Tag: Thirst

Insanity Necessary: An argument for going all out

At the beginning of one of this summer’s biggest blockbusters we are treated to maybe the craziest thing anyone will see in theaters this year. Respected actors like Russel Crowe and Michael Shannon are dressed up in super-nuts outfits and barge in on a council meeting of people with silly hats to argue about eugenics. After a quick fight, Crowe jumps on the back of a giant four-winged beast and flies back to his house to witness the birth of his child, the first naturally born and conceived child on his home planet in ages. While all of this is happening, a battle rages outside among a planet that seems to be exploding at all times. It was crazy, it was weird, and I loved it. Man of Steel didn’t end up being a great movie, but it did succeed, at least early on, in doing what too few movies are brave enough to do: trying whole-heartedly to just do something.

All too often I have a moment of clarity while watching a movie. Most recently, The Purge came to a tipping point, a time when the narrative could go one way or another, and the movie’s success felt like it would live or die based on what the writer and director (the same person in this case but not always) decided would happen. In The Purge, a doorbell rings and the locked down family is brought into the moment, the beginning of the rest of the movie. The identity of that doorbell ringer will shape what kind of film the rest will play out as. Will it be a deeply cynical, biting social commentary where neighbors that smile in your face during the day turn into ruthless, jealous killers at night? Or will the ringer be revealed as just some guy, a less biting, less interesting choice which punts the potential of the film on third and one? Well, unfortunately, it’s the latter. The Purge goes from potentially great to boringly normal. Subpar, even, though that lies more on the lack of skill behind the camera than it does on the premise of the film. The Purge was never going to be a masterpiece given how poorly it was made, but it could have been a messterpiece, a movie which, as its most admirable quality, can claim that at least they were doing something. Trying something, giving it all they’ve got. I appreciate craziness, I appreciate insanity.

A few of my favorite messterpieces include Thirst, which melds uber-violent vampire things with wacky slapstick stuff and one of the silliest, most beautiful endings of the past decade, Synecdoche, New York, a movie that takes about a billion threads and tries to weave some of them into a truly emotional epic and mostly succeeds, and The Night of the Hunter, a mashup of a whole mess of techniques and styles that nonetheless congeals into a moving fairy-tale about growing up and being pure at heart. All of these movies are on my current top 100 list of all time, alongside other messterpeices like The Shining, Magnolia, and Brazil. None of these films lack ambition, though they might not quite reach what they’re grasping for. I will always give the edge to a movie that’s going for something with all of its heart over a movie that plays it safe with any kind of subject matter. This generally will reward genre movies as they often have a bit more leeway in terms of what they can go for and even more leeway as to what the audience will forgive. But serious dramas can go crazy with the best of them. The Lion in Winter doesn’t do a whole lot in the directorial department but the dialogue and the glee with which the actors say their lines is so delightfully over-the-top that I can’t help but fall under its spell of deceit and family politics. Punch-Drunk Love takes the patented Adam Sandler man-child and throws him into the real world where his immaturity helps him fall in love with a girl and endangers his life when a mattress salesman goes bananas at him. The Truman Show has a lot of logistical problems and plot-holes when you think about the situation for a while, but the power of the film and its crazy premise overpowers those nits and becomes something great. Again, all of these films are in my top 100 list. I just love a movie that aims high, even if it doesn’t reach its lofty target.

There are a few movies in my top 100 that are restrained, content to be the best that they can be. I’d put movies like Days of Heaven and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Raiders of the Lost Ark in that category, all of which might go all out for a scene but generally keep their ambitions close to their vests. It’s perfectly fine to do so. Last year Lincoln was one of my favorite films even though it was pretty much just a straight biography. But movies like The Cabin in the Woods and Cloud Atlas and Holy Motors occupy a greater amount of my thinking about last year’s films, and are the first titles that come to mind over the more staid films of the year. It’s something almost intangible, and I know that there are people out there that just prefer to have their movies be what they are and then be done. But why go to the cinema to see something you can outline in advance? What purpose do movies have if not to surprise us in their stories or their techniques or their ideas about life? Even today’s safest bets, superhero movies, are embracing the absurd. The opening of Man of Steel is just the most recent in a list of superhero films breaking out of the mold and becoming crazy. Thor: The Dark World had a trailer debut today and looks to capitalize on the biggest strength of the previous film, its sense of humor and high drama. Thor was peppered with Shakespearian dialogue and wacky outfits and canted angles and surreal sets. It’s the craziest of Marvel’s movie universe splinters and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The movie is huge. When my brother and I were getting popcorn at our 1pm showing on Saturday the guy working the counter said that the night showings were already sold out. The theater was running the film on 4 different screens. That’s crazy talk. It’s a date movie, a movie for the Twilight crowd, a movie for fans of the book, a movie for people that want to see young kids kill other young kids in brutally violent ways, a movie for everyone. And it’s pretty good, too.

The story is gladiators for the reality TV crowd, with a little dystopian future vibe. The tributes from each of the 12 districts of Panem (all between the ages of 12 and 18) fight to the death in a rigged arena for the pleasure of the Capitol audience and the hope-crushing of the rest of the citizens. A double whammy! Our hero, played quite well by Jennifer Lawrence, volunteers to be a tribute to save her little sister. She fights, she falls in love (?) and she comes to the inevitable conclusion. And that’s the problem with the film. For all of its pomp and circumstance (the bits at the Capitol before the Games begin are the highlights, showing just how silly and disconnected the privileged are) a lot of the film is a rote retelling of the book. The director (Gary Ross) doesn’t do anything to make the movie into a movie other than film the story as it is written in the book. The script was written in part by Suzanne Collins, the author of the book. This is why authors shouldn’t be allowed to adapt their own work for the screen. They are too hesitant to change things. There was nothing new, nothing that I didn’t already picture in my head when I read the book. Contrast this with the superb later films in the Harry Potter series which are faithful enough for the fans but maintain a cinematic quality that doesn’t exist in this version of The Hunger Games. It’s unfortunate, because the movie could have been great. Instead, it is just good. Pretty darn good, but not what it could have been. Luckily for us, however, it has made enough money to justify the two sequels, the second of which is by far the messiest book but also contains the most potential for a great film.

When I wrote my top 100 list last summer I talked a bit about messterpieces when I wrote about Thirst. What this movie could have used is some messiness. Yeah, it tries to get there with the near constant use of the shaky-cam, but even that is calculated to show just enough of the brutality to get the idea but not enough to get an R rating. The sense of urgency and dread is there, but not capitalized on. Only one scene really stood out to me once the Games got rolling. It’s a death scene and it is beautiful. The action stops, the film shows you something you didn’t see in the book (at least, not in the first book), the camera work drifts and floats around, and it all adds up to something wonderful. Why isn’t there more of this in the film? Where’s the feeling? I’m constantly being told that the stakes are high and everybody is sad, but this is the only scene where I feel it.

As I write this Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 is playing in the background. That’s an adaptation done right. That get’s the excitement of the battles, the sadness of the situation, the cinematic-ness of a movie. There are invented scenes and animation breaks. Yates goes all out to bring this world to life. What The Hunger Games could have used is a scene like the one where Harry and Hermione dance to a Nick Cave song. We need more connection to the characters, and we need to see them be people. Let The Hunger Games be a lesson on how extremely faithful adaptations will end up being only pretty good at best. The screen needs something different than the page. They are different media, allow them to be told in different ways.

Top 100 Films: The _9’s

If you don’t understand the title here please check out this post and look there for the first part of the list, the _0’s. And now, the ten movies in the spots that end in the number 9.

99. Thirst (2009)

Directed by Park Chan-wook. Starring Song Kang-ho  and Kim Ok-bin

I don’t kill anyone, you know.

I like to call movies like this “messterpieces,” movies that are kind of crazy and out of control but still fascinating. The final scene is at once hilarious and sad. And beautiful. Like the rest of the movie.

89. Brick (2005)

Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lukas Haas

No more of these informal chats! If you have a diciplinary issue with me, write me up or suspend me and I’ll see you at the Parent-Teacher conference.

The opposite of a messterpiece, Brick is supremely well constructed and thought through to the tiniest detail. The combination of noir and high school shouldn’t work but it does. An amazing debut.

79. Once (2006)

Directed by John Carney. Starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

What’s the Czech for “Do you love him”?

A small little musical that has more heart than most films. The romance is so believable and the moment they first sing together gives me goosebumps. It feels more like a documentary than a typical musical.

69. Hot Fuzz (2007)

Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

You’re not seriously gonna believe this man, are you? Are you? HE ISN’T EVEN FROM ‘ROUND HERE!

Minutely constructed, this movie takes at least two viewings to get all the jokes because the punchline often comes before the setup. It also works really well as a buddy cop movie, thanks to those three guys up there. The chemistry and direction are spot on.

59. The Truman Show (1998)

Directed by Peter Weir. Starring Jim Carrey and Laura Linney

Somebody help me, I’m being spontaneous!

Either before its time or a harbinger of doom that we didn’t heed, The Truman Show is a wonderful film. I love the pathos and the clever little touches like the commercials and the man in the moon controlling Truman’s life like the moon controls the tides.

49. A History of Violence (2005)

Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello

You’re supposed to call me Dad. That’s what I am, your Dad.

Here I’ll declare that I don’t like gangster movies except for the ones that do something other than the rise-and-fall that you find in, say, Goodfellas. A History of Violence is one of those movies. Here’s a man escaped who gets dragged back into his old life, kicking and screaming. There’s even some of the good old-fashioned body horror that Cronenberg is known for in the action scenes and Viggo’s uncomfortable-ness in his own house and family.

39. My Darling Clementine (1946)

Directed by John Ford. Starring Henry Fonda and Victor Mature

Sure is a hard town for a fella to have a quiet game o’ poker in.

John Ford made a lot of westerns. This is the best of the straightforward examples. Henry Fonda is awesome as usual and Victor Mature is way cooler than Val Kilmer’s take on Doc Holliday. And there’s a fun bad guy role for Walter Brennan, who seems to be in every movie that John Ford ever made.

29. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Directed by Steve James. Featuring William Gates and Arthur Agee

That’s why when somebody say, “When you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me,” and that stuff. Well, I should’ve said to them, “If I don’t make it, don’t you forget about me.”

One of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen. You see these two boys go from thinking they’ll be the next NBA stars to an uncertain future. Whether it be medical or motivational, these problems are both universal and unfortunately specific.

19. His Girl Friday (1940)

Directed by Howard Hawks. Starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell

Walter, you’re wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way.

The fastest dialogue I’ve ever heard keeps the energy going from start to end. Cary Grant is king of the screwball comedy and Rosalind Russell is up to the challenge of keeping up and even getting ahead of him. Consistently rewatchable.

9. Alien (1979)

Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt

I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.

The ultimate haunted house movie… that’s also set in space. Sigourney Weaver faces off against a man in a big rubber suit, and it’s one of the scariest movies of all time. Ridley Scott understands the Jaws lesson of showing less monster to get more scares. With one great sequel (3), one horrible sequel (Aliens) and one crazy sequel (Resurrection), I can’t wait to see what Scott does in the prequel. The original is an astounding film.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section