January 31, 2014

Saying Goodbye To Buster With YEAR OF THE DOG

"Something's gonna happen.  You know, but it don't know.  It's just another moment in its life, but you know it's its last.  Its last moment."
I know, I promised to start digging into the Oscar slate next, but you'll have to allow me a brief diversion.  First of all, allow me to quote myself:
I never had a dog growing up, mostly because my sister was terrified of the creatures until she got to high school.  The irony is that my parents had planned to get a dog when they first got married, but changed their minds when my mother got pregnant with me.   (The running joke in my family is that I was supposed to be a beagle.)  A week after I moved to college, they finally got themselves a dog named Buster, but he always felt like my parents' dog, not mine.  My wife, on the other hand, always had a dog growing up.  When Jamie and I started dating, her dog Nemo was included as part of the deal.  The love between a person and their dog is a very specific sort of relationship that really can't be understood until you have a dog of your own.  Not only did I previously not appreciate it, I didn't even fully grasp my lack of understanding.
That came from my review of Frankenweenie, way back in The Daley Screening's first few weeks.  In the time since, I've only grown closer to my dog Nemo.  Sure, he can be a tremendous pain in the ass sometimes - he has a fondness for shitting on the floor and he barks incessantly whenever my upstairs neighbor walks past our door - but he's also goddamn adorable.  He sleeps on the bed with us (something I've secretly always wanted since I was a little kid) and lately he's taken to climbing up onto my chest once he senses that I'm awake and then licking my face until I sit up, at which point he promptly curls up in my lap and goes back to sleep.  The cuteness...it is overpowering.

For reasons passing understanding, Nemo's mortality has slowly started to sink into my brain and I'm finally starting to realize just how much I'm going to miss him when he's gone.  He's only six years old, but he also had a stroke when he was two so his health has always been a little suspect.  Still, I should have plenty of solid Nemo years left before things start to get really depressing.  (Knock on wood.)  Weirdly, the universe has recently been determined to make sure I've got dead dogs on the mind.  A few Facebook friends have posted messages about family animals passing away recently and then Wednesday night, while walking to the theater for an encore screening of Wolf Of Wall Street (holy shit I love that movie) I ran into a buddy coming out of an art supply store.  He was working on a cut paper portrait of a friend's dog that had recently died.  I immediately thought of my parents' dog Buster, who was pushing 15 years and really starting to slow down and have trouble with stuff like walking.  When I saw him over Christmas, I had a sneaking suspicion that he might not make it to the next one.  But just last week my folks had asked me if I'd be willing to watch him while they were in Florida at the end of February, so I figured he was still in okay shape.

Thursday morning I woke up and put on an old episode of Louie while I got dressed for work.  Louie was doing a standup routine about being divorced and how all good things eventually end in sadness, using a new puppy as an example.  "Coming home with a puppy is like saying, 'Look everyone, we're all gonna cry soon!  Look what I brought home!  I brought home us crying in a few years.  Here we go.  Countdown to sorrow.'"  It's a good bit, but again I thought of Buster.  Two hours later, in a moment of depressing synchronicity, my mother called to say that they were putting Buster down that afternoon.  He'd developed some tumors in his stomach, he couldn't keep any food down and he wasn't sleeping.  My folks had spoken to the vet and agreed there was little left to do and that dragging it out any further would be too painful for Buster.  I was sad that I couldn't drive down to the Cape to see him one more time, but I felt even worse for my brother Tim who's still finishing his senior year of college in Ohio.  If Buster was anyone's dog, he was Tim's.

The only reason we'd gotten Buster in the first place was that my parents had made a deal with my brother (who was about ten at the time) that when my sister Cait and I had moved out of the house, they'd get him a dog.  Since Cait went to a boarding high school, that day came a lot sooner than my parents had anticipated.  But it turned out that the house parents in Cait's dorm had a West Highland terrier who'd recently given birth to puppies.  Most had already been sold off, but one of them was still living in the dorm and had actually managed to win over my sister, the girl who had been scared to death of every dog she'd ever met.  My parents knew an opportunity when they saw one, and so Buster joined the Daley clan.  We all fell in love with him immediately.  He was small enough to be playful and fun, but large enough that you felt kind of silly trying to pick him up.  He'd sit on the couch with you and watch TV for hours and the only time he ever barked was when another dog would appear on the screen.  Eventually he even got to recognize the jingles for dog food commercials, so if one came on TV, Buster would come barreling in from the next room, trying to jump through the screen to play with the virtual puppies.  When my brother was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago, Buster was always there for him through the toughest of times.

Yesterday afternoon my parents brought Buster to the vet's office and he lay on the examining table, wrapped up in his favorite blue blanket.  My folks sat next to him, stroking his hair as he gently drifted off to sleep for the last time.

When I got home from work, all I wanted to do was lie on the couch with Nemo curled up next to me.  I didn't quite know how to react.  The only pets I'd had as a child were goldfish and hamsters, the kind of pets that live in a box and didn't offer a lot of chance for real human interaction.  I had a frog in college named Theo, but I gave him to a friend when I moved to L.A. and by the time he died Theo had been someone else's pet longer than he'd been mine.  But this was different.  Buster was different.  I've never been one of those people who thinks of dogs or cats like people (in the sense that I never refer to Nemo as "my child") but Buster was inarguably a member of the family.  Even now, I can't quite believe that the next time I visit my parents, he won't be lying in his bed in the middle of the living room.

It felt appropriate to watch something canine-centric and Netflix was only too happy to oblige me in the form of Year Of The Dog, an indie comedy with a streak of serious darkness from writer/director Mike White.  Molly Shannon plays a shy woman whose dog suddenly dies and sends her over the edge while trying to fill the puppy-shaped hole in her life.  Shannon is excellent, although the story goes a little bit off the rails towards the end.  Still, it's a movie that is chock full of dogs, including a sweet little West Highland terrier named Snowball.  It was exactly the right fit for my mood, and I was happy to have Nemo sitting in my lap for most of the film.

As I said, I knew that Buster didn't much time left in the world and given how infrequently I make it down to my parents' house, I had a feeling that when I left there the day after Christmas it might be the last time I saw him.  As my in-laws gathered their bags and prepared to drive back up to East Boston, I sat down on the floor and Buster slowly wandered over to me.  I scratched his belly and the back of his neck, pushing my face into his soft white hair and breathing in the scent that was so familiar and yet so different from my own dog's.  I looked into his eyes, which had started to grow milky blue and glassy with age, and I said goodbye.  I hoped it wouldn't be for the last time, but deep down I think I knew.

I wish I had been wrong.

Title: Year Of The Dog
Director: Mike White
Starring: Molly Shannon, Peter Sarsgaard, John C. Reilly, Laura Dern, Tom McCarthy, Regina King, Josh Pais
Year Of Release: 2007
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant

January 28, 2014

Catching Up With The Coen Brothers, a.k.a. Raising Miller's Serious Blood Proxy

My first introduction to Joel and Ethan Coen was the frostbitten crime film Fargo, a.k.a. the film that earned the pair their first Oscar and truly propelled them into the mainstream.  I enjoyed Fargo immensely, although I'll admit that it's one of those films I'm happy I own but rarely sit down to watch.  I think that most people would probably identify The Big Lebowski as the Coen film that really won them over and I certainly can't argue with that choice, but in my case it was actually Barton Fink that turned me into a lifelong Coen devotee.  Not only is it beautifully dark and funny, but it also contains perhaps my favorite career performances from the Johns Goodman and Turturro.  While I've done a fairly good job of keeping up with the Coens over the years, there are still a few gaps in their filmography that I've let fester for far too long.  When the Brattle Theatre announced that they'd be showing every Coen Brothers film in the month of December leading up to the release of Inside Llewyn Davis, it seemed like an ideal time to plug those gaps. I actually ended up watching most of these courtesy of Netflix due to scheduling reasons, but still, hooray for motivation!

"If I see him, I'll be sure to give him the message."
The Coens' first film is an exercise in sharp simplicity.  It's a straightforward tale about a woman (a very young Frances McDormand) who's leaving her jerkoff husband (Dan Fucking Hedaya) for the tall, soft spoken bartender (John Getz) who works at his local dive.  After an attempt to take matters into his own hands ends with a pair of seriously bruised testicles, the husband hires a fat, sweaty PI (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill the cheating couple, leading to a darkly comic series of double crosses, cover-ups and misunderstandings.  With the exception of the loquacious Walsh, who pontificates with a sinister folksy charm, much of the dialogue is pretty sparse.  Like so many episodes of The Wire, there are long stretches of the film that play out in virtual silence, which was pretty surprising considering the Coens' keen ear for dialogue and love of the spoken word.  There's also very little of the quirkiness that would eventually become the brothers' calling card, with the focus instead on crafting a lean genre tale with enough twists and turns to give the audience some serious whiplash.  The Brattle showed an pretty beat up 35mm print, but that only added to the film's appeal.  Bonus points go to Carter Burwell for his haunting score, Dan Hedaya for not even remotely attempting any kind of accent, and Frances McDormand for pulling off a role that's equal parts femme fatale, damsel in distress and kickass final girl.  No wonder the Coens love her so much.

Title: Blood Simple
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh, Samm-Art Williams
Year Of Release: 1984
Viewing Method: Theatrical - Brattle Theatre

"Nothin' more foolish than a man chasin' his hat."
I've taken to bringing a small Moleskin notebook into the theater with me so that I can jot down some notes and capture a clever line of dialogue or two that I can use as a pull quote.  With Miller's Crossing, my notes consist almost entirely of pull quotes, because the writing is just that damn great.  (Honorable Mentions include, "Nobody knows anybody, not that well," "If you can't trust a fix, what can you trust?" and "Maybe it's injuns.")  Without any knowledge of the Coen's venerable talents, you'd be forgiven for assuming that this thing was ghostwritten by the likes of David Mamet.  It certainly helps that they've got folks like Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, and Coen regular Jon Polito doing most of the heavy lifting, and while it's fun to watch them all leave each other beaten and bloody, the real joy comes from the copious verbal sparring throughout.  And that's saying something considering the splendid rapture of watching Albert Finney slowly walking down a tree lined street dispatching would-be assassins with a tommy gun while "Danny Boy" plays on the victrola.  Jon Turturro is at his weasely best here, and while Marcia Gay Harden plays a fabulous dame, she's a bit self serious and I wish the character was a tad more playful.  Brattle Creative Director Ned Hinkle mentioned in advance that the story is a very loose adaptation of a Dashiell Hammet novel, referring to it as a sort of "cover song."  Prohibition Era gangster tales are the best and I have no doubt that I'll find myself turning to Miller's Crossing to fill the Boardwalk Empire-shaped hole in my heart this time next year.

Title: Miller's Crossing
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Jon Polito, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, J.E. Freeman, Mike Starr
Year Of Release: 1990
Viewing Method: Theatrical - Brattle Theatre


"We're about ready to pop here, honey."
Ohhhhhhhh.  THERE'S the quirkiness.

If you had asked me in advance I would have sworn that Miller's Crossing came before Raising Arizona, if for no other reason than Miller's feels like the natural follow up to Blood Simple.*  But the opposite is true and, quite frankly, easily explains why Miller's didn't exactly catch fire at the box office.  I can only imagine the bewildered reactions from audience members who loved Arizona and were looking forward to more of that heightened comedy world only to get a pinstriped, violent mob drama instead.  In that way, I'm glad I watched these two out of order.

Crazy Nicolas Cage is the best Nicolas Cage and this is easily one of his greatest performances.  The man simply shines as Hi, a reformed convenience store stick up man who marries a lady cop named Ed and, when she turns out to be barren, helps her steal a baby from a local furniture salesman with newborn quintuplets.  Then hijinks of the highest order ensue involving his oafish boss who loves jokes denigrating the intelligence of Polish folk, a bounty hunting biker who may or may not be from hell, and of course John Goodman and William Forsythe as escaped bank robbers with a penchant for pomade and a tendency to forget babies on roofs.  Raising Arizona is probably the wackiest of all the Coens' movies that people actually enjoy.  Sorry, Ladykillers.  A bit too wacky?  Perhaps...at times it does sometimes feel like quirk for the sake of quirk.  But Holly Hunter does a marvelous job of keeping things somewhat grounded.  And that car chase with the Huggies?  Poetry in motion, my friends.

*It's also easy to draw a line from these two films all the way up to No Country For Old Men, which I can't wait to rewatch with these two in mind.

Title: Raising Arizona
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Trey Wilson, William Forsythe, Frances McDormand, Sam McMurray, Randall "Tex" Cob
Year Of Release: 1987
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD

"Ya know...for kids."
This is where the Coens begin to go a bit off the rails.  Tim Robbins is in "Aw, shucks" overdrive as Norville Barnes, a mailroom boy/inventor who's drafted into the role of CEO by the board of Hudsucker Industries for the express purposes of driving down the stock price in order to make a killing in the market.  But it turns out that Barnes' big idea, the hula hoop, is a massive success, transforming Barnes into a famous "idea man" while the board, led by a scheming Paul Newman, is thrown into a panic once their plan backfires and they end up losing money hand over fist.  Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a gumshoe reporter who goes undercover to prove that Barnes is a fraud, but predictably ends up falling in love with naive dupe.  Her character is such a broad, over-the-top caricature that it almost feels like a massive overcorrection for the smokey but sullen performance of Marcia Gay Harden in Miller's Crossing.  I love Leigh and she brings a lot of energy to the screen, but eventually her motor-mouthed ramblings and cartoonish accent become downright distracting.  On the other hand, evil Paul Newman is mesmerizing and the short but memorable appearance of Charles Durning might be my favorite thing in the movie.  While Huduscker has its fans, it's widely considered one of the black sheep of the Coens' filmography and rightly so.   Then again, if I had seen the movie closer to its initial release when I was in middle school, I probably would have found the whole thing much more charming.

Title: The Hudsucker Proxy
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Tim Robbins, Paul Newman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John Mahoney, Charles Durning, Bruce Campbell, Jim True, Bill Cobb
Year Of Release: 1994
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD

"Look at that parking lot, Larry.  Just look at that parking lot."
Because I went to Catholic elementary school, I didn't really have any Jewish friends as a child.  In fact, the only bar mitzvah I've ever attended was for someone I'd never met, the little brother of a friend in high school.  (My buddy got to invite a handful of his own friends to the affair, which is how I ended up there.)  Oh yeah, and one time I worked security for Yom Kippur services in Beverly Hills, during which I was expressly instructed not to eat any food in front of all the hungry, fasting clients.  Other than that, I've had very little exposure to the intricacies of the Jewish faith and culture, which A Serious Man is downright drowning in.  I wouldn't say the film was impenetrable for a goy like me, but I do feel like my Catholicisim-turned-atheism means I missed out on a lot of the film's specific humor.  For example, the stoned kid reading the Torah is pretty funny because stoned people doing serious things are always funny.  But I suspect that it's infinitely funnier for someone who's actually sat through both sides of that particular ritual.  I've absolutely fallen in love with Michael Stuhlbarg the last few years (he's the second best part of Men In Black 3 behind Josh Brolin's impeccable Tommy Lee Jones impression) but here he's mostly stuck in one gear as the constantly exasperated Larry Gopnik.  And talk about a weird downer of an ending.

Title: A Serious Man
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus, Peter Breitmayer,
Year Of Release: 2009
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD


And that's it!

I've now officially seen all the Coen Brothers films.  It's always nice to check something off your list.  Next I'll kick off my Oscar movie coverage with the Coens' latest and my favorite of theirs in quite some time, Inside Llewyn Davis.  As I mentioned in our recent podcast, it's the film that is probably the most snubbed of the myriad incredible films of 2013, and it left me excited to see where the Coens take audiences next.

January 26, 2014

SAVE THE DATE! The Daley Screening Double Feature Is Coming To The Brattle!

Are you ready for this shit?

My yearlong viewing experiment is swiftly drawing to a close so I've set things in motion to go out in style.  I've been looking forward to my final screening ever since I first got the idea for this epic journey of mine.  I really wanted to make my last screening something special, a shared experience for my friends, family, devout followers and complete strangers alike.  And on top of all that, it just so happens to be my birthday.  So let's fucking party!

The big event will be March 1st at the Brattle Theatre, my cinematic home away from home located in the heart of Harvard Square.  The kind folks of the Brattle have been incredibly supportive of my efforts and I've been lucky enough to catch 36 movies there to date, mostly awesome indie stuff and fabulous classics that I might never otherwise be able to see in a theater.  When I first reached out to the Brattle about hosting my final screening event they jumped at the idea and even raised me one, allowing me to program not just one but two movies.  So I'm going for broke here.  We'll have a double feature, movie trivia with prizes and even a performance from my old a cappella group, Emerson College's Noteworthy.

But what are the movies?  Well, we're still working out the details on the first show.  I was really hoping for the original Robocop, one of my absolute favorite movies that I've never been lucky enough to see on the big screen.  Sadly the print is not available due to the impending remake, so I'm exploring some other options.  But I'm pretty excited about my alternate choice, so I'll be sure to keep you all posted.

More importantly, the second show will be Y.K. Kim's 1987 cult masterpiece Miami Connection!  This is a film that I've been downright desperate to watch for ages now.  Hell, I even bought it on Blu-ray sight unseen, a move I rarely pull.  I've been sitting on the film for over a year now, as my original intention was to invite a few friends over to my place and watch it with (more than) a few beers.  But the more I thought about my final screening, the more it seemed like Miami Connection was the perfect film for the occasion.  If the poster above wasn't convincing enough, here's the synopsis courtesy of those mad geniuses as Drafthouse Films, who rescued it from the depths of 80's obscurity and brought the film screaming back to our eyeballs in glorious high definition:
Motorcycle ninjas tighten their grip on Florida’s narcotics trade, viciously annihilating anyone who dares move in on their turf. Multi-national martial arts rock band Dragon Sound have had enough, and embark on a roundhouse wreck-wave of crime-crushing justice. When not chasing beach bunnies or performing their hit song “Against the Ninja,” Mark (Tae Kwon Do master/inspirational speaker Y.K. Kim) and the boys are kicking and chopping at the drug world’s smelliest underbelly. It’ll take every ounce of their blood and courage, but Dragon Sound can’t stop until they’ve completely destroyed the dealers, the drunk bikers, the kill-crazy ninjas, the middle-aged thugs, the “stupid cocaine”...and the entire MIAMI CONNECTION!!!   
Directed by 9th degree black belt philosopher/author/inspirational speaker Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, the film tells the story of fearless synth rock band Dragon Sound as they embark on a roundhouse wreck-wave of crime-crushing justice in the streets of Orlando.

So mark Saturday night March 1st on your calendar and don't make any other plans.  I'll let you know when we lock in our first feature and once tickets are available.  I promise a grand time will be had by all.

Get ready motherfuckers.

January 25, 2014


"The man who seeks revenge should dig two graves.""They're gonna need a lot more than that."
Because sometimes you come home late at night from drinks with old coworkers and all you want to do is watch a long string of kickass fight scenes masquerading as a real movie in which a white guy ninja with the martial arts prowess of a young Jean-Claude Van Damme and the wooden personality of old man Chuck Norris needlessly decapitates a cobra in the middle of the Burmese jungle.

Seriously, just watch this clip.

That happens like 20 minutes into the movie and it gets oh so much better from there.  That should be all you need to know.

If that clip doesn't sell you, then I'm sorry.  There's nothing I can do for you.

Title: Ninja II: Shadow Of A Tear
Director: Isaac Florentine
Starring: Scott Adkins, Kane Kosugi, Mika Hijii, Shun Sugata, Vithaya Pansringarm, Mukesh Bhatt
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant

Podcast Episode 6: Drunken Oscar Speculation From The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE

"Never think while you're hungry."
What can I say about Masters Of The Universe, other than it feels like a massive fuck-up on nearly every level?  It's an absolute mess that's bordering on unwatchable, a movie that's begging for grand scale and spectacle but whose major battle sequences take place not in the far off realm of Eternia, but in a high school gymnasium and a small town music store in southern California.  Dolph Lundgren is probably out-acted by his own pectoral muscles and Frank Langella wastes away under a pretty unfortunate skull mask while a teenage Courtney Cox and Lt. Tom Paris from Star Trek: Voyager run around in circles with a magic music box.  It's complete schlock, hardly a shock coming from the dynamic duo of Golan/Globus and The Cannon Group.  Sadly, it's not even very entertaining schlock.

But I almost feel bad piling on.  Doing a little research it seems that this was a production doomed from the very start, constantly behind schedule and running over budget ($22 million!) to the point that the studio literally shut down filming before the final battle was shot and director Gary Goddard had to plead for an additional two days just to finish the movie.  Popular characters like She-Ra and Battle Cat were nixed to save money and while most people criticized the movie for bearing so little resemblance to the popular cartoon, it turns out that Cannon bought the rights to the toy line before the cartoon ever existed.  Not only that, but there are some weirdly awesome "what ifs" that never quite materialized around the film, like a Planet Of The Apes-esque alternate ending that would have had He-Man discovering an old NASA flag on Eternia and thus implying that all of Eternian civilization stemmed from some future Earth space mission, or a proposed sequel to be directed by Albert Pyun that would have had He-Man (recast as professional surfer Laird Hamilton) returning to Earth disguised as a professional quarterback and ending with Skeletor turning Earth into an apocalyptic hellscape.  Now that I would have loved watching.

Masters Of The Universe ultimately feels like an easy target, so when it came time to record our sixth podcast episode we quickly changed gears to talk about the Oscar nominations.  In the ensuing week there have been some interesting developments, namely the Producer's Guild awarding their Zanuck award to both Gravity and 12 Years A Slave.  The PGA's have successfully predicted the Best Picture winner for the last six years (they're 17 for 24 in total) and it's the first time in 25 years they've ever had a tie.  This came only a day after the SAG awards named American Hustle Best Ensemble as well as handing acting awards to Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club.  Hopefully this means that American Hustle's star is falling and 12 Years A Slave will eek out the Academy's big prize.  I'll be watching Dallas Buyer's Club this week so I'm going to reserve judgement there, although considering the incredible work by the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender and Jonah Hill, let's just say that I remain skeptical.

We then invited my wife Jamie to join us on the mic and segued into a discussion of the longstanding Woody Allen controversy, recently rekindled after he was given a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes.  It's a tough topic and perhaps we shouldn't have attempted to tackle it considering our lack of sobriety, but I'm feel pretty okay with how it turned out.  There is one thing I'll clarify here: Jamie makes a reasonable point that, considering what he's accused of, perhaps Woody Allen shouldn't still be able to attract studio support and funding along with A-list talent in front of the camera.  But given that it's been 20 years and Allen is clearly going to continue making films, and given that film itself is an evolutionary medium in which every filmmaker grows based on the influence of their peers, I think it's impossible to completely discount or ignore the contributions that Allen brings to the art of film.  I love a lot of Woody Allen's films, but that doesn't mean I have to embrace Woody Allen the man.  I certainly feel morally conflicted about the whole thing, but I guess it's a conflict I can live with.  To bring it back to the Michael Jackson comparison that Bart made, it's impossible to think of Michael Jackson or hear one of his songs without thinking of all the drama surrounding his life and the inappropriate conduct of which he was accused.  But that doesn't mean you have to walk off the dance floor and plug your ears in protest whenever a wedding DJ plays Thriller.

Last but certainly not least, our podcast is now officially on iTunes!  That means you can subscribe and automatically get all the latest episodes by searching for "Daley Screening" or clicking right here.  I'm pretty psyched about it, as iTunes has become the repository for all things podcast and our presence there kind of makes this whole thing feel a bit more legit.  You can find all of our previous episodes there except for the very first one, as I still need to re-edit it due to some copyright issues.  Maybe I'll throw it on there eventually as a special throwback or something.

Title: Masters Of The Universe
Director: Gary Goddard
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Courtney Cox, Robert Duncan McNeill, Billy Barty, Meg Foster, Jon Cypher, Chelsea Field, James Tolkan, Christina Pickles
Year Of Release: 1987
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD

January 23, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Fourteen: TAXIDERMIA Is The Absolute Pinnacle Of Ler-Mania

"And if something comes to an end, then its beginning will also be important."
It all comes down to this.

In so many ways, Taxidermia feels like the perfect culmination of everything I expected out of these two weeks and exactly the kind of movie I think of when I think of Lerman.  It'd be easy to reduce his tastes down to nothing more than the most batshit crazy stuff imaginable, but it's important to remember that he was equally excited to about Little Shop or Babe as he was about A Serbian Film.  That takes a very special kind of person and I'm so grateful that he was willing and able to take the time to construct such an eclectic collection of cinema for my personal consumption.  I definitely would never have watched the vast majority of these films of my own accord and I totally fell in love with more than a few of them.  Besides, I'm always happy to have my tastes broadened in the widest manner possible.

Taxidermia is certainly a film that will challenge your comfort levels as well as your gag reflex.  It was also Hungary's official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film, and the idea of Academy voters gathering together to watch a film that starts off with a guy shooting flames out of his dick is endless entertaining to me.  The story charts the lives of three men through subsequent generations of the Balatony family, each with his own fleshly form of obsession.  Morosgovanyi is a pitiful excuse for a soldier who's posted at a remote family farm in the dead of winter.  His chief concern in life is finding new ways to achieve sexual release; in other words, get ready for a lot of bizarre penis imagery involving fireballs, chickens, wooden boards and dead pigs.  His story comes to an abrupt halt when his commanding officer realizes that Morosgovyani totally banged the C.O.'s rather rotund wife, who soon gives birth to the little horndog's son.  And just for added porcine flavor, the baby has a vestigial tail that gets cut off with a pair of tin snips, in close up no less.

The story then jumps forward about 25 years where the now-grown baby Kalman has become a championship speed-eater, shoveling all sorts of disgusting slop down his gullet in record time and then dispassionately vomiting it all up into a collective trough along with six other behemoths.  But in the midst of a major competition he gets so distracted by Bela, a female champion eater in the crowd, that he gets lockjaw and collapses.  Luckily, Bela thinks there's nothing sexier than a guy choking on a spoonful of donkey meat and passing the fuck out.  So they get hitched, but while Kalman is singing drunken love songs during the reception, Bela is watching him through the outside window while also getting boned by Kalman's biggest speed-eating rival.  So clearly cuckolding is a theme here.

Speed eating goes somewhat out of fashion and Bela's pregnancy ain't easy, but eventually she gives birth to Lajoska, who grows up to become a skinny-fuck taxidermist who also looks after his aging father who has now ballooned up to a comically gargantuan size (pictured above).  Not only can the old man not leave his apartment, he can't even get up from his chair/perch, leaving Lajoska in charge of feeding pounds of butter to Kalman's tremendous cats.  It's an antagonistic relationship which unsurprisingly ends on a sour fucking note and finally leads Lajoska to transform himself into his own greatest creation.  It's a completely unhinged bit of surreality that caps off the film, depicted in exquisite detail and presented in such a manner that ensures you know exactly what's going on while simultaneously thinking to yourself, "What the shit is going on?"

Taxidermia is the quintessential Lerman film, chock full of truly deranged, often disturbing imagery that might feel at first like crazy for the sake of crazy, but eventually adds up to a unique, boundary-pushing experience that stays with you for days and changes your perception of what film is all about.  For me, it's not going to become my new favorite movie and I may never watch it again, but I'll always remember Taxidermia and years from now I'll be having drinks with a friend and they'll mention some creepy co-worker who's keeps a stuffed gerbil at his cubicle.  And I'll end up telling them about this crazy movie I once saw and the madman who made me watch it.

And I'll smile.

What's The Connection?  Fat people!  One of the hotel victims in The Happiness Of The Katakuris is a sizable sumo wrestler who dies while having sex with his diminutive mistress and subsequently crushes her to death.  But he's downright tiny compared to the elder Kalman, who prefers to eat his chocolate bars without removing the foil wrapper.

Up Next: Sanity.

Title:  Taxidermia
Director: Gyorgy Palfi,
Starring: Csaba Czene, Gergely Trocsanyi, Marc Bischoff, Istvan Gyuricza, Piroska Molnar, Gabor Mate, Zoltan Koppany
Year Of Release: 2006
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD

January 22, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Thirteen: THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS Reawakens My Love Of Takashi Miike

"Look!  Normal people!"
One night when I was in college, Lerman arrived at my Charles St. apartment with his backpack overflowing with DVDs and he quickly put on a Japanese film called Ichi The Killer.  It's a loose riff on Batman in which a Joker-esque gangster with giant slits cut from the corners of his mouth up to his cheekbones squares off against Ichi, a timid would-be hero dressed all in black.  In the film's opening scene, Ichi stands outside the window of a beautiful woman, watching her undress.  He furiously masturbates and then retreats into the night, leaving a puddle of ejaculate dripping from the leaves of a potted plant.  The bodily fluid quickly puddles and forms into the film's opening title.

This is how I was introduced to Takashi Miike.

Ichi is an incredible film that I've been meaning to revisit for years.  It's tough because it's obviously not a movie for everybody, but Miike had such a strong cinematic voice that I was almost overwhelmed.  I knew right then and there that this was a fascinating director whose work I really wanted to dig into.  And yet, I'm just now realizing that I never really followed up on that plan.  Sure, I've always kept an eye on his films and seen trailers come and go over the years for various Miike projects that looked really interesting, but as I sit here scanning over his prolific filmography (he makes Woody Allen look lazy) I'm now realizing that it's been over ten years since Lerman first thrust Ichi into my life and until now I'd still yet to watch another one of Miike's films.  That seems simply preposterous, yet there it is.

So I'm grateful that Lerman has once again thrown some Miike my way, although I have to say that The Happiness Of The Katakuris probably wouldn't have been my first choice.  It's such an absurd mishmash of styles, part going-into-business story, part musical-romance, part crime-drama, part claymation gorefest.  In a weird, abstract way, think Batteries Not Included meets Grease meets Fargo meets Mr. Bill.  And yet, that doesn't even begin to describe everything that's going on here.

On the surface is the story of the Katakuri family, which has built a bed & breakfast out in the wilderness based on the promise that the government will soon be building a nearby road, thus turning the area into a tourist destination.  But in the meantime, the charming hotel remains empty and the family is facing bankruptcy, that is until a mysterious stranger arrives in the middle of the night in search of a room.  The Katakuris are overjoyed until their very first guest turns up dead in the morning and they're forced to hide the body before word gets out and the B&B's reputation is destroyed before they can even get off the ground.  Soon new guests arrive and the mortality rate continues to rise, all while the Katakuris' eldest daughter gets romantically entangled with a charming criminal posing as an American secret agent/member of the British Royal Family.  And let's not forget all of the of incredibly over the top musical numbers, often times smashing onto the screen like the Kool-Aid Man in the most unexpected and grotesque of situations, particularly one song featuring a chorus of dismembered corpses.  As if that doesn't sound absurd enough, we're also treated to a handful of scenes which play out as totally bonkers claymation, including the film's completely insane and non-sequiter opening sequence and the finale in which a quietly omni-present volcano finally erupts.  These sequences would typically demand heavy effects or green screen work, and since the film was released in 2001 it's not as if digital effects were completely out of the question.  Was this a budgetary issue or a style choice?  I honestly couldn't tell you, but either way the shit just WORKS.

There's so, so much more going on here, but it's easy to see why The Happiness Of The Katakuris isn't most people's cup of tea.  I honestly don't know how often I'll find myself rewatching this one, but at the very least it's renewed my excitement in the singular work of Takashi Miike, which only makes the recent news of the disintegration of his English-language, WWII-era Yakuza film starring Tom Hardy all the more depressing.  Ah well.  Bring on Audition.

What's The Connection?  As you may have already realized, the basic plots of Little Shop and Katakuris are remarkably similar, with a failing business suddenly finding success while simultaneously racking up an impressive body count.  Hell, both plots are set in motion a complete eclipse of the sun.

Up Next: Taxidermia

Title: The Happiness Of The Katakuris
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tanba, Naoto Takenaka
Year Of Release: 2001
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Twelve: I Love Everything About LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT, Except For The Fact That It's A Musical

"I'm sure I need a long, slow root canal."
When I started watching the director's cut of Little Shop Of Horrors, Jamie was astounded that I had never seen it before.  In fact, she posted the following on Facebook:
"Not only has Daley never seen Little Shop of Horrors, but he's actively underwhelmed by the prospect of watching it. He just turned it on, and he's already sighing exasperatedly. I had no idea his hatred of musicals extended even to Steve Martin and Rick Moranis."
In truth, it's not entirely accurate to say that I've never seen Little Shop.  Lerman and I met in high school, where we were each members of the A/V Crew.  (Shocking, I know.)  Since it was a day and boarding school, the A/V usually showed movies on the weekends and I frequently volunteered to serve as the projectionist.  I definitely remember showing Little Shop one night and, being the guy in the booth, I watched the first few minutes to make sure there were no issues with the picture or sound.  But my fiery hatred of all things musical theater kicked in after about five minutes.  "Fuck this noise," I thought, and I retreated into the A/V office to play Skittles or South Park Snood.*

If I had stuck around a bit longer I would have discovered that the film is directed by the one and only Frank Oz (!!) and largely populated by a collection of my favorite 80's comedians.  I'll admit that it took me a while to realize the full brilliance that is Rick Moranis.  Honey, I Shrunk The Kids was a movie that I used to watch on endless repeat as a child, so I only ever thought of Moranis as a nerdy family man until I eventually began to appreciate his amazing work as Louis Tulley in Ghostbusters, a role he snagged when John Candy was unavailable.  Speaking of which, Candy has a short but memorable turn here as a wacky radio DJ that was just silly enough to leave me wanting more, while Christopher Guest makes another one of his infamous chameleon-like appearance as the first businessman to notice the Audrey II in the window.  And then there's Steve Martin, whose leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-driving abusive dentist Orin Scrivello is rightfully the stuff of legend.  The guy is a nitrous-fueled nightmare, twisting the heads off of little girls' dolls and punching his own nurse in the face.  By the time Oz sticks the camera inside the mouth of one of Scrivello's victims/patients, complete with a giant tongue wagging in Martin's face, I was ecstatic.

And then Bill Murray showed up and OH MY GOD WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME ABOUT THIS?

Martin and Murray are pretty much my comedy idols, so having them share the screen is nothing short of heaven realized.  I'd have been happy just to watch them stand around reading people's text messages a la those Sprint commercials with James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell, but Oz knows a fucking golden opportunity when he sees one, pairing Martin's dental sadist with Murray as a masochistic patient who's literally jumping up and down in his seat with excitement at the prospect of having his teeth drilled.  ("Candy bar!!")  It's four and a half minutes of pure, uncut amazing.

And then there's the blood-sucking, man-eating, singing plant from outer space.  I'm a well known sucker for practical effects, so it's pretty much impossible for me not to love everything about Audrey II.  Along with providing the voice for Yoda, Grover, Cookie Monster, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, Frank Oz was Jim Henson's original partner in crime and puppetry before he went on to direct films like Little Shop, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and What About Bob?  It's therefore no surprise that the execution of Audrey II is, quite simply, some of the greatest practical effects and puppet work I have ever seen, from her humble beginnings in an old coffee can to her gargantuan rampage upon the citizens of New York City. (Pictured above.)

Some of you may be scratching your head in bewilderment, thinking to yourself, "Attack on New York?  I don't remember that part."  That's because the film's theatrical ending, the only one that audiences have had access to for the past 26 years, has what Wayne and Garth would refer to as "the mega-happy ending."  Audrey II brings down the roof of Mushnik's flower shop, but Seymour emerges from the rubble, grabs a severed power cable and electrocutes the plant until it suddenly explodes.  Seymour saves Audrey (the human one) and the two get married and live happily ever after.  But that's not how it was initially intended to play out.  The film's original ending saw all the characters eaten and killed while a horde of giant Audrey II's laid waste to the Big Apple.  Apparently this version did not sit well with test audiences, so reshoots were called for.  Ironically, this happier ending was largely scorned by fans of the darker Off-Broadway musical, itself based on a 1960 film.  The original ending was restored** and released on Blu-ray and DVD in 2012 and it's absolutely glorious in the darkest, most nihilistic way imaginable.

Now if only they could have done away with the damn musical numbers.

What's The Connection? Anthropomorphism!  Babe features talking animals and Little Shop has a talking plant.  Boom.

Up Next: The Happiness Of The Katakuris

*Historical note: Snood was a very big game when I was in high school, and there was a variation of the game in which all the pieces were replaced with the faces of the boys from South Park, a show that was just coming into its own at the time.  We used to get in trouble for playing it because in that version, the Danger bar had been relabeled to simply read "Oh Fuck!"

**The scene with Jim Belushi as the guy who first suggests the idea of selling millions of little Audrey II's in shopping malls was actually part of the reshoots when the original actor Paul Dooley (a.k.a. the dad from Sixteen Candles) was unavailable.  Dooley's scene is restored in the Director's Cut.

Title: Little Shop Of Horrors: The Director's Cut
Director: Frank Oz
Starring: Rick Moranis, Levi Stubbs, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, Vincent Gardenia, Bill Murray, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Paul Dooley/Jim Belushi
Year Of Release: 1986
Viewing Method: DVD

January 17, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Eleven - BABE: PIG IN THE CITY. Yes, Really.

"A murderous shadow lies hard across my soul."
Only Lerman would send me from juvenile detention rape and riots directly to a children's movie about a talking pig.  That's the thing about Lerman, he can find genius in the most unexpected of places.

I was old enough that I had aged out of most overtly little kid movies when Babe was released.  I know the first one is beloved by many, but the sequel seemed to fill most fans with disappointment or indifference and I suppose I can understand that reaction.  I still haven't watched Babe, but I'm familiar with the premise: Babe is a pig who lives on a farm and dreams of being a sheepdog.  All the animals can talk (to each other, not to the humans) and the other residents of the farm warn him to give up his foolish goal, but eventually Babe overcomes their doubts and becomes a champion sheep-pig.  I'm sure kids and parents alike were expecting a similarly sweet and charming story in Babe's second adventure.

They weren't counting on George Fucking Miller.

Yes, that's right, Babe: Pig In The City was directed by the same man responsible for Mad Max.    Miller gleefully eschews everything that people loved about that first installment and instead throws that endearing little pork chop into a gothic, subversive alternate reality.  AND IT'S AWESOME.  It becomes clear that something is askew right from the film's opening moments.  James Cromwell's lovable Farmer Hoggett is only present long enough for Babe to accidentally cause a pump motor to fall on him while he's stranded at the bottom of a well.  (I legit thought that Miller was going to violently kill him off five minutes into the movie AND make it all the pig's fault)  Cromwell's crippling creates a financial crisis when the farmer's wife is not able to take care of the property all on her own, so she immediately grabs the pig and heads off to attend a state fair that has promised a generous appearance fee for a demonstration of champion sheep-pigging.  But the pair is detained by DEA agents during an airport layover when Babe chats up a drug-sniffing dog who ends up falsely implicating the farmer's wife as a drug mule.

Again, this is a movie for children.

Babe and Mrs. Hoggett miss their connecting flight and are stranded in The City, whose skyline includes the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the World Trade Center, the Sydney Opera House and the Hollywood sign.  While The City is never explicitly referred to by name, some onscreen signage suggests that the city is called Metropolis, which almost implies that this whole thing is some kind of insane Superman spin-off.  (I like to think this is the version of Metropolis where Nicolas Cage's aborted version of Kal-El would have lived.)  After some helpful advice from a janitor that appears to be some kind of pig mutant, Babe and Mrs. Hoggett end up staying in a bizarre hotel that is largely populated by animals, including a choir of cats, a paraplegic dog in a sweater, and a family of circus chimps who perform for sick children alongside elder clown Uncle Fugly who is played by a drooling and sputtering Mickey Rooney.  (!!!!)  Mrs Hoggett accidentally causes a ruckus on the boardwalk, gets doused with billboard glue and hauled off to jail while Babe gets recruited into the circus act, which includes a lady chimp dressed like a hooker and voiced by Glenne Headley along with her husband who's dressed like a 50's greaser and voiced by, of all people, Stephen Wright.  Babe promptly sets the hospital on fire in his first performance.

I swear to god, I'm not making this shit up.

The humans are largely absent for most of the remainder of the film, in which the chimps try to turn Babe into a patsy while they steal food, only to see Babe save the life of a vicious street dog who looks like Spuds MacKenzie and sounds like Don Corleone.  The Dogfather then instills the pig as the head of the hotel, taking in all the neighborhood strays who are thus forced to give fealty to Babe.  Eventually the Animal Control guys show up and haul most of the animals off, leading to a daring rescue and a wacky climax of destruction in which Mrs. Hoggett, released from jail thanks to a sympathetic judge who is also a pig mutant, ends up bungee jumping from the chandelier of a fancy charity ball while wearing Mickey Rooney's clown pants.


The hotel owner, a woman who looks like an ostrich (were all of these people grown in a lab?) decides to to sell the hotel and take all her animals to the Hoggett's farm, giving them the profits from the sale in order to save the farm from foreclosure.  A now-healthy James Cromwell returns to say "That'll do, pig" and collect his paycheck, and that's the whole shebang.

What.  The.  Fuck.

This thing is dark.  This thing is weird.  This thing is twisted.

I can't wait to show it to my kids.

What's The Connection?  Babe is far less rapey than Dog Pound, but he does end up as the head of a prison-like hierarchy over the neighborhood strays.  But much like Butch and Davis, the good times eventually come crashing down.

Up Next: Little Shop Of Horrors: The Director's Cut

Title: Babe: Pig In The City
Director: George Miller
Starring: Madga Szubanski, James Cromwell, Mary Stein, Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Daily, Glenne Headley, Stephen Wright, Adam Goldberg
Year Of Release: 1998
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD

January 16, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Ten: DOG POUND And The Terrors Of Life In The Hole

"Dead.  Dead.  Dead."
I would not do well in prison.  Of this, I have no doubt.  I think I could handle solitude pretty well - with nowhere to go and no wifi-based distractions, I'd probably end up doing a lot of reading and perhaps even some long-form writing.  But aside from the frequent threat of physical violence, I think the psychological pressure of incarceration would really wear me down over time.  I'm generally pretty adaptable and I tend to let a lot of stuff pretty much roll off of me, but I'm certain that serving any appreciable amount of time in prison would have a profound effect on my personality going forward; much like (I imagine) going to war, I'd simply come out the other side a completely different person.

That's the thing that struck me most about Dog Pound, the story of three teenage boys serving time in a youth correctional facility.  They suffer gross indignities at the hands of a trio of older kids while the guards are generally indifferent to their situation.  Eventually the boys push back and, for a time, usurp their peer oppressors and enjoy the relative good life.  But you know it simply can't last and when these guys fall, they fall HARD.  I couldn't help but wonder which character I would most resemble if I too had been incarcerated at such an impressionable age.  I accept the fact that I would certainly get pushed around and beaten up, although I'd hope that my generally non-confrontational nature and head-down tendencies would at least partially insulate me from violence.  Nonetheless, it seems inevitable that I'd eventually get backed into a corner (physically and/or emotionally) and end up with more than a few bruises.  How would I react to such a situation is the really intriguing factor.  Would I become dominated by anger or despair?  

(Spoilers ensue.)

Butch (Adam Butcher) is already a product of the system, a strong and vaguely psychopathic kid who refuses to back down from a challenge and often strikes out with uncompromising lethality.  He's intelligent to be sure, but has resigned himself to a dead end future full of rage.  Rather than try to turn his life around, he's content to play king of the hill, determined to keep himself from ever becoming a victim.  Given enough time and punishment, could I eventually morph into such an individual?  Pushed far enough to the edge with no hope of redemption I'm sure I could turn just as dark and violent as Butch, however it doesn't feel like a natural fit.  I'd likely end up shivved in my sleep.

Instead I suspect that Davis (Shane Kippel) is a more accurate barometer for my own hypothetical imprisonment.  Davis is a charismatic ladies man, easy going and friendly.  He gets pushed around and intimidated, but he somehow manages to mostly shrug it all off, entertaining his bunkmates (it's a juvenile facility so they don't live in individual cells) with late night tales of his various sexual conquests.  Most of them are probably total bullshit, but who cares?  The kid is a legend and you just can't help but like him.  Of course that means he's doomed to suffer the most brutal fate of all.  Trapped alone in the laundry room, a typical beatdown suddenly and unexpectedly turn into a harrowing rape scene.  That's obviously a scarring ordeal, but for a teenage boy whose entire personality is built on his sexual identity...he's left a broken, shell of a person who sees no better alternative than to empty his veins in the middle of the night.

That's not to say I think I'd kill myself if I went to prison, merely that I would likely turn inward rather than face off against my tormentors.  To be honest, I'm not sure if I could really bring myself to commit suicide.  It's certainly something I've contemplated before, but only as an intellectual exercise and not out of honest desire.  I don't necessarily begrudge anyone for pursuing the ultimate end to true physical suffering or psychological pain.  I've known one person in my life who's committed suicide, the mother of a friend who had previously passed away from cancer.  I would never presume to understand the depth of her grief and sorrow so I couldn't possibly judge whether her emotional state justified her extreme actions, but I do believe she was in serious pain and I'm glad she was able to find relief.  My only frustration with her decision lay in the fact that she left behind a husband and a young daughter and, putting myself in their shoes, I can't imagine how I might handle the self-inflicted death of either my wife or my mother, just as I can't imagine abandoning Jamie and any children that might lie in our future.  There seems to be an element of selfishness there, but then again is it really selfish simply to desire peace?  It's easy to ponder this stuff from my current position in life, happily married and living without any major hardship.  In the face of crippling depression or imminent and prolonged physical agony, my opinions might change real quick.

Mostly it's the fear of losing my humanity, of being trapped in a world that slowly robs me of everything that makes me...me.  That's the thing that terrifies me most of all, and why I hope to never experience anything like the events of Dog Pound.

What's The Connection?  Down Terrace began with guys getting out of prison, while Dog Pound starts with guys going into prison.

Up Next: Babe: Pig In The City

Title: Dog Pound
Director: Kim Chapiron
Starring: Adam Butcher, Shane Kippel, Mateo Morales, Slim Twig, Taylor Poulin, Lawrence Bayne
Year Of Release: 2010
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant

January 14, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Nine: DOWN TERRACE Is Lean, Violent, And Funny

"It's not the decisions that are tough, Bill.  It's the actions."
Ben Wheatley is a name I've heard buzzing around my head for the past few years.  He's a British director, mostly specializing in dark comedies, that has yet to experience the same kind of breakout success here in the states as the likes of fellow countrymen Edgar Wright, Matthew Vaughn or Guy Ritchie.  But he's only got a handful of films under his belt and it feels like that success is almost inevitable at this point.  I've been meaning to watch his two big successes for a while now and sadly I've yet to capitalize on plenty of opportunity; Kill List has been streaming on Netflix for months and Sightseers played at the Brattle last year, but it was a single showing on a night when I was out of town.  Hopefully I'll be able to squeeze one or both of them in before my final deadline.  Wheatley's latest film, the psychedelic period piece A Field In England, will get a VOD and limited theatrical release in early February courtesy of the fine folks over at Drafthouse Films.

Down Terrace was Wheatley's big screen debut and it's a real cracker of a story.  A sublime mixture of family drama and crime humor, the film plays almost like The Sopranos if that show were actually a comedy about a dysfunctional family of borderline inept criminals.  Much of the film is left deliberately opaque; the story opens with Bill and his grown son Karl (real life father and son Robert and Robin Hill) getting out of prison for a crime that is never specified.  Bill is the head of a small time criminal enterprise, although their precise racket is never actually specified.  But none of those details are really all that important to the plot.  It could be drugs, prostitution, dwarf-tossing...the specifics are immaterial.  All that matters is that business is bad, the family is in trouble and there is a traitor somewhere in their midst.  And what's worse, Karl's ex-girlfriend shows up pregnant!  Womp womp!   The tone is never as sitcom-y as it might sound on paper, but that doesn't change the actual events of the day.  Seriously, at one point a hitman shows up to do a job with his three year old son in tow because he couldn't get a sitter.

But don't take that as a criticism though.  The shit is hilarious.

The cast is all pretty strong, but Julia Deakin is absolutely magnetic as Maggie, the quiet and menacing Lady Macbeth of the family.  For all of Bill's posturing and Karl's complaining, it's only Maggie that seems to have a proper knack for the business and knows how to get shit done.  Deakin should be a familiar face to fans of Edgar Wright's Spaced series (she played Marsha) as well as his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, albeit it in smaller roles.  I'd love to see Wheatley give her some truly meaty stuff somewhere down the line.

What's The Connection?  Bloody Sunday takes place almost entirely on a Sunday (obviously) and the giant onscreen title tells us that Down Terrace starts on a Monday.  Feels like a stretch, but it's all that I've got.  (I thought that perhaps DT also had a lot of killing happen on a Sunday, but it didn't match up.)

Up Next:  Dog Pound

Title: Down Terrace
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Julia Deakin, David Schaal, Tony Way, Kerry Peacock, Michael Smiley
Year Of Release: 2010
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant

January 13, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Eight: Violence Begets Violence BLOODY SUNDAY

"...and you will reap a whirlwind."
I am now convinced that Paul Greengrass is a goddamn magician.

I have no other explanation for how he is able to make staged drama look and feel so much like documented reality that the two become practically indistinguishable.  Lest you think I'm exaggerating, this was the conversation that Jamie and I had just before I started the movie:

Jamie: "What's on for tonight?"
Daley: "Bloody Sunday."
Jamie:  "Oh I think I saw that in theaters.  It's a documentary, right?"
Daley: "No, but it's Paul Greengrass.  So yeah."

I already talked about this with Captain Phillips (as well as in reference to United 93) so I don't really want to harp on it again in great detail, except to say that without a movie star face* like Tom Hanks to keep reminding you that you're watching a film, it's easy to see how folks could confuse Bloody Sunday for eyewitness footage of the violent murder of 13 peaceful civil rights protesters in Derry, Ireland at the hands of British soldiers.

I've been meaning to watch this movie for ages.  I fell in love with Greengrass after United 93 and that love was only cemented with his two Bourne films, which are some of the best action/spy films of the modern era.  Bloody Sunday is one of those films that I've never heard a bad word spoken about, and all that praise is absolutely earned.  It is an absolute masterstroke, with a climax that will tear your heart right out of chest and shred it to pieces in front of you.  It is so utterly horrifying precisely because it is so realistic.  All the camera work is done handheld with no lighting setups to perfectly mimic the documentary style.  I'm assuming that much of the cast is made up of Derry natives and so much of dialogue is delivered in an overlapping, chaotic style that I probably missed about a quarter of what was spoken, but it's such an immersive experience that I don't care.  There's no haunting score to amp up the drama, no cutting away to close ups so we can experience the emotional turmoil of those involved...just a cold, dispassionate presentation of slaughter as it would have appeared to any one of the hundreds of innocent bystanders.

Much like Captain Phillips, Greengrass certainly has a point of view about these events, but he isn't totally one-sided about it.  In his latest film we see Phillips ignore safety warnings to avoid the Somali coast, but he's never vilified for that decision.  The man made a judgement call and the situation didn't go his way, but his ensuing bravery and heroism are indisputable, even if the initial danger was somewhat of his own making.  Here we see many of the young protestors throwing rocks at the British troops and a few IRA guys even take a few shots at the barricades.  There's no argument that the military wasn't at least on some level provoked, but it's also clear that their response was a grossly disproportionate use of lethal force by both commanders looking to make a public statement and by a handful of bloodthirsty soldiers anxious to make civilians pay for the deeds of the IRA.

I'm sure that, had I lived in Derry at that time, I too would have been marching with the crowd that Sunday, although I highly doubt that I would have been throwing rocks.  I've never had a strong propensity for violence and I'm generally a pretty even keel sort of fellow.  Jamie and I were just talking the other day about how I don't often get seriously angry, but when I do it tends to manifest itself as a full-on Hulk rage.  So perhaps I, like so many others that day, would have been so devastated and filled with hate after witnessing such a massacre that I would have promptly signed up with the militant IRA in order to make the English pay for their savagery.  Then again, perhaps I would have simply curled up in the corner and wept.  Hard to say.  The closest example I can think of to an event in my own life is September 11th, and I certainly never even considered enlisting in the armed forces in the days and weeks following the attack.  But I'll be honest, military service scares the pants off me on a number of different levels and I absolutely know that I'm simply not cut out for such a lifestyle.  I'm soft.  And you can't really get good nachos in Fallujah.

There's no music in the entire film, save for the closing credits which play over a life performance of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday."  It's a beautiful song that you'll never be able to hear the same way again after watching Greengrass's film.  I thought I'd leave you with a cover version from my one-time cover band BiPFT! featuring our resident Irishman Warren O'Reilly on vocals.  His quiet, cracking, soulful voice really reflects the sorrow of that day.  I think it's actually my favorite version of this song ever.

*I'll admit that watching Bloody Sunday now suffers retroactively from a similar condition, as James Nesbitt is currently best known from his work in The Hobbit films as The Dwarf With The Floppy Hat And The Fu Manchu Handlebar Mustache.

What's The Connection? - Brutality at the hands of the system.  While Bloody Sunday depicts soldiers killing helpless civilians, Memories Of Murder featured Korean police detectives beating and torturing suspects in connection to crimes of which they were certainly innocent.

Up Next - Down Terrace

Title: Bloody Sunday
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: James Nesbitt, Allen Gildea, Gerard Crossan, Mary Moulds, Tim Pigott-Smith, Nicholas Farrell, Christopher Villiers
Year Of Release: 2002
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD

January 11, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Seven: MEMORIES OF MURDER And Police Duplicity

"Documents don't lie."
Back in 2006, Lerman took me out to see The Host, which I remember him describing as, "Jaws meets Godzilla, but Korean and fucking funny."  The film (which you can currently stream on Netflix) did not disappoint and I ended up buying on DVD the moment it became available.  I even revisited it for the first time in a few years during the run-up to Pacific Rim and found it to be just as great as I remembered.  Director Joon-ho Bong manages to balance a number of different tones and styles in a fairly remarkable way and I'm now growing positively rabid to see his upcoming post-apocalyptic epic Snowpiercer. Yet somehow I'd never managed to dig back through the rest of Bong's filmography.  It's only a small handful of films and I'm glad that Lerman threw one into the mix.  It seems fitting.

Memories Of Murder, Bong's immediate predecessor to The Host, is a dramatic change of pace, the tale of two rural and and largely unskilled police detectives, along with a far more competent officer transferred in from Seoul, who are investigating a serial rapist and killer of women in 1986.  Much like The Host, it's beautifully shot and smartly structured although it lacks much of that film's playful sense of humor, hardly a surprise considering the grisly subject matter.  Star Kang-ho Song (a frequent Bong collaborator) has a certain pathetic yet lovable quality that makes for a strange emotional disconnect when seeing him as a police officer, similar to Joe Lo Truglio's character on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  Song's Detective Park is like a dark mirror of his character from The Host, less of an adorable child and more of a simple-minded brute.  Park is isn't really interested in following the evidence to find the actual killer and would rather grab the first convenient suspect and fit him for the noose regardless of any obvious innocence.

This struck a chord with me, as it reflected a situation that befell a friend.  She has a son who filed a false police report and when the police followed up they quickly realized that his claims were bullshit.  The officers told the boy's mother that he should simply admit his mistake, pay a small penalty and that would be the end of it.  But when he came clean the kid was hit with a huge fine and charged with a misdemeanor.  Aside from the radioactive fallout that will haunt this kid forever and the fact that it feels like absurd overkill for a largely victimless crime (yes he wasted the time and efforts of the officers involved, but he also never actually pointed a finger at anyone specific) what's worse is that the kid and his mother have now been instilled with a strong distrust of police in general.

I've been lucky enough to have had minimal interactions with cops in my time, mostly consisting of a series of (largely unwarranted) noise complaints at my old apartment in LA and a handful of traffic stops.  I have an uncle who's a cop and he's one of the nicest guys I've ever met.  He volunteered his car for my license road test simply because neither of my parents' cars had an accessible parking brake.  Especially after the events of the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent manhunt, I have nothing but respect for the police.  But, at the same time, I recognize that not all cops are my uncle and, just like in any profession, there are always a couple of assholes.  The thing to keep in mind if you ever find yourself a suspect in an investigation, no matter how minor, is that the police do not necessarily have your best interests at heart.  Odds are that, much like Detective Park, the officers involved are far more interested in successfully closing the case and moving on to the next thing.  Park even goes so far as to manufacture evidence and coerce knowingly false confessions out of suspects using methods tantamount to torture.  It's reminiscent of the situation with the Central Park Five, in which the NYPD decided to pin the brutal rape and attack of a female jogger on whatever suspects they had conveniently lying around, despite the fact that they were minors and obviously couldn't have committed that crime.  Much like the kid with the false police report, the investigators lied to the suspects, telling them that they would be able to go home if they cooperated and made up a story that implicated themselves and/or each other.  It's pretty fucking despicable behavior.

Is this simply a systemic problem, a natural side effect when someone is given that much authority over others, constantly exposed to the worst impulses of human nature and then placed under tremendous stress?  Memories Of Murder would seem to suggest as much.  Detective Seo, held up as the model detective who focuses solely on the evidence and refuses to engage in Park's aggressive interrogation techniques, is finally driven so far to the edge that he's willing to ignore DNA evidence exonerating the suspect that he feels in his gut is the killer.  It's a powerful moment to be sure, and illustrates that even the best of the police is susceptible to weakness and poor judgement, especially when surrounded by the likes of Park.  In truth, it happens to everyone regardless of your station in life.  The difference is that if I have a bad day at work, I can't literally destroy someone's life as a result.

That's why if I ever find myself being questioned by the police, the only thing they're going to hear me say is, "I want my phone call and my lawyer."

What's The Connection? - I really struggled to find a common thread with The Disappearance Of Alice Creed and I feel like I'm probably missing something that connected the two in Lerman's mind.  But I'm gonna go with an inverse relationship: in Alice Creed we spend all our time with kidnappers and never see the efforts of the police.  The opposite is true here...sort of.  While we do see the killer take down two women, it's only a brief flash, not enough for us to identify him.  Instead we spend all our time focused on the cops, who never actually catch up with the killer.  Hey, they have that in common too!  Also for what it's worth, in both films the title doesn't really take on its full weight until the final moments.

Up Next - Bloody Sunday

Title: Memories Of Murder
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Sang-kyung Kim, Roe-ha Kim, Jae-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Seo-hie Ko, No-shik Park, Hae-il Park
Year Of Release: 2003
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD

January 09, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Six: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED And The Inauguration Of Marty Walsh

"Love you too, babe."
Put simply, I love everything about this movie.

Great opening sequence?  Check.

Charismatic actors?  Check.

Strong performances?  Check.

Confident visual style?  Check.

Economy of storytelling?  Check.

Engaging and surprising script?  That's a BIG check.

The Disappearance Of Alice Creed details the kidnapping of a beautiful British woman (Gemma Arterton) by two cold and calculating criminals (Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston) in order to secure a hefty ransom from her wealthy father.  Plotwise, that's all you need to know going into the film and I'd encourage you to not let anyone reveal any more details.  So much of what makes the film so damn compelling is the way that writer/director J. Blakeson communicates all the relevant information in slow drips, delaying every revelation until the last possible second.  There's no speechifying, no monologues full of exposition to clue the audience into the characters or their backstories.  We are simply dropped into the middle of the story and forced to decipher motivations and relationships from the subtlest of clues, so that when a scene reaches the breaking point and a character finally drops some knowledge, whether it's for the benefit of another character or the audience at home, it catches you completely off guard.  And as someone who spent a number of my formative years in the theater, it's hard not to love a story that only has three characters and takes place largely in a single location.  The first 45 minutes are simply brilliant, winding up all the players, setting them on a collision course and then letting them loose to see who comes out the other side.

I must admit that, as sometimes happens in this endeavor, my own scheduling dilemma certainly made a big impact on my viewing of the film.  Jamie and I got some last minute tickets to the Inauguration Gala for Marty Walsh, the new Mayor of Boston.  Obviously it was a fancy affair that required a bit of preparation and would keep us out rather late on a Monday night, so I knew I wouldn't have time to watch the whole movie either before or after the event.  Splitting the movie in two seemed like my best option, so I got through about the first 35 minutes and, directly following the first major twist in the plot, felt like I had probably reached an ideal pause point.  We got all gussied up, met Warren and his family downtown, and had an absolute blast.  There was food, booze, and a lengthy performance by the Boston Symphony Orhestra, assisted by the likes of Blue Man Group, Ellis Hall and The Dropkick Murphys.  (Sidenote: I had this very strange moment, standing at a political gala in a suit alongside my wife and listening to a prestigious symphony play backup for the same punk rockers I used to go see in high school while stage diving and jumping around in the mosh pit.  Being a grown up is weird.)

After Mayor Walsh came up and gave his remarks, Jamie and I decided to split before the majority of the crowd found its way to the coat check line.  By 11:30 I was settled back on my couch and excited to jump back into the movie, having had some time to mull over that big reveal.  I pressed play and, within five minutes, was suddenly presented with another twist that absolutely blew the first one out of the water.  Thinking back upon it now, I'm not sure if I would have found it awesome or off-putting getting both of those shocks within minutes of each other, as opposed to spaced out with a six hour interlude full of whiskey and political ceremony.  Those two scenes are certainly the defining ten minutes of the movie from a tonal perspective and in truth I probably robbed myself of experiencing it properly.  But after over 300 movies, sometimes that's just the way it goes.

Regardless, The Disappearance Of Alice Creed is still a phenomenal crime drama, as well as fabulous showcase for the considerable talents of Eddie Marsan, Gemma Arterton and Martin Compston.  While I'm unfamiliar with Compston, I'm on record as a big of both Marsan and Arterton, each of whom had some limited success here in the states in 2013 with stuff like The World's End and Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters, respectively.  Alice Creed was a big moment for both of them and left them each poised and ready to break out in a major way.  Sadly it hasn't quite happened for either of them yet, but it feels like only a matter of time before Arterton ends up in a marquee franchise and Marsan snags a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  I'm honestly surprised it's taken this long.

What's The Connection? - As the titles suggest, The Vanishing and The Disappearance Of Alice Creed both feature kidnapped women.  Pretty clear cut.

Up Next - Memories Of Murder

Title: The Disappearance Of Alice Creed
Director: J Blakeson
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston
Year Of Release: 2009
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD