First I was ill and now my gf’s ill so we’ve been staying home a lot and we’ve been watching a lot of films (in between episodes of Master Chef).
Let’s start with the controversial one, shall we? Only God Forgives. It reteams Ryan Gosling with director/writer Nicolas Winding Refn following their hit Drive. It has what I think is a great trailer. And it is one of the worst reviewed films of the year, scoring just 8% from top critics over at Rotten Tomatoes the last time I checked. I liked it. Quite a bit.
(There may be spoilers.)
First of all, a big shout out to Larry Smith, the cinematographer. The film is shot almost entirely at night and reveals Bangkok to be a neon hell. There are also a lot of shots slowly tracking down empty hallways. In that, it reminded me of Kubrick, especially The Shining. The film, however, is dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky and I sort of get why, aside from the fact that Refn’s next film is based on something by this extreme Chilean filmmaker.
At any rate, the plot, what little there is. Two brothers, Billy and Julian, both drug dealers in Bangkok, Julian owns a Thai boxing gym on the side. Billy goes out one night high out of his mind and kills a 16 year old prostitute. (“He probably had his reasons,” says his mother when she later is told of this.) A sword-carrying Thai policeman, the Angel of Death, brings the girl’s father to Billy. The father beats Billy to death, the cop cuts the father’s arm off. But the mother, an extremely trashy Kristen Scott Thomas, wants more and she wants Julian to get it for her. This sets off a series of increasingly violent events.
There’s not much plot, there’s even less dialog, there’s no good guy to root for, and yet it all makes sense on some twisted level, at least to me. If Julian is completely twisted, the movie explains why … doled out in tiny bits and pieces. If you want to know how a guy could get off by being tied up and watching a hooker masturbate in front of him, well, he’s got mommy issues. I mean, he brings the girl to dinner with his mom and she sits there telling the girl that his brother had the bigger dick. Where’s Poppa indeed. (You find out later.)
I know, right now people hate this movie. And I could see why. But I think its reputation will grow in the coming years. I’m gonna watch it again.
Another star director, telling another confusing story in a confusing manner – Trance from Danny Boyle. A guy working inside an art gallery helps some crooks steal a painting. But he gets hit on the head and can’t remember where he stashed it. So the gang brings him to a hypnotherapist in the hopes that she can help him remember. So you think you’re watching a heist film. But you’re not. It’s a film noir, more Double Indemnity than Italian Job.
I don’t really get James McEvoy as a leading man and the great Vincent Cassel is mostly wasted here. You do get to see Rosario Dawson fully naked. Close up. But even that doesn’t redeem this film. Halfway through I was thinking, “I can’t wait for this to be over so I can watch it again and figure out what the hell is going on.” After it was over, I felt no need to watch it a second time. It seems to have little reason to exist other than to confuse the viewers and even after you know everything, there’s too much that makes too little sense.
Broken City. This is director Allen Hughes’ first big solo project. Normally he co-directs with his brother Albert and we get films like Menace II Society, From Hell and Book of Eli. After watching this vaguely political thriller with Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones, all I can say is, “give him back his brother.” First of all, Russell Crowe is completely miscast here and his accent is terrible. Second, the only people who won’t figure out what’s going on way in advance are people who have never seen a movie before. Wahlberg is an interesting actor (with a limited range) making awful choices lately.
Ip Man: The Final Fight. While this starts off well, it goes downhill pretty rapidly in the second half. Plot threads are dropped almost as soon as they are introduced, so despite some nice digital depictions of Hong Kong in the 50s (with plenty of anachronisms on screen), eventually it turns out that the “final fight” is a melee inside Kowloon Walled City featuring a pregnant woman hitting bad guys (and getting punched in the stomach). In other words, for a film about a real person, it would appear that almost everything in the film is made up. And really, Anthony Wong doing kung fu? He’s a great actor, one of Hong Kong’s best, he’s not a martial artist. Oh, and they make Bruce Lee seem like some insecure asshole.
Upside Down. Jim Sturgess (who’s he?) and Kirsten Dunst as star-crossed lovers from two different worlds. To watch this all the way through, you have to accept the comic book premise that there are two planets orbiting just yards away from each other – and if someone from planet A goes to planet B, gravity works backwards for them, plus is matter from planet A touches matter from planet B for more than a few seconds, it explodes. One planet is filled with rich people, the other is all slums. Metaphor. I get it. I couldn’t watch this all the way through.
The Place Beyond the Pines. Ryan Gosling again, this time working with Derek Cianfrance, who specializes in being depressing. Gosling doesn’t have much to do, again. Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes are far more interesting. This is a rich, multi-layered morality tale that never quite attains the level of meaning it aspires to – the sins of the fathers visited upon their sons – but it holds your attention for all 140 minutes.
Spring Breakers. Harmony Korine likes to make what some see as exploitative films about teenagers. This one got a lot of attention for putting ex-Disney stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens (along with a great James Franco) into bikinis in an R-rated film. It’s shot and cut in a way that’s either haphazard or totally brilliant; I couldn’t decide which. But halfway through I could decide that I didn’t care about any of these characters or how the film might end.
Rapture-Palooza. A comedy with a decent premise that’s a total misfire. After the Rapture, those left on earth are dealing with plagues and zombies while trying to have a normal life. Along comes Craig Robinson as the Anti-Christ who for some reason has the hots for Anna Kendrick. It’s written by the son of the great Richard Matheson. The film also includes Ken Jeong and Rob Corddry and, if I’m in a generous mood, about 5 laughs.
Drug War. Johnnie To is one of the only HK directors worth following these days. But this police procedural set about cops and drug dealers in the mainland only catches fire in the last 15 minutes. Otherwise quite a letdown.
Killing Them Softly. Brad Pitt reteams with the director of the excellent The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford for a film that’s not quite as good but not too bad either. The film also features James Gandolfini in one of his final performances.
Fast and Furious 6. Wait a second. Didn’t this series start out as being about a cop going undercover to nail a bunch of drag racers who were also drug dealers? And then somehow along the way they became international criminals pulling off large scale heists? And now a US government agent has somehow decided these are the only people in the world to take down a James Bond-style villain? Forget about it, it makes no sense at all, so just check your brain at the door and enjoy bigger stunts and more car crashes and get ready for Jason Statham in F&F7.
The Hangover Part III. Part 2 got horrible reviews but I thought it was okay so I was eager to see this even though it got worse reviews than Part 2. This time, the reviewers were right.