February 3, 2013

Made in the Shade

by Steve Dollar

I Used to Be Darker

[Editor's note: due to budget cuts and internal restructuring, Steve's review will likely be my final post for GreenCine Daily. Thank you all for reading during my four-year tenure, and be sure to follow me, Steve, Vadim and Nick on Twitter for more cine-obsessed discourse.]

Notions of "the real," and the million micro-shadings of subjectivity (the perspective of the filmmakers, the characters) that are attenuated in any contemporary film with aspirations towards naturalism, consumed my thoughts this year at the Sundance Film Festival. That, and often a certain puzzlement over directorial intent: Third acts often felt like a let-down, in films that had otherwise been exemplary displays of jaw-dropping talent. Too much plot. Not enough. Phantom motivations. Underbaked cookies. Did I miss something? Why was I, on a gut level, so disappointed?

I probably should have stuck around for the Q&A. But strangely enough, my reaction when I was troubled by a film was to let the mystery be, in hopes of circling back to it later on a second viewing, away from the festival crazy. With that experience in mind, I feel even stronger about the accomplishment of Matt Porterfield's I Used To Be Darker. Like a lot of folks, I was hooked by the filmmaker's 2010 Putty Hill, a BAMcinemaFest standout that used a conceptual gambit (the faux documentary) to enter the lives of a working-class Baltimore community impacted by the drug-related death of one its children. The device gradually evaporates, by which point the camera freely drifts between characters (played by a largely non-professional cast, without a formal script), latching onto moments of piercing emotional revelation. By the end of the film, the mourners gather at a dive bar for a wake, consecrated in whiskey and a gorgeous karaoke rendition of "Wild Horses." (Unfortunately, the Rolling Stones song had to be replaced, since the film's budget was something like $7,000).

Continue reading "Made in the Shade"

Posted by ahillis at 10:35 AM

January 30, 2013

DVD OF THE WEEK: Seven Psychopaths

by Vadim Rizov

Seven Psychopaths

It begins with a Shih Tzu. Actor Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) isn't landing work, so instead he's taken to snatching canines while their owners' heads are turned, then mock-innocently returning them after a suitably panic-inducing period and collecting a healthy reward. Billy doesn't know his latest acquisition belongs to Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), the kind of gloweringly charismatic, fearsome mobster who'll expend Scarface-level mayhem to retrieve his beloved pet. There's something equally off about Billy, as his last name implies and both he and Charlie seem like expertly played only-in-the-movies types.

Continue reading "DVD OF THE WEEK: Seven Psychopaths"

Posted by ahillis at 8:52 AM

January 28, 2013

SUNDANCE 2013: Outro

by Steve Dollar

Magic Magic

Another Sundance Film Festival concluded this weekend, and if this year there was no phenomenon as compelling or, well, phenomenal, as Beasts of the Southern Wild, I'd wager that it was a stronger line-up overall: More consistent, with a good number of indie filmmakers turning their focus to tougher themes executed with greater ambition and risk. I'm still processing, quite honestly, and catching up with screeners to supplement the 20 or so titles I caught in Park City last week. Here's a capsule perspective of several that impressed.

Continue reading "SUNDANCE 2013: Outro"

Posted by ahillis at 5:42 PM

January 25, 2013

RETRO ACTIVE: Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)

by Nick Schager

Amazon Women on the Moon [This week's "Retro Active" pick was inspired by the large-ensemble sketch comedy Movie 43.]

If ever a movie was made for the small screen, it was Amazon Women on the Moon. A sketch-comedy compilation spearheaded by John Landis and directed by not only him but also Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton and Robert K. Weiss, the 1987 film is a loving ode to the cinema's main rival, television, which it mocks with ribald affection. As a parody, it's a scattershot effort, lurching between its 21 skits, and yet courtesy of its connective tissue—a spoof of a 1950s sci-fi movie—it manages to capture an overarching sense of the silliness of so much late-night television. Be it infomercials, true-life reality TV shows, romantic dramas, or soft-core porn, no subject is safe, though it's a late sketch directed by Weiss dubbed "Video Pirates" that truly encapsulates the anarchic spirit of the endeavor. Focused on a band of buccaneers who overtake a ship so as to confiscate its booty of VHS and Betamax tapes, laser discs, and illegally copied movies—which appear as gold cassettes, and whose FBI warnings are laughed at by the scalawags—it's a loving tribute to the burgeoning phenomenon of home video as a veritable cinematic bounty, one to be reveled in with wild, gleeful abandon.

Continue reading "RETRO ACTIVE: Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)"

Posted by ahillis at 8:47 AM

January 22, 2013

DVD OF THE WEEK: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

by Vadim Rizov

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Internationally known for his disdain for quality control, propensity for making three to five features every year in all conceivable genres and bizarre, YouTube ready non-sequitur sequences, Japanese auteur Takashi Miike made his first Cannes competition appearance with Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, in turn the fest's first premiere of a 3D film. Flattened to two dimensions for DVD and Blu-ray, Hara-Kiri looks just fine; depending on who you believe (I haven't seen it in 3D), it may even benefit from regaining the light normally lost with 3D. A stately samurai drama closely following the plot of Masaki Kobayashi's essential 1962 original, Hara-Kiri totally suppresses Miike's usual ADD doodles and digressions at the narrative margins. This straight face suits him well.

In December 1632, Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa) arrives at the House of Ii, whose courtyard is available to impoverished samurai who wish to commit hara-kiri (formalized suicide via self-disemboweling) rather than suffer in undignified poverty. Of late, the country's been swamped with supplicants who have no intention of killing themselves. Instead, they arrive at a clan's stronghold proclaiming their urge to die honorably but leave when they're offered work or a small sum of money. When Motome (Eita) arrives, Ii strongman Hikokuro (Munetaka Aoki) says he must be made an example of to warn off further fake applicants. Surrounded by swords-drawn samurai and forced to go through with a death he had no idea of completing, civilian Motome repeatedly punctures his stomach with a bamboo sword. "Twist it!" Hikokuro yells, demanding that the standardized movements of self-annihilation be completed before Motome's head can be chopped off, increasing up the already-gory original scene's length.

Continue reading "DVD OF THE WEEK: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai"

Posted by ahillis at 1:42 PM

January 18, 2013

Retro Active: FRIGHTMARE (1974)

by Nick Schager


[This week's "Retro Active" pick is inspired by the Jessica Chastain-headlined scary- mother thriller Mama.]

Psychosis is inherited in Frightmare, as is a hunger for human flesh. Pete Walker's under-sung 1974 gem (also known as Cover Up) is a Hammer Horror-ish like- mother/like-daughter tale of madness and murder, detailing the strange case of Edmund (Rupert Davies) and Dorothy Yates (Sheila Keith), a couple who in 1957 London is sentenced by a judge to a mental hospital for six killings. The ruling is that they shall remain locked up until they're fit to re-enter society—which they supposedly are fifteen years later, thanks to a mental health system that appears to have absolutely no ability to differentiate sanity from insanity. Free to roam again, they hole up in a remote cottage, where they're regularly visited by grown daughter Jackie (Deborah Fairfax), who brings Dorothy strange parcels that leak on the table, and who covertly discusses with Edmund whether mother has caught onto the ruse they're apparently perpetrating on her. Dorothy's wacko eyes make clear that, whatever subterfuge is underfoot, she's more aware than she lets on, but Jackie doesn't initially notice, too busy is she dealing with younger sister Debbie (Kim Butcher), a rabble-rousing teen delinquent who believes that their parents are dead, and who spends her evenings causing trouble like tricking biker beau Alec (Edward Kalinski) into beating the living pulp out of a local barman.

Continue reading "Retro Active: FRIGHTMARE (1974)"

Posted by ahillis at 8:54 AM

January 16, 2013

FILM OF THE WEEK: Outside Satan

by Vadim Rizov

Outside Satan (Hors Satan)

Bruno Dumont's sixth feature Outside Satan (Hors Satan) premiered at Cannes in 2011 but only now arrives for a weeklong New York engagement. That's typical lag time for Dumont, whose divisive, unmarketable movies generally enter theaters slowly but surely a year or so after their premieres. "The deeper meaning and social commentary of [Life of Jesus] has been deflected by focussing on a handful of graphic sex scenes, sadly," an admirer defensively writes on the Wikipedia page for Dumont's 1997 debut, a claim broadly true of all his work. Life of Jesus established the standard components of A Film By Bruno Dumont: non-professional actors standing or walking blankly, committing acts of debased violence (often in muddy rural terrain) with little or no provocation, sometimes indulging in unpleasant consensual intercourse when not raping people, with ambiguously intended, heavily religious overtones.

The use of non-pros who evince little normal human emotion as they slog through "extreme" plots recalls Robert Bresson, whose similar use of amateur "models" produces an odd charge. Around these emotionless subjects, strange, deadly and dangerous events occur, and their non-expressiveness begins to seem like taciturn heroism, but Dumont's first-timers seem sullen or maybe lobotomized. His fifth feature Hadewijch was a notable change of pace: relocating to an urban area, favoring a 1.85:1 ratio instead of his then-standard widescreen, and featuring actual jokes. As if in better spirits because shooting in Paris rather than the grim rural hellholes he favors, Dumont made a surprisingly perky movie about a nun whose fervor is so great it earns her expulsion, leading to redirection of her holy urges into jihadist terrorism. In a spiritual vacuum, the purest of souls will embrace the most ardent option available regardless of its moral questionability; the idea is something like that, but leavened by expressive teenagers doing something like frolicking in the city.

Continue reading "FILM OF THE WEEK: Outside Satan"

Posted by ahillis at 9:02 AM

January 12, 2013

SUNDANCE 2013: Prologue

by Steve Dollar

Sundance 2013: STOKER

Off to the land of the ice and snow, where the free midnight booze and the hot tubs flow. I'm talking about Park City, Utah, where the 2013 Sundance Film Festival starts on Thursday. Here are dreams made and shattered, where deals are brokered and careers are ignited, and despite everything you see on Entertainment Tonight!, anyone there who is really doing business will be too exhausted for the party scene. Based on my experience last year, you can count yourself lucky (and grateful) to get four hours of sleep a night. It's a slog. Although, if you've handicapped the screenings wisely, an exciting slog.

Here are a few items that will be grabbing attention this year:

Continue reading "SUNDANCE 2013: Prologue"

Posted by ahillis at 4:15 PM

January 10, 2013

RETRO ACTIVE: Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996)

by Nick Schager

Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood

[This week's "Retro Active" is inspired by Marlon Wayans' Paranormal Activity-spoofing A Haunted House.]

Paving the way for 2000's Scary Movie and the attendant spoof-current-cinema fad it ushered in, Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood remains the best of Shawn and Marlon Wayans' parodic collaborations, even as it reveals the inherent limits of such comedy. The target of the Wayans' goofiness is "hood cinema," the class of '90s inner city dramas that included Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society, Juice and New Jack City, all of which—along with the era's hip-hop videos—receive more shout-outs than need to be specifically detailed here. The particular way in which the Wayans poke fun at those influential African-American-centric stories may have been the prime selling point for its target audience at the time of its theatrical release. However, Don't Be a Menace was, and remains, less interesting as a compendium of allusions than as a ridiculous snapshot of cultural attitudes and stereotypes that are pricked with an amusingly blunt hand by the filmmakers. To be sure, there's more dated material here than in ten other comedies combined from the same year. And yet in its mockery of hot-button sociological issues, the film also remains surprisingly insightful, albeit in an unabashedly dim-bulb manner.

Continue reading "RETRO ACTIVE: Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996)"

Posted by ahillis at 5:44 PM

January 8, 2013

DVD OF THE WEEK: Whores' Glory

by Vadim Rizov

Whores' Glory

At this moment, Michael Glawogger is cinema's most talented exploitation artist. "Exploitation" doesn't mean taking advantage of subjects who don't understand what he's filming, at least in the usual sense: to make Whores' Glory—a self-proclaimed "triptych" on prostitution in Thailand, India and Mexico—Glawogger made sure to visit his subjects "10 times and hang out with them and stuff." This means Whores' Glory's subjects got familiar with Glawogger and what he was proposing to do (which included promising not to widely distribute the film in their country). Nonetheless, it's a strong, questionable, queasy-making movie, as should be the case with a portrait of prostitution.

Continue reading "DVD OF THE WEEK: Whores' Glory"

Posted by ahillis at 4:51 PM

January 5, 2013

BEST OF 2012: Underrated Supporting Performances

by Steve Dollar

STARLET's Dree Hemingway and Besedka Johnson

Thursday's the big day: Oscar Day, when the nominations for the 85th Academy Awards will be announced. Pundits seem to agree on the obvious picks. What about the actors who are likely to slide under the radar of the voting body's notoriously square tastes? If any category shows a tendency to flexibility, it's Best Performance by an Actor or Actress in a Supporting Role. I mean, an 11-year-old (Anna Paquin) won it once, as have non-actors, like the late Haing S. Ngor (for The Killing Fields). Some obvious contenders this year include Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) and, if the Academy has a since of humor, Javier Bardem (Skyfall) for his fey and twisted turn as one of the greatest Bond villains in the half-century of the franchise's existence. If Ann Dowd (Compliance) scores even a nomination, for her complex performance as the fast-food manager in Craig Zobel's meticulous, based-on-a-true-story drama of a phone prank taken to horrifying extremes, it would be a beautiful thing. Although, in my book, she was the film's lead.

One thing is nearly guaranteed, you won't be hearing any of these names called out when the envelopes are unsealed this upcoming week.

Continue reading "BEST OF 2012: Underrated Supporting Performances"

Posted by ahillis at 11:56 AM