sixteen-miles


Blood Simple (1984)
June 11, 2015, 8:58 am
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Blood Simple (1984)
Directed By: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086979/
★★★★☆

Blood Simple is the first film in The Coen Brothers dynasty. And boy, did they hit the ground running. It’s hard to think of any other directors that put out such well regarded films with the same kind of consistency. Not to put Blood Simple down, but it only gets better from here.

It’s a film about deceitful people who all think they are on top of the game. Until they find out they are clueless. Until events beyond their control and their own mistakes come together. A circle of manipulation that ends with you either dead, or wondering what the fuck just happened. It’s a conceit that you might think you’ve heard before. And that’s because this isn’t the last time The Coen’s made this film.

The Coen Brothers have developed a reputation as weavers of the complex. Simple people get caught up in events far above them, with only a piece of the plot to hold onto. A labyrinth of connections tied together. It could be contrived if it didn’t all make perfect sense.

Maybe the film lacks the high-budget polish of later Coen films. But it still looks great. It’s dark and brooding. Lit by streetlights and headlights. Or whatever neon buzz is illuminating Marty’s bar.



Sexy Beast (2000)
May 28, 2015, 9:52 am
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Sexy Beast (2000)
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0203119/
★★★☆☆

Sexy Beast opens with Gal (Winstone) soaking up sun by his villa pool. A boulder rolls down the hill and misses him by an inch, landing in the water. It crushes his heart, laid out in tiles. He was an inch away from death, but it missed him. Death blew past him. An immovable object, buried at the bottom of the pool.

This is the film.

Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) is the boulder. The immovable object. Death. He is spite. He is volatile, ferocious, unflinching hate. He is a trained attack dog. Sits calm, but at any moment he will snap. You see it in his eyes. Any moment. Everyone in the room is overcome by the tension of this monster’s presence. It is in the atmosphere.

Gal is retired. He just wants to soak in the sun and drink and eat with his wife and friends. Logan represents a heist-job. The criminal world that Gal left behind. Logan travels to Spain to recruit Gal for one more job. It’s not an inspiring premise, but the film is not about the criminal world. It’s not even about the heist. It’s about Gal and Logan. Driven by the performances of these powerhouse characters and the struggle between them.

As angry and erratic as Logan is, it is with his words that he becomes true terror. He wheedles his way into the mind. He plants manipulative seeds in the roots of the brain. We get the impression that simple things in life, become conflict for Logan. He is a tornado that sweeps up the world, tosses it around and then. The boulder gives a hint to how his story ends.

Sexy Beast is not a flashy film. For a film about gangsters it is sparse of the usual violence and hangs on tense dialogue. Glazer has filled the screen with subtle absurdities that are true of his style. They either bark forth from Kingsley’s mouth or wisp in on a dream sequence. The film is tight and concise and Winstone and Kingsley pull it off.



Bottle Rocket (1996)
May 27, 2015, 8:26 am
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Bottle Rocket (1996)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115734/
★★☆☆☆

Bottle Rocket is the first film by Wes Anderson. He has come a long way since. Bottle Rocket has none of the signature charm or visual style that came later. The obsessive symmetry is not noticeable here. But the film does serve to show how Anderson has evolved as a writer/director. It does have dysfunctional characters putting themselves into wild situations (or not so wild).

The film opens with Dignan (Wilson) breaking Anthony (Wilson) out of a mental hospital. A volunteer mental hospital where the patients are free to leave. The two then pull off a burglary. A burglary of Anthony’s own house. They are the masterminds of unnecessary crime.

Though it isn’t all for nothing. The two characters are building up to the big-time. It is all for practice, and all to impress a local crime organisation. The middle third of the film becomes a little confused. The character’s go on the run after pulling off a local library heist. The film slacks into a romance. Like most of the film’s internal crimes, it is unnecessary. It meanders, but comes together again for the end.

With such a low budget, everything rides on the script. Everything rides on the performances of the Wilson brothers. It rides on dialogue. Bottle Rocket is a great low-budget first film. But it pales in comparison to everything Anderson did after.



Delicatessen (1991)
May 22, 2015, 12:53 pm
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delicatessen

Delicatessen (1991)
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101700/
★★★★☆

Jean-Pierre Jeunet tapped into the nerve of the mainstream with Amelie. The easy-listening of French cinema. But before this, he worked with collaborator Marc Caro. Together they put out two surrealist, Gilliam-esque, dystopian black-comedies. The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen.

Delicatessen is a hard film to categorise. Sci-Fi? Horror? Comedy? It’s all and none of them at the same time. At it’s heart though, it is a love story set in a dystopia where food is sparse.

Louison is a circus clown who takes up the job of local handyman after the last disappears. He moves into an apartment above the delicatessen. Here he falls in love with the butcher’s daughter.

It doesn’t take long for the truth to come out. The reason the butcher is so rich in meat in a world where food is rare? And the reason the last handy-man disappeared? The strings tie together.

This conceit is a simple bare-bones structure. It serves to hold together a cast of bizarre characters. The way they interact with each other in this post-apocalypse carnival world. That is the real charm of the film.

Jeunet has an unparalleled cinematic style in all his films. A style that he cultivated here. And it’s clear that the character’s are characters of heart. They are ripped from the pages of children’s books. These are the inventions of Jeunet. They carry forward into all his future excursions.

But Caro brings a head to the film. He brings a surreal, dream sci-fi that isn’t seen in any of Jeunet’s solo work (and it is missed).  It’s the collaboration of this heart and head that makes Delicatessen work. It’s not crucial that the film is set in this desolate garbage-world. But it adds to the film’s style in a way that separates it from the film it could have been.

Jeunet and Caro make their best work together. Delicatessen is part of the minuscule body of  work that proves that.



Killing Them Softly (2012)
May 20, 2015, 9:46 am
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Killing Them Softly (2012)
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1764234/
★★☆☆☆

Killing Them Softly is a film that showed brief (emphasis on brief) moments of being something greater than it was. If it had a braver editor. It’s not a long film, clocking in at 97 minutes. But so much of that was aimless, meandering dialogue that should be dead on the cutting room floor.

When the film does hit, it hits hard. There are some powerful visual scenes. A brutal beating in a rainy car park. A drive-by execution. A drifting, kaleidoscopic heroin interrogation. But these are the gems in a rough of film that is unsure about what it is, and what it wants to be.

In the end it’s hard to feel like the film is not trying to cash in on your nostalgia for the better performances of it’s actors. Pitt, Liotta, Gandolfini. It’s a patchwork, cut together from pieces of crime films past. Hard to feel like you haven’t seen the film before in it’s contemporaries. Reminiscent of other modern crime films; Revolver (Another Liotta piece) or Lucky Number Slevin. But they are smarter and braver and have a more cohesive style.

Killing Them Softly is a film unsure of itself. And it’s noticeable.



Badlands (1973)
May 19, 2015, 2:07 pm
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badlands

Badlands (1973)
Directed by: Terence Malick
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069762/
★★★★★

This begins a Terence Malick love affair that will stretch for decades. Badlands is a film of strange personal morality. A beautiful road movie through the waste of America, following the killing spree of two drifting souls. Holly and Kit are creatures of vague motivation. Bored of the tedium of civilisation they break out into the wilderness in a violent spiral towards death. Framed in the macro-beauty of nature. For Holly it is unclear why she is so willing to follow Kit down this path of self-destruction. This is no Mickey and Mallory relationship. It becomes clear these characters hold no true love for each other. Only an interest (or fascination?). But for Kit it is about forging an element of fame or iconography of himself. He leaves a constant trail of ‘himself’ as they go. A trail of his morality, recording messages to tape for potential child fans who look up to him as an idol. “Listen to your parents and teachers. They got a line on most things, so don’t treat em like enemies.” he says. This whole ordeal is a quest to find importance. To impart a mark on the world. Kit punctuates each action with strange justification and reasoning that Holly accepts. She doesn’t question him, but doesn’t understand him either. The two blaze out into this personal heaven, knowing that it is all temporary. Knowing and preparing for the explosive end. Malick as a director has a way of splashing human brutality onto the frame of nature. A film about killing where the takeaway imagery is an aching, fading sun through grass and leaves. Badlands marks the beginning of Malickian cinematography. Film-makers have imitated and emulated this aesthetic style (but never as well) to an extent where it has become pastiche. But it began here. This is a beautiful film about brutal, disconnected people.



Inherent Vice (2014)
May 18, 2015, 3:05 pm
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inherent-vice-3

Inherent Vice (2014)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1791528/
★★★★☆

Inherent Vice is a film that drops you in at the deep end. It pulls you into a sudden, twisted haze of neon confusion. Everything is happening around you whether you keep up or not. Whether you remember it or not. Whether it is important or not.

The film invites you, the viewer, to share in the confusion with the protagonist, Doc. If you let it wash over you, the film is an easy watch in a world that is cool and inviting. If you let the confusion consume you then the film is a headache that will push and pull at your brain until you can’t take it any more.

It is an easy watch, but not an easy story, because the puzzle is too complex. The puzzle contains parts that we can’t see, and in some sense Doc himself is a part of the puzzle that he is trying to figure out. Character’s enter the scene to drop clues and muddy the waters, then disappear again. We can’t tell if the information they give is help or harm, or even true. One character states the Golden Fang is a boat, another states the Golden Fang is a triad, another states the Golden Fang is a conglomerate of dentists. It all builds into this confused mess of frustration that we experience alongside Doc. And this is okay. This is the point of the film. It helps if you know this going into it.

Paul Thomas Anderson has developed a reputation for making bold films. And he makes them in an uncompromising way that can’t resonate with all viewers. This has split the critical response to Inherent Vice like hippies and squares.

Like many (all) PTA films it is a film that opens up like a flower with repeat viewing. It is a film about mood and it takes a viewing just to soak up the cinematography. But in all honesty, the story falls into place in the end.

Things click and make sense. You dig?