Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: April 2011

Black Book (NOT Little Black Book, that god awful Brittany Murphy movie)

Paul Verhoeven has a wacky track record. He made Robocop, Total Recall, the smarter than expected Starship Troopers, and the disgustingly uncomfortable Showgirls. With a list like that, guessing what any of his other movies are like is a crapshoot. After a break from Hollow Man, Verhoeven went back to Europe to make Black Book.

Black Book stars Carice van Houten as Rachel Stein, a Jewish woman hiding in Nazi controlled Netherlands at the end of World War II. When her hiding place disappears, she lives on the run. While doing so, she learns of an opportunity to make it out of Nazi controlled territory. When her attempt ends with her family killed and her as the sole survivor, she finds her way to the Dutch Resistance. They take her in and give her a job, but their plans require her assistance. Now she must go undercover to learn as much as she can about the Germans’ movements and plans to better suit the Resistance’s cause.

Verhoeven outdoes himself with this one. A man who isn’t afraid to put sexuality in his films, here he exercises restraint. Instead of being a foreign language Nazi-Showgirls hybrid, he puts the weight on emotional intimacy. Yes, there is sex and there is nudity, but it isn’t gratuitous. It moves the story along (with exception of the hair dye seen that is). Being a foreign film and not an American film, the sex isn’t stylized to look like erotica. It emphasizes the sex and gore of the movie only for emotion purposes. A concept many movies today don’t do. Like, why is that girl running around nude in My Bloody Valentine 3D?! It served no purpose.

Rachel is a broken woman, a singer before the war forced silent because of her beliefs. And seeing her family die, she carries a lot on her shoulders. Van Houten excels at showing her fear and determination in her face. Sebastian Koch (who plays the Nazi she seduces) conveys a tragic hero throughout the film. He’s a Nazi, but he isn’t a monster. He has compassion and consideration, unlike many of his peers. When the war comes to an end, Koch’s character sees a whole different side of things, which Koch demonstrates with conviction.

I love this movie. It would have won had it been nominated for Best Foreign Language at the Academy Awards the year of its release, but it wasn’t chosen. This is a great epic film. It has love, espionage, murder, war, and betrayal (everything a period piece epic needs to succeed). The story is rich and explores a place where we often don’t visit in WWII movies. I think this movie is vastly superior to Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tarantino. I just have trouble enjoying anything he did more than the Kill Bills (AS ONE FILM) and Pulp Fiction.

If you enjoy big budget war-dramas, this is your next rental. It’s in a foreign language (I feel the need to stress this), but that only makes the film more credible. Plus, you all need to watch more foreign language movies (but that’s another post all together). 4.5 out of 5 stars

Critical Update

I apologize y’all, I have recently been doing copious other things, neglecting you. I want you to know that from this point forward, all new release reviews will now be on my Examiner.com profile. But fear not, this blog will live on! I will continue to update with reviews of older films and essays about film. Thank you for each and everyone’s support.

All-time Favorite Films

Every movie nerd has his holy grail list of all time favorites. I used to have hundreds of top five lists stored mentally. As my fascination, and ultimately obsession, with film grew, my tastes changed. Having previously discussed the difference of favorite versus best, I can now dive head first into my list of my top ten films. Below are my desert island, top ten films (as of April 2011). Though once in a while a new title will replace one of these listed below, this are my favorites. Every once in a while, I’m going to dust off one of my favorites and review them for you. Partly to relive the joy of my favorite movies, and partly to offer more in-depth analysis and stories I have for each of them. The films included will be:

1. One Hour Photo

2. Twister

3. The Exorcist

4. High Fidelity

5. Teeth

6. Wendy and Lucy

7. Vanilla Sky

8. Southland Tales

9. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

10. Session 9

Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal has been a bit hit-and-miss lately. Prince of Persia fell flat and, though Love and Other Drugs was a pleasant movie, it didn’t gain the traction the studio was expecting. But this time around, he seems ready to make this one work taking pieces from his earlier films with him.

Source Code stars Gyllenhaal as Army Captain Colter Stevens. Stevens has been chosen to participate in the source code program. The program means he is to be isolated and reinserted into someone else’s final moments. Stevens is given the last 8 minutes of a train ride into Chicago to find what happened to the train he is on. Who bombed the train and why?

Stevens has to keep going back, over and over, reliving the same 8 minutes like a mash-up of Unstoppable and Groundhog Day. No matter what he does, the past can’t change. Though he saves one woman’s life, the next time he goes in she is back on the train like he is. Things haven’t changed. Despite figuring out what happened before the bomber strikes again, he also wants to save her.

Source Code borrows heavily from a slew of movies about being trapped in the past. Elements of The Time Machine and 12 Monkeys are the most obvious. But where borrowing from other films can lead to a shallow homage, this film has enough to stand on its own. Gyllenhaal’s seems to bring pieces of Donnie Darko and his Jarhead role to the table, giving him a well-developed character for him to explore.

However, the film ultimately goes on a predictable course. Despite being committed to the role, and backed by a great supporting cast of Jeffrey Wright, Vera Farmiga, and Michelle Monaghan, Gyllenhaal can get the film to soar where it could. It’s a solid science-fiction/action/time-travel film. I was just hoping for a something a bit stronger. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Limitless

This year has been a rather lackluster year so far for film. Very few movies have been fun, even fewer were well-made. With exceptions to The Lincoln Lawyer and Cedar Rapids, everything has felt mediocre at best. Limitless, directed by Neil Burger, is just as good as those two; a film better than most of the market’s current options.

Limitless stars Bradley Cooper as Edward Mora, a writer struggling to overcome writer’s block that is delaying the finishing of his book. His life is a mess, and he can’t seem to get anything done. But after a random encounter with his ex-brother-in-law, Mora’s life turns around. He takes a pill called NZT and his world opens up. Where he could already access a normal part of his brain, NZT gives him complete use of his gray matter. His learning curve becomes unnaturally fast and he finds himself exponentially more productive.

Everything starts to come back around. His girlfriend, played by Abbie Cornish comes back and he moves up multiple tax brackets from his day trading. After he gets a chance to work for a big company, problems arise. What happens when the drug runs out?

Cooper does a great job in a simple and fast-paced film. He embodies the role with earnestness and lets the film develop around him. Fortunately, the script and direction can keep up with him and make the film a completely absorbing film.
One interesting detail was the correlation between his hair length and power. The less hair, the more powerful. I found it a nice but bizarre touch.

Before

After

The film is really intriguing. The concept of a wonder-drug that could make us super smart is a great plot device. Though based on the book of the same title, the movie feels complete and competent on its own. Though the film has some flash and spectacle to its shine, the strength is Cooper’s performance. Nothing in this film feels forced and the ending doesn’t cheat the rest of the narrative like many films do today. A stylized but engaging film, definitely one to watch. 3.5 out of 5 stars.