I think cinema, movies and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made films were magicians.
Francis Coppola

czwartek, 7 lutego 2013

Gangster Squad: the broken promise

Remember Zombieland? A strange compilation of classic zombie-movie attributes and some brand new stuff – technology, specific humor and a bit of absurdity. And it worked! It was different in a fun way and fresh. And fresh is good in the world, where we have probably more already invented themes and ideas for movies, than those still left for inventing. But if you want to adjust the same scheme to a gangster movie, you better sit and wonder about it for a minute, mister Fleischer. Because where in Zombieland zombie-apocalypse is all that’s needed to keep it going, in Gangster Squad an actual plot would be reasonable. But since a place called Within Reason seems to be unexplored by Ruben Fleischer’s imagination, a leap of faith is needed to watch Gangster Squad and then decide: hot or not?

What’s up? Well, after the WWII, when all the brave army boys came home to LA, they found out that there’s a new sheriff in town. An ex-boxer, power-craving gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is a man of renaissance – he takes interest in whorehouses, drugs, horse bets, and every now and then likes feeding coyotes with this enemies, literally ripped apart. So where’s the police, you’d ask. Exactly where it usually is in gangster movies – in Cohen’s pocket. But there’s a group of few, still unpolluted and uncorrupted, and to gather them into the small and secret squad is a job for John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), known from his extraordinary hobby – being Mickey’s pain in the ass. Cleared for taking no hostages, O’Mara starts a war with the mob, accompanied by loverboy Wooters (Ryan Gosling), brainiac Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), shooting master Kennard (Robert Patrick), his Mexican sidekick Ramirez (Michael Pena) and Harris (Anthony Mackie), who just doesn’t give a damn about rules of any kind. One for all, all for one and stuff, but mostly it's about making Cohen cry.
Some men just want to watch the world burn
The general story is actually authentic, described in a Paul Liberman’s book, but was treated with such nonchalance by Will Beall in the scipt, it could be cathegorized as his own work. Chronology, facts, realism – who cares about them? The plot is only a frame, anyway.

And that's disappointing. Because Gangster Squad brought a promise of, well, something. We've seen classy cars, beautiful woman and men in suits on posters and trailers, we saw Ryan Gosling being a playboy, he surely knows, how to be, inviting sexy Emma Stone to bed and an I'm-so-scary Sean Penn, who probably wouldn't be happy about it.
That's my sexy face
But honestly, even the romance was flat. It all was. C'mon, I get pure entertainment and humour, I get fun and mixed genres, I get borrowings and caricature, but if you wanna do it, do it consistently. Do it well. GS just doesn't know what to be: a spoof or semi-serious gangsterish movie. It tried to do both and failed. First our titular squad comes to rob one of the Mickey's casinos, with faces covered like in westerns, no background check on the situation and car not starting, when they need to escape. Push! shouts the guy behind the steering wheel and they push and we laugh, because it's funny. But then we're served with some serious ''the war is over, but how to live afterwards" talk, and then someone gets hurt, and then it's like they've just realized: man, are we going after some dangerous folks? Yes, yes - you are. But do you want us to laugh about it or pity the men marked by war? Should we be surprised that the gangsters will eventually go after Squad's families? Or maybe it's all about mindlessly enjoying spectacular shootings and car chases? Because doing it all at the same time makes me think Tarantino and is definitely not the case here. 

But when you get over being confused, there are some things to be appreciated. The funny scenes were actually funny! And it's comedy came from different sources, unexpected ones and it made it special. Scenography certainly catches an eye, giving Gangster Squad a taste of kitschy-stylish taste. It was all so postcard-like, you could stop the shot, print it and sent to your family with birthday wishes. Plus intelligently implanted borrowings, tricks and schemes from cartoons, westerns and of course other great gangster movies, like The Untouchables. This young audience orientated measures, bringing in something fresh and new - it's unique. This uniqueness can eventually work out to be Fleischer's signature, but next time he might want to think twice what kind of movie to sign on. 

I waited for this movie eagerly, like a kid for the Christmas morning to open his presents. And even though the box was pretty and shiny and sometimes even had a moment of greatness, it was empty inside. Even such stars-filled cast couldn't help with one-dimensional characters and nonsense plot, and the movie seemed to be as confused as the audience in the matter of his genre and purpose. And just like the sad kid, I couldn't be bought with a pile of sweets: shootings, scenery, beautiful cars or funny scenes. An empty box is an empty box. End of story.
says Ryan and we'll just have to wonder: does he mean to the cinema or out of it?

niedziela, 30 grudnia 2012

Liberal Arts: Adulthood, are we doing it right?

With love for a movie, there often comes a love for TV series. Not the dumb ones, with sloppy actors and cheesy scenograpy, but the ones that are good, great sometimes, better than some movies actually. They might be funny, they might be scary, they might be disgusting, inspirational, have good music or costumes, be set in your favourite era - there are many reasons to love them. The times, when TV series were just little brothers and sisters to The Movies are gone, and if you don't have a weekly appointment at Doctor Who's office or a visit at Downton Abbey, well, you're missing out on a lot of fun!

But if you've tried watching any TV series, you couldn't avoid at least hearing about How I Met Your Mother, cause it's this decade's Friends, iconic, quoted, funny and light show. If so, you probably remember the consternation, when while watching The Avengers Cobie Smulders comes in, trying to act like she's not Robin. Didn't fool anyone though (remember the rustle 'It's Robin!', when she first appeared?). Maybe is she was more (or even a bit) authentic or had more (or anything reasonable) to say, it would work, but she wasn't and she hadn't, so the general reaction of the audience is pretty well described in this meme: ------------------->

Moral of this story is that it's hard to take off the labels. So when I first sat down to Liberal Arts, starring Josh Radnor, the forever-Ted from HIMYM, I was prepared for same kind of lack of surprise, like in the Robin situation, just one character trying to play another. But the whole movie was... Well, not what I've expected. And it's hell of a label scratch.

It's a third version of this review, and fingers crossed, that it's the last one. I've tripped over a barrier of words a hundred times, thinking - how to describe a movie, that from the outside looks like tons alike; romantic comedies, some may call it. But my experience has given this term such strong negative tenor, I feel bad for even thinking I could spend time (and sometimes money) on it. But, you know, Liberal Arts gives proof of a saying: never judge a book by its cover. It may look like Our Sweet Love part 19294948, blindly following a pattern, that' never going to change: they meet, they fall in love, something comes out/secrets are told/family arrives, than we get to the break (up) point, after which there's getting back together, and forever love, lots of babies, kiss kiss. Ugh, so painful, but best for grey cells suicide. Anyway, it's easy to accuse Liberal Arts of such an origin: because of its poster, sweet talks and walks, because of the description, that can be shortened to: they write letters, fall in love, oops, she's 16 years younger. BUT IT'S NOT THAT KIND OF STORY. Just give it a chance, because it's worth it.

1. It's true. That's a rare attribute, so it's needs to be appreciated even more. Watching Liberal Arts you can't avoid the feeling: I've been there, in one situation or another. You might've felt like Zibby, 19 and enthusiastic, just starting a real life, with a whole world to explore and that feeling of almightiness filling up her body. Dean, on the other hand, just can't fit in. He knows, that collage should be cool and fun, but he can't connect and feels alone. That's the way I feel right now, studying. Or you may find something in common with Jesse, a 35 year old dreamer, that lives a boring life he never wanted, with books as main companion and knowledge, that plans just don't work out. There's also professor Hoberg, recently retired from lecturing, who just realized, how pointless and empty is his life without it. But the world is cruel, and getting rejected by a men you employed yourself, while begging him with tears in your eyes, hurts. Positively or negatively, you'll identify with someone, at some point. And that's beautiful.
2. It's funny. If you, like I do, object to being treated like an idiot, well, a great fool at least, which is the way that majority of recent comedies treat it's audience, with heavy, perverted jokes, humour, that's only situational (and those situations are silly and unauthentic, mostly based on someone being naked) - it's gonna be an antidote for us both. It's stalking following Jesse that gives us the chance to laugh. Self-distanced and satiric, but not quizzical way of narration is the essential, making this quite deep movie so adorable, that when the end titles start, you wonder, where did those 97minutes of your life go.
3. Josh Radnor. Look at him, such a one-man band. He wrote it, he directed it and played one of the main characters. That's impressive and surprising, especially if you think of Liberal Art's subtlety and charm, naturalness and poetics. And a great romance, coming from the story of a man and woman, or more, a man's and woman's souls, connecting over a bundle of letters, written like in the old times, on paper, with a pen, inspired by classical music.
I can even hear a Ted-label coming off.
4. What does it mean, to be an adult?
"Do you know how old I feel I am? Nineteen. Since I was nineteen I've never felt not nineteen". Don't we all? But when we're not nineteen anymore, there are things we do, but didn't before, and those we don't, but used to. Do they define, when we can call ourselves old? Or is it thinking about consequences, that sets the start point for adulthood? Those question are asked quietly, somewhere between the lines, and answered the same way, subtly and indirectly. Aren't we adult, putting our mother's pride above our unhappiness, even if we're twenty? Does the age really stands for anything? Liberal Arts makes you think about who you were, are, will be and wanted to be, but never will.
5. Books. There aren't many movies, where books are treated like real characters, best friends, inspiration and curse, all in one. Appreciated and loved, cared about and present in life, always. Love it.
6. Zac, is that you?! Talking about labels, remember Zac Efron, the superstar of Disney's superproduction of a superteen High School Musical? Well, he's changed a bit: 

Roles in productions like that are sticky and stay with you for a long time, cause while half the world loves you, the other half hates your guts, and that's the occupational risk you need to be aware of. Zac Efron has been trying hard to break his supersweet image, playing a silent dog-lover in The Lucky One or falling madly in love in a sluty version of Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy, but his short appearance in Liberal Arts is, I think, exceptional. Nat, a chilled and quite special friend, Jesse meets only two times in his life, makes a change in his attitude. Nat's his good ghost of wisdom, funny, a bit socially awkward, acting like he's high, but drinking water insted of beer, wearing an adorable stocking cap, and more above all - smart!

There are many other reasons for watching this movie. The romance between Jesse and Zibby (Elisabeth Olsen is gonna be one of the greatest actress one day!), which has such a natural chemistry, I haven't seen in a long time. There's something pure about it and something well known to as all, a relationship that could be a great one, if we'd met this person in a different life situation, in ten years or ten years earlier, before something changed you or him/her. The cast is also impressive, including great people and big talents. The reminder of a feeling of infinity of opportunities and possibilities, we have when we are young, and if we're not anymore - the bitterness of lost chances. But maybe we're always young, and the difference between being and not being an adult is when we've lost more chances, than we still have ahead?
If you're looking for quick and brain-relaxing entertainment, I recommend aforementioned The Avengers, but it you want to cater to not only fun, but also your soul,
I say
movies like that are still being made.

niedziela, 2 grudnia 2012

Zodiac: a long way home

Every self-respecting movie maniac can recall at least one occasion, when he or she had this need of watching a movie about something, that usually doesn't visit their thoughts very often. It's like Inception, the idea is like a virus, spreading and taking hostage your mind and then you know: if you won't watch the movie, you'll just go nuts. So you do. Sometimes the need is to watch rhinos copulate, sometimes we just have to see James Franco cutting off his limb, but me - i needed a serial killer.

I honestly wasn't prepared for the length of this movie - telling a story about one serial killer in THREE HOURS? Man, you have to have guts for this, cause that's a risky job. Not everyone can keep the audience interested for that long, even with gunshots, blow ups and other special effects to back you up. So what David Fincher did? He minimized anything that can cause an adrenaline rush, placed the action in cold, wet and dark San Francisco, banned smiling on set and using any of crew's charms to attract the watcher (pretty boy Jake Gyllenhaal did a good job, but Robert Downey Jr's charisma just couldn't sit quietly in the corner) and you know what? It worked.

Even though Zodiac is not a classic about-a-murderer kind of movie. The hunt for the I-5 Killer would probably better satisfy my need (yup, on the list), 'cause Zodiac doesn't say much about the Zodiac himself (spoiler! - we don't even get to know for sure!), but it tells the story of people, whose lives got influenced by the crimes and the mystery. So have you expected a delicious Happy Meal of Murder, with Follow-his-steps fries and an extra large juicy murder details Coke - you'll be disappointed.

So what if we eat some slow food sometimes? Zodiac gives us the opportunity to be a part of police investigation the way, it probably really looks like. With chances and possibilities dying and disappearing with every minute, it reaches a dead end. With people involved and those, who did not care at all. With the hunt, the code cracking, the hopes rising and falling down on their heads. With the presumption of innocence and the feeling, you might have just the right psycho sitting in front of you, but you have no proof, and therefore, you have nothing to fight him back. With cases unclosed for years, with details popping up here and there, after a month, a year, a decade. Fincher doesn't let us take the shortcut, it's not a journey from A to B, with characters telling us what they've found during those ten years, having fake conversations: we witness their every step, their urge to find out, their fear, their curiosity and a moment, when job becomes a destructive obsession and there's nothing left in your mind, but the statement:

It's always sunny in Philadelphia, they say... Well, lucky you, Philly, cause in Fincher's San Francisco the weather forecast is: rainy, cold, with no sights of sun, sky or happiness. It's the dark side of the city, he's trying to show us, and he succedeed. Characters chase each other between puddles, on wet streets and pavements, and everything seems to be hostile. People to people, city to people and everything seems tougher. All optimistic, happy scenes are followed by a murder, and the watcher is taught that for every smile there is a price. We are being trained to expect that, just as we unawaresly sink into the bad atmosphere of danger and fear, the whole movie is based on. That's why i caught myself holding my breath for no reason - or maybe actually for the Zodiac's general reason.

Fortunately, we're not getting killed after smiling over a strange relationship between extremely introverted vel. retired Robert Greysmith (Gyllenhaal) and popular and well respected journalist Paul Avery (Downey Jr). Downey Jr, as Downey Jrs like to do, is funny and smart and witty and popular, but for some reason he becomes interested in Gyllenhaal (it's not what you're thinking, Jake, we're far away from mountains), especially in a beautiful mind of his. Cracking codes, thinking outside the box - not everyone can do that, but our boy scout seems to be much more than an average newspaper draftsman. Paul Avery sees that and takes him under his wings, right into the battle with an unknown opponent, a battle in which he's lost his job, position, home and peaceful mind. He didn't lose his wit, though. Thank God  James Vanderbilt (screenwriter).

Gyllenhaal makes good Greysmith, the guy that no one pays attention to, but his whole role is based on several types of looks. The i've-got-an-idea look, the no-one-understands-why-i'm-obsessed-with-this-killer look, the i'm-trying-to-look-normal look and the standard Gyllenhaal puppy-eyes look. I'm not saying it' bad, but that's nothing we haven't seen before. And doing the same, but being funny at the same time, it's a complete different story, right, Rob?

Leaving our journo duet alone, there's another pair worth noticing: Marc Rufallo's Dave Toschi and Anthony Edwards' Armstrong. They're cops, so investigating Zodiac's case is their job, but they'll soon start to notice how destructive it is. It's a tough relationship. You know, how every cop movie tells the story how the policemen working in pairs became BFFs? Well, there comes a time when you have to decide, whether to go down with your fella or save yourself. And when you decide on the door number 2 you know, that you've betrayed you friend. Even when he says it's all right. You've lost something. Well, good job Rufallo and Edwards, a nice piece of acting.

So what's the fun in the game, where everyone loses? Themselves, their friends, family, lives... There's none, but when you follow something long enough, you become it, obsession starts making your life. That's why Zodiac isn't about Zodiac really. It's not about the victims, it's not about their beloved. It's about some people seemingly unconnected with the crimes, but ruined by them anyway. It's about searching for an answer you'll never get and being left with the question marks forever. So if you sit and bite your fingernails, thinking: 'where's that murderer, Gyllenhaal's boring', you better stop watching now, otherwise it's gonna be a 180minutes long nightmare of boredom. But if you're open to something new, to slowing a bit in order to see more, to think more, that might be the serial killer movie for you. Answers won't be brought to you on a plate, more, there will be no clear answers. There are just questions. Is it him? Is it real?

sobota, 24 listopada 2012

Lawless: Ah ha ha ha, stayin' alive!

Bang bang - and now you're dead.

Or not, if you happen to be one of the (in)famous Bondurant brothers, Jack, Howard or Forrest (in his case your chances of survival are probably somewhere around 99%). They are just some country folks, earning their livings as moonshiners in the hard times of prohibiton. What do we know about them? They were real, they have a movie telling the story of their lives and... Well, Tom Hard is a hell of an actor.

OK, guilty, that may not be connected to the Bondurant bros themselves, but I promise you, this will be the only thought you'll have after the movie. Because even though Lawless is an extraordinary example of how to tell a story from behind the camera, with no such thing as special, gimmicky effects or overtalking, what stands out the most is this pretty boy  becoming one of the biggest stars on the Hollywood's sky.
And not the one shining most intensively, twinkling as crazy - one that wins hearts with almost no words, some uhmms and a great deal of talent.

Back to this gangsterish story, brought to us by John Hillcoat and Nick Cave (duet you might remember from The Proposition 2005, where Guy Pearce was also present) - it is a good one. Built carefully like a house of cards, each and every detail has it's role to play, and it plays it well. The landscapes, old Fords and drinking banned alcohol from jars create the climate required to fully dive into the surprisingly not such a sad story of the few, who stood up against the putridity and greed, even when it's represented by the law forces. That representant is no one else, but Guy Pearce with a wide parting on his head and the i-smell-the-occasion-to-use-my powers-and-become-rich-over-someone-else's-hard-work attitude. It must have been tough, balancing on the thin line, risking becoming a caricature of Charlie Rakes charakter he's playing, but he never lost it. He's the perfect villain, made of just enough evil, perversion and an extra amout of craziness of the darkest, disturbing kind .

Who else to mention? Well, it wouldn't be nice to skip Gary Oldman's role, Floyd Banner, even if he visited the screen for, I dont't know, 4 minutes? And even that time was parted into smaller episodes. Of course, he was great, we love him, but, to be honest, Lawless would be just the same with or without Mr. Banner. No offence, though, I do respect Oldman in every charakter he creates. Even when his appearance is so short, you could miss it by going to the bathroom or blinking really slowly - so don't be indignant when someone'll ask you Was there really Gary Oldman in this movie?!.

Maggie Beauford is the one not to be missed. Her character was, well, easy to distroy by making it one-dimensional: just a gorgeous woman from the big city, falling for the tough guy, who can both protect and dominate her - story told milion times. But Jessica Chastain made her Maggie strong, independent and proud, without loosing the sense of femininity. She not only does not ask for help - she helps anonymously, letting her man's legend grow and spread, while standing in the shadow and loving him patiently.

Shia LaBeouf's Jack Bondurant is also believable, with his youth and silliness and the need to love and the need to prove himself. He's eager, hotheaded and stubborn: everything a young men would be, trying to fit everyone's expectations: the right man for the girl he loves (Mia Wasikowski makes a sweet country girl Bertha), the grown-up man for his brother, the good friend for a crippled boy and the businessman he thinks, he should become.
As for the Jason Clarke's Howard - he makes good background, being the silent pillar of violence and strenth the family and it's bussiness needs.

About Tom Hardy's performance I've already written (using a creative star metaphore, how artistic), so I'm not gonna repeat myself. Let me just sum it up: He said few words, made few impressions, gave quite a lot of uhmms and yet played a role so greatly, it makes the movie. I'd say it's impressive.

It's boring, So slow I fell asleep, It's not what I expected: don't let the haters fool you. It is NOT a classic gangster movie, it is not a western either, but it's an amazing piece of cinematography. It's being told, not read to us; slowly at the beggining, as every story, with all the introduction to the land of Over-the-hills and Far-away, letting us really get to know characters and bond with them, before the whole plot even starts. But Lawless is not really about a brilliant plotline. It's about people, about the times they lived in and what effect it had on them, but it's also about the special ways of storytelling, that reminds me of bards. Lawless is like one of their songs, not only because the music is amazing, but also - and mostly - because we have time to make friends with characters and feel at home beneath them. It's a true story of things we should, must and need to do as brothers, as lovers and as humans. And it's sometimes funny, just as life sometimes is. And it has Tom Hardy in it.
If that hasn't convinced you, I don't know what can.
I'm so gangsta

And for the haters: same things were told about The King's Speech. And it won many Oscars, Golden Globes and hearts all over the world.