Friday, November 22, 2013


(Year end movie round up as published in the December 2013 edition of The Scene.)

Time to put this 2013 thing to rest with a few supplementary observations on some film bits that I failed to give proper attention to during the preceding 11 episodes of this column.

We start with a sensationally odd little tale called Wrong about a distraught young man who suddenly and inexplicably finds himself without his best friend, a fluffy canine named Paul. Said chap, calling himself Dolph (as played by Jack Plotnick) finds this is yet another in a series of steps working to unwind his already questionable mental framework. Dolph is in severe denial over being released from his standard issue office job to the point in which he continues behave as if he still belongs at his desk plugging away at his computer (beneath a ceaseless sheet of indoor rainfall, which is apparently the norm at this company) whilst his former co-workers look on in disbelief. In addition, Dolph gains the acquaintance of a collection of characters of equally off base stature. His gardener Victor (Eric Judor) draws his attention to the fact that the palm tree in his backyard has morphed into a pine tree, which isn't right, a plucky pizza delivery gal (Alexis Dziena) who takes an analytical phone debate over the nature of her store's logo as an impetus for romantic bliss and a mystery man named Mr. Chang (William Fichtner) with a direct hand in the missing pooch dilemma all work to help take poor Dolph down a weird path toward abstract enlightenment.

If the above outlined scenario comes off as more than a bit confused, it damn well should. Wrong arrives on the scene as the third directorial effort of a French bred fella named Quentin Dupieux. This is the same guy who carved out a compelling, if not in anyway logical, narrative based around the loopy concept of a homicidal tire rampaging across the desert under the observation of a group of random spectators and the pursuit of a slightly disjointed police force. That film bore the given title of Rubber and took to the cult film circuit with predictable results creating an appreciation of its director's very specific slant on many of the well trod conventions of the cinematic form. Dupieux, a man hailing from an electronic music/performance art background (established under the pseudonym 'Mr. Oizo') seems far more interested in the bending and mutating of many of the rules taken for granted by casual, everyday viewers. This tactic makes an audience member reevaluate the nature of the art form and, in particular, the  order of things in direct relation to the telling of a story. Not all cinema need unfurl in A, B, C/ straight line fashion and it is always a refreshing thing to behold when someone comes along with a complete bid to step apart from the familiar.

This Wrong film comes to the home video arena care a distributor out of Austin, Texas named Drafthouse Films. An offshoot of the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain famed for old school movie going presentation, odd duck, indie-cult programming and elaborate festivals. The video company was started in 2010 with similar, alternative ambitions. Other releases on this label have included the Belgian forgien Oscar nominee Bullhead, the 70s schlock reissue The Visitor (with a great, past their prime cast including Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters and even Sam Peckinpah) and the latest by Japanese meistro of utter oddness Sion (Love Exposure, Suicide Club,Cold Fish) Sono with the warm moniker Why Don't You Play In Hell?

The Wrong DVD includes a few handy goodies to help, possibly, flesh out some the many thematic issues and/or points of confusion likely to raise a fair measure of expected inquirey on the part of many who witness the confidently surreal world that the film presents. Phase 7-The Making of a Non-Film uses interviews and commentary by the powers involved in the production to help explain away the modus operandi behind this boy in search of dog saga while the requisite 'behind the scenes' segment actually consists of various cast and crew members giving  script readings of random portions of the storyline. Worth a look for anyone who just wants a little something to help offset the doldrums the predictiblility of most mainstream products dominating rental outlet shelves often impart. I actually stumbled on this at my local library but if one is interested enough they can check for all the nessessary details.

Now for the rest of the stuff I can remember seeing that's worth sharing.

Spring Breakers.

Tell me you anticipated that a Harmony Korine movie would roll into a successful, wide, theatrical release riding on the gimmick of a bunch of once plucky, Disneyfied good girls getting down and debauched. Best time at the movies all year, thanks to Korine's knack for making even the most absurd degenerate behavior seem poetic and, dare I say, groovy. Four cute, hormonally imbalanced and morally confused gal pals (fleshed out by former Disney drones like Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez)  rob a greasy spoon for some fast cash to fund their quest to escape their uneventful, community college life for the suds and skin orgies of beach side chaos that is the make shift spring break week of St. Petersburg, FL. An excess of substance addled partying leads to legal entanglement and an unexpected helping hand in Alien (James Franco), a local dope slinger and would be rapper who draws the heavily impressionable ladies into his world of small scale drug lording and over the top, white rapper clich├ęs. The meat of the value of this whole wacky opus has got to be the from now on to be forever memorable performance of Mr. Franco.

Alien the motor mouthed quote machine is easily the best, pure cartoon character I've come in contact with in many a year (certainly in this movie going season). Franco's roll call of all his many trivial material trinkets ('look at my shit') is my pick for the film's best stand alone scene and the energy the actor derives from this larger than life and then some persona works to lift an already potent Korine opus to the next level of 'beautifully' disturbed. The music at play in the picture works to perfection as well as the visuals (sorry Skrillex haters) and I am quite sure I will never think of the work of Britney Spears in quite the same way again (you'll understand once you've seen the film).

Pacific Rim.

The best of the big summer specticles that I got around to checking out. Guillermo del Toro's vivid mash up of Robotech-ish anime and big reptile monsters knocking shit over is the kind of colorful, fun for the sake of being fun epic that we just don't see enough of anymore. Duel pilot mecha suits named Jaegers smash into ugly, turtle like bastards called Kaiju (Japanese for 'strange creature', natch) in order to stave off the end of all things we humans cling to on this rock called Earth. Simple concept, sure, but it has a kind of Saturday morning cartoon vibe that del Toro has employed so strongly in the past (as in his two Hellboy films) that works fine here to present a loud, sprawling summer epic that avoids the murk and dreariness that dulled much of its (unfortunately higher grossing) competition like the underwhelming Man of Steel or the mostly dreadful Word War Z. I actually hope they pursue the film's sequel potential.

The World's End.

More effortless fun and genre blending from the trio of film maker Edgar Wright (bouncing way back from that forgettable Scott Pligrim misfire) and his fave actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. As with the slacker sitcom vs zombie flick homage of Shaun of the Dead and the buddy cop meets gore chic murder mystery devices of Hot Fuzz this film marries seemingly unrelated themes and styles to oddly maximum effect. A group of old friends who have greatly drifted apart are brought unexpectedly together by their least formidable member (Pegg) who posits a return to their glory days of drunken abandon with a 12 step pub crawl that he hopes will fully congeal their long estranged social bond. Once this proposal is set in motion the lads slowly discover the general populace surrounding them is not quite on par with one would call genuine humanity. A strange presence has integrated itself into the horde and the film reveals this in methods both goofy and startling. The World's End shifts smoothly from manic comedy replete with plentiful gags and one-liners to something cooly creepy and rich with a stout John Carpenter vibe as the whole thing winds its way to some truly inspired and unexpected reveals. Fresh on home video shelves as I write this. Get to it.

Other films of note I caught throughout the year include, Gravity which every much has earned its reputation as one of the few films one must attend at the theater (and the bigger the screen, the better). An absolute mastery of the cinematic form by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron who succeeds in placing the viewer in what has to be as close to the experience of floating in the endless void of outer space can ever be conveyed to the common human. That and Sandra Bullock is confoundingly solid in the role of the poor sod who must overcome seemingly endless odds to escape a crippled space station and make her way back to Mamma Earth. Simple outline, increadible execution on all technical fronts. Prince Avalanche marked a much needed return to form of sorts for one time indie voice on the rise David Gordon Green. Green, once responsible for such odd treasures as George Washington and Undertow forged a name in conventional terms as a writer/director of comedic efforts like The Pineapple Express and the heavily profane East Bound & Down cable show. He faultered somewhat with a pair of unremarkable flicks (Your Highness, The Sitter) but seems to have regained his footing here with this spare yet genuine character study of two  conflicting personas, young and easily bored Lance (Emile Hirsch) and his sister's strict and internalized beau Alvin (Paul Rudd) as they spend a summer repainting highway road lines in the wake of a devastating forest fire. Concerned more with nuances of personality and carefully measured performances, Prince Avalanche is a reassuring sign that this director has not forgotten the skill set that helped make him in the first place.

12 Years a Slave is the anti-Django and director Steve McQueen makes damn certain that point is made paramount in this, his third film and soon to be Oscar dominator. The film is based on the slave narrative by Solomon Northup and details his abduction from his productive life as a freeman violin player in New York and subsequent violent induction into the brutal plantation realm of the dirty south. McQueen and his splendid cast and crew create a harsh and even suffocating experience that goes to great lengths to make sure any audience game enough to endure it will take away from it the value of any living man, woman or child's individual freedom and complete peace of mind. Expect to hear a ton more about this fearless sucker come February, particularly in regards to McQueen and many of his chief actors (i.e. Chiwetel Ejiofor and a raging Michael Fassbender). Still rolling in theaters everywhere. Don't fear it, see it.

Lastly, a few further, much briefer notes of some good (if not great) options for y'all when next you decide to make it a movie night.
Pawn Shop Chronicles for further cementing the belief I have that director Wayne Kramer is a truly gifted master of purely unexpected character quirks and sheer, perverse dementia (see also his earlier film Running Scared) and also that Elijah (Frodo) Wood is destined to own a lofty place within the ranks of the all time cinematic creepers. V/H/S 2 for handily topping both its predessessor and the much more hyped ABC's of Death in a bid for the current horror anthology crown.

The Place Beyond the Pines for proving with little doubt that a film with both Ryan Gosling AND Bradley Cooper can capture the attention of an audience encompassing more than just swooning females (see also Only God Forgives for additional, man friendly Gosling). Mud, the latest significant statement from director Jeff Nichols and actor Matthew McConaughey (whose latest slate of films deserves an article all unto their own). I have enjoyed all that Nichols has put forth to date and from what I hear his next project is set to be a sci-fi picture serving tribute to the ever influencial Johnny Carpenter. Expect to hear far more detailed rambling about Mr. Nichols and his work sometime in the none so distant future. Grabbers is a decent, Irish drinking man's monster movie with slimy, tentacled beasties besieging a desolate island community where the most potent weapon of retaliation is a high concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream. No joke, IFC put it out which means Family Video outlets will surely carry it.

That'll do it, happy present giving. See you in the 2014.