film review: BADLAND

Edited, written & directed by Francesco Lucente
Produced by Olimpia Lucente & Jörg G. Numann
Cinematography by Carlo Varini
Music by Ludek Drizhal
Released by Copex
USA. 165 min. Rated R.
With Jamie Draven, Grace Fulton, Vinessa Shaw, Chandra West & Joe Morton

[Article originally appeared: http://www.film-forward.com/badland.html]

In “Gone Baby Gone”, Ben Affleck’s recent directorial debut and foray in histrionics, we are schooled in the statistics of child abductions. It’s as though offering this data somehow justifies making the audience sit through the movie. In order to compensate for the film’s lack of depth or character development, we instead get some numbers tossed on the screen or published in the press materials. Then wham bam, you have a serious issues-oriented film all dolled up for Oscar consideration.

I can tell when I’m being hoodwinked. And the distinct odor of lazy film making has never been so transparent as it is in Francesco Lucente’s “Badland”. Even the movie’s title is derivative. At the start, we are introduced to Jerry (British actor Jamie Draven who played the older brother in “Billy Elliot”), an Iraq War veteran, who has not been adjusting so well to life back at the Wyoming trailer home he shares with his pregnant wife, Nora (Vinessa Shaw), their two sons, and young daughter, Celina (Grace Fulton). They struggle with bills and barely make ends meet while a depressed Jerry works in a nowhere job at a local gas station. The first 15 minutes are filled with Jerry and Nora fighting in front of their kids, tossing the ‘F’ word around like a tennis ball. Why they hate each other so much yet procreate at such a pace is never really explained, nor are Jerry’s nose bleeds. Read more

A Nightmare Before Thanksgiving: An Evening with Tim Burton

Director Tim Burton

For a brilliant filmmaker like Tim Burton, the recent tribute to him sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center (Fresh Blood: An Evening with Tim Burton) was a bit of a disappointment. FSLC Programming Director, Richard Peña, interviewed him in awkward segments sandwiched between film clips which had been divvied up into various topics like Animation, Collaborations with Johnny Depp, and not so surprisingly, “Sweeny Todd”. It occurred to me that the evening itself was a signal as to just how heavily his new movie is going to be promoted. An expensive musical version of the hit Broadway play, the movie stars none other than Mr. Depp as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Mrs. Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, as Mrs. Lovett. From the few clips I saw at the tribute –according to it’s director, the film is apparently still in in some state of post-production– there’s reason to feel optimistic. Not really knowing much about Johnny Depp’s singing voice, he does a reasonable job considering he is starring in a Stephen Sondheim operetta. No doubt there’s a lot riding on the success of this film and so the early buzz is already circulating.

The main issue I had with the evening was that it was not really the appropriate forum for a larger than life character like Tim Burton. To me, it seemed that he was out of his element through much of the 75 minutes or so that transpired. The questions were fairly superficial and therefore the fans who filled up the Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, didn’t learn much if anything about the esteemed director. Still the cinematic stroll down memory lane was fun and I was reminded about how powerfully effective his images were on the big screen. It’s been almost twenty years since I saw Beetlejuice or Edward Sissorhands and there’s no comparing it to the DVD. His style is big, loud and macabre. The tribute to him might have worked better had it followed suit.

Upcoming special events on the Film Society’s calendar include a special preview screening of Oscar contender “Atonement” on Tuesday, December 4th and the Society’s annual gala tribute on April 14th, 2008, honoring Meryl Streep.

[Article originally appeared: http://www.rabbireport.com/archives/2007/11/a-nightmare-bef.htm]

 

film review: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Written and directed by Ethan & Joel Coen, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Produced by the Coens & Scott Rudin
Director of Photography Roger Deakins
Edited by Roderick Jaynes
Music by Carter Burwell
Released by Miramax/Paramount Vantage
USA. 122 min. Rated R
Cast:  Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper & Barry Corbin

Article originally appeared: http://www.film-forward.com/nocountr.html

The body count in the new Coen Brothers movie, “No Country for Old Men”, could very well be higher than the collective death toll from all their past movies. Fans of these Minnesota-bred filmmakers will remember their darker excursions into violent terrain, like “Blood Simple”, “Miller’s Crossing”, and swaths of “Fargo” (“I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper”). Not to say there aren’t familiar moments of their humor throughout “No Country”.

One of these memorable scenes comes well past the halfway mark when Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who earlier found over two million dollars from a drug deal gone terribly wrong and is now being hunted by the psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), walks into a small town five-and-dime wearing just his hospital gown and cowboy boots. The nonplussed shop clerk looks up and without so much as blinking an eye asks Moss how the pair of boots he sold him earlier was working out for him. The moment is that unique brand of Coen Brothers humor at once familiar and so very welcome in a movie that needs its tension broken whenever possible. Read more

film review: JOE STRUMMER THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN

Directed by Julien Temple
Produced by Amanda Temple, Anna Campeau & Alan Moloney
Director of Photography Ben Cole
Edited by Mark Reynolds, Tobias Zaldua & Niven Howie
Released by IFC First Take
Ireland/UK. 124 min. Not Rated

Friends sit around a campfire, reminiscing, drinking, and jamming, just a few yards from the riverbank. It hardly sounds like the setting to pay homage to a man who wrote lyrics like:

On the Rio Grande they’ll tie you to a tree
And you can’t call the lawyers ’cause the whorehouse is asleep
You people will get weak
They’ll throw you in a cell where you can barely breathe

The aforementioned tribute is for Joe Strummer, the legendary punk musician and Clash bandleader, who is given his due in this terrific, if not a bit lengthy, new documentary, “Joe Strummer – The Future is Unwritten”, by Julien Temple. The choice for the fireside location becomes clear later in the film.

There is no more fitting person to make this film than Temple as he was right there with the Clash, just as he was with the Sex Pistols (“The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle”, “The Filth and the Fury”), filming Strummer’s band at its most infamous worst or best, depending on who speaks. Fortunately for Temple and us, there is a large archive to pull from, allowing Strummer to narrate the film right from the grave. Morbid? Not at all. And while some of the talking heads get choked up at various points, the documentary is more life affirming than you might think would be the case.

Strummer, as we learn through the anecdotes of his friends – none of whom are referenced until the final credits roll – had his struggles with drugs and alcohol but was rooted enough to work through them. In one amusing anecdote, he recalls that a number of years after the Clash had broken up, he made a decision to decrease his drinking, only to be asked to tour with the Pogues, hardly the most temperate group of musicians. Amusing stories, interspersed with animations of Strummer’s artwork, and the fantastic music make this movie so uplifting. It also becomes apparent that, though Strummer was a complicated person, he didn’t burn many bridges in his 50 years. Even after being thrown out of the band at its height of success, one of the most visible personalities is fellow Clash-mate Mick Jones, the Roger Daltrey to Strummer’s Pete Townshend, if you will. Read more