Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vampire's Kiss

In honor of Friday being Nicolas Cage's birthday and the opening day of Season of the Witch, I thought I would take a look at Nick's strange movie from 1989, Vampire's Kiss.

To say that Vampire’s Kiss is a strange movie would be a pretty big understatement. It switches genres constantly, going from comedy to horror to tragedy in a matter of minutes. A friend of mine described it as a combination of American Psycho, Pans Labyrinth, and Nosferatu. But somehow, despite its wildly uneven tone and it’s moments of absurdity, Vampire’s Kiss is a superb movie that gives a brilliantly realized picture of an incredibly disturbed man.

Vampire’s Kiss follows Peter Loew, played by a young Nicolas Cage, a yuppie literary agent who is slowly going insane. He goes to his job everyday where he manipulates and abuses his immigrant secretary Alva, and then at night goes to clubs and has meaningless one night stands with different women every night. But we slowly learn that Peter is incredibly lonely and depressed, and when he is alone pretends that he is in a steady relationship (making coffee for two people in the morning, and when he realizes there’s no one else there he throws a fit). However one night one of Peter’s conquests bites his neck (or at least we think), and Peter begins to think that he’s become a vampire. This leads Peter down a frightening and tragic path towards complete madness.

Nicolas Cage gives a brilliant performance here that actually takes you by surprise. Recently Nick Cage has gotten a bad rap for some of his more recent work (The Wicker Man for example: and I think most people nowadays view him as a genuinely terrible actor. But I think it’s less his acting, and more so the terrible projects he takes on because he wants money so he can buy more castles. But I think his work in Vampire’s Kiss shows how great of an actor he can be. He gives such an interesting and strange performance, and clearly has no fear of looking utterly insane. For one scene in this movie where Peter eats a cockroach, Nicholas Cage actually ate real cockroaches (and he did three takes!). Out of context clips of his acting in this movie come off as silly and overdone (, but in the context of the rest of the movie his acting is both absurd and terrifying. It really makes you want to see Nick do another good movie, and not just the schlock that he puts out nowadays.

I went into Vampire's Kiss expecting nothing, but I ended up getting a lot out of it. All in all I thought that his was a terrific movie. This movie is constantly compared to American Psycho, but in many ways I think Vampire’s Kiss is superior. While Patrick Batemans illness was a commentary on the lack of individuality in yuppie culture, Kiss is simply a character study of one guy. Therefore it’s less ambitious and smaller in scale, but because of that more compact, effective, and moving. Though it isn’t for everyone, I would recommend everyone to approach this forgotten gem with an open mind and I think you’ll be surprised.

Rating: A-

"I was being stalked by a mime - silent but maybe deadly. Somehow, this mime would appear on the set of set of Bringing Out the Dead (1999) and start doing strange things. I have no idea how it got past security. Finally, the producers took some action and I haven't seen the mime since. But it was definitely unsettling."

-Nicolas Cage

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top Ten Films 2010

10. Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone is set in brutally impoverished Appalachia, where seventeen year old Ree has a week to track down the dead body of her meth cooking father before the law takes her house away. This requires her to tread to the muddy and dangerous social waters of the Ozarks. So as you can tell this is not exactly an uplifting movie, but it’s a wonderful unflinching and intense portrait of a series of very desperate people.

9. 127 Hours

With 127 Hours, director Danny Boyle has managed to create an action movie where the main character is unable to move. 127 Hours follows the real life story of Aaron Ralston, a climber who after going hiking alone, gets his arm crushed by a rock in a canyon. After desperately trying to free himself for five days, while slowly using up the little of his remaining water, he finally decides to sever his arm to escape. The film is anchored by a very expressive and powerful performance by James Franco, and is helped by beautiful cinematography that keeps the film moving despite the fact it’s always in the same place. Obviously the amputation sequence at the end is gruesome and not for everyone, but it’s very much necessary and is a powerful statement about the human drive for survival.

8. Machete / Piranha 3D

The exploitation movie is back! Machete is about an illegal immigrant wrecking bloody revenge on the politicians who want to deport him, and Piranha 3D is about teenagers on spring break getting attacked by giant fish. Filled with buckets of violence, nudity, and bad dialog, they’re wonderful fun that you’ll probably feel guilty about later. What makes it even better is that the directors are clearly in on the joke, and work to make their movies as extreme and ridiculous as possible. How could you deny a movie that contains the line, “You just fucked with the wrong Mexican!”

7. The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech is about King George VI, known by his friends as Bertie, who suffered from an extreme and humiliating speech impediment. He eventually turns to Lionel Logue, who cures his speech impediment and eventually becomes his friend. Now the premise sounds conventional and boring, but what really makes this movie superb are the performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. They give beautiful and complex performances, and both of them deserve the buckets of awards that they are going to receive this year.

6. The Social Network

The Social Network is a tale of ambition, greed, and betrayal set to the story of the creation of Facebook. Driven by anger over his girlfriend breaking up with him, and jealousy of his fellow students at Harvard who come from old money, he creates one of the most popular websites in the world and becomes a billionaire. Driven by an unexpectedly brilliant performance by Jessie Eisenberg, who plays Mark as an awkward sociopath who’s horribly out of touch with everyone else, and a witty and fast paced script by Aaron Sorkin, the movie takes what could have been sensationalist bullshit and turns it into a polished reflection on class and ambition.

Delphine Chaneac stars as Dren and Sarah Polley stars as Elsa in Splice

5. Splice

In probably the most original movie released this year, Splice is a movie about the consequences of the creation of human life. Splice surrounds Elsa and Clive, two scientists who end up creating a half human half animal chimera. But in many ways the creature is very human and they begin to treat it like their child. Although it was marketed as a horror movie, it’s not actually scary at all. It’s a very intriguing psychosexual Freudian family drama with a sci-fi twist. Understandably that isn’t for everyone, but I just loved it.

4. True Grit

Many may dismiss True Grit as a remake of a film that was already superb, but it’s a very different picture. While the 1969 version was vehicle for John Wayne, True Grit is a western about biblical retribution, but in true Coen brothers fashion it’s also a complex reflection on good and evil. It’s a story where the “good” characters and the “bad” characters aren’t that different, and karma simply deals justice with a swift and brutal hand. It’s very similar to No Country for Old Men, but Grit contains a lot more kindness and humor, and therefore is much easier to watch. Supported by great performances by the entire cast, particularily from newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, this is more evidence that the Coen brothers quite simply can’t make a bad film.

3. Exit Through the Gift Shop

Thierry Guetta was simply a Frenchman who owned a vintage clothing store, but who also constantly carried a camera and filmed everything that he saw. His cousin was the famous street artist Space Invader, and through him he ends up falling into the complex world of street art. After filming hours of footage of street art, he becomes obsessed with the idea of creating a documentary about the famous anonymous street artist Banksy, and therefore Banksy decided to make a documentary about Thierry. Exit Through the Gift Shop is that documentary. It functions as a character study, the charting of the birth of a movement, an expose on the exploitation of street art, and in many ways a practical joke. It’s endlessly entertaining and puzzling, but also inventive and insightful. I’d recommend it anyone.

2. Toy Story 3

Pixar seems to have a special ability that causes me to tear up during every single one of their movies, and Toy Story 3 was no exception. Andy is heading off to college and the toys’ fates seem to be in jeopardy, but they sent over to a daycare center that’s at first welcoming but then later sinister. Both emotionally beautiful and immensely creative, the movie never stops surprising you. In the end,it’s a simple beautiful love note to consumerism, childhood and the power of relationships.

1. Black Swan

Black Swan follows Nina Sayers, a ballerina at a top ballet company in New York, who is given the dual lead role in a production of Swan Lake. Director Darren Aronofsky views Swan Lake as a metaphor for the two extremes of art, which are controlled and rational versus passionate and dangerous. These extremes cause the childlike Nina to split in two, both literally and figuratively. This is all lead by Natalie Portman, in one of my favorite performances of all time, who takes an intellectual abstraction and turns it into a real human being who the audience can, at times painfully, relate to. The movie itself toys with both of these extremes and is both recklessly and powerfully melodramatic, but also interesting and complex. It forces the audience into Nina’s pointed shoes, and makes us feel like we ourselves are losing our grip on reality. It’s one of the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen, and is easily the best movie of the year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Red State' Trailer: Wow.

So the trailer has just been released for Kevin Smith's long rumored evangelical Christian horror movie Red State, and man does it look good. Smith is known largely for profanity filled R-rated commedies, so this is a huge departure for him. After the horribly lame and unfunny 'Cop Out', it seems that he'd run out of steam in the comedy genre, so it makes sense that he'd take a risk and move on. But it seems that the risk has paid off, because it looks very unique and very very unnerving. As someone who loves a classy horror movie, I'm super pumped. Check it out.

(There's some slightly disturbing imagery, so check yourself before you wreck yourself.)

Monday, December 20, 2010


TRON: Legacy - B

Imagine a company investing 250 million dollars in a sequel 20 years after the original came out. Also the original was a massive flop that only a very select number of fans have seen. However this is exactly what Disney has done with Tron: Legacy. Disney's strange gamble seems to have payed off with a successful first weekend, mostly due to it's incredibly aggressive marketing campaign. So out of curiosity I decided to watch both the 80's original and the sequel, and see what I made of them. What's shocking is that they are almost exactly the same movie, despite the fact Legacy claims to be a sequel rather than a reboot. This is not just because of the plot, but rather also their strengths and weaknesses also. They have did the same things excellently, but unfortunately they have made the same painful mistakes.

The original Tron follows Kevin Flynn, played by a ultra cool Jeff Bridges, a computer programmer who is accidentally sucked into a computer. While in the computer he is forced to play in a series of gladiator-esque games by a sinister computer program called Master Control, that has sinister designs for the outside world. Now the plot of Tron isn't why you would want to see it. It's writing is at times a little unfortunate, and has a lot of trouble avoiding schlocky 80's action movie cliches. It toys with "2001"-esque ideas about the consequences of technology, but dosn't really do anything with them. Master Control mentions taking over the entire world once, and it really raises the stakes, but then it's never mentioned again. Because of this the entire movie just kind of seems like Jeff Bridges having a good time in a psychedelic world trying to get some copyright information, which is not that compelling. I think the reason why they struggled with this is that they had to humanize really abstract concepts like RAM, which is understandably challenging. When programs talk about their users it almost sounds like the toys in Toy Story talking about their children. But it did begin the development of our cultural understanding of cyberspace, which is definitely something to be applauded.

So Tron: Legacy takes place about 20 years after the original Tron, and Jeff Bridges has gone missing in the grid, leaving his son Sam by himself. So Sam ends up getting sucked into the computer program, and is forced to play in a series of gladiator-esque games by a sinister younger computerized version of Jeff Bridges that has sinister designs for the outside world. Sound familiar? Not only in plot, but also in structure Legacy is identical to the original Tron. This wouldn't really be an issue if the original had a great plot, but Legacy ends up having all the issues of the original. Primarily this is the regrettable writing ("What am I supposed to do?" "Survive!"), but also the characters aren't very developed, so when things stop exploding you have trouble caring.

What everyone should be seeing both Tron's for though is the visuals. Tron was actually the first major movie to come out of Hollywood that extensivly used special effects. It seems that the approach was ahead of it's time, because many animators and critics shunned the technique, and the Oscars disqualified Tron from the visual effects category because they considered the technique cheating. Despite the original being a lot older it still looks fantastic. Because the visuals are so old it actually becomes interesting, unique and really really trippy. The entire movie has a strange neon glow to it, and sticks to bold primary colors which makes it very striking. Even though the CGI is very minimalistic, it's really effective. You may just be seeing a red block chasing a blue block, but you end up irrationally supporting the brave blue block and hating the evil red block. I guess that now we are in a society that has completely embraced CGI and computers, the movie makes a lot more sense.

That's probably why Disney decided to reboot Tron. The visuals in Legacy may not be as innovative as the original, but they still look fantastic. It takes a huge amount of visual references from the original, but still finds it's own beautiful glossy style. It's color scheme is huge expanses of darkness punctuated by flashes of bright neon, and it looks really great. Also some of the action sequences are some of the best I've ever seen. The light-cycle scene blew my mind, and was over way too fast. The only visual thing that disappointed me was the 3D. I could hardly even notice it, and it made my eyes hurt. It's a shame because the 3D could have been fantastic in TRON. Also having Daft Punk score the movie was a masterful choice. They're the most iconic electronic artists out in the world, and their music perfectly fits the futuristic atmosphere of the grid. Another notable part of the movie was Jeff Bridges playing both himself, and a younger computerized version of himself called CLU . This was done by the people who aged Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button and it produces mixed results here. Younger Jeff Bridges suffers from slightly dead eyes, and his face looks like it's been overstuffed with botox. This creepiness works wonderfully when Jeff Bridges is playing the artificial version of himself, but in flashbacks when he's playing the actual Flynn it looks really strange.

So for those anticipating a science fiction masterpiece from either of these movies, you won't find it here. But technically they're both really stunning, and Jeff Bridges acting like The Dude is always welcome. Just sit back and watch the light show and you'll have a good time.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Three by David Lynch

Over the last month I've been watching several of David Lynch's movies and I've felt very differently about all of them even though in many ways they're very similar. They're all very heavy on abstract disturbing imagry. They all also deal with the depression, psychosis, and evil that he feels is present almost everywhere in modern society. I didn't like Ereaserhead very much, I thought Blue Velvet was good, and I feel that Muholland Drive is a masterpiece.
Ereaserhead is Lynch's incredibly abstract first film that he made while in film school in the seventies. The film follows Henry Spencer, played by Jack Nance in an almost hypnotizing performance, a very depressed man who lives in a tiny apartment in the middle of a large field of warehouses. Near the begining of the film he finds out that his former girlfriend Mary has given birth to a severely deformed baby that barely even looks human and is constantly screaming. Mary then abrubtly leaves and he is saddled with taking care of the baby himself. The movie then dissolves into a bizzare series of visions including him seeing a dancing woman in his radiator, and his head falling off and being made into pencil erasers.
I didn't like Eraserhead because for most of the time the movie came off as incomprehensible and even kind of stupid. It seems that even David Lynch dosn't know what any of the imagery means. Either his metaphors are painfully obvious (he feels guilt about the baby, and therefore it seems revolitng to him) or don't even try to make sense (the film radomly cuts several times to a disfigured man pulling switches on the inside of a planet). However you have to give David some credit because he made it while only in college, and the things he did well he did very well. The atmosphere is so thick you can literally feel it in the room that your watching it and the black and white cinematography is beautiful and haunting. It's not a great film, but it's definetly worth watching mainly because it achives the rare feat of being like nothing else out there.
Blue Velvet, which was made in the eighties, is all about asking one question. What is the real America? People would traditionally respond with traditional values, friendly people, beautiful neiborhoods. Lynch would argue that there's a layer of filth laying under the perfectly trimmed grass of the American suburbs. The film follows a college student named Jeffrey who is home from college to care for his ailing father. However while out on a walk he discovers a severed ear laying on the ground. He becomes incredibly determind to find out what happened and this leads him into a underground world of violence, torture, and perversity.
I liked Blue Velvet better than Eraserhead. This was mainly because it actually had a comprehensible story to tie it's imagery to, so things actually could be put together. It seems like at many points he's making two different films which bothered me. At points the film feels very conventional and tame as if it were a detective after school special. However at other points its incredibly wierd and very much like Eraserhead. If sure that this was intentional in order to make it seem like there are two very different world in the same place, but this made the film very disjointed. My favorite thing about this film is Dennis Hopper's totally off the wall performance as the psychotic helium inhaling Frank Booth. He is given some of the most ridiculous dialouge in any film ever (he says fuck at least once every sentence) but he manages to make himself always believable. He is at the same time incredibly terrifying and hilarious and I think it's incredible. In the end however David Lynch attempted to make a more conventional film, but he lost a lot of the atmosphere that made him special in the first place.
Muholland Drive, made in 2001, is David Lynch's most recent major work. It follows Betty, played in fantastic performance by Niomi Watts, a wannabe actress who has just moved to LA. At the same time a woman named Rita narrowly escapes being murdered by her chauffeur while in her limo by getting hit by a car. She survives but loses all her memory. The two run into each other and attempt to figure out who Rita really is. Scattered throughout the film are several seemingly unrelated vignettes, such as a director being blacklisted for not casting a girl that the mob wants him to cast and a hitman botching an assassination and killing two people who witness it. Then the movie upends the entire plot and makes you reconsider everything you've seen in it's incredible final half hour that I'm not going to spoil.
Muholland Drive quite simply is a brilliant film. What it does is find the perfect balance between his other two films that I've seen. It's strange and interesting and you'll be searching for clues during the entire movie, but unlike Eraserhead all the wierdness makes sense and comes together at the end. It also has brilliant acting, characters we end up caring about by the time the movie is over, and interesting relationships. I won't say in what context but the way that the movie portrays dreaming, and dreams themselves is incredible. The atmosphere, and the way that events move from one to another is exactly how dreams themselves really feel to me. Even the way that relationships and objects from reality carry over to dreams is dead on. Effectivly this is the movie that I wanted Inception to be. It's one of my favorite films ever and I couldn't recommend it more. This movie shows that Lynch has learned perfectly how to deal with his quirks, and I can't wait for his next film.