Winter's Bone

Debra Granik's second feature film Winter's Bone (B+) is the kind of movie that gets progressively better & better as you delve deeper and deeper on it. It is filled with humane, real characterizations of a society that is rooted in evil and people that have lost all hope in life and succumbed to shadiness & drug dealing. There are memorable scenes that linger (the gutting of a squirrel, the taking of a girl, the final -ambiguous- mumbling scene) & a sense of dread that will turn off the most primitive of moviegoers. It is through and through a product of Independent film and we should be very appreciative of its existence.

If there is a plot it is sparse and purposely slight @ first. Granik films her subjects in a cinematography layered in blue and in a mountainous background that brings mythic purpose to her story's very fabrication. What to say of the performances? absolutely spellbinding. Jennifer Lawrence as the 17 year old main character does not over act but instead brings subtlety to her role as a teenage girl desperately looking for her -dead?- father in the wilderness Ozarks of Missouri. John Hawkes as her isolated and troubled uncle & really just the entire cast which does an amazing job conveying a mood that enhances the dread.

I've heard people complain about the grimness of the picture and its sheer hopelessness. I've heard some complain that not much happens & that the narrative plotting is thin. I've also heard some folks say that they were bored out of their minds and did not get the movie's message. To all these naysayers I say look closer and maybe you will find what you missed the first time around- a film about the root of evil and how matriarchal ties that bind never get broken, no matter what the cost. That is Winter's Bone & I guarantee you will be talking about it no matter your liking or disliking of it.

Why 3D?

It's everywhere. It seems as if every film coming out these days is available with 3D glassses. This of course has a lot to do with money. Ever since that groundbreaker Avatar came out & stormed the Box Office, the studios wanted to take advantage of the 3d medium by releasing every mediocre effort with an extra pair of glasses. When conceived, most of these movies were not meant for 3D viewing, compared to James Cameron's Avatar which was born and bred as a 3D experience. Don't waste your money watching Toy Story 3 in 3D, it is not essential & the film does not benefit in any way shape or form from it. Watch it sans the frames, you'll thank me later for it.

The reason why these studios are releasing everything they have in this form is simple- money. The 3D glasses make the movie ticket 3$ more expensive, meaning that the average 12$ ticket price gets boosted up to 15$ for 3D. It's a Hollywood studio Exec's wet dream to have his ticket price boosted. I'll be the first to admit that 3D could quite possibly be the future of filmmaking, Martin Scorsese is planning to shoot his next movie that way, so are other key Hollywood filmmakers.

Cameron's 2009 film was a curse and a blessing. It brought out the best and the worst in movies. Its influence on the next generation of film is limitless. Film will be more focused on visuals and filmmakers will surely try to outdo themselves with visionary eye popping images. This is a positive but at what cost? The negative is simple, while a 3D film will focus on the visual it might just forget the most important part of a film- The story, the narrative, the structure.

How To Train Your Dragon did not forget the rules of  the technology, which is why it's the best 3D movie of the year thus far. Its story is heartfelt and well told, ditto its visuals which pop out & blow your eyes away. The story might be old fashioned and tiresome but it has an old school vibe that had me hooked from its colorfully inventive dragons to its innocently told tale. Cliches come about in many ways, but the key to enjoying it is letting yourself go to the images directors Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders conjure up in this medieval tale. There are far more gripping movies playing at the moment but none are as eye popping or colorfully transportive as this B movie dragon tale.

Toy Story 3

Around the same time last year Pixar -an animation giant- released Up, that film got a rapturous reception from critics and audiences. Actually, anything Pixar has released over the past decade got drooled upon by us film lovers. Toy Story 3 is no exception & expect it to get nominated come Awards time. It's quite a feat in how it mixes its dramatic and comic undertones so damn well & gosh, how serious & dark & scary it is. In fact its got such deep darkness that some online bloggers and critics are saying that somewhere in the movie there's an allegory to the holocaust. Watching the picture on Friday, I could see why some folks would think in such a way, but I highly doubt first time director Lee Unkrich and his Pixar peers had this idea in mind while making the film.

All the characters we've come to love are back but -as I said before- there is an extra layer of darkness added. The idea of being trapped and imprisoned looms deeply in the movie, giving the viewer an almost claustrophobic feeling throughout its 100 minute running time. Not a dull moment or second pops up in this fascinating film, the best of the series. It all comes together in a finale that divides the gap between what it means to be innocent and what it's like to let go of the things we love and welcome adulthood. Heavy stuff for the kiddies he? That's why Toy Story 3 -and for that matter Pixar- is such a special gift, it is wrapped on the outside with vibrant colors that pop out and stun your eyes but it is layered deep inside with adult themes and a darkness that cannot be shaken.

2010 mid-year report

One thing that has been very frustrating about 2010 is the lack of quality on display. As I’m writing this very article, only Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island stands out as a possible nominee (even though many would wholeheartedly disagree with me). Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer came out to rave reviews in the spring but so did controversy & the infamous situation the director found himself into.

Paul Greengrass released Green Zone, audiences and critics yawned. Ridley Scott tried to revive Robin Hood for a generation that probably doesn’t even know who Kevin Costner it, that bombed. Mel Gibson counted on Edge Of Darkness to mark his acting comeback, did he even read the screenplay? Tim Burton & Johnny Depp struck out with their overwrought adaptation of Alice In Wonderland & Atom Egoyan failed remaking of kitschy French film Chloe with former nominees Liam Neeson and Julliane Moore. Do you sense a trend going on here? Disappointment after disappointment came to your local movie theatre, which would explain the Box office drops weekend and after weekend nationwide. The blockbusters were no fun & so was the more serious fare.

Expect the same old same old right up until July 16th, which is when Inception comes out. Christopher Nolan’s bold futuristic picture about dreams & their consequences. Toy Story 3 might also cause a little buzz this weekend, which could fare well in a 10 nominee field. Anything with Pixar should be considered a serious contender and –since we are living in the golden age of animation- academy voters are gaining more and more respect for a genre that is supposedly just for kids. Then there’s Debra Wanik’s Winter’s Bone which, an independent film that could just be this year’s In The Bedroom- but the buzz must reach further than just L.A and New York. As it goes wider and wider in the coming weeks we will know for sure what its chances truly are but make no mistake about it, Winter’s Bone is the best reviewed movie so far this year and that can carry it far.

We are already halfway through 2010 and contenders are sparse. There were –however- a few movies that caught my attention. Scorsese’s Shutter Island & Polanski’s The Ghost Writer are on the short list, with their undeniable mastery of the classic Hollywood form. Closing it out are Jacques Audiard’s great gangster movie Un Prophet (Foreign Language loser last year & better than eventual winner The Secret In Their Eyes), Andrea Arnold’s mesmerizing Fish Tank from the U.K & Matthew Vaughn’s Hollywood superhero product Kick-Ass, featuring a great performance by Nicolas Cage & horrible ending notwithstanding. What are yours? Did I miss a movie you are passionate about? Do you disagree with something I said? Chime away !

Stuff I'm currently working on..

Just to give you guys an update on yours truly (I know, how selfish). I've started as a contributor over @ many thanks to the lovely Sasha Stone for giving me an opportunity to write for a web site I've respected & read for over 10 years. Here's the link to my first -of what will be many more POST. I'm also working on getting my voice out on local radio, Montreal station AM 1650, details are still being worked out but there will be more development (or so I hope) in the coming weeks. Finalement, come end of summer you can count on more written stuff in The Concordian. An exciting few months to come & I hope you will all share this ride with me.

Although it's been a very dry year for film, don't forget about the coming movie weekend where stuff like the acclaimed Winter's Bone starts to get a wider release. I'll make sure to catch that one asap, especially considering it looks less and less like your typical sundance film (& I do mean that as a good thing) + another thing that caught my attention this week is the lack of good movies out there @ the moment. I'm gonna write something soon about the sad state of movies in 2010 and what were the movies that didn't have the stench of failure.

Can Independant film save a deceptively dull 2010 summer movie season?

INDIE: Nicole Holofcener's Please Give

HOLLYWOOD: Brand and Hill in Get Him To The Greek

Not that we always get bad stuff from Hollywood but this year -more than any other- has been horrendous as far as quality goes. Don't expect anything of value to show up from hollywood studios until Christopher Nolan's Inception gets released on July 18th. Case in point I recently saw Get Him To The Greek (C) starring Russell Brand and that big ball of joyful chunk Jonah Hill- decent R rated comedy with lots of fart jokes but not something I'd call must see or worthy of the hard earned 12 bucks you have to dish out. Brand's comedy is joyously deadpan and oddly enjoyable but the film falls apart when Brand starts to develop something I thought he would never dare show his core audience- emotion & feelings. We are left with nothing to ponder upon @ the movies, especially after yet another disappointment in the form of Brand's comic hangover- which leaves independent cinema out to rescue the day. Or does it really?

Harry Brown (D+)
is violent and reminiscent of those gutsy B movies from the 70s starring Michael Caine. Well lo and behold Caine stars in this one as a retired Gran Torino out to get revenge on street thugs for the murder of his best friend. Caine -a great actor if there ever was one- keeps things entertaining at the start with his sharp wit, ditto British director Daniel Barber who plumbs violent sequences into our head as a way to relay his message. But what exactly is his message? The violence is so hammered down and graphic that the picture got an 18+ rating in Quebec of all places, a province that is very lenient in its ratings.

Mr Barber's movie collapses in front of our very own eyes as the stakes get raised and the moral message gets deceptively confusing. The personal caricatures also get more pronounced and the characters much less intriguing and more stupid in their actions. Caine -still a pro at these kinds of roles- invests a lot in this geezer's fight for revenge but the script cannot hold a candle to the subtlety and depth that made Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino so good. This is the best example of a movie that thinks its important and exciting when it really ends up being the opposite of it- muffled and dull.

Please Give (D+)
If Harry Brown was a great performance in an otherwise messy movie, the same can be said of the irresistible Amanda Peet in Nicole Holofcener's incredibly dull Please Give. Here's a movie which takes pride in being about but also about everything. Are you still with me? I have great admiration for Holofcener's past movies but her newest one just didn't do it for me- what with its annoying characters and deliberately comatose pacing. Holofcener has always dealt with the female experience in her movies -none greater than in 2002's Lovely & Amazing. What happens in this movie has all the resounding excitement of watching paint dry.

Husband (Oliver Platt) & Wife (Catherine Keener) have to deal with the inside and outside world and a teenage daughter that obsesses over a pimple and the right fitted jeans- all this and they end up butting heads with the granddaughters (Amanda Peet & Rebecca Hall) of their elderly neighbour. Got that? Who cares? The formula worked for Holofcener's other pictures but it just doesn't here. The script is too facile and the resolution too predictable to fully engage the viewer into curiosity or satisfaction.

Peet is however the standout here as a tanned hottie- obsessed, malevolent & sexually mischievous. She brings excitement and intrigue to her memorable role. We need more Peet in an industry shortchanged on female roles. She shines in a film that just does not get that sometimes life can be very dull & that without any spice everything is not very nice.

The Hughes Brothers' -Book Of Eli-

Here's a movie that doesn't hide behind a wall and comes out with a message that is universal and incredibly strong. Now, what went wrong? The Book Of Eli (2.5/5) is an interesting and gritty effort from The Hughes Brothers but it doesn't shine with the greatness it seeks out to achieve and has a confused finale that demands a second viewing. Denzel Washington plays Eli, a bible holding wanderer that -in a post apocalyptic, bible free world- wants to go out west to preach the Bible to a population that has completely forgotten about it. I guess that automatically turns off all atheist moviegoers. For the rest of us, The Book Of Eli -out this Tuesday on DVD- is an interesting and ambitious journey into a darkened world where mercy from human beings does not exist.

Albert and Allan Hughes rarely make movies these days- so it a breath of fresh air to see them back at the scheme of things. Then you start to realize that these brothers have never topped their 1993 debut Menace 2 Society- a raw look at South Central's street gangs. The Book Of Eli is their 4th directorial effort in fiction and they almost pull it off with a curious, bleak look at apocalyptic decay but their ambitions are too high and the script too forced to ever achieve purpose. They shoot the picture with grittiness and low lighting- focusing on a sun that never shines and dessert roads that never end but they don't put a personal stamp on a movie that feels as impersonal as their last effort way back in 2001 From Hell.

The twist @ first takes the viewer back and leaves one to reflect on everything that just came before . For some it will make total sense and for others -me included- it really does not add up as a whole. It is however, gratifying to watch a movie with this many ideas and this much chutzpah in a Hollywood system that churns out less and less of them in the dog days of spring and summer. The Hughes Brothers are not going out there to entertain or to give you a good time- they want to provoke and cause debate & it seems like they have achieved that with their latest feature. I'm looking forward to their next messy vision.