stiller
Kevin Sandusky: Jay Baruchel
Alpa Chino: Brandon T. Jackson
Damien Cockburn: Steve Coogan
Cody: Danny McBride
Four Leaf: Nick Nolte
Rick Peck: Matthew McConaughey
Les Grossman: Tom Cruise

Kirk Lazarus: I don't read the script. The script reads me.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Coming Soon

I have been a little busy as I have been putting together my first feature and the production stage of shooting does that to you; this has unfortunately eaten into my general movie watching & review time.

In light of this lack of time here are the movies I am trying to see ASAP!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Limey

Name That Film
Originally uploaded by Oh! NoNo Joe!
The Limey is one of the most confusingly told tales I have ever seen committed to film. I’m not saying that the film is indiscernible, but they way in which Steven Soderbergh chose to weave the film together is one of the most unique things I have ever seen. I have spent the better part of my time since watching the film last night trying to understand the flow of the film, and have decided that to do so would consist of at least 3-4 consecutive views of the film. While the film would be worth this degree of study, I simply don’t have the time as I am no longer a film student.

Part of what fascinates me about The Limey is that the story is one of the most basic concepts that can be imagined, yet the way it is put together gives it a layer of complexity and meaning that would not otherwise be ascribed to the text.

The tale is one of revenge, plain and simple. Wilson is a career criminal who has just been paroled after 9 years in prison and has been informed that his daughter Jenny was killed in a car accident in California; however, that the circumstances of the accident seem a little too perfect to be random. Saddened and fueled by a new mission, Wilson comes to America to seek out more information on his daughter’s life here and realizes that her live-in boyfriend, music producer Terry Valentine is the likely culprit of her death and is able to track down the illegal dealings that lead to Jenny’s unfortunate passing. Wilson has one goal: make Terry suffer for his daughter and take out anyone that gets in the way.

What makes The Limey so unique is not only its utter lack of subplots, but the way past, present and future are laid out. When watching the film the audience is never sure if what they are seeing is a flash forward, flashback, the character’s imagination or present time; all of these elements are cut together at any given time, and repeated multiple times until they create the psychological underpinnings that take Wilson from being a one dimensional character to a complex & conflicted protagonist.

I have several theories about the images that are shown, the visual clues Soderbergh creates, and the actual timeline of the film, but I am not comfortable sharing them without at least one more viewing of the film under my belt.

Perhaps what stood out to me most is Terence Stamp as the character of Wilson. The first few minutes all I could think of was “this is Zod from Superman II”, but that quickly faded and I was immersed in Wilson and his world. If his acting in the film weren’t half as good as it is, you would still have to applaud him for his ability to deliver his lines using the confusing Cockney rhyming slang that allows his character to be such a puzzling entity to the American’s in the film. The use of this vernacular adds to the confusing nature of the film and underscores Wilson’s differences between he and the people around him, and for the educated linguist makes him a more credible British criminal.

The Limey is not an easy film to watch. In fact, it’s one of the only film that I can think of in recent memory that I was actually uncomfortable watching for the first 10-20 minutes simply because I could not figure out how the story was unfolding and what the images meant. However, to a person who appreciates cinema and the language used to create it, The Limey is an essential film to have under your belt and much easier to stomach than a Bergman film.

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Lem Dobbs
Wilson: Terence Stamp
Elaine: Lesley Ann Warren
Eduardo: Luiz Guzman
Stacy: Nicky Katt
Terry Valentine: Peter Fonda
Adhara: Amelia Heinle
Jenny: Melissa George

Wilson: [peering over railing] What are we standing on?
Ed: Trust?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Dark Knight

So once again, I saw The Dark Knight. My best friend loved Batman Begins, and just finished taking the BAR so she hadn’t had a chance to see it yet and we went.

This film still thrills me. Each time I watch it I appreciate Aaron Eckhart and Christian Bale more.

I don’t know how else to explain it, but Christian Bale understands Batman, and he understands that delicate balance between the public image of Bruce Wayne, and the reality of his life as Batman and how that touches every aspect of Bruce Wayne. I cannot watch the scene between Bale & Eckhart in the restaurant discussing Gotham’s need for Batman and not think how much fun it must be as an actor to get to play the defender and the one claiming the defender is unessential.

Eckhart is a similar joy for me to watch as I have been following him since I saw a little film called In the Company of Men when I was in high school. The most surprising thing about Eckhart is the sheer charisma he brings to every role he plays, and Harvey Dent is no exception. It takes very little build up for the audience to believe that Dent is on the level merely from seeing the way Eckhart carries himself and until his downfall he walks the very careful line between following the rules and creating his own. We see the first glimpse of this when Dent kidnaps one of Joker’s wounded men in an attempt to interrogate him. He’ll push through his rules, but he has barriers in place to keep them from breaking; these barriers would be his “own luck” (a.k.a. his coin) and reliance Batman. This perfectly sets Dent up as a hero, but one much more capable of breaking than Wayne.

The more I see of Christopher Nolan’s work the more I adore him. From lighting to set decoration there is no wasted visual element in The Dark Knight. This is a movie born from a man that enjoys the world he is creating and wants to draw you completely into it so that you enjoy it too.

Lt. James Gordon: Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now...and so we'll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he's not a hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector...a dark knight.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Movie Blog

I am currently making my own directorial debut in the indy feature film category. I have a blog now dedicated to the film.

Please check it out here: End.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Dr. Horrible
Originally uploaded by pinknblack73
I debated putting this review up for awhile, and I finally decided I can. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is not a movie, but it’s not a TV show either; it is a short project that is more along the lines of a short film and is available on iTunes.

Dr. Horrible is the latest project to spring from the mind of Joss Whedon and onto our home entertainment systems (until Dollhouse this fall); for those of you not in the know this is the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Titan A.E., and the upcoming Cabin in the Woods. He is a man known for original concepts, witty dialogue and perfect casting. In my opinion he’s had three of the best television shows ever to grace the airwaves.

When I saw him at Comic Con in 2007 he spoke of a little project he wanted to do with Neil Patrick Harris called Dr. Horrible and that he decided he was not entertaining audiences enough in the past few years and he was going to start entertaining us again.

I did not know that his first attempt at entertaining us would be Dr. Horrible, but I was not disappointed.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is bout none other than the arch-villain wannabe Dr. Horrible. He’s trying to get into the Evil League of Evil run by Bad Horse, he has an insane crush on Penny who he can’t muster the strength to talk to every week at the laundry matt, and his arch nemesis is Captian Hammer who is a very self-involved super hero. Dr. Horrible has turned in his application to the Evil League of Evil and is waiting to hear back about his application; he finally does hear back and is told that he is under consideration and they are watching him and his dastardly deeds. Oh, and it’s a musical.

Watching this I was reminded of why I tuned into Buffy religiously every week. Joss Whedon manages to capture my imagination in a way that no one else ever has, and he can make me laugh, cry and be tense in the same hour time period. I really want Joss to begin getting the recognition that he deserves.

Writer & Director: Joss Whedon
Other Writers: The Whedon Brothers & Maurissa Tancharoen
Dr. Horrible: Neil Patrick Harris
Captain Hammer: Nathan Fillion
Penny: Felicia Day
Moist: Simon Helberg

Dr. Horrible: I also need to be a little bit more careful about what I say on this blog. Apparently, the LAPD and Captain Hammer are among our viewers.