Monday, November 29, 2010

Inspector Bellamy (Monday, November 29, 2010) (150)

On it's surface, Claude Chabrol's Inspector Bellamy is a murder mystery investigation movie, a story of a cop who gets pulled out of his vacation and into a twisted tale of a crime of passion. It is really not that at all, but rather a tale of love, lust and aging, an examination of family ties and devotion to loved ones.

In Chabrol's final film (having died in September) we see Paul Bellamy (Gérard Depardieu), a famous detective who has written about his years on the police force, is on vacation with his wife Françoise in the South of France. He is contacted by a man who explains a very complicated romantic story involving the apparent murder of a homeless man, insurance fraud, facial reconstruction surgery, and a passionate extra-marital affair. The man hopes Bellamy can investigate his story and prove that he is not guilty of murder.

Bellamy is close to retirement and he and his wife are looking to spending more quiet time together, doing crossword puzzles and having dinner with friends. Bellamy's drunk, ne'er-do-well brother, Jacques, barges into their quiet life at this moment and begins to stir up their regular lives. Bellamy is a consummate cop, always digging, never trusting, never shitting down.

Depardieu gives one of his best performances, probably his best since his wonderful performance in Berri's Jean de Florette. He's an old man who still has a lot of life in him (and quite a sex drive). He's bitter and cynical, but very sympathetic and sometimes very funny.

We cannot forget that the film is the work of a master filmmaker. Chabrol takes the whole mystery genre and uses the structure as a McGuffin, a cinematic red herring. The film is not really a mystery at all (at least the mystery is rather the secondary story), but a story of a man coming to terms with the third season of his life and the messed-up nature of humanity. The script by Chabrol and Odile Barski is really wonderful, full of depth, love and humor.

Chabrol uses a wonderful a wonderful score written by his son Matthieu to set a rather sweet, nostalgic and light tone to the film. He uses lots of playful first-person point-of-view shots, somewhat ironically, as if we are Bellamy, walking through his house. The cinematography by Eduardo Serra is simple and straightforward, but very nice.

This film is really about nostalgia and old age, I think. It's about a man coming to terms with his own mortality, his own history and his own humanity. It has a slightly unusual structure (most of the film is the mystery story, but that is really the background), but is very sweet and interesting.

Stars: 3 of 4

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tiny Furniture (Friday, November 19, 2010) (149)

Tiny Furniture is the first feature film from Lena Dunham, daughter of New York artists Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham. The film seems to be rather autobiographical about a girl named Aura who gets home from her Midwestern private college (Dunham went to Oberlin) and moves back in with her mother, a SoHo artist who takes pictures of dollhouse furniture.

On the surface this is yet another version of The Graduate. A girl is done with college and looking for direction in life. But I think there is much more here than just that. This is a particularly young and frank version of contemporary life, particularly for younger kids today entering the world when there are no jobs available, when you can basically do anything you want with a computer (publish your own book, write your own newspaper, record a hit single). It's not easier this way, however, it possibly puts much more pressure on you because so much is expected of you (you went to college, after all) and at the same time almost nothing is expected of you too (well, it's really hard out there right now).

Aura has a very hip downtown friend, Charlotte, who introduces her to a loser named Jed (played by mumblecore star Alex Karpovsky). He is in New York for a stretch of time and is crashing on the floors of his friends' places. When her mom goes out of tow, Aura invited Jed to stay with them for a bit. She bumps around lower Manhattan for awhile, finds a dead-end job as a reservationist/hostess at a restaurant, flirts with a chef at that restaurant, does some drugs, searches for direction.

I would really call this film post-mumblecore, as it treats relationships, sex and human interaction with a super-frank tone, but has a much more elegant and thought-out visual look. There are some absolutely wonderful shots and set-ups that Dunham gives us. Some that seem way beyond her years and some, even, that are a bit showy (in a very Jonathan Franzen showy way... we get that you're super talented, please don't rub our faces in your fanciness).

Dunham herself is a less-than-totally-in-shape girl, but she shows herself naked or in slightly unflattering clothes a fair amount. I really don't think she's making a point about sexuality - other than to say there is no point here about nudity. She's comfortable in her skin and we should be comfortable with her. It's just not a thing. This is very similar to the mumblecore view of sex and nudity: Sex and nudity happen - deal with it, dudes. What might be more interesting here is the view of many who think that she's really saying something here with her nudity. It's as if the only way we can understand her own view of sexuality is to contextualize it in our own frame of reference. But I think she's not saying anything, the same way you're not saying anything when you wear shorts or sandals. It's just a fact. There.

Dunham does treat sex very frankly and dispassionately, but I think this is more a reflection of her generation's view of sex than anything else. It might be jarring for us to witness what appears like a disgusting fuck session in the street (bordering on date rape), but to young people (young women), this is typical and not special. Aura owns her own sexuality because it is hers, because it is of her skin, the same way her imperfect body is hers. She can own a bad sex experience the same way she can have a bad day at work. On to the next day, on to the next boy to fuck.

Stars: 3 of 4

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jackass 3D (Thursday, November 18, 2010) (148)

There is really not much to say about this film. It's fucking hilarious and gross, shocking, terrible, nauseating and silly. Johnny Knoxville and his gang of weirdos do all sorts of fucked up stuff here that you should never try at home. Oh - and it's fucking great.

I was very impressed with the 3-D and how well is worked here. More than just getting stuff to come out of the screen at you, we really got a sense of intimacy, which actually helped with some of the gags.

I think the grossest ones were the guy who was getting his tooth pulled by a string connected to a car (pulling the whole tooth out, root and all) and the fat guy sweat cocktail, where they make an obese guy wear a rubber suit, go on a stationary bike and then drink the sweat that collects in a cup behind him. Fucking disgusting.

I strongly look forward to the next Jackass movie!

Stars: 3 of 4

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

127 Hours (Tuesday, November 9, 2010) (147)

Based on Aron Ralston's book about his crazy experience bouldering in Utah, 127 Hours is a totally grizzly story that is certainly not for all audiences.

Ralston is a twenty-something kid who loves to go bouldering, canyoning and exploring the wilderness of Utah. One day he goes into Blue John Canyon and ends up falling into a gorge with a boulder on top of his arm. As he struggles with the rock, he comes to the conclusion (after about 100 hours) that his only option is to break his arm off to get free.

Ralston is played here by James Franco, who does a really wonderful job with the role. Franco is fun and fresh with a bright smile always on his face and a can-do attitude with everything (including his own arm amputation). We see the flakiness of Ralston that leads him to not tell his friends and family where he is going and when he'll be back and not bring a good pocket knife (had he only known he would need it later...).

Director and co-writer Danny Boyle does a very nice job showing what is mostly a one-man show here, considering Franco is alone on screen for at least 75 minutes. The film doesn't really get boring and Boyle uses flashbacks effectively and Ralston's imagination very well.

One annoying thing is a pretty terrible epilogue that Boyle adds at the of the movie. We see that Raltson now leads a happy life with his wife and a kid. This is silly and beats us over the head with the fact that it's a true story (which it clearly is, no?). I dunno - I feel like part of watching a movie is to see an actor playing a role and interpreting a character. To then see the real guy at the end is frustrating (because it undermines Franco's performance) and not necessary at all.

This is a small movie, one I would call lesser Boyle. It has a good score by A.R. Rahman (who did the score for Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire) and a script co-written by Boyle and past collaborator Simon Beaufoy. It's a nice film, but not brilliant.

Stars: 2.5 of 4

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Four Lions (Saturday, November 6, 2010) (146)

Four Lions is a movie that shouldn't be funny because of the subject matter, but is actually hilarious and might be the best comedy of the year. The story is about a group of four radical Muslim guys in Northern England who want to get involved in the greater jihadi movement. The only problem is that they're totally the gang that couldn't shoot straight. At one point when they go to Pakistan to train with some Al Qaeda outfit there, they are the bottom of their class and basically sent back home. The finale involves a very funny scene with the guys running a marathon in silly costumes... strapped with explosives inside.

As they deal with their fight for meaning in their lives, they also enjoy all the trappings of the West, like football (soccer), women, speaking English and not Arabic or Urdu and living in a cushy Western country. Omar, their de facto leader, is a totally nice and wonderful guy who works as a security surveillance guard for a department store. His friends at work are white and typically blue-collar English people. He's loved by all and keeps his mouth shut about his anti-western feelings.

I love the silliness of the film and the frankness with which it deals with this issue. Maybe some would find it disrespectful, but I love that sometimes we can laugh at jihad (oy vey). Not every terrorist is a genius, probably. I'd bet some are just fools who screw everything up they touch (can you say Richard Reid, the shoe bomber or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber...?!). And that's the point. It was sorta funny that a guy tried to blow up a plane with explosives in his crotch - but can't get the explosion to go off. Sure it's tragic and scary and terrible, but seen from the other side of the same coin, it's really silly and funny.

I particularly like how unflinching and straightforward the film is. The bumbling group of idiots is at times racist, anti-Semitic, rude and violent, but they're treated as very matter-of-fact. Just when you think director Christopher Morris and co-writers Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain and Simon Blackwell are going to flinch and pull up short of the big pay-off, they don't. Well done to them for sticking with the joke to the very end!

Stars: 3 of 4