So the great 2010 Movie Catchup has proceeded quite well so far and while there are still many things I’ve yet to see, I’ve made good progress:
- Cropsey – Ostensibly about a New York urban legend about a crazy old man who kidnaps kids, the film veers into a more real-world direction, delving deeply into a series of child disappearances and the real life Cropsey that the community pinned the murders on. His name is Andre Rand, and while he certainly had a checkered past and a creepy demeanor, there never seemed to be much in the way of hard evidence (despite reams of circumstantial evidence). The film touches on that, as well as some other oddities like satan worshipers and mental hospitals, but ultimately falls a bit flat. It’s got a lot of interviews with relevant folks, but the filmmakers weren’t able to get an interview with Andre Rand himself (despite a lengthy correspondence via mail) and it feels almost like they were counting on that. It’s an interesting and watcheable documentary, but it falls a bit short in the end. **1/2
- Blood Into Wine – Since this movie about Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan’s winery in Arizona involved alcohol, I took the opportunity to drink some fantastic beer whilst watching. More comments on Kaedrin Beer Blog. In short, it’s a movie that is well worth watching, especially for any Tool fans out there. ***
- Black Swan – The younger sister to Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, the two films share a lot of similarities. Unfortunately, both are similarly flawed as well, especially when it comes to the script. Both films look fantastic, and while The Wrestler was visually toned down, Black Swan affords Aronofsky with more freedom to use cinematic language, and use it he does. Unfortunately, the whole thing plays out like a master chef adding exotic ingredients and ussing all his culinary powers to create a gourmet dish out of Kraft Mac n Cheese. Is it edible? Of course? It’s even good. But it’s not great. The film is much more ambiguous than most of Aronofsky’s efforts, and I thought that part of it worked really well. Fans of the “mind fuck” will enjoy that aspect of this film, and I thought that was well executed.
My biggest issue is with the main character, Nina Sayers (played well by Natalie Portman). She reminds me a lot of Hugh Jackman’s character in The Fountain, in that she’s constantly on the verge of tears (if not outright crying), to the point where I cannot believe that she’d ever succeed in ballet. The film’s script is constantly telling us that Nina is a flawless but icy and cold dancer, but I spent the entire film assuming she would make a mistake. For the most part, she doesn’t, but the way Aronofsky films those scenes seems to emphasize Nina’s insecurities, to the point where I couldn’t believe that anyone would think her a good dancer. In the film, we’re told several times that her technical proficiency makes her perfect for the role of the White Swan, but that she lacks the unbridled passion and spontaneity needed for the Black Swan. But she’s shown with such a lack of confidence that I never really bought that she would be good in either role. Part of this issue may just be that I have no fucking clue what makes a good ballerina. I mean, obviously I can tell when someone falls down or whatnot, but I see no difference in the way Nina dances versus some of the other dancers. I mean, they all look great, but it’s the way we hear Nina’s breathing and Portman’s face, while wonderfully expressive, seems to constantly show a look of anxiety. This isn’t Portman’s fault, it’s clear this is what the screenwriters (and probably Aronofsky) wanted, but it just doesn’t really fit.
Aronofsky’s visual style is about as brilliant as it gets here, but as with his last few films, I think his choice of material is a bit lacking. Ultimately, Aronofsky is able to save this film with his visual style, and maybe some of the more ambiguous script elements are handled well too. For instance, the character of Lily (another great performance from Mila Kunis) is seemingly inconsistent throughout the film, but that’s perfect because she is seen through the insecure lense of Nina. The mother and ballet director are mostly thankless roles, maybe a bit too exaggerated. The psychological thriller and horror elements are fantastic, though not quite as prevalent as the film’s marketing would have you believe. Sorting out fantasy and hallucination from reality can be difficult at times, but in a good way. The ending is pitch perfect, in much the same way as The Wrestler’s ending (both employ a similar, and wonderful, final shot). Aronofsky is also able to convey a certain excitement or energy in the progression of ballet, something I found invigorating, despite not being at all familiar with the form. It’s a good film, ambitious and ambiguous, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it has some serious flaws as well. ***
- Alice in Wonderland – I don’t have a whole lot to say about this, except that I was surprised that I didn’t hate this. Indeed, I quite enjoyed it, even if I know that it embodies all those Tim Burton cliches that have gotten so tired of late. The CGI is lame and production design is typical Burton and the script has little to do with the actual source material, but that was exactly as I expected, only better. So while “I didn’t hate it” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, and this most certainly won’t be making the top 10 (or probably even honorable mentions), it’s also not terrible! **1/2
- Doghouse – I have to admit that I’m disappointed in this one. I’ve become a big fan of director Jake West’s previous effort, Evil Aliens, but this newer film lacks a lot of the energy and splatterific fun embodied by that earlier film. The film follows a group of guys taking a trip to a small rural town to get away from it all, but then they find that the town is filled with murderous zombie women. As with most zombie films, there’s a lame societal commentary here, this time focusing on a battle-of-the-sexes. There’s a fair amount of humor, some decent performances, and even some clever solutions to various problems throughout the film but ultimately the premise falls a bit flat for me. **
- Bonus: Torque – Ah, the joys of accidental Netflix queue ordering. I forgot this was actually in there and despite it not being a 2010 movie, I watched this so-bad-it’s-good candidate with high hopes, and I was not disappointed! It’s gloriously awful! Nick Nunziata’s review says it better than I ever could:
When I say that Torque is the most shamelessly synthetic and overstylized action flick ever made I mean it in the nicest way possible. This film makes cheese blush. It gives bullet time lead poisoning. From the first computer assisted race sequence to the climactic Chop-Kawasaki and Mach 48373 race through the city, Torque revels in excess in ways that would resurrect Don Simpson and eject him from his grave in slow motion as doves gather and carry him to the surface of Venus where he is pelted with little rocks shaped like Jerry Bruckheimer’s night terrors. As the film unfolded I seriously found myself falling in love with its utter fakeness and bold arrogance. You know the kind of love I’m referring to. The love an inmate finds after cell blocks B and C ventilate his colon enough so that he forgets what it was like before the whistling sound began to waft from his drawers twenty-four hours a day. Before his ass had its own climate. Torque is that rough lover, the one who punches you in the eyes when he/she is happy and does spinning monkey kicks to your coccyx when he/she feels melancholy. This film has the Goodyear blimp testicles to recreate a quote from The Fast and the Furious (also produced by Neal Moritz, one of this film’s many Summerian summoners) and then scoff at it.
It scoffs at The Fast and the Furious, a film that not only made this film possible but one that looks like a Cassavettes flick in comparison. Let that sink in. I’ll wait.
As Nick notes, this is either a 0 out of 10 movie, or a 10 out of 10 movie, or both at the same time.