No, I didn't know what the word meant, either.
Evidently, bunraku is a type of Japanese puppet theater, which makes sense after you've seen the film, but I'm not sure that title really communicates just how oddball an experience Guy Moshe's made for his debut feature. "Bunraku" was one of the films that is playing the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Midnight Madness programming, and it was a great crowd, ready and willing to lose themselves in the bizarre world the film creates.
It's set in the future, after we've finally used the nuclear option and set civilization back significantly. Mankind has decided to eliminate guns from the equation altogether. If you want to settle something with someone, you need to use fists or knives. The story "Bunraku" tells is a familiar one, which is sort of the point of the movie. As much as this is a pretty pop-up picture book world, it's also a story about the act of myth-making. It doesn't connect all the interesting material it introduces, but it's ambitious, and it's got an original sense of style. It's worth noting that Alex McDowell (the amazing production designer behind films like "The Crow" and "Watchmen" and "Fight Club" and "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" is one of the film's producers, since production design is front and center in this movie. When I say that, I mean that the world is almost this living breathing thing around the characters, and that shouldn't be dismissed.
No, I didn't know what the word meant, either.
So far, I've gone relatively light on the public screenings here at the Toronto International Film Festival, but when you get an invitation to the world premiere of Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter," you go. Especially if it's a film written by Peter Morgan and starring Matt Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard, and if you hear it has something to do with the supernatural.
And certainly, that does describe the film to an extent. All those things are true. It's an incredibly well-pedigreed movie. Morgan's a sturdy writer… whatever story he sets out to tell, he's a nuts-and-bolts kind of a guy, great with dialogue and small moments and human observation. There's a reason he's busy all the time right now. "Hereafter" is an original screenplay by him, not adapted from the stage, and I think maybe the intermediary step helps Morgan. He's able to workshop material, hear it in front of audiences, adjust and adapt, and then polish it up when it gets turned into a movie. With "Hereafter," there are some things to like, but as a whole, it's a failed triptych, a formal experiment with an unsatisfactory final result.
It's been vogue now since "Pulp Fiction" to do the three stories that intertwine of pay off each other in surprising ways, and it's hard to get it right. There are films like "Babel" that pull it off and that bring the three stories together in a way that illuminates each one, and there are films that flub it, that never gel into something that feels like a single piece of art. At their clumsiest, they feel like Frankenstein's monsters, parts, but no sum.
I recently had an opportunity to see the final cut of David Fincher's new film, "The Social Network," and although a full-scale review is still embargoed, I've been given the go-ahead to at least share a few initial thoughts with you today.
"The Social Network" represents the very best of both Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher, a combination I never would have expected to see. Sorkin has always been such a humanist, and Fincher has always seemed to me to be (in the best possible way) an emotional terrorist. Together, what they've crafted is emotionally intense, surprisingly funny, and genuinely significant. This is an astounding film about one of the most important seismic shifts in communication in the modern age, and the way innovation and ethics are not often related.
It's also a simple story about the artistic process, and the way it almost always returns to the same root: the drive for validation. That last image of Zuckerberg in the film... it's haunting. It almost redeems him.
I'll be honest... I wasn't expecting to be hit emotionally the way I was. I was part of a company that I believed I had a stake in, and something happened where several of the partners played a restructuring game with the stock. I did my best to move on without becoming bitter or litigious, and I thought I'd set all of that behind me. The moment where Eduardo realizes what's happened to him, though, pretty much punched a fresh hole in me, and I spent a few days after seeing the movie struggling to deal with a profound fresh anger over the entire situation. The movie perfectly nails the dynamic in these situations, and I can see why Sony has fallen in love with Andrew Garfield.
Hello, Emma Stone. How's it feel to be a g.d. movie star?
Because that's exactly what she is by the time the closing credits roll on the charming, breezy "Easy A." The movie exists on the smart end of the teen movie spectrum, where films like "Sixteen Candles" and "Mean Girls" exist, and it's a combination of many factors that elevates the material. Will Gluck, working from a script by Bert V. Royal, throws in dozens of affectionate nods to other teen movie classics (and not-so-classics) as a way of acknowledging the conventions of the genre. This isn't some deconstructionist piece, though, determined to burn the genre to the ground. It is a teen comedy, unabashedly, but self-aware enough to make it all seem fresh.
Stone plays Olive, a girl who has been raised by her razor-sharp-and-funny parents (played with relish by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci) to be a razor-sharp-and-funny girl who has a real sense of herself. She's so well-adjusted that my one question about the film is how she lets herself end up in such an awkward and unpleasant situation.
It starts with one little lie that she tells to her friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) because she's tired of being asked about dating and boys and sex. She lies to her and makes a claim about an older boyfriend at a local community college. The lie escalates until Olive confesses that they actually had sex over the weekend. What was meant to be a private boast turns public, though, thanks to Marianne (Amanda Bynes), a Bible-loving cheerleader who spends all her time talking about what Jesus wants while decidedly not turning the other cheek.
There is no one who feels more protective of "Let The Right One In" than I do.
The joke, of course, is that I imagine most fans of the film feel that way. When I saw the movie at Fantastic Fest in September of '08, that was already nine full months after it started its life on the festival circuit, and if you go back and look at the reviews that came out of festival after festival, including Tribeca in April and Seattle in May, people were buzzing about this special, beautiful, hushed little gem of a vampire movie. It got a theatrical release of sorts here in October of that year, but it never broke out of the "well-reviewed subtitled movie that no one sees" boneyard. Whatever fan base it has, it has earned honestly through word of mouth and reviews, and everyone I've ever spoken with about the film seems to love it in that protective way that film fans sometimes adopt for delicate movies you don't want anyone to abuse.
I think a lot of that has to do with the enormous empathy that the film generates for Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson), kids who were cast after an open search turned them up, non-professionals who gave these amazing, non-affected performances. I know that when I saw the film originally, I felt so bad for these kids that it excused everything they do in it. I thought they did work that was magic. Once in a lifetime.
There is good reason to be skeptical of "Let Me In," which was adapted by writer/director Matt Reeves from John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and from Lindqvist's own adaptation of the book which was used for the Swedish film, "Lat Den Ratte Komma In." I was skeptical all the way up to the moment the screening actually began, and I got pulled in by the quiet precision of this film by Matt Reeves. I believe this is every bit as valid a take on Lindqvist's novel as the film by Tomas Alfredson was. That may offend some purists, but Matt Reeves approached this material with a keen eye and a sharp wit. He basically stripped it all the way down, cutting out most of our glimpses of the community around these children, reducing parents to out of focus background figures, stranding Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloe Moretz) in a universe where they must make impossible moral choices on their own.
Danny Boyle has reached a point in his career where he makes it all look easy.
"127 Hours," based on the true story of Aron Ralston, is a difficult piece of material to turn into a compelling theatrical experience, no matter how much the idea of his story might engage people automatically. Ralston was a canyon climber, an outdoorsman who loved to push himself by driving to remote locations alone and exploring. During one such expedition, he slipped on a loose rock, fell into a canyon, and the rock fell on him, pinning his arm to the wall. He was forced to spend 127 hours there until his eventual fate, and the film traces that experience.
So, yes… to answer the obvious question, much of the film is just James Franco by himself at the bottom of the canyon. But even saying that, it doesn't really explain the experience, and that's because the script by Boyle and Simon Beaufoy is very smart, very emotionally direct, and the ways they open up the by-nature claustrophobic situation are all in service of allowing us to share Aron's experience in some small way. James Franco is a big part of why it works, and to explain why I think "127 Hours" is so special, I sort of have to drag another film into the conversation by comparison.
I'm not a fan of "Buried," which Lionsgate will release on September 24, and when I saw it at Sundance, I remarked on how I respect the effort even if I don't like the end result. That's the movie that is almost entirely set inside a coffin where Ryan Reynolds has been buried alive, and as hard as Reynolds and the director work, I just didn't buy it. It's a lot of energy in service of a script that never really made me believe the premise or the peril.
James Gunn has made the ultimate Troma movie with his new deranged superhero black comedy "Super," and I say that with all the mixed feelings that would suggest.
To be honest… it made me kinda gooshy.
I don't love Troma movies. I get the appeal, but for the most part, it's too corny, too gross, too lowbrow for me. I can't laugh ironically, so I can't really laugh. Just doesn't do it for me. I've seen most of the Troma "classics," and I certainly respect that Lloyd Kaufman built this legendary exploitation house out of pretty much nothing. I really like that James Gunn got his start with Troma and that he's definitely continued to fly his freak flag long after getting over the walls of Hollywood. So if anyone was going to finally make an authentic Troma film that just happened to star real recognizable movie stars, it was going to be him.
You're going to hear a lot of comparisons between this film and "Kick-Ass," but they were chasing totally different goals. "Kick-Ass" is about a bunch of deeply broken people, but they do manage to become heroes of a sort, and Matthew Vaughn's film traded heavily on the iconography of superhero cinema so far in an affectionate way. "Super" is something else entirely, more akin to a "Taxi Driver" with dick jokes than any other superhero film. It's a sad film, with waaaaaaay more religion than you might expect, and it grapples with some wild shifts in tone.
I consider John Carpenter a friend, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to say that.
What you're about to read isn't a particularly hard-hitting piece of journalism. I've written two films that John's shot in the last few years, "Cigarette Burns" and "Pro-Life." Both were for the "Masters Of Horror" series. My writing partner and I have talked to him about various other potential projects to make, and we're all three determined that we're going to figure out what the right film is, and as soon as we do, we're going to make it.
This is just me talking to John about his return to the bigscreen, something that's long overdue, and him being uncommonly kind. I'll be there Monday night to see "The Ward," and I'm speaking as a longtime fan when I say that I hope it's awesome and a complete return to form.
No pressure... right?
This conversation took place via phone one day last week, as I was sitting at home at my desk. Phone rang, I turned on the recorder, and... well, this happened:
John Carpenter: Is this the legendary and blindingly handsome Drew McWeeny?
Drew McWeeny: Rumor has it that this is John Carpenter, legendary horror film filmmaker.
I haven't read Ned Vizzini's novel, so I can't judge it, but I can judge the movie that was adapted from it, written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the couple behind "Half Nelson" and "Sugar."
Those are both very good movies.
This is not.
Earlier in the day, I saw the new animated film "The Illusionist," which several people walked out of over the relatively brief running time of 80 minutes. I was a little surprised by that, frankly, and mentioned it on Twitter, leading to a long conversation back and forth between several different groups of people I know about the entire idea of walking out on movies. Some claim to never do it, other said they'd do it but wouldn't review the movie at all. Some debated when it's appropriate. The funny part about all of that is that I don't walk out on movies. Not often. The last one was, I believe, "Miss Congeniality" in its theatrical opening weekend, however long ago that was.
And yet just a few hours after that conversation, I found myself seriously debating getting up and walking out of "It's Kind Of A Funny Story," an agonizingly phony piece of work that struggles to be a sort of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" for teenagers, but which ends up regurgitating platitudes in place of any genuine insight or emotion. There's a musical number about 2/3 of the way into the film… seriously… where the patients of this mental hospital imagine themselves doing "Under Pressure," complete with Zach Galifianakis done up in glam rock gear and lip-synching to David Bowie… seriously. And I was so embarrassed, so uncomfortable with the total lack of recognizable human behavior in the film that I strongly debated getting up and leaving. I even considered writing a whole piece about the idea that I don't walk out of films, but I had to walk out of this one.
It's been a preposterous amount of time since Mark Romanek's last film, "One Hour Photo" was released, and in that time, he's flirted with making various big-budget studio dramas. In the end, though, both circumstance and opportunity conspired to bump Romanek off his last almost-movie, "The Wolf Man," which is a very good thing, indeed, because if he'd made that film, he would not have been available to make this film, and that would have been a loss.
"Never Let Me Go," adapted by screenwriter Alex Garland from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, is a marvel of economy in storytelling, spare and solemn and heartbreaking, and Romanek has brought the film to luminous life, carefully constructing his film so that much of what is left unsaid is made clear through his visual representation of a world running down, rot at the edge of things. I've seen people tying themselves in knots trying to discuss the film without giving any spoilers away, but that seems silly to me. The film certainly gives you all the information you need right up front, and there's no "twist" to protect. If you're overly nervous about knowing anything about the movie, then just know that I recommend the film with one caveat: this movie will not hold your hand. Whatever reactions you have to it will be earned, not spoon-fed.
The movie posits an alternate version of our world where cloning technology was created in the '50s, and by the late '70s, when the film begins, it has been perfected. An entire generation of clones is being raised for spare parts for a world that has made the collective ethical decision to treat these walking organ farms with the illusion of freedom, while never actually acknowledging their humanity. You can't, after all, because if you do think of them as human, then what right does anyone have to their organs or tissue or blood or bone? If they are more than the sum of their spare parts, then they aren't spare parts at all.