Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (7/10/12)

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In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a couple decides to have a procedure to have the other erased from their memory after their relationship goes on the rocks but things don’t go quite as they planned.

After taking an unplanned trip to Montauk, shy, tightly-wound Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) meets Clementine (Kate Winslet), a free spirited woman with bright dyed hair. The two form an instant connection. Later on, after the relationship has soured, Joel finds out that Clementine has had him erased from her memory and decides to have the same procedure to erase her. After things do not go as planned during Joel’s procedure, more is revealed about Joel and Clementine’s relationship through Joel’s memories as another man, Patrick (ElijahWood) tries to take Joel’s place.

After watching Being John Malkovich, I decided to watch another of Charlie Kaufman’s films, this one directed by Michel Gondry. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kaufman’s unique sense of humor and penchant for odd stories that are also touching. Joel and Clementine’s relationship is something I certainly identified with, I see a little of myself inside Joel and I’ve known girls similar to Clementine. The procedure to erase certain memories from one’s mind is a very interesting concept that will likely leave you wondering if you would have anyone erased and why.

One thing I’ve found turns people off of Eternal Sunshine… is Jim Carrey. While comedians in serious dramatic roles is not always a good thing, in this case it works quite well. Joel is a somber, serious individual but we do see him joking around too. Carrey is almost totally subdued here and does quite well, perhaps even outshining the always fantastic Winslet. When the film begins to come to its climax near the end, and things begin to get a bit weird, Gondry’s direction really shines. He’s a director I’ve never been overly impressed by but Eternal Sunshine… works well with him at the helm.

I absolutely adore Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but it’s not a film I could watch very often. That’s not to say it’s depressing or sad on its own but it stays with you long after the credits roll. As a Kaufman film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind infinitely smart and charming and weird but it ranks among one of his best and maybe his most accessible.

I give it 5 Clementine’s hair colors out of 5.

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Being John Malkovich (7/10/12)

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A puppeteer takes a part time job in an unusual office and finds a portal that allows the person see what it’s like Being John Malkovich.

Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is an out-of-work puppeteer living with his wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz). He decides to get a job and lands one on the 7 1/2 floor of a building in a strange office. There, he meets Maxine (Catherine Keener) and immediately falls for her. One day while filing, Craig discovers a boarded up hole in the wall and decides to venture inside. The hole, he learns, puts him inside John Malkovich’s head for about 15 minutes before dumping him onto the New Jersey turnpike. After inviting Maxine and Lotte to also try being Malkovich, things get even more bizarre and John Malkovich himself gets involved.

To call Being John Malkovich a weird film is certainly an understatement, but the film is also incredibly sharp and funny. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is one of the most talented minds writing for film and his style meshes with director Spike Jonze’s perfectly here. Kaufman has such an odd sense of story and humor and Jonze captures this perfectly in Being John Malkovich as well as Adaptation. It has been too long since I had seen the film and I had forgotten how absolutely hilarious it is. It’s so deliciously absurd but it works so brilliantly.

John Cusack and Cameron Diaz are both almost unrecognizable in their roles here, Diaz more so. While I have a special fondness for Cusack, in Being John Malkovich his role just seems made for him. John Malkovich really shines here as well and it’s hard to picture any other actor in his role after watching the film. Some of the camera techniques used are also brilliant, particularly when someone is inside Malkovich. Even if the humor doesn’t strike you, the film may still be interesting and enjoyable, but the dark sense of humor is critical here.

As a recently released Criterion Collection film, the Blu-Ray for Being John Malkovich shines. I had always hated something about the previous DVD transfer of the film, it always seemed too dark or something. The Blu-Ray has remarkable clarity and picture quality, not to even mention the sound or extras. As with all Criterion releases, the entire package is the definitive version of the film to view or own. Being John Malkovich is one of the stranger films ever released, but I enjoyed it immensely.

I give it 5 John Cusack and Catherine Keener marionettes out of 5.

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Cold Sweat [1970] (7/8/12)

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In Cold Sweat, a man’s new life falls apart when he is visited by a man from his past and has to protect his wife and daughter.

Joe Martin (Charles Bronson) lives in France with his wife, Fabienne (Liv Ullman) and young daughter. One day, he comes home and receives a strange call. Shortly after, a group of men break into the house and we find out the Joe Martin’s real name is Moran and he is was in the army and an ex-con. The group of men used to work with him, but ended up going to jail and have been holding a grudge. When the men kidnap Fabienne and their daughter, it’s up to Joe to get them back and exact his revenge.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I love Charles Bronson. He’s not the greatest actor ever, but there’s something about him that simply mesmerizes me while he’s on screen and he’s just such a badass all the time. It must get exhausting being that awesome. In Cold Sweat, Bronson is just playing a vengeful father that he would perfect in his 1974 outing, Death Wish.

Cold Sweat itself starts off pretty strong and then gets lost in its own plot and tries to focus on things that aren’t important instead of just giving us some action, car chases and great Bronson badassery. The car chases alone are almost worth watching the whole movie, actually. While they aren’t some of the greatest chases in cinematic history, they may be the best thing about this film. Sometimes it’s fun to just turn off your brain and watch a kinda-sorta cheesy action movie and Cold Sweat fits the bill. As far as Charles Bronson movies go, if you’re a fan like me, it’s not too shabby, but without Bronson, this movie would be no fun.

I give it 3 Charles Bronson (the hardcore band) set to the best parts of Cold Sweats out of 5.

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The Battle of Algiers (7/7/12)

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The Battle of Algiers is a film that details a few  key years of the Algerian War to liberate the North African country from the French government.

The plot of The Battle of Algiers centers around the formation of a guerrilla revolutionary group (the FLN) in the Casbah and eventually the civil war for Algerian independence. The story is told as a flashback from the perspective of Ali, a leading FLN member who is about to be captured at the beginning of the film. After the war began and progressed, the French Government used increasingly extreme measures to stop the liberation front and although they win the battle of Algiers, they do not win the war (history spoiler alert).

The Battle of Algiers is one of the most interesting and powerful films I have ever seen. While it is a film, the style of shooting is so closely documentarian that it’s almost scary. Some actual footage is spliced with the film to add an eerie depth of realism. The end result is something that is unlike almost any film I’ve watched before. I was unaware of most of the general history of the independence of Algeria so the film acts as a history lesson as well.

A positive of not knowing much of the history behind the film is that the contents of the Criterion set includes an enormous amount of extra content. In fact, the Blu-Ray set for The Battle of Algiers is two discs and the entire second disc is a history lesson. In addition to an entire disc of learning, the booklet included is much larger than normal and also includes historic accounts of the film’s events. It’s a remarkable set and should be seen by everyone, regardless of knowledge of the Algerian War. Watching the film first then boning up on the real events is ideal since it will bolster your appreciation of what you just viewed.

The Battle of Algiers is a film that has to be seen to be appreciated. The unique style of the film is interesting and the events, while historical, still have strong meaning today. Go buy the Criterion and spend an afternoon getting educated through film.

I give it 5 “Long Live Algeria!”s out of 5.

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The Rum Diary (7/6/12)

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Based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel, The Rum Diary is about writer Paul Kemp’s employment for a Puerto Rican newspaper.

Taking place in the 1960s, Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) arrives in Puerto Rico as an American wrtier that has been unsuccessful and gets a job at a newspaper in San Juan. Kemp stays at a hotel where he meets Sala (Michael Rispoli) and also runs into beautiful Chenault (Amber Heard). Later, Kemp meets with Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a realtor trying to convert Puerto Rico for his own benefit. Kemp moves in with Sala and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi) and then has to decide whether or not to help Sanderson or side with the locals.

In reflecting on The Rum Diary it’s actually quite difficult to detail the plot for a few reasons; it’s confusing for no reason and it’s also fairly uninteresting. Now, I love Hunter S. Thompson and his work but this movie is disappointing. While Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, also starring Depp as Thompson, was hilarious and perfectly captures Thompson’s gonzo style, The Rum Diary seemingly tries to remove itself from this and focuses on the beauty of Puerto Rico.

I will admit that I haven’t read The Rum Diary, but if it’s anything like the film, I have no interest in it anymore. Perhaps the faults of the film are due to the novel’s, Thompson was young when he wrote it and maybe he had not quite honed his craft. Or perhaps the film is lazy and doesn’t care about telling the story, I’m not sure. The sad thing, is that the film starts off strong and then my attention started waning near the midpoint and then two of the longest hours of my life later, The Rum Diary was over and I wanted to watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Of course, The Rum Diary is not a total failure, just a misfire. The acting is all well done, and Depp plays a cool mixture of a suave young guy and threw in a few of Thompson’s traits. The scenery of the island is stunning and is offset by the seedier parts of town which is so contrasting that it’s almost a distraction. If I had the chance to read The Rum Diary, I would certainly take that over watching The Rum Diary again. At times the film had my laughing but for the most part I was staring waiting for the end. Possibly my biggest disappointment of the year.

I give it 3 “try and look normal”s out of 5.

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Sword of the Stranger (7/5/12)

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In Sword of the Stranger, a nameless ronin helps a young boy fleeing officials with the companionship of his dog.

Kotaro is a young boy on the run from a group of swordsman for reasons unknown traveling with his dog. He meets a ronin without a name, haunted by visions of his past and unwilling to draw his sword as a result. The man helps the boy and when the dog is poisoned, the boy hires the ronin to help them. When a blonde foreigner looking for a worthy opponent finds the ronin and the boy, the clash unravels the mystery of why the boy is sought after and the story of the ronin.

I believe Sword of the Stranger is the first Japanese anime I’ve watched this year. It’s not that I dislike anime, there are just so many similar ones out there that I’ve become somewhat disinterested. I was browsing through Hulu Plus films and this one caught my eye so I gave it a shot. I actually liked it quite a bit, in spite of being a bit generic at times. The animation is spectacular and the voice-acting (I watched the English dubbed version) was serviceable. One of the key dynamics of the story is feuding between China and Japan, which is something I don’t think I have ever seen addressed in anime before.

If you’re in the mood for a bloody samurai movie and don’t mind them being of the animated variety, you could certainly do worse than Sword of the Stranger. While parts may dazzle, it likely won’t blow you away but it’s enjoyable and the story is certainly above average.

I give it 3 sparking sword fights out of 5.

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Pulp Fiction (7/5/12)

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Pulp Fiction tells the tales of  several different completely different, but completely intertwining events.

It would be impossible for me to detail the entirety of Pulp Fiction’s plot(s) in just one paragraph so I’ll keep it high-level. Story line #1: There are two robbers (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) at a diner planning to rob it. Story Line #2: Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) both work for Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) as hit men, and Vincent has to take Marsellus’ wife, Mia (Uma Thurman),out. Story Line #3: Marsellus tries to fix a fight with boxer, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis). All of these story lines intersect at least once, continuously adding to the cast of memorable characters.

While not his first film, Pulp Fiction is what firmly placed Quentin Tarantino as a name to watch and remains high on the favorites list of many. Pulp Fiction itself is an absolute wonder to watch, a film that is simple in theory yet complex in execution. The characters (and there are a ton of characters) are incredibly memorable and even if you haven’t seen the film before, you will likely understand several popular culture references that came as a result. The early scene with Jules and Vincent talking about burgers is particularly memorable.

There are more than a few times, if you look hard enough, when the production values of Pulp Fiction show the film’s budget constraints. Luckily, this doesn’t detract from Pulp Fiction. If anything, the production cements the themes of the stories all being pulp novels. If the film was being made now it would likely suffer from “too many celebrity syndrome”, a term I am coining right now where the film suffers because it tries to cram too many big names and it just doesn’t work (an example is New Year’s Eve).

Pulp Fiction is a raw movie that will keep you guessing, even if you know what’s going to happen you likely don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen. Not as narratively complex as a Nolan film, Tarantino’s style is in perfect form here. Do yourself a favor and watch Pulp Fiction, whether it be for the first time or the tenth.

I give it 5 “Donuts, I got donuts…Hey, I know you!”s out of 5.
(it’s one of my favorite Simpsons lines and it’s a Pulp Fiction reference)

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