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Watching More Movies: Keanu Reeves Interviews Top Directors in ‘Side By Side’

Watching More Movies: Keanu Reeves Interviews Top Directors in ‘Side By Side’

Watching More Movies: Keanu Reeves Interviews Top Directors in ‘Side By Side’

I’d never held a film camera until I was in college. Prior to that, it was only digital. Either a video camera with a mini-VHS tape in it or eventually one with a mini-DV tape. I made some short films and a music video with these as it was the only option for me. In college, I took one film production class and we had to use actual film. We took some shots with an 8mm camera, the instructor had them developed and we then took parts of our classmates films and edited them by hand using a moviola and setting out little shorts to instrumental music. If I needed to do it again now I’d have no clue what I was doing, but I could certainly shoot and edit recorded images digitally. “Side By Side” is a documentary tackling the differences between film and digital.

The film is largely a talking head documentary with questions lobbed by Keanu Reeves. These interviews, combined with clips and some Reeves voiceover, piece together the potential revolution of digital filmmaking replacing celluloid movies. It’s not that the revolution isn’t already upon us. There are interviews with directors like David Fincher, George Lucas and James Cameron who have shot multiple films with a digital camera and continue to push the technology forward for their own purposes, as well as for their colleagues and future filmmakers. At the same time, there are talks with celluloid holdouts like Christopher Nolan and his longtime Director of Photography, Wally Pfister.

Side By Side pic

It was a huge coup to get the top directing and cinematographic talent, as though I’m interested in the subject matter, if two amateurs are discussing these things, regardless of their knowledge, I couldn’t care less. In that, it was probably necessary to recruit someone like Keanu Reeves, who’s worked in this business and has all the contacts enabling him to get these interviews. Though he’s often dismissed by the critical community as an actor, he comes off as thoughtful, knowledgeable and genuinely interested here, possibly unlike many A-list actors who lend their voice talent to documentaries. Reeves puts himself in the Michael Moore/Morgan Spurlock role and it helps convey the intrigue in the material.

It’s odd to see where people fall down on this issue, especially when two directors I greatly respect, Fincher and Nolan, come down on opposing sides of film versus digital. I want to side with my favorite directors, but they’re arguing against each other. Though he certainly would’ve dominated the conversation, I would love for someone like Quentin Tarantino to have been a part of the film (though I’m sure they tried hard to make it happen), though he’s made his film stance very clear in the past few years, stating if film is no longer an option, neither is his directing. I’m positive film will go the way of the dodo, but hopefully long after directors like Tarantino and Nolan are no longer capable of performing their art.

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Watching More Movies – Park Chan-wook’s ‘I’m a Cyborg, but that’s Okay’

Watching More Movies – Park Chan-wook’s ‘I’m a Cyborg, but that’s Okay’

Watching More Movies – Park Chan-wook’s ‘I’m a Cyborg, but that’s Okay’

If anyone were to ask me if I was a fan of whimsy, I’d almost certainly say “no.” For the most part, I like my films grounded in reality. I have no use for fantasy and I view that and the notion of whimsy as tonal cousins. However, I’d only answer that way because one of the most whimsical films I’m aware of, “Amelie,” doesn’t jump immediately to mind. When I wrote about my favorite films of the last decade, I noted how it took a few viewings of “Amelie” for me to truly uncover its brilliance. Director Park Chan-wook made what I’d call Korea’s answer to that film, but set in a mental hospital, with “I’m a Cyborg, but that’s Okay.” And it’s fantastic.

In “I’m a Cyborg…,” a young woman named Young-goon works on a factory line, making radios. This mundane job sends her over the edge to where she believes she’s no longer human and has become a cyborg. She almost kills herself, as she slits her wrists and tries to insert wires into her veins. With a precedent set by Young-goon’s crazy grandmother, Young-goon’s mother has her put away in a mental institution, where the rest of the film takes place.

im a cyborg pic

The mental hospital is loaded with colorful characters, from a habitual liar and storyteller, a man so wracked with guilt he thinks anything bad that happens in the world is a result of his doing something wrong and lastly to a young man who is always wearing a mask and thinks he can absorb the traits of characters around him. The young man is Il-sun and he becomes enamored with Young-goon upon her arrival. Her cyborg mentality causes Young-soon to skip her meals for fear of scrambling her circuitry, opting instead for licking batteries, attempting to retain an electric fuel charge. When it’s discovered Young-goon is dying as a result of not eating, Il-sun tries to get even closer.

Those aware of Park’s previous efforts like his Vengeance Trilogy, including films like “Oldboy,” probably find it hard to believe the description above was for a film made under his watch. “I’m a Cyborg” came after all three of those revenge-fueled tales, serving as a kind of palette-cleanser for the man behind the camera, as well as his audience. What it really does is cement Park as a non-one-note director as some may believe of a director like Guy Ritchie and British gangster films. “I’m a Cyborg” contains all the visual sumptuousness of something like “Oldboy,” but injects the kind of whimsy “Amelie” is so known for. I could swear parts of the score were even the same. Nevertheless, Park’s film is his own, as it contains some fantastical violence to go along with its quirky characters. I liked Park from the moment I saw “Oldboy,” but now that I know he’s capable of mixing in a curveball like this, it makes his future work impossible to miss.

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Mini Movie Reviews: Gosling’s ‘All Good Things’, McConaughey’s ‘Mud’, Hoffman’s ‘Capote’

Mini Movie Reviews: Gosling’s ‘All Good Things’, McConaughey’s ‘Mud’, Hoffman’s ‘Capote’

Mini Movie Reviews: All Good Things, Mud, Capote

All Good Things (2010)

all good thingsAll Good Things stars Ryan Gosling as David Marks, a man born into money, with a past that is hard to overcome. A young Marks meets and marries Katie (Kirsten Dunst), and the couple move from urban New York to hippy Vermont in the 70’s. Katie doesn’t know the control that David’s Dad (Frank Langella) has over him nor about David’s mysterious past (he was forced to see his mother commit suicide as a child). Eventually, David is pulled back into the family’s shady real estate business against his will. Despite the money, Katie and David grow apart and Katie goes missing.

The story is told through what essentially is a flashback event in real-time, as an under oath David explains to a jury these past events. Does David know what happened to Katie? Does he know what happened later on in other deaths? The story spans some 30 years and what starts out as a thriller turns into a bit of a head-scratcher. It’s not poorly done and carried intrigue, but the story – supposedly based on real events – just is a little weird and disjointed. It’s like watching one of those ABC doc shows about missing persons and in the end it is about as entertaining and interesting if that is something you care to engage in.

Mud (2013)

mud movie pic

Matthew McConaughey stars as Mud, an outlaw of sorts running from gunmen out to seek revenge for Mud killing a man. The real star of the film however is Tye Sheridan’s (Tree of Life) Ellis, a young boy, who with his partner Neckbone, discovers Mud living on an abandoned island in Mississippi(I believe). When the boys encounter Mud, they learn of his past over a few short days and hatch a plan to help the mysterious loner reconnect with his “girlfriend” Juniper, played by Reese Witherspoon. Eventually, the gunmen catch up with Mud and you have to see the film to find out the rest.

Mud is really about Ellis and his desire of love. His thoughts of what love is, his growing up and his relationships (with Mud, Neckbone, his parents and his “girlfriend”). This is a coming of age tale in some ways, mixed with a boy growing up too soon, dealing with adult themes and pressures placed on the young man. Though the film is slow-paced, it is engrossing, primarily due to Sheridan’s performance. You can feel his innocence, his desire to learn, his disconnectedness from certain elements and more. Mud may star a recent Oscar winner, but it’s Sheridan’s movie and his performance that makes the movie worth seeing.

Capote (2005)

Capote Hoffman

Capote won the best actor Oscar for Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the man who recently passed tragically at 46 to Heroin. Hoffman plays the titular character, flamboyant, charismatic, conniving, deceptive and reveals all his flaws for us to see. Capote follows the New Yorker author discovering a story of senseless killings and his relationship with one of the killers over a period of several years, before the killer (played by the underrated chameleon Clifton Collins Jr.) is sentenced to death by hanging. In the interim, Capote has penned a book based on these characters, “In Cold Blood,” and its hailed as the book that will change how people write and one of the most important and impressive books in American modern literature.

Capote is Hoffman’s film, and though I’ve seen it previously, based upon his recent passing, I wanted to take in more performances of the talented actor. Here you can see him transform so seamlessly into the character it is hard to separate performance from reality. One can sadly see how difficult is must have been to be so engrossed in a character and placing that thought process on him multiple times over in a career can certainly begin to lead to trouble off camera. Capote is a good but strange and at times meandering movie. You can see why it won Hoffman a statue but also why it failed to capture any more meaningful prizes during from the grandest of Hollywood awards that year.

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Watching More Movies: 1996 Horror Film ‘Arcane Sorcerer’ (Arcano Incantatore)

Watching More Movies: 1996 Horror Film ‘Arcane Sorcerer’ (Arcano Incantatore)

Watching More Movies: 1996 Horror Film ‘Arcane Sorcerer’

Guillermo del Toro is a director I respect and want to like more than I actually do. For some reason, none of his films have truly made an impression on me the way they have others, but I continue to hope one day something will connect for me. But it’s because of respect for him that I hunted down a 1996 Italian horror film, “Arcane Sorcerer” I mentioned in my piece about “Joe Versus the Volcano” about a new book called “Best Movie You’ve Never Seen.” I haven’t read it, but how I first came to hear about it was from RogerEbert.com and saw this excerpt from the book with del Toro talking about this movie.

I was worried about how in the world I’d hunt down the movie, as del Toro himself mentioned he had a difficult time doing so, but there’s a copy of it on YouTube. Turn the captions on and you’re treated to English subtitles. Not that I’m necessarily recommending you do so. In the book excerpt, del Toro mentions his grandmother had attempted two exorcisms of him as a child due to his interest in the occult. You can absolutely see why he would be fascinated with this film as it seems to tick every box from what you know of him. Unfortunately, those interests don’t particularly align with mine.

Arc sorc

The film is largely told in flashback to a priest in the 17th or 18th century by a man possessed by “The Evil One” or the devil. The possessed man used to be a priest himself, and while on the job, got a woman pregnant and forced her to have an abortion. In order to avoid punishment from the church, he makes a pact with an old woman who stashes him working as an assistant to a Monsignor in a remote area, where the previous aid had recently passed. The disgraced priest determines the former aid had killed two girls at a nearby convent and the Monsignor appears to be covering for his former pupil all while mysterious goings-on are taking place in their own monastery.

Edgar Wright deemed this “the ‘Barry Lyndon’ of horror movies.” It’s certainly a clue as to the period in which “Arcane Sorcerer” takes place, but I’d cut off any other comparisons after that, especially given my affection for Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 epic. Where del Toro praises director Pupi Avati’s use of period and setting, mixed with his attention to detail and research, I certainly couldn’t argue. However, it’s anything involving horror or even much of a story that propels much action where I’m completely baffled. There was almost nothing that kept me going outside of a dedication to getting to the end. I can see where if you’ve seen every other movie in existence that this would qualify as the best one you’ve never seen, but outside of that, I can’t concur. But still, I await the day del Toro and I agree on something.

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Watching More Movies: Authority Rules In ‘Compliance’

Watching More Movies: Authority Rules In ‘Compliance’

Watching More Movies: Authority Rules In ‘Compliance’

For about a year, I swore off reading any movie news. I felt I was too immersed in every detail of any film I was interested in and it left my enjoyment of each anticipated movie lacking once I saw it. During this time, I wondered how I was supposed to know what movies I wanted to see in the first place. The big movies I’d already been aware of, but what about the smaller ones? I decided I’d at least watch trailers. They’d give me a sense of whether I wanted to see something or not. About a month ago (long after my year off ended), I saw the trailer for “Compliance”. I’d never heard anything about it, nor knew anyone involved. But, the trailer did exactly what it was supposed to do, it hooked me.

“Compliance” is based on a real event, which the end of the film mentions was actually one of only 70 similar instances across the nation in a span of about a decade. Becky (Dreama Walker) is a server at a fast food restaurant called ChickWich. Her manager, Sandra (Ann Down), gets a phone call from a police officer, saying he has a patron with him, accusing a server of having stolen money from her purse. The officer gives a description of the server that matches Becky and asks Sandra to bring Becky back into the office for interrogation. Except he won’t be the one interrogating her. He instructs Sandra to do so.

compliance

It was obvious from the trailer this phone call was from someone only impersonating a police officer and I wonder how long it would have taken to figure out if I hadn’t known beforehand. It’s curious the film is nearly forty minutes into its runtime before it reveals the call is truly a prank and from a disturbed individual and not from an officer of the law (not that those two things don’t coincide from time to time). But, because you know it’s a prank, whenever you figure it out, it’s definitely an exercise in frustration, much like I felt with the Italian “classic” “Bicycle Thieves,” in which the main character gets a job that requires owning a bicycle, which he’s pawned and spends the length of the film trying to retain it. “Just borrow one,” you want to shout.

In addition to being an exercise in audience frustration, it’s a psychological look at what people will do when in the midst of authority, similar to the “The Stanford Experiment.” While some might feel frustrated, I never once felt I was in the hands of anyone but a fantastic craftsman in writer/director, Craig Zobel. He makes the camera shy away in the most sensitive of story areas and he keeps the camera trained in spots that ratchet up the tension perfectly. A disciple of David Gordon Green, I’m very intrigued by what he does next. I’m glad the trailer was good enough to hook me.

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Watching More Movies: Director Takashi Miike’s ‘Audition’

Watching More Movies: Director Takashi Miike’s ‘Audition’

Watching More Movies: 1999′s ‘Audition’

“It was all a dream. I used to read ‘Word Up!’ Magazine.” – Notorious B.I.G.

I believe the dream sequence is a pathetic storytelling device. Not the quick rose-petals-falling-from-Menu-Suvari’s-naked-body-type dreams from “American Beauty,” nor the extended journey into Technicolor of “Wizard of Oz.” But the dream sequences that attempt to fool the audience, pulling the rug from under them in a “got ya” sort of way. Brian De Palma has been guilty in “Dressed to Kill” and “Femme Fatale” and it was used to negate a 40-minute piece of storytelling in the Nicolas Cage-starring “Next,” earning its spot at the bottom of my “Movies of 2007” list. I didn’t know “Audition” did the same.

I’d tried watching “Audition” once before, about seven years ago. I was nodding off during it and falling asleep plus subtitles don’t mix. I remembered portions of the film. Certainly the final 15 to 20 minutes for which the movie is known for. This was also at the height of my “Saw” and “Hostel” love, giving me reasons to beg for torture porn. Due to what I vividly remembered, I crossed the film off my list and moved on, but decided to give it another try to take in the full experience.

Audition

“Audition” begins with Shigeharu Aoyama at his wife’s bedside for the last seconds of her life. Seven years later, his son notes his discontent and suggests he remarry. Shigeharu confides the idea to his filmmaker friend, telling him he doesn’t want a marriage to fail at his age and wants to make sure he meets as many women as possible to make an informed decision on choosing his betrothed. His friend suggests setting up an audition for a movie and Shigeharu can sit in on the process to learn about each girl who comes in. Eventually, he lands on Asami Yamazaki, a former ballet dancer, and attempts to court her.

This is the only Takashi Miike film I’ve seen, but he has no less than 92 entries on his directing resume, dating back to 1991. A good 25 of them are music videos, but that still only knocks his film entries down to the 60s. You wonder how one movie in a sea of that many rises above the others. For “Audition,” it’s the end. It’s impossible to describe the movie without touching upon it, but prior to then the film plays largely like a romantic drama, especially with its soap opera-esque score over the scenes the lovelorn Shigeharu shares with Asami. This makes the torture scenes at the end all the more surprising, but it’s revealed to have been a dream. Normally, this would enrage me, but here it gives Shigeharu pause. It’s a similar effect to Tom Cruise’s reaction to Nicole Kidman’s dream confession in “Eyes Wide Shut,” making it more than just rug-pulling diversion. “Audition” could possibly be blamed for the bad dream sequences in “Femme Fatale” and “Next,” but even so, I’m glad I gave it another try.

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Watching More Movies: Kim Jee-woon’s Arnold-Led ‘The Last Stand’

Watching More Movies: Kim Jee-woon’s Arnold-Led ‘The Last Stand’

Watching More Movies: Kim Jee-woon’s Arnold-Led ‘The Last Stand’

The return of Arnold Schwarzenegger into starring roles after his governorship was met with little fanfare. “The Last Stand” was dumped on January 18th and made just a hair above $12 million at the box office. Reviews rendered it is as close to mediocre as possible, as it currently resides on the Fresh threshold at 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. I was one of the resisters, especially given the release date and my ambivalence toward Schwarzenegger in general (in particular, his return). However, some reviews had geared me toward thinking it might be worth seeing and I recently learned about the brilliance of director Kim Jee-woon (“I Saw the Devil”), making this a must-try.

Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, a small-town Sheriff in Summerton Junction, Arizona. He leads a staff of three who long for any sort of adventure, as the most excitement they’ve recently had is saving a cat from a tree. Owens is a former LAPD narcotics officer who had seen a bunch of friends gunned down in a drug bust, taking five bullet wounds himself. He moved out of the bustle to avoid action. Everything was working out for him until a bunch of ex-military types show up causing trouble and his deputies have their wish granted.

arnold knoxville

Arnold wanted to turn the gun on Knoxville.

These ex-military types are connected with something taking place in a far more active city, Las Vegas. FBI officers are relocating drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez when his transfer vehicle is suddenly lifted off the ground via a magnetic crane and he’s able to escape recapture by hopping into a Corvette ZR-1 (I would never know this if Chevy weren’t undoubtedly a financier in the film). He’s heading straight for Summerton Junction, as those ex-military men are his cronies, building a bridge over a canyon between the U.S.–Mexico border, so he can drive right over it into his escape. It’s up to Owens and his band of merry men and one woman (of which there are three in the film) to stop him.

“The Last Stand” was Kim’s first English-language film. His American debut bested another of his country’s prominent directors – Park Chan-wook, who made his first English affair with “Stoker” – by just a couple of months. Park’s film made even less money and garnered only slightly more favorable reviews (68% on Rotten Tomatoes), but it’s the far more stylish and visually-alluring film. Kim’s looks like it could have been directed by any other Hollywood hack and have come up with the same result. It’s only the last 40 minutes or so of runtime where anything resembling what might qualify as “good” shows up. There’s a decent amount of beautiful violence, but that’s all that exists. It’s a highly disappointing effort that has me fearing for where his career goes next. Certainly more so than Park. I’ll continue to follow whatever he does, but I hope this doesn’t turn him into Michel Gondry. Although, if that happens, I’ll always have his Korean work.

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Movie Editorial: The Unfortunate Demise of the Likable Vince Vaughn

Movie Editorial: The Unfortunate Demise of the Likable Vince Vaughn

Movie Editorial: The Unfortunate Demise of the Likable Vince Vaughn

I like Vince Vaughn and I want him to succeed. I want to like his movies, like I once did when I, and so many others, fell for his charm in 1996’s Swingers. Though he was around before then in bit parts, Swingers put him on the map. His manic, trash talking, good guy/bad guy persona has been his calling card ever since. He followed that up with diverse roles in films that I’ve seen such as Return to Paradise, Clay Pigeons and Psycho. (I left out J3: Lost World on purpose). At that point in time he was becoming a bonafide star.

Unfortunately, with stardom comes more challenging career choices. Projects are thrown at you and it can be difficult not to get pigeonholed into certain roles, especially when trapped in the Tinseltown machine. Vaughn is the quintessential guys sidekick. Dopey enough to be relatable but fun enough to still pull the girls. He was a “puffy motherfucker” as referred to by HBO’s ‘Entourage’ and it was all good. Ultimately, he’s a guy most men would like to “kick it” with, to have a drink and banter.

With popularity, Vaughn became somewhat ubiquitous. He was churning out multiple roles every year a decade ago and always seemed to be the same guy. From Old School to Dodgeball to bit parts in Anchorman and Zoolander, he was becoming a little too outlandish. His Vince-ness reached a crescendo in 2005’s seminal Wedding Crashers. If he wasn’t a star before, he was locked in then and he was expected to be “that dude”.

vince vaughn dancing

Since then, however, his career has been in a nosedive. The Break-Up was borderline tolerable at best, but Couples Retreat or Fred Claus anyone? I thought so. More of the same came (in all likelihood – though they are films I haven’t seen) in The Watch, The Dilemma, The Internship and finally, the newly released Delivery Man. None of these films seemed to carry the charm of some of Vaughn’s earlier efforts, and no, I don’t feel as though I have to see them to make that claim.

But ultimately, that’s kind of the point -17 years ago we found him, 10 years ago, we still loved him, but nowadays he’s bordering on irrelevance. I don’t want to see the films I mentioned and that says it all. I used to want to spend time with the guy who had the whip-smart quips and who’d seemingly never grow up, but now – ehh, not so much. The top user list on his IMDB page is an article titled “Celebrities that I dislike.” Ouch.

This happens to a lot, if not most, actors who have had success, so I get it, but I don’t have to like it. I’m still hopeful for a career renaissance but it’s hard to envision given his upcoming slate including Anchorman 2 and Daddy’s Home, both opposite Will Ferrell. The man will still get to make movies, but these eyes may never return. I’m thankful that we’ll always have Swingers though. That was money.

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