Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snake Eyes (1998)

It's easy to roll your eyes or shrug when it comes to, respectively, Nicholas Cage and Brian DePalma.  I feel no need to point out their uneven, sometimes reckless careers, their stubborn unwillingness to behave, their bizarre turns as actor and director.  But together in Snake Eyes something almost perfect happens--and sure it's reckless and bizarre, like the man said; but also (as each has managed before and since) so aggressive in knowing this that I grin and more than bear it.  From the famous opening sequence--a continuous shot that could be a pretty good short-subject thriller on its own--to the determined use of space--that mazelike convention center buffeted by winds and bad guys--to Cage's own headlong rush into everything DePalma throws at him--including Gary Sinise, following up his krazy kidnapping kop in 1996's Ransom (where Sinise was able to withstand a ride on another madman's roller coaster, the always-caffeinated Mel Gibson*)--Snake Eyes conjures, one more time, the Cage/DePalma alternate universe of sight, sound, and Outer Limits emoting that means nothing except a little world made deliriously by two of the stalwarts of this kind of good craziness.

*And don't look to me if you want Mel-bashing; I'm with Robert Downey, Jr. on this; hug the cactus, people:

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Thin Red Line (1998)

As we head toward the Oscar nominations, I'm hoping Terence Malick's The Tree of Life isn't overlooked.  In some ways it is a "difficult" movie—shifting from the cosmic to the mundane with nary a violin crescendo to warn us, its narrative structure committed to the conceit that what we are seeing is all memory, personal as well as collective-unconsciously.  For others, though, it's what Roger Ebert recently in a blog entry on the movie Contact referred to (with some affection) as "New Age woo-woo."  I was knocked out by The Tree of Life, joining others who couldn't help comparing it to 2001—another acid test of one's tolerance for High Woo-Woo.

Anyway, in case you're following the Oscars but not Malick's career, you might want to check out The Thin Red Line, Malick's 1998 film about, among many other things, the battle for Guadalcanal in the Pacific during WWII.  The cast is extensive—including Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, George Clooney, Adrien Brody, James Caviezel, Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, Elias Koteas, John C. Reilly, John Travolta, and Tim Blake Nelson (whew!)—but to this he adds a larger cast, the same one he features in The Tree of Life: Nature herself, cloud and insect, ocean and leaf.  This is a "war movie" (almost) in the same way that his current picture is a "family drama"—although The Thin Red Line does seem more grounded in recognizable combat film conventions, from chain-of-command infighting and sweeping battle scenes to G.I. Joes and their stories and hopes and fears.  Still, it is almost three hours of meditation on war as much as it is war movie.  But, as with all of his (few--five since 1973!) films, one's patience is rewarded.  Like any "true" artist, he goes where he will; we follow if we choose, no matter to him.

Friday, January 6, 2012

True Grit (2010)

Just passing along some good news: one of the best films of recent years, True Grit, is on Instant Play. It's a beautiful movie--its landscapes not as dramatic as the 1969 version, but photographed so well, the characters and action framed in spaces that look nothing like "scenery." And it's maybe one of the Coen bros.' most morally complex films, in that the justice enacted is fraught with losses, and the plucky young heroine is forced to see each one, and learn to live with them. Besides, the narration is typically Coen-perfect, and Jeff Bridges rolls himself up into a ball bigger and messier than the Dude's. All in all, one of those rare occasions when a remake makes perfect sense.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Parents (1989)

I've decided to revive this site--and the strongest motivation is the return of this dark comedy. Parents satirizes an easy target--1950s-style suburbia--but does so with an old-school "sick humor" attitude that is reminiscent of not only the '50s but the kind of humor that decade inspired--pure E.C. comics/Mad magazine "humor in a jugular vein." I'm not entirely happy with the climax, but 90% of this movie is as creepy, funny, lurid, and at times downright nightmarish as one could wish--if one harbors such dark wishes.

Again, it's good to be back--although maybe I've should've chosen a less unsavory movie to kick off the new year. Oh, well: Enjoy Randy Quaid at his skinny-tie (and waistline!) best, along with Mary Beth Hurt as perky as Barbara Billingsley with a cleaver (heh-heh-heh)--and Sandy Dennis, who doesn't even have to try to fit right into this kind of material.