Monday, May 25, 2009

2009 Memorial Day Weekend Movie Extravaganza

Wow, what a weekend! I drove up to Atlanta Friday afternoon to see my grandparents and hang out with my friend Stephen. I usually try to take advantage of the independent cinemas any time I'm in a bigger city, but this weekend I took it a step further. Stephen and I had decided we were going to simulate a film festival, in honor of Cannes. We managed to catch six films at the theaters and another four on DVD over the three day weekend. It was rather exhausting, but a heck of a lot of fun. In the following paragraphs I'll try to briefly give my thoughts on each film that we watched, with an emphasis on the 2009 theatrical releases.

JCVD (2008)
We started off with a double feature on Friday night, JCVD and Blade Runner. JCVD was such an interesting film. Of course JCVD are the initials for its star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays himself, albeit in a fictional story. The film starts with a hilarious and impressively long take showing Van Damme at work on the set of some generic foreign straight-to-DVD action film. We later see him discuss his disdain for these pathetic roles his agent keeps getting him, as well a see him in court during a losing custody battle over his daughter. When he returns home to Belgium the movie takes an odd turn and he finds himself in the middle of a robbery at a post office. It's ultimately not a great movie, but Jean-Claude Van Damme actually delivers a very good performance. I hope to see him is more serious roles in the future.

Blade Runner (1982)
Unfortunately I am in no position to say much about this film because I was way too tired when I watched it and was frequently dosing off. It didn't help that it moves pretty slow throughout, but I definitely want to see this again. From what I saw, Blade Runner is beautifully shot, especially considering it was made in 1982. It seemed to have this amazing, surreal ambiance that permeated the whole film, from the visuals to the score to the characters. I look forward to seeing it again.

Tell No One
I wrote briefly about this film in my Best Films of 2008 entry. It was my fourth favorite film of 2008, but frankly I might have undersold it... This film moves me and blows my mind every time I've seen it (this being the third). From the perfectly cast actors and their performances, to the intricate plot, to the complementary song choices, to the masterful camera work; I cannot recommend this movie enough.

The Brothers Bloom
This was the first movie we saw in theaters on Saturday, and was easily both of our most anticipated. Rian Johnson's Brick was such a delight in 2005, and I was excited to see what he could do with a budget. Needless to say, the film met my expectations. It is so much fun, and the characters are each so great and yes, quirky, in their own way, but the "quirk" doesn't overshadow the humor, the plot, or the action. It's one of the few con movies that doesn't really try to con the audience, and although I wasn't completely sure where it would end up, I had a good idea of where it was going. However, the joy is in the execution, and I must also add that the music is quite well done. If you like any of Wes Anderson's films (yes, it is an overused, but valid comparison) you 'll probably appreciate this, although I do think that The Brothers Bloom is more warm and accessible than the typical Wes Anderson movie, especially his more recent material. This really is a treat, and although some critics (here's looking at you Ebert) couldn't get past the "cutesy," I think it had just the right touch, and it was downright hilarious in parts. Overall, this is one of the more pleasant movies I've seen this year.

Tyson (2009)
Going in, I had fairly limited knowledge of Mike Tyson, not being a boxing fan at all. We went to see this based on the high critical praise, and frankly, it is well deserved. This is a fascinating documentary about a fascinating and truly disturbed individual. Listening to Tyson talk about his childhood is tragic; listening to him talk about his first manager and his children is touching; listening to him talk about women is horrific. Love him or hate him, he has a certain draw to him. From the ridiculous, raunchy statements that come out of his mouth, to his sometimes brilliant colloquies on life, love, success, and failure, Mike Tyson is an entertaining guy, and this is an entertaining and insightful documentary. Check it out.

Sin Nombre (2009)
I just wrote a review on this not long ago, but just a quick note: Sin Nombre totally worked for me for the second time. This is not an easy movie to watch, but the performances and direction are very good and worth seeing. The scenes with the Mexican gang initiation is harrowing, while the scenes of the Mexican countryside are breathtaking. Sin Nombre is an effective mix of beauty and tragedy, and is still one of my favorite films of the year.

Rudo y Cursi (2009)
I wasn't completely sold on whether to see this film or not, but the reviews were pretty good and it fit into our schedule and our theme of independent film watching so we gave it a shot. This really is a good movie. Rudo y Cursi is a charming tale of two brothers, both wishing to be famous soccer players, which they both end up doing to some extent, although one of them would rather be a singer. It features familiar themes of brotherhood and money doesn't buy happiness (or does it?) and is frequently hilarious, if not predictable. Overall, I really liked it. The acting is good, the writing is funny, and although a bit cliché at times, it has a sweet, genuine spirit. This was a welcome lighthearted film in the midst of some pretty heavy material, and I recommend it if you get a chance.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2009)
I was really looking forward to this documentary, not only because of the 98% Tomatometer, but because I love heavy metal, especially '80s. However, when I first saw the preview for Anvil: The Story of Anvil I thought it was another "mockumentary" in the style of This is Spinal Tap, because I had never heard of this band. It is an amazing story about these two Canadian Jews,
Steve and Robb, sticking together for over thirty years and never quite making it big, although they're recognized by many of their peers as pioneers of heavy metal. Not just any peers, but the likes of Lars Ulrich and Slash. More than just a music documentary, this is a commentary on friendship and the pressures that striving after this lifelong dream can have on family and friendships. We follow them to their mundane jobs, on a disastrous European tour, and through the recording of their 13th album. This film was fascinating as a real life human drama, often touching. Although I really liked Tyson, this is probably the best documentary I've seen since Man on Wire last year.

Goodbye Solo (2009)
I must start by saying that I am not a big fan of these "neo neo realism" or "minimalist" films. I find them consistently boring and somewhat pretentious. This film really doesn't have much of a plot other than the main character, Solo, a cab driver in North Carolina, trying to find out why an old man wants to kill himself. Solo finds out of his plan after much pestering about why he wants someone to drive him to the top of a nearby mountain on a specific date a few weeks later.
However, the main character, Solo, is so infectious and likable, that it easily makes the slow dreary parts tolerable. I can't recommend this to everyone, but I did enjoy most of this film.

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
Stephen hadn't seen this film yet, so I Netflix'd it and brought it with me. Sally Hawkins' performance still amazes me. She's not acting, rather she is this character, Poppy. She's a British school teacher with a flowery outlook on life, always trying to brighten somebody's day. It's so intriguing seeing how the people around her react and are affected by her, and also how she maintains her uplifting demeanor. With on of the best performances of 2008, Happy-Go-Lucky is a 'must rent" in my book.

I can't wait to do something like this again. It was kind of exhausting, but so much fun. Next, I'd love to actually go to a real film festival somewhere, anywhere. We'll see...

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