2010 Archives - Page 2 of 31 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Oliver Stone: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

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Oliver Stone returns to the economic battleground of Wall Street in Money Never Sleeps, the 2010 sequel which takes place during the crash of 2008.  Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan star opposite a returning Michael Douglas to see if greed is still good.Spelling it outAndrewCommentaryBannerWhen we were first starting out in this partnership with Akira Kurosawa you and I tried to place his movies into historical context where appropriate.  There's no avoiding it with Oliver Stone's movies because what he creates is so tied with what is going on in America at that time.  Keeping this in mind, releasing a sequel to Wall Street right after the horrific '08 collapse seems like he's playing an Ace he's had hidden for years and considering the way our action films evolved into schizophrenic paranoia with their editing he could have slipped into JFK mode along the way and might have had another cultural touchstone.

Instead, that same historical context morphs the film from one that is pleasing if dull to one that earns my hatred.  If you divorce this film from American history and Stone's filmography it is a well acted tale about how elder's put up a false front to protect the innocent and those that don't know any better.  Gordon Gekko, once again played by the commanding Michael Douglas, becomes someone who teaches these youngin's a lesson in hubris and how quickly all that money can go away.  Carey Mulligan continues to charm and Shia LaBeouf gets through the film without taking any embarrassing pratfalls.

But the film plays as an optimistic distraction in light of Stone's career and the hardships under the recession makes it intolerably naïve.  Instead of writing the screenplay himself the task was given to Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, responsible for such hard-hitting films like So Undercover and The Switch, and they completely defang Gordon Gekko.  He's a caricature now, a once prominent businessman who squeaks out "Buy my book" and someone willing to abandon his pregnant daughter the next.  Loeb and Schiff completely abandon the consistent menace of the "Greed is good" Gekko and write him with no consistency to offer blunt emotional impact depending on what each scene needs.  Mulligan and LaBeouf's characters are entirely dependent on Gekko to move from A to B so whatever they bring to the table is negligible.

The worst part is that there is almost none of Stone's signature style to this film outside of what he, expectantly, lifts from his earlier film.  Visually the setting starts in opulence and stays that way so we don't even get the story of progress seen in the background of Sheen's tale.  There's nothing as outrageous and sudden as the big success makeover and most of the film takes place in what feels like the same room with the same characters whispering about money under dim lighting conditions.  I suppose there's a meta point that could be made where a film about greed is also about the same old horrible people making the same decisions leading us to the same conclusion, but that would need more acknowledgement of history than Gekko showing up and reminding us how great Douglas is.

Considering this is a man who had recently been making a lot of documentaries, Stone really should have known better.


Milwaukee Film Festival – Tchoupitoulas and Klown

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Tchoupitoulas (2/5)

Tchoupitoulas takes the form of a documentary following three young brothers through the New Orleans nightlife, though it plays more like a collection of extra footage from a documentary, and many of the scenes lack a feeling of authenticity. The one thing the filmmakers have done incredibly well is evoke a distinct and haunting tone with some beautiful shots of empty and abandoned areas that contrast the vibrancy of the rest of those they encounter. The one scene truly worth seeing features the boys coming across what appears to be an abandoned cruise ship at an empty dock and exploring the inside of it with equal measures excitement and fear.

This is all too little spread too thin, however, with the rest of the movie regarding everything they see and everyone they meet with a detached monotony mistaken for dreamlike cinema vérité—here are scenes that should showcase some of the most interesting people and unique locales that one could hope to find, and yet much of the time it's like the filmmakers accidentally left the camera on after their initial interactions, and what we're seeing is the bored aftermath. Conversations with those encountered and/or more time spent with the three young men who act as our de facto guides through the city would have made for a genuinely interesting experience, but somehow they've managed to make New Orleans seem boring.http://www.cinefamily.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/klown1.jpg

Klown (4/5)

Klown is a ruthless, uncomfortable, vulgar, and sometimes mean-spirited comedy based on the Danish TV series of the same name. It's also hilarious. The movie concerns three characters: Frank Hvam and and his friend Casper Christensen (both played by actors of the same names—if I were an actor in this movie, in these roles, I would not be using my real name), and Frank's 12-year-old nephew Bo. Frank is, simply put, an idiot. He is so clueless as to his own actions and their repercussions that it's a credit to the acting that we kind of believe this is a character that could exist. Casper is like a combination of Thomas Hayden Church's character in Sideways and Bradley Cooper's general demeanor in The Hangover, and his reckless bravado propels the two into a number of situations the likes of which cannot be described here. The two find themselves on a debaucherous canoe trip—the endpoint of which can only tastefully be described as a very diverse international bordello run by the elderly leader of their book club—saddled with Bo, who Frank has essentially kidnapped in order to prove to his pregnant girlfriend that he has “father potential.” And if you think the premise sounds tasteless, just watch the movie.

If Klown were even one degree less committed to its utter irresponsibility, if there were any attempts at all made to mitigate or soften the offensive nature of the events, it would fall apart. It works so well in part because it makes so few cliched attempts to change or redeem the characters, who are essentially faced with one sitcom situation after another. An American version of the film would see Frank finally “getting it” in the third act and making valiant efforts to become a father figure to Bo—what's so funny about Klown is that Frank thinks he “gets it” all along. When he realizes at the end that some of his actions have hurt the young boy, his solution to make up for it is such an irresponsible version of the “character turns things around with a grand, understanding gesture” cliché that it's clear the filmmakers are consciously subverting the format. It's certainly not for everyone—some of the jokes are a bit too mean or malicious for their own good, and I don't know that I even want to see it again—but the actors sell it all in a way that's downright impressive, and for the most part very funny.

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Milwaukee Film Festival – Goodbye and Beyond the Black Rainbow

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With the half-way point of Kurosawa's career reached last week, Kyle and I have decided to take a break.  For the next week Kyle will be sharing his thoughts from the Milwaukee Film Festival.  We'll return with our Kurosawa coverage on 10/19.  For now, here's Kyle!

So the Milwaukee Film Festival is going on right now and I'm trying to see as many movies as I can. The selection of films is surprisingly large and varied, so I've tried to pick something from each program, and wound up with quite a few from The Onion/A.V. Club Milwaukee's roster, appropriately titled “Cinema Hooligante.” They also have a special ad produced each year by a local advertising agency to recognize all of the festival sponsors that plays before each movie, and this year's includes what looks to be a Jerry Garcia wizard driving around the city in a VW minibus with a projector on the top. That's a little part of the festival everyone should experience, so you're welcome. The ratings out of 5 accompanying each movie are what I gave them on the Audience Award ballot.


Space Dogs (2010)

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We finally come to the animated film which, at least at passing glance, looks so bad that it's caused my fellow critics and commentators alike to question my sanity.  Yes, it did look like a horrible direct-to-DVD monstrosity with sub-Playstation modeling quality and the intent of providing an experience at the dead bottom of the uncanny valley.  Now, some time after the credits drew to a close, I reflect on just how accurate these initial reactions were, and how unfair.

Instead of being a studio production churning out a faceless product, Space Dogs is actually a poorly dubbed edit of a Russian film titled Belka & Strelka - Star Dogs.  This doesn't make the film any less of a bland experience, at least after a hallucinatory first act, but helps frame the context of watching Space Dogs.  At the very least, this gives Space Dogs a twinge of American racism that I wasn't expecting.

Don't be misled, this is not a good film, but I can't in good conscious say I disliked it because of how at-odds the animation and dubbing were.  There are no visual indicators indicating the kind of racial stereotypes that come out in the vocal performances and what words made it onto the audio track bear little resemblance to the reality of the film.

I have to use reality very loosely as any film which wraps up stardust, a circus, gangster dogs, and a seesaw into the same five minutes is already out of sync with itself (unless you're watching a forgotten Jodorowsky film).


Redemption Road (2010)

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There are fewer talents working in film today that confuse me as much as Mario Van Peebles.  Son of the legendary Melvin (he of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and Classified X), Mario has skirted around the controversial subject matter his father confronted and instead positioned himself as an earnest, but bland, filmmaker.  It's not entirely fair to compare the works of someone who starred in Solo (not Salo, please don't make that mistake) to someone who learned French to defy a racist film system, but I have to wonder where Mario is coming from and Melvin is the only reasonable starting point.

I'm more worried now than before because Mario at least had something interesting to work with in All Things Fall Apart.  That's not a film which set the critical and cultural scales on fire, but at least displayed a humbling side of a lucky superstar who had the level of self-reflection to know how lucky he is.  Redemption Road, by a nearly embarrassing contrast, centers around a self-important Blues playing drifter who is the victim in his and everyone else's life, but also the redeemer.

Morgan Simpson, who is the producer, screenwriter, and star of the film, has nothing important to say about his own life, let alone those unfortunate enough to get caught in his wake.  In a film which allows Luke Perry to don a tanktop and do an unfortunately timed impersonation of Justified's Boyd Crowder, we get to see a sad man perform the most standardized and defanged blues possible.  There is no sin committed here by others which has not been already gone through Morgan's list of actions, which only further underlines the pathetic attempts to elicit our sympathies for him.