Archive for the Directors Category

MARFA GIRL, Larry Clark (2012)

Posted in Directors, Drama with tags , , , on December 11, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

marfa girl poster

My attention was diverted towards Larry Clark at the end of 2011, when visiting Moderna Museet in Stockholm, I discovered some photographs which belonged to his famous Tulsa series. I got shocked by its realism, the portrait of a white trash American generation, echoing all the decadence coming from poverty, drugs and sex becoming something nasty and filthy. His extreme style was really appealing, and felt in love with his photos right away.

When looking for more information, I discovered that this photographer, Larry Clark, was the same guy who conceived and delivered one of the most shocking films I watched when I was a teenager, Kids, which shared lots of identifiable resemblances with Tulsa series images, in fact, the film made me think of sequence of captures put into motion.

Since I related his photography to Kids and Ken Park, I decided not to miss any update and started following his movements quite close. His last movement has been Marfa Girl, a film which is not being released in movie theaters nor DVD, and instead, at a quite reasonable price, USD 6, it’s available to be watched online on the director’s site.

Seemed like a perfect plan for Sunday evening.

Marfa is a small shitty town in the middle of nowhere  in Texas, 69 miles far from the border, where there’s nothing much to do.  There’s a curfew for teenagers to be on the streets at night, physical punishment is not only valid but also compulsory at the high school, and people feel threatened and harassed by the Border Patrol  units.

Adam (Adam Mediano) is 16, half white half Mexican, still attending high school, who’s always moving around with his skate board. His mum, Mary (Mary Farley),  is  bird obsessed who treats her pets as if they were human. She’s a genuine hippie. Adam’s got a younger girlfriend name Inez, truly in love with him, however Adam’s also having sex with his 23 year-old single mom friend, named Donna (Indigo Rael), after he surrendered to her seducting skills.

adam

One of the Border patrol agents, Tom (Jeremy St James), is constantly harassing Adam and his mother, being obsessed with both them and trying to get closer using any excuse. He’s apparently concerned with the lack of education and discipline the kid receives, and aims to be kind of a role model for him, and a respectful man to Mary. Tom is constantly acting out of line, treating Mexican residents as if they were shit, in a very racist manner, and always bothering people around him, feeling superior thanks to his badge.

A young and beautiful super hippie artist (Drake Burnette)sponsored by a company, is staying in town for a while, looking for inspiration in the naked bodies of the guys she ends up hanging out with, mostly Mexicans. In this way, we’ll be introduced to the stories of their lives, realizing how their roots and earlier stages have marked their paths and personalities forever.

Marfa is depicted as a town where nothing happens, poor, decadent, with less than 2,000 inhabitants. Local teenagers try to find some source of entertainment by skating, playing some weird music and smoking pot.

Adam is at this turning point at which he’s still childish innocent, however he’s becoming a man, getting in trouble for cheating his girlfriend, and screwing Donna. As not many guys were available in town, seems like young women are interested in new flesh, and Adam is a white and empty book perfect to fill in with the wisdom of the experience he hasn’t yet lived through.

Many isolated stories coming from people take part of a net, Marfa Girl is sewing in order to find the inspiration she needs to keep on working. Thus Rodrigo and Ulysses share with her their own personal points of view about life and sex.   She acts as the link among all the men in town, both young and adult.

marfa1

On the other hand Adam is the connection among the female side of the story. Sooner or later he deals with all of them: his teacher who spanks him before letting him feel the kicks of the baby in her belly, her mother who loves him but is more concerned about her birds, Inez, Donna…

Marfa girl and Adam are quite alike, with the difference of age and experience. At some point she gives him tips, and likely they’d eventually end up in bed together.

They’ve been raised up in freedom, against the violent discipline Tom, the border patrol, received, which caused him deep traumas and damaged him for good.

The feeling of emptiness, the absence of morality, the lack of values and a prominent sense of despair are easily noticeable. The only possible future involves getting away from that shithole, but the problem is that the boredom itself drags you down, and you end up swallowed by the town regardless.

Clark’s films are characterized by being too real. Unknown and inexperienced  actors who keep their own names for their roles in the film, they don’t seem to be acting but living their own lives caught by Clark for a while. As if part of their vulgar intimacy was stolen and recorded. Performances are, for this reason, appallingly convincible. Plots are not strong at all, there are certain peaks at the end of the story, but Marfa Girl is as visual as a documentary, avoiding all the narrating parts.

I’ve always felt amazed by the ability of the director of turning trash into something beautiful. Environments he choose are rough, extreme and very excessive, too alien for average audience, born and raised in what we’d call normal circumstances. It doesn’t matter whether the location of his stories is Manhattan or a remote town, there’s trash and dirt everywhere. Clark digs and finds his treasures.

From Tulsa to Marfa, years have gone by, but society has been decaying, and new generations we like to relate to Our Future, are more and more fucked up.

marfa 2

There was also a reference to one of my favorite novels, which also made an impact on me when I was a teenager. I’m talking about Ulysses’ tattooed arm related to the Lord of the Flies, which is actually the story of the evil in childhood and youth, the practical example of how kids are not as good and innocent as per common belief.

Adam is not a bad kid, he’s just trying to survive without harming nobody on purpose. However stop thinking for a while. He’s got a girlfriend he trust 200%, but he’s cheating on her with a single mom. And he’s aware eventually their affair will be discovered, putting his relationship with Inez into risk, but he just doesn’t care.

The older generations aren’t much better, and all of them are now suffering the consequences of events or mistakes in the past, when they are same age as Adam. It’s as if karma was directly ruling Marfa.

I enjoyed Clark’s new work, seriously. Photography is excellent, performances are too real, and even though the plot is not appealing, the final result is excellent, leaving at your own will the kind of conclusion you might get from it. Don’t expect a love story, jokes or a bunch of stunning actors. What Clark aims to share goes beyond anything physical. He just wants us to see places like Marfa exist, involving much drama.

In case you’re still interested, remember Marfa Girl is not being released in theaters nor DVD. You can watch it online on Larry Clark’s website. Hope you like it.

SITGES FILM FESTIVAL 2012

Posted in Directors, Events, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

I woke up this morning with my body still stiff after my first film marathon at Sitges Film Festival yesterday, trying to put things in order so I can tell you about my experience this year.

First of all I have to admit Sitges is the perfect festival for me. There’s too much trash, as it compiles horror, sci-fi, Asiatic films… this is, mostly those non suitable films for standard festivals, but in essence the concept is as if tailor made.

This year I’m unemployed but unfortunately money matters here, and no press registration was available, thus I planned Tuesday evening to watch Chained and The Lords of Salem, and a morning to enjoy Antiviral and The Tall Man. That morning I added one more title, Grabbers, and in the last minute, I could attend this marathon featuring Aurora, Sightseers, Maniac and Johnny Dies at the End.

I still don’t know how to approach the 9 films I saw, because there were great ones I’d like to talk about individually in order to extend the review in depth, and others which, frankly, don’t deserve more than just a few lines. I think I’ll update these minor titles first, to go on with the good stuff.

What I can confirm is that there are several conclusions I reached this time. On one hand, talent and taste for the twisted are hereditary, as Jennifer Lynch and Brandon Cronenberg showed in their visions, and on the other, that great names are not guarantee of nothing anymore, as in the cases of Rob Zombie and Don Coscarelli. And yes, one more remark, there’s still redemption for Alexandre Aja, responsible for the script of the remake of William Lustig’s Maniac, together with his horrorsoulmate Grégory Lavasseur,  one of the best movies I saw last week.

Sitges 2012 has come to an end, but I still have lots of things to tell about, and of course, I’m counting the days already for October 2013.

COSMOPOLIS, David Cronenberg (2012)

Posted in Directors, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

The reason I probably started Popcorn and Movies almost four years ago was David Cronenberg, one of my favorite directors, if not the first one. I’ve revised my earliest posts and damn! They are short and terrible. I’m glad this is something I think I’ve improved  as I’ve been feeling more comfortable with what I wanted to do here. Regarding Cronenberg, , I’ve discovered that right after my first post introducing myself to the world, I immediately talked about the Canadian director. Mine is irrational passion for his work.

It’s been many years since the Baron of Blood started working into more conventional projects, such as A History of Violence or Eastern Promises, receiving sharp criticism who were charmed by his entrails, frightening tools, and twisted stories, in which you as the viewer had to put your senses to work in order to differ what was reality and what hallucination.

With a Dangerous Method, many fans gave up on him as there was no action, no sci-fi, and the story about the triangle relationship among Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein was too philosophical and very heavy to stand for many. Since I love subjects related to psychiatry, I enjoyed the film lots, but I knew immediately that fans would despise it.

Cronenberg is presenting  his last work Cosmopolis at Sitges Film Festival these days, before being released at cinemas in a couple of weeks, and I’ve managed to watch it already. After the trailers and despite the presence of Robert Pattinson, I was really excited about the film. I haven’t finished Don DeLillo’s book yet, but as far as I’m concerned, the script is quite loyal to the original story.

Cosmopolis basically tells the story of the decline of a 28-year-old powerful and hugely wealthy Wall Street shark, in just one day.

Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) has so much money, he can buy everything in life. He’s the atypical man who can hardly understand NO for an answer, so used to have all kind of yes men around. He has barely slept last night and decides he needs a haircut at his favorite barbershop downtown. On an average day such errand would not take much time, but these are restless times, and the city is affected by the presence of the US president, a large funeral, and hordes of anarchists trying to put Capitalism to an end, rioting on the streets. All these events determine the car route to take, which has to be modified at any risk signal Torval (Kevin Durand), his security chief, receives. Thus, most part of the action takes place inside the car, a huge armed  limo equipped high technology, capable of isolating Packer from any outside threat. He receives visits from several counselors and advisers, who consider themselves at a lower lever than their employer, who is defined as a seer. Today Yuen, is behaving beyond his prediction, and the young billionaire is losing large amounts of money at the smallest time measure you might think of, but still he’s calm. Eventually “it will chart”.

He crosses ways with Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon), his new wife, a gorgeous poet who barely remembers his physical features and doesn’t feel like having sex with him. Their marriage was actually a transaction, as her family is even wealthier. No matter how much effort Eric puts in having average couple conversations and behaving normal towards her, she’s continuously rejecting and avoiding him. There’s no love nor affection, everything’s a fake. He only seems to be affected by the deprivation of sex, which he quickly eases sexual encounters with a former mistress (Juliette Binoche), who is his art consultant, and a security staff member. It’s remarkable they are both his employees.

Cosmopolis is a series of encounters with different kinds of people, and the cathartic ride of Packer from control and safety to the unknown and dangerous, a ride that he deliberately forced into motion, probably looking for a reason to live and many to keep on doing what he had been doing all these years. As the day advances, not only he’s losing his fortune, but also the unstable situation in the city begins to affect him, and the death threat to his persona is becoming real, so he starts looking forward to facing it the soonest possible.

Again David Cronenberg delivers a work too controversial from the fan point of view. Cosmopolis will never let you indifferent, but there’s one thing for sure: you’ll love it or hate it, but there’s no grey scale you can stick to. My choice is totally predictable: thumbs UP.

If there is something I’ve found disturbing in DeLillo’s book is precisely the coldness of Eric Packer. He’s a control freak and a visionary, and his counselors, real statistics and financial nerdy experts, are way behind him. Every time he asks a question they avoid answering to safe themselves from humiliation for not delivering a smart enough answer. Of the acquaintances he meets throughout the day, nobody stands at his same level, but his barber, Anthony, probably because he’s the only attachment to his past, and consequently to his father. “Destroy the past, make the future”.

His relationship with women is also peculiar. Recently married to Elise, they have nothing in common, and since the very beginning such marriage is doomed to fail. It’s another deal, another transaction, too aseptic, with a complete lack of confidence and affinity. He forces himself to act like an average husband to get what he really looks for in a woman, sex, and she’s constantly rejecting him, as she doesn’t depend on him but on her family, and is free to do so, as she’s not of his property. Eric hardly accepts this, and keeps on pushing, while in the meantime submit his female employees to his will. For instance, Jane Melman (Emily Hampshire), his chief of finance, is summoned to the limo on her day off while training, and she has to discuss yuen issues while he’s having his daily prostate exam, something which brings out a highly sexual tense situation. The only woman who perhaps receives all his attention and we could say respect, is Vija Kinski (Samantha Morton), his chief of theory, during the anarchist riots started by the rat men yelling the spector of capitalism” happening outside the car. No doubt their conversation, her analysis of what going on with capitalism, remarking that the future is inconsistent and something might happen that very same day, is the key of the whole story, the confirmation of Packer’s world collapsing.

In order not to spoil the film, I cannot extend much talking about another essential character, Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), a loser who used to be enthusiastic about currency analysis. He aims to see Packer suffering for certain reasons, however, he’s at lower level, he cannot compete in dialectics, and no matter how hard he tries, he’s uncapable of impressing his former boss, it is the other way round.

Packer’s personality and behavior can be easily compared to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, leaving aside all the serial killing. They are both neat, powerful, cold, detached from reality and current society. While Bateman is unable to fit in because of his mental issues and his thirst of blood, Packer is unable to establish boundaries to real world due to his power. When he’s offered a piece of art by Rothko, he doesn’t show any passionate interest, he only wants to purchase a whole chapel to be rebuilt in his apartment just for his own pleasure, regardless the public interest. Everything has a price, and he will yield to his will only if outbid. The billionaire’s actual status would be reduced to his own sentence: “show me something I don’t know”. His wife Elise at some point realizes his main occupation is knowing things. The more you know the more you control, right?

The limo and the city are also relevant in the film. I’d say the limo is an extension of Packer himself, and all the damages it suffers during the riots are a reflection of his own decline. Inside the car remains intact, alien to what’s happening on the streets, protecting and isolating Packer from reality. The car works as an office, a private surgery room, a bachelor pad, a therapy room…and a toilet. The movement is almost unnoticeable, the city is burning while he inside is cold and silent.

Manhattan has been always a traffic mess, however the visit of the president, and the mourning and  funeral of Packer’s favorite rap artist Brutha Fez, seed chaos, which turns into complete mayhem with the riots. The unpredictability, combined with the man’s stubbornness, results fatal for someone who has everything under control to the detail.

I’ve been reading all kind of comments and reviews already, and seems that there’s not a firm and common verdict, which I particularly enjoy. There are aspects very criticized, I personally feel enthusiastic about. The cold tone of dialogues, the succession of visits and characters creating this one to one scenes, the rhythm of the story as a long ride, and the claustrophobic setting of the car…

My taste for this journeys to the lowest level of the human being is known. I also think of Shame here. Characters living a perfect and under control lives till there’s some twisting point which drives them to free falling into fatal decadence.

The story of Packer is the tale of a guy who never paid attention to improbability, the tale of a non so far away inconsistent future, and he fall of the values society was stuck to.

Can’t think of anyone better than Cronenberg to depict the above mentioned. The presence of Peter Suschitzky responsible for cinematography, is essential to deliver such an impressive visual film, beautiful in technique and outstanding in aesthetics, the participation of Howard Shore once again with the soundtrack, is subtle yet fully intense. The director’s special taste to adapt DeLillo’s work in a magnificent way, managing to develop his personal insane atmosphere is out of question. You watch Cosmopolis and even though Cronenberg has diverted from earlier works, or it should be about time to change the term to EVOLVED, you clearly notice his trademark. It’s difficult to recreate a complex story with your personal features remaining almost intact.

It’s taken me many years to understand and feel comfortable with David Cronenberg’s works at first glance, and because I don’t trust myself when dealing with him, I reckon more screenings are necessary in order to hog as many details as possible and be able to announce a final verdict. All I can say 24 hours after my first approach is that once again, Cosmopolis is not an easy film, and lots of people will end up disappointed. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to reviews and critics and would recommend you to enjoy/suffer the experience yourself, trying to isolate yourself in the Packer way form comments and anything which might influence you.

If I get the chance to see the Canadian director in Sitges tomorrow, I will only say to him BRAVO!

Ah! Before I forget… Seems that Pattinson can act.

 

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Darren Aronofsky (2000)

Posted in Directors, Drama with tags , , , , , on January 30, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

I’ve been recovering  some very good titles I’ve adored since the first time I saw them and, unfortunately hadn’t enjoyed in very long time. It’s true, however, that the fact that it took me so long to review them, made the experience delightful.

When Requiem for a Dream saw the light, the director, Darren Aronofsky, was only 31.  It might not be an important detail to you, but for me it makes a point. Responsible not only for the filming, but also being in charge of the script, really makes me think of a genius. Perhaps, his filmography is not to extent, but all the movies have made a huge impression, not only on the critics, but also on the audience.

Everybody knows Aronofsky, thanks to his last two praised and rewarded films, The Wrestler and Black Swan, no doubt outstanding, and both commented on previous posts. This time I’m very pleased to talk about my favorite, the one that left me speechless and in shock from long time.

Situations recreated by Aronofsky are not standard at all. We witness  the way characters have to deal with their own Hell and demons, ending overwhelmed and devastated by the whole process and the tragic of their lives. These stories are perhaps too extreme, and we might think ourselves too far from them, but changing certain details and social surroundings, we’re subtle to experience something similar, and it’s really scary.

To approach Requiem for a Dream, we should first mark a division between Marion and Harold, and his friend Tyrone on one hand, and Sara Golfarb, Harry’s mother, on the other.  Rising and fall is depicted in 3 stages, everything starting in Summer, or the season of hope and happiness, Fall, things starting to get messed up, to finally collapse in Winter.

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a widow  whose only son is a drug addict. Their closest contact consists on the young man, Harry (Jared Leto),  visiting his mother for borrowing her TV set, the only thing that keeps her company and her most loyal friend, to get some money at the pawnshop for dope. As part of the cycle, Sara, will always end up visiting the pawnbroker, in order to recover the TV, as part of the routine, without complaining.

Harry and his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) are in search of the magic trick that will ensure them money to afford to make their dreams come true. They seem to have found the score, by buying, cutting and dealing heroine.

Harry is deep in love with beautiful Marion (Jennifer Connelly), aspiring to become a fashion designer, and also very in love with substances to enhance her creativity. Marion seems to come from a wealthy family, as she has her own flat, and from time to time, in order to avoid her parents cutting her short, she dates her former shrink, Arnold, ensuring he won’t advise them of her habits and behavior.

On the other hand, Sara, hooked to infocomercials hosted by Tappy Tibbons (Christopher McDonald), receives a phone call, announcing she’s been selected to take part in one of these quiz shows on TV. For a lonely woman, such an invitation is the best that could happen to her, and standing in front of the audience means she must be stunning. Thus, Sara starts trying strict diet in order to fit in the red dress she was wearing at Harry’s graduation, but she can’t bear starving, and will eventually succumb to a magic diet someone suggests, based on these magic color pills, what we know as uppers and downers.

For a short period of time everything seems to be working for all them, the guys dealing in Coney Island and making good money, and Sara getting fit for the TV show, but of course, when all the grounds are unstable and based on dreams out of reality, eventually the world collapses, and things change radically in a nick of time.

The business has to close due to lack of dope to deal with, money runs out,  and all the happiness and perfection vanish instantly, because the reality for these addicts is that they only care for a fix. Just the opposite, Mrs Goldfarb gets so hooked to pills, she starts taking more than prescribed, developing a constant state of paranoia, dreaming of herself introduced by his beloved Tibbons to the set, having Harry by her side…

No need to  point out that the end of this voyage, is, to say the least, shocking and terrifying.

All the plot and issues related to the three young characters does not differ from many other stories related to junkies. Their behavior is a standard pattern, if there’s money everything’s perfect, they get on well, trust each other, love is strong… as soon as there’re no drugs on the street or money in their pocket, relationships quickly decay, allowing suspicion, disrespect, and tension to rise, causing chaos. Of course, despite the events to follow are quite predictable, it doesn’t imply the intensity of this downward spiral has to lessen.

Nevertheless, what I think the big deal in this film is, has to do with  all the way to madness Sara Goldfarb has to pass through to end completely demented.

Starting from the general assumption any intake pill is a drug (forget about natural stuff), prescribed by a doctor, we must think of ourselves as potential users, depending on illness or requirements. As patients we are not walking Vademecum’s either, thus we have to trust what we are advised, considering doctors are professional.

What happens to Sara is a combination of many factors, all mixed up, results into an exploding cocktail.

Sara is alone, living a boring life based only in watching infocomercials and spending sometime chatting with her neighbors. Her son is a drug addict she doesn’t turn in because is the only next of kin she has, thus she allows him to steal the TV set, once and once again. In certain way, she’s supporting his addiction, by recovering it afterwards.

She’s not a very enlightened woman either. As soon as she receives the phone call seeding the idea of making her dream of appearing on TV come true, and bringing her the possibility of projecting  a successful and fulfilling image of her life, to the audience, she’s 100% convinced it is for real, thus she starts setting personal targets for a date not yet confirmed.

And yes, same as usual, vanity comes always the first, when dealing with such events. She wants to fit in the red dress. She thinks it’s only a matter of losing weight, but she’s not considering also years pass by. She’s so narrow minded as to associate this red dress to happiness, just because wearing it before everything was just perfect: her soon graduated, her husband still alive and by her side, and she looking younger and stunning. She wants to be popular and feel loved by her neighbors.

Surprisingly, Sara lacks of will power, so she can’t bear a strict diet program, consisting on reducing not only quantity of food, but also erasing sugar, salt and other fattening additives. The solution is to invest into these wonder diets you don’t feel hungry and weight loss is immediately noticeable, you only have to take series of pills on a daily basis. Although Sara feels the alterations, she assumed them as normal because the pills have been prescribed by a doctor, who is always right. Both her physical and mental states are soon disturbed by the pills, feeling anxiety, euphoria, hyperactivity … Everything is fine as long as she reaches her goal, the red dress.

Her weight loss is directly linked to her developing tolerance to pills. she starts suffering from hallucinations and paranoia, and in order to get going she starts increasing the dose, in order to keep balanced, to eventually lose total control, becoming completely hooked to the pills, unable to establish a drug pattern, being high 24/7, up to a point she’s a unable to differ reality from imagination, turning completely insane.

All this told, enhanced by many shots, crazy close-ups and these cameras showing oneself views, sound effects, and other technical aspects, makes an impression. Montage is super elaborated.

This last time I watched Requiem For A Dream, I had the same feeling as the first time, didn’t matter I was already acquainted with the story. As Sara’s addiction is stronger, and consequently the sequence of images is more disturbing, I started feeling uneasy. Perhaps this time it affected me even more, as I’m quitting smoking. Fact is that as Sara’s sanity is slipping, the rhythm of the film is also mental.

Not sure whether I could refer to the conclusion as a lecture, but somehow there’s a message in this film. In fact there are many, and are quite frightening. I can’t stop thinking of these two:

First one has to do with what I mentioned earlier. Everybody is a potential victim of drug abuse. You might not try cocaine, but you can be prescribed with Valium, or extasis, and depending on your physical and mental condition you could get hooked without the proper monitoring. I’ve met people hooked to relaxants to get some sleep, others playing with laxatives to lose weight. People think as junkies, they are focused on immediate pleasure or results, forgetting about side effects or extended usage consequences. And there’s the real danger.

The philosophy of achieving a goal no matter what, can easily turn against you and ruin your life. You have to be realistic, and work within your limits. Last night a close friend of mine said something about ambition, more or less the idea was that you have to set and renew targets in order to improve but always on a real scale.

Thus, divided into 3 stages, we witness the stories of four people who have dreams of a better life, and how, succumbing to their addictions, they end up hopeless and their lives ruined forever.

Requiem For A Dream is one of the most shocking and impressive films of the past decade, and one of my favorites. The subject is tough and the story is definitely one of a kind, and depending on your sensitiveness, you might find it hard to endure. Aronofsky here, reconfirmed his role as a director wasn’t going to be ignored.  And believe me, if you get to see this film, you will positively want to dig more in his work. Excellent!

THE FOG, John Carpenter (1980)

Posted in Directors, Horror with tags , , , , on November 2, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Fall season and Halloween knocking at the door have caused the need to swallow Carpenter’s classics again, and together with Cronenberg’s, I’m trying to gather all his films.

No doubt he’s one of the top masters in horror/sci-fi genres, and personally I’d include him in my top 5 of directors.

The Fog was created during his golden decade, and although wasn’t as shocking as Halloween or The Thing, nor so genuine as Escape from New York or They Live, this horror tale is equally enjoyable.

About midnight, April 21st, in Antonio Bay, in California. People from this nice fishing town by the sea are hosting the centennial  of its foundation.

During the witching hours lots of weird incidents occur all along the town. Empty cars horning, TV sets switching on, glasses breaking… during that crazy hour, in the church Father Malone discovers a hidden diary written by his own grandfather. The real terrible history of the town is depicted on those pages. The disgust caused by the upcoming leper colony close to the town led by a rich man named Blake, and the seek for the gold these people were shipping, forced the founders  to sink their vessel, Elisabeth Dane, by crashing it, with all the crew dying hopeless.

During the celebration night, a glowing deadly thick fog, bringing out nonhuman creatures resembling pirates, seeds panic and death over the town. Blake and his subordinates are back for revenge.

The owner of the local radio station settled at the old Lighthouse, Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), on one hand, and another neighbor, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins), on the other, will soon realize something threatening and evil comes with the weird glow, and will put all their efforts  to protect the town.

After the huge success of Halloween, John Carpenter decided to continue working on some horror theme title.

The Fog wasn’t generously budgeted wither, but the director managed this wasn’t an obstacle for delivering a story in which supernatural powers were involved.

Truth is that, probably for this reason, we are not standing on front of a slasher, gore film. Executions are not super obvious and lack of blood unfortunately lessens the impact these could have caused.

Same with Blake and the foggy creatures. When I commented on Assault on Precinct 13th, I was supporting and cheering the fact that none of the gang members was highlighted. Faces weren’t important, the plague-like effect of all of them creeping and moving incredibly fast around the police station as an unnatural threaten was the point. However in this case, these weird creatures are already non human. Their terrible appearance should have been more exploited in my opinion.

One of the features of this film I like most, apparently was added after filming and editing. Carpenter didn’t find the story catchy enough and decided to add the initial scene. Kids gathering around a bonfire close to midnight, and this old fisherman, Mr. Machen, telling about the story of a clipper vessel, crashing to the rocks, due a thick fog, and a deceiving light caused by fire, and warning the kids that if such fog returns, the men at the bottom of the sea, will accompany it to Antonio Bay.

This scary tale tone provided since the very beginning, introducing the audience to the events about to happen, is simply brilliant.

I’m wondering the loyalty and boundaries among Carpenter and the cast. Many actors participate in several of his titles. You see Nancy Loomis in Assault, Halloween and The Fog, for instance, or Tom Atkins and Adrienne Barbeau.

I really love Janet Leigh and her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, working together under Carpenter’s command. Two actresses, whose roles in horror, made them legend. Excellent!

Never seen the remake released in 2005 and don’t feel like watching it. A cast billing tv series gorgeous actors and actresses, I really don’t find much appeal.

The Fog might be more innocent than Carpenter’s previous work, dealing with the unnatural is not easy and as commented, possibilities seemed to be reduced due to low budget, still, it’s a funny horror movie, perfect for a cold dark Sunday, with the lights turned off.

TAXI DRIVER, Martin Scorsese (1976)

Posted in Directors, Drama with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Whenever you refer to Taxi Driver, immediately everybody remembers the famous quote “Are you talkin’ to me?” and Bickle’s mohawk. Just for this reason, many people find this film overrated. Personally I think they’re wrong, with all due respect, Taxi Driver goes beyond that.

Scorsese depicts a decadent and hypocrite society, streets full of scum, drugs and prostitution, through the eyes of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), an ex-Marine with issues.

Tough times for New York City, affected by alarming levels of criminality, violence, drugs and prostitution.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam veteran with personal  issues and insomnia disorder, applies for a job  as a cab driver on night shifts.  He has no life at all and no attachments, the only two constant activities on a regular basis are writing a diary, in which he expresses his discontent about human mankind and the dirty society he has to coexist with, and watching porn movies at dirty cinemas. Bickle is a loner, and the only contact with reality is what he sees while driving the cab: all kind of customers, and postcards from the city.

All of a sudden his eyes find Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a beautiful young woman actively working for the politician Palantine’s campaign for presidency. To Bickle she is a symbol of a new hope, pure and beautiful, which can save America… and him. Thus, in order to get acquainted with her, he decides to volunteer and collaborate for the success of the politician.

On the other hand, while working, he’s got a strange encounter with a teenage prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster), and her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel).

Things with Betsy don’t work fine for Travis, and her rejection will awake his sense of justice, feeling encouraged to straight things his own unorthodox way.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie, the truth is that I always discover something new, or better said, something previously unnoticed catches my attention. I really love when this happens.

There are several features, camera and techniques aside, which, in my opinion, contribute Taxi Driver to be a masterpiece: Travis Bickle, the characters and what each symbolizes, narration and dialogues, and the city itself.

Let’s get started.

Bickle’s past life is unknown. Only few details for the record are mentioned when applying for the job at the company, he used to be a former Marine and served in Nam, hadn’t received much education, and apparently he’s no relatives or close people.

He’s a real Steppenwolf, the only contact with reality is through the taxi, and considering he works night shifts in trouble hoods, what he sees is basically crap: prostitutes, pimps, junkies…

Well, up to this point Travis might seem just another freak but, he’s right in many things he writes on his diary, and we all reckon is normal to wish a better environment and atmosphere.

Betsy is his opportunity to fit in a society he finds helpless. Her beauty is taken for innocence and purity at Travis’ eyes, and she means hope. She’s a spark in the middle of mud, and Travis has such a crush on her, he manages to defy his inner demons in order to approach her.

Let me tell you, the moment Travis introduces himself to her, the way he talks, the strength his words transmit , and the guts he shows describing her life and affirming that she’s not happy, is one of my favorite scenes in the film. We can just guess what the girl might think, but we’re never sure, the fact is that she accepts his invitation. When Travis is with Betsy, he seems sure of himself, charming, everything he says makes sense but…at some point, his sick side has to appear, and he fucks it up when taking her to a porn cinema on their first serious date. What can you expect? Travis’ detachment from society prevents him from knowing what a woman should be given at that time.

Her immediate rejection means hope is gone, she’s like anyone else, therefore the world is doomed to fail unless he does something actively. And of course, Palantine’s statements mean nothing now.

Thus, Bickle enters into a downward spiral, his obsession for cleaning the streets becomes his main target, and staying focused on his purpose, he starts training, buys arms, invents devices for improving results, and thinks of himself as in an undercover agent on a mission. He’s not fantasizing anymore, this time is for real, and he’s determined to do something.

“Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the

scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up. Here is.”

 And not only that, he also wants to take Iris back to her family, so she can live a normal life, something he’s not even doing. It’s very contradictory, he’s not in touch with his parents, and has not a proper life, but Iris MUST have this chance, and get back to the right track. He’d sacrifice for her happiness, and will become his savior, and for that, he will have to defeat Sport, the pimp, the incarnation of the evil and the corrupted human being.

Thus, once all this said, who we have here? Travis is a vigilante, insane enough as to pull the trigger. Most of people have the very same ideas, especially when surrounded by a suffocating and unbearable society all you can see is wrong. Sometimes you think, yeah, I’d take a gun and retire so many assholes in this world…well similar kind of talk. I’m not saying this is the right solution, I do not consider myself an avenging nor violent person at all. But in Taxi Driver we are standing in front of an insane and filthy NYC, American society was deeply wounded because of many mistakes and tragedies, you name it, the dark shadow of Vietnam was present for too long, many issues difficult to take care of and overcome. You see that everyday and you get sick of it.

Taxi Driver is just a statement of discontent, a portrait of the decay and decadence of America, and the willing to put an end to that, taking a mentally disordered guy, probably a psychopath, as the narrator of such situation, playing with duality, in the sense that, you can agree on what he does, despite his way, and at the same time you can justify his actions by admitting he was insane.

Taking a look at the script, an experience I fully recommend, and of course, focusing on narration and dialogues, you realize this film is one of this kind. Continuing on my affirmation of this film being a statement and a critic against the current social situation in that time, this film has a sentence-to-be-framed (and quoted) every 30 seconds. So meaningful, and so real, I discovered myself shocked. Those off-voice scenes with the car moving though streets and junctions those jazzy tunes are so evoking…

I’m currently living downtown in Barcelona. It’s weird so filthy this city is. Right behind emblematic places you find the worst of the city, just as in Taxi Driver, pimps, whores, junkies, people dealing, tons of thieves and a sense of danger mostly noticeable at nights. Somehow I understand Travis’ need everything should be clean and although I find this city very attractive, I’m realizing is turning into something I don’t really like. How can this be stopped and redirected to normal? This is the government and local authorities responsibility, but at the end of the day you conclude nothing is being done. Frustration is the feeling.

With Taxi Driver, Scorsese concludes his portrait of his beloved New York, turned into a nest of crap, delivering an icon, Travis Bickle, a dangerous nutter who is wisest than many, and who is aware and affected by the way everything is tending to become. It’s up to you to think whether he’s a hero, or just a psycho, what it’s true is that he will never let you indifferent.

It’s been 35 years since Taxi Driver shocked the world, and still its message is valid.

EASTERN PROMISES , David Cronenberg (2007)

Posted in Action!, Directors, Drama with tags , , , , , , on August 13, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Can’t believe I haven’t talked about  this movie here yet, this is unacceptable! I’ve seen this film at least 4 times and reckon it’s one of my favorite ones of the past decade. Let’s put some remedy to such mistake.

Back in 2005, with A History of Violence, David Cronenberg started the so called Trilogy of Violence, which is still unfinished, and don’t think with the upcoming A Dangerous Method, comes to an end either.

Anyway, Eastern Promises is no doubt another example of violence, but this time from a perspective of the Russian mob in London nowadays, settled for at least 10-12 years and becoming powerful and very dangerous.

The starting point of the story is the death of a young Jane Doe, named Tatiana, at a maternity ward, by giving birth to her baby girl, in unfortunate and extreme circumstances.

The midwife who last assisted her, Anna (Naomi Watts), finds a diary written in Russian in her hand bag, and is determined to find any relatives so the newborn will escape from the bureaucratic adoption procedures.

Despite her Russian  roots, she can’t read the diary, plus her uncle Stepan does not agree to nose at dead people personal values. By chance, she finds a card from a restaurant named Trans-Siberian, so she decides to pay a visit, hoping someone can give her some information about the teenager or at least, get some help to translate the diary.

Once there, she will meet the friendly owner of the place, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who suggests her to come back the following day, so he can help her.  However, behind the amiable mask of a tender old man, the head of one of the most dangerous Russian mafia families, Vory V Zakone.

Problems will start the moment she hands him a copy of the diary, in which both Semyon and his careless and shallow son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel) are named and accused of very terrible things. This little spot in his business is something to be vanished easily, but what nobody takes into account is the driver, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), very close to Kirill, and acquainted with everything happening, and another two-face character.

Last time I watched Eastern Promises was 4 days ago, with my best friend. First thing she told me was that she hadn’t seen it before for being too sensitive to violent scenes, getting especially anxious when raping involved. Didn’t think much when I reckoned it wasn’t so violent, remembering only the scene at the public sauna. Don’t want to spoil anything, but let me tell you THAT is one of the best moments I’ve ever seen in a movie, if you’ve never seen this movie before, remember these two main adjectives: hard and raw.

Anyway, first scene and I was thinking “Oh My God! This is going to be a mistake I’ll remember for years”. Fortunately, I’ve been training my friend somehow, and she enjoyed the film a lot.

I could praise this film nonstop, there are many aspects to be highlighted I don’t know which one to start with.

There are two main plots which at some point they both meet, but not completely. And which one is more relevant? On one hand the story of Tatiana and her daughter Christina, christened by Anna, the nurse. It works as the perfect introduction to the underworld, but also something as apparently innocent as a diary brings out lots of trouble to Semyon. On the other hand, the affair of Soyka’s murder at Azim’s barbershop, an impulsive command by Kirill which also will cause lots of disturbance. The typical catchy sentence to attract the audience, in this case, is more than appropriate and quite meaningful:  Every sin leaves a mark. well, basically Eastern Promises, depicted in this Russian mafia frame, is all about that. Everything you do, will have consequences, no matter whether your acts involve low or high profile people.

I enjoy lots with the way  the story develops, the different plots getting closer and closer, thus the more you see, the more you understand. Characters are evolving according to the circumstances, and who you think was the nice guy, turns to be a real son o a bitch, and the other way round.

Russian mafia is definitely one of the strongest points in the story. We’ve seen Italian mafia hundreds of times, Irish gangs, ghetto boys, Chinese mob…we know how they deal with their affairs. However, we are quite ignorant  regarding Eastern dirty business and the way they handle and behave, traditions, code messages and whatever stuff you can think of.

Interesting the fact that this family is settled in London. I used to live the 12 years ago and noticed a massive wave of Russian and Polish immigrants. In certain neighborhoods, there were groups of guys dealing and arguing in street corners, with young nice chicks by their side…Here the legal business is the restaurant, but then you find brothels with prostitutes confined, hooked on heroin, pursuing the western dream of getting away from poverty for a better living. Tatiana was one of these girls, her innocence corrupted and her life ruined.

Tattoo code really fascinates me, probably because this traditional feature has almost disappeared. Tattoos not only meant choosing an unorthodox way of life, but also marked the belonging to a dark and exclusive elite. And finally, in this case, beside every inking having a meaning, certain ones were kind of awards, as in the Army, recognition and rising levels.

Along his filmography, Cronenberg has hired services of relevant actors for his purposes: Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Ralph Fiennes, James Woods, Marilyn Chambers and Jennifer Jason Leigh, among others. Truth is that before A History of Violence, I find remarkable the partnership between the director and Jeremy Irons, which delivered two of the least popular of his films, yet to be included among the list of most twisted minded and insane of his works: Dead Ringers and M Butterfly.  I love both, especially the story of the Mantle twins, I had already talked about long time ago on this blog.

With the concept of the trilogy of the violence, seems that the story repeats, with the Canadian and Mortensen creating a strong comradeship. A History of Violence was the starting point, sharing features in common with Eastern Promises. They both show us men, with lives which differ  enormously  from what they really are, and consequently carrying a heavy burdens.

If Mortensen’s act in the first one was outstanding, I reckon as Nikolai he’s over the top. He’s not just the driver, but also the undertaker, the nurse of Kirill, the Russian Mr. Wolf always ready to put things back in their place. From the very beginning my friend  was wondering whether he was good or evil. I think he settles right in the middle. As you’re discovering what he’s into, in order to do good, his methods are wrong.

Rumors say that Cronenberg is planning to work on a sequel. If this is true I feel really curious, it can be a waste of time or a master piece. The end of the film leaves one door open everyone wants to peep through. That could be a good opportunity to discover how the aftermath would be. I’d love it. We’ll have to wait and see.

Once again, Cronenberg does not disappoint. People criticize him for moving away from the body horror he mainly created, and turning more mainstream. I disagree. Nowadays the director focuses more on tough stories, with some kind of lesson behind, and perhaps, rather than insisting on the reality-delusion duality, he’s more into parallel lives, with an apparent front, and a dark side underneath, which eventually comes up to surface. And nevermind what others say, he keeps on with his taste for blood.

Misunderstood and underestimated, in my humble opinion he’s one of the most talented directors, always delivering interesting and different proposals, audience should pay more attention to. Seriously, it’s never too late to discover his work, I encourage you from here.