Saturday, July 10, 2010

DVD Reviews - The Killer Inside Me, Following, Brick, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

The Killer Inside Me - **

Directed by:  Michael Winterbottom

Starring:  Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Simon Baker, Bill Pullman

Review:  Few things are worse than the feeling that you walk away from the movie knowing it could have been so much more.  Not that the experience was altogether unsatisfying, but there could be much more to it.  That was the feeling with "The Killer Inside Me" a flawed, if not well done pulp film noir.

The film dabbles in very illicit subject matter (prostitution, bribery, sexual abuse, physical abuse, what it's like to be a true sociopath), and does it with a sense of weight to it.  However, it is not the subject matter where this movie loses it way, rather, it is in the characters.

The film follows the main character Lou (Casey Affleck) as he goes through a series of events would be quite shocking to the average person, but are all taken in stride by Lou.  The movie opens with Lou being sent out to tell a prostitute who works outside of town to leave.  Lou goes out there to tell her to leave and ends up getting involved with the prostitute (Jessica Alba).  This sexually fueled relationship is no doubt spurred by instances of sexual abuse Lou was involved in as a child.  This relationship is complicated by the fact that a wealthy business owner in town's son is also involved with the prostitute and the plans between Lou and this prostitute set in motion a chain of events that will change Lou forever.

The movie is a character study of how events in one's life can change and alter a person's perception of reality and blur the lines between right and wrong.  The strength of the movie lies in it's ability to show the ruthless personality of Lou as being born out of love.  Lou is a ferocious sociopath who knows not why he destroys everything and everyone he loves, but knows that he is compelled to do it.  I am not a psychologist so I cannot dissect Lou's mindset and neither can the filmmaker completely, which is where the movie unravels.  This movie will be very divisive for most people but one thing about the movie is clear, it is very well made and captures the film noir/pulp genre very well.  This movie is worth your time only if you're a fan of the genre and can take seeing some brutal and disturbing images on screen.

Following - ***1/2

Directed by:  Christopher Nolan

Starring:  Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell

Review:  Before Christopher Nolan was Christopher Nolan, he made "Following."  A decidedly unique and original film made before Nolan had reached the acumen to do whatever he wants.

Every day we pass hundreds of people on our way to living our lives.  Where is everyone going?  What is everyone doing?  At some point somebody catches your eye.  Maybe they're carrying a strange looking package or perhaps they have on an odd outfit, but there is something about them that catches your eye and makes you more curious about them than the others in the crowd.  What if you followed them (without them knowing) to see the answer to your question?  That is the premise of this movie.

A very fascinating premise it is.  Curiosity is one of the most powerful emotions we have and in many cases has been the start of something great?  What's across that ocean?  What's over that hill?  It's that drive that has made great things happen throughout history.  However, even though good things can result there are many things in this world you don't want to know.  Perhaps if you followed this person that caught your eye you would satisfy your curiosity but do you end up with something you really want to know?  Does your curiosity bring you to a point of no return to which you wish you never would have given that person more than a second glance?  That is where this movie takes us, to the eventual satisfaction of that curiosity.

In true Nolan fashion we reach this conclusion not in a linear fashion that we are accustomed to, but through bits and pieces that happen at different times of the storyline, all while cutting between scenes of the main character talking about what happens in a linear fashion.  It is the same style of Memento but instead of going from end to beginning, he jumps around from different points in the story until they converge.  The only problem is that is where the movie can get somewhat confusing.  Perhaps it is because I am slightly unfamiliar with the actor but he changes his appearance halfway through the linear story arc, and for a while you are not sure it is the same person when you see scenes jumping from before the change to after the change.  Even bigger than that, the story can be hard to follow at times for this reason and for the simple fact that it gets confusing jumping around like that.  However, everything is saved by the ending which does a good job of tying it all together.  What the audience realizes is that the story wasn't really told out of order, but the main character is explaining the end result and all the details through all the events that brought on those details.

A very smart, very well done movie that I enjoyed and is worth your time but will demand your full and undivided attention.

Brick - ***

Directed by:  Rian Johnson

Starring:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Megan Good

Review:  Film noir is one of the hardest genre's to get right and it takes all the pieces to fit in order for it to be successful.  However, when it does it works quite well.

Film noir is generally your movie that has a strong narrative feel to it and a strong central lead character that wants to do good but is ultimately flawed.  These types of movies were very popular in the 1940's and 1950's.  The difference between now and then though is not merely in styles of clothing of different types of cars but in our actual culture in our every day lives.  How we talk and interact with each other and with the different sexes has changed immeasurably over the last 50 years.

However, the filmmaker here (Rian Johnson) has decided to take the completely authentic style from the '40's and '50's (dialogue and all) and plop it right into a modern day California high school.  This is a bold move by the director and once you can accept that these are high school kids speaking this way and move it, the movie becomes weirdly brilliant.  Characters speak to each other with terms like "I have daggers in my eyes, I need to sleep," or "it's curtains for me."  High schoolers don't talk like this but you just have to accept it and move on because once you do the film is very engrossing and enjoyable.

Choosing the setting and characters as he does for this type of movie is what makes it so original.  The movie starts with us seeing a dead girl under a bridge and then flashing back to two days before and seeing how it got to that point and what happened afterwards.  Our protagonist is Brenden (Gordon-Leavitt) and he is the one who sets off to help this girl who eventually gets murdered, and then find out why she was murdered.  The story is full of twists and turns and it is the characters and their buying into the directors style that makes it engrossing.  Eventually you do believe that high schoolers could be involved in this heavy of stuff and that if they were they would talk like this.  Once you do, you're taken to a world, an alternate world if you will, where all this is possible and even normal.

All the actors really own their roles.  Each person in this movie does not exist because the script tells them to and does not act because the director tells them how.  Rather, these people all have a singular purpose for themselves that they are all out for and they do not reach their end game until that goal is achieved.  It is this constant interplay that propels the story.  Even though some characters are working together they all have their own motives and choose the action that will satisfy those the quickest.  There are a few twists and turns in this movie and it all makes for great entertainment.  All in all I would say it's worth your time.

Bad Lieutenant:  Port of Call New Orleans - **

Directed by:  Werner Herzog

Starring:  Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Faruza Balk

Review:  Bad Lieutenant is about exactly that.  A police officer who is a "bad" lieutenant.  He does drugs, takes bribes, sexually assaults women, and tampers with evidence.  There is seemingly no redeemable qualities about the character Nicolas Cage plays in this movie.

His character is dating a prostitute who he uses to score drugs off of her customers.  He has a recovering alcoholic father he rarely makes time to see and generally does not have a very sunny disposition.

The movies follows this character as he tries to solve the murder of a family of 5 Sengalese immigrants in New Orleans.  Through the process he takes more drugs and gets involved with many more illicit characters along the way.  These people help to propel the story along and Cage's character tries to get them to help him solve this murder.  As the movie goes on it becomes less and less about the solving of this case and more about a character study of this character and how he became this "bad lieutenant."  He didn't start out this way and it seems he is not "bad" to his core.  However, it is hard to tell this as the character study is given a pretty one note performance by Cage.  The supporting cast seems to be there for no other reason than to either provide more ways for Cage's character to mess up or to help him, although neither are really successful.

This movie had potential and an intriguing possible storyline but it ultimately fails to deliver as Cage and the rest of the performances aren't as nuanced as they need to be for this material.  Not to mention it seems unclear the style the director is going for and interrupts with movie watching process with weird collage scenes.  This movie just could have been better and I would say it ultimately probably not worth your time.

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