Friday, September 17, 2010

The New Year Parade (2009)

I had been wanting to see Tom Quinn's movie "The New Year Parade" for sometime now, and only now have I gotten around to it.  The movie for me didn't disappoint.  Mr. Quinn photographed his film over four years, and with a ton of footage he has managed to create a beautiful film about family, and tradition. 

The film introduces us to the McMonogul family, whose members have been part of the South Philadelphia String Band for several generations.  Mike played by Andrew Conway finds out that his wife (Ann McDonald) has been unfaithful, and he moves out in a rage.  Mike is the captain of the string band, and he buries himself in his obsession, or is it his duty of getting ready for next years show.  Throughout the movie there are hints that Mikes wife had her reasons, yet the movie only hints at that.  It's that which I find unfortunate because Quinn does show the stereo-typical Irish-American family as it has been depicted in many movies for sometime.  You know the working class protagonist who says little but fights his demons day in and day out, and drowns those demons in alcohol.  That's the disappointing thing about the film, yet I still liked it for it's atmosphere & the way it told its story about this family.   It's not about despondent characters, but characters trying to come to grips with their family falling apart.

Quinn has mentioned in interviews that before writing this film he had video taped many friends of his who were victims of divorce.  Through those tapes he set out to create a story that centers around an annual event that happens every year here in Philly.  That event is the Mummers parade.  It's an amazing event here in Philly, and what I like about the film is how Quinn weaves his story around the event.  He uses "real" people to tell us why this parade is special.  It is only through the backdrop of the parade that we are told the story of the McMonogul family.

Greg Lyons and Jennifer-Lynn Welsh play the McMonogul children.  Jack (Greg Lyons) is in his early 20's while Kat (Jennifer-Lyn Welsh) is around 16, and they are devastated by their mom and dads break-up.  Kat decides to stay with her mom, and we can see the division that is happening between mother and daughter.  Jack on the other hand accuses his father of destroying the family and not forgiving his mom. 

The movie shows this in a sort of documentary style.  The performances of the actors are really well done, and I believe that the family is heading for a breakdown, yet again I feel as though I am seeing a movie I have seen before.  Tough, down trodden men & women who believe in tradition, and who lead stoic lives.  But more often the movie is obsessed with details with the mundane. Employing a style that flirts with the cinema Verdi documentary form of film making rather then the narrative form.

What makes it different is Quinn adding the footage of the club preparing for the parade. The movie feels authentic because of this footage , and it has likable characters which we feel for.  It is this that makes "The New Year Parade" interesting and worth seeing.  Maybe it's a compliment that I wanted to see more of the characters interact with each other.  I wanted to see a bit of resolution here, but Quinn doesn't do that and that's alright.  Life doesn't come with happy endings, and yet at the end of the film you feel satisfied.  I heard that it took Quinn two years to edit, and it shows how masterful he was in getting his story put together in such a unique way. 

In the end  The New Year Parade is a film which is told in an unusual way by a very gifted filmmaker, and worth seeing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Machete (2010)

Okay I really wanted to like this movie.  I'm a big fan of those "grind house" movies, and I have fond memories watching them in theaters that were far from stellar, but Machete is in no way a "grind house" film.  It tries and fails miserable. 

First off grind house movies were made with so little money the producers of those films had to come up with ways to exploit them.  A scene that would get audience's tongues talking about.  Here the filmmakers of Machete have enough money to do what they want and they do it poorly.  The movie tries so hard, and doesn't even come close.  The film is played way over the top, and it suffers from it.  Robert Rodriguez who is the director or co-director of the film does it all, and throws everything and the kitchen sink into the film.  The pacing seems all wrong, and it goes from one preposterous scene to another. 

What also takes away from the movie is the actors themselves.  Danny Trejo is the one person I like, but he doesn't do much here.  He sneers, and says a few lines and that's around it.  I would really like to see Danny Trejo in another film where he could use more of his acting ability.  I'm sure he has talent, but in Machete Trejo's talent is wasted.

Also I am a fan of Robert Rodriguez, and yet I feel this film was far from his best.  Does the film have action?  Yes, but Rodriguez hits you  over the head with it.  At a point in the film I felt numb just because of what the filmmaker was throwing at me.  I didn't care for the characters, and I began to watch the clock which is always a bad sign in a movie.

Again I really wanted to like this film, but in all honesty I can't say I did.  Will others?  I'm sure of it.  I mean it does have its share of naked ladies, gun play, and bloody vengeance, so I'm sure it will find its audience.  The one thing that makes me angry is that the filmmakers try to pass this film off as a grind house type of film, and it isn't.  Many of those grind house films were a lot better, and had a story that seemed plausible to some extent.  Machete does not.  It's a check your brains at the door type of movie, and though I have no quarrels with such films I do like my films done with a bit more thought put into them.  Machete is a film that has no thought in it at all except for the message about immigration, and even here Rodriguez does it with a heavy hand thereby missing the message all together.  In essence Machete is just junk food for the senses, and after seeing it you'll forget it as easily as that Twinkie you had.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The American (2010)

I had been interested in seeing this when I first saw the trailer awhile back.  I've always been a fan of stories about spies, assassins, and other under worldly persona's.  Charles Bronson in "the Mechanic", Terrance Stamp in "the Limey", and Bob Hoskins in "the Long Good Friday".  All of these movies are fascinating and are good portrayals of people on the other side of the tracks.  The American is a movie that follows that same formula, yet Cloney as the main lead plays it laid back.  Jack or Edward we really don't know his name is a contract killer or a man who supplies contract killers.  The story never says though in one conversation his employer says he doesn't have to kill here.  That's what makes this movie interesting.  It's the ambiguity of the story that pulls us in, and of course Cloney's performance.  In the first few minutes of the movie we are treated to an ambush.  Just when you think you know where the story is going to go Cloney's character does something unexpected.  It is this event that really seals his fate, and even though we get to like Cloney's character through his performance we know that the inevitable is waiting.

"The American" is a movie which is superbly shot, and has enough atmosphere to swallow the viewer whole.  It is Cloneys performance and the performances of his co-stars that make this movie so watchable.   Violante Placido is beautiful to look at and she gives a good performance of a prostitute who falls for Cloney's character.  There is a love scene in the film that is both erotic, and sensual without being exploitative.  It works in the sense that we get to know a little bit more about our characters.  Also Cloney shows himself off quite well also in the movie and I'm sure it's for the female audience of the movie.   But maybe it's more then that.  Cloney's character is defined through his actions and what he doesn't say.  In other words Cloney shows us depth of the character through his gestures and eyes.   Not many actors can do this, but Cloney can, and he does it so effortlessly.

The audience I saw it with didn't seem to like it, and seemed bored by the movie.  This is no action movie.  It is a character piece and one that has a thick atmosphere of deceit, and beauty.  Maybe it's the way the studio is marketing the film that throws off it's audience, but I do believe that there is an audience for this type of film.  Maybe it's the ending that the audience doesn't like.   Yet I find that to be too simplistic of a statement.  I really liked this film, and I liked all the performances in it.  Paolo Bonacelli  as the priest is a fascinating character, and one who feels three dimensional.  Thekla Reuten also gives an interesting performance as a fellow assassin. 

I can go on and on about the film, and how I liked it, yet I'm afraid that it won't find it's audience especially after coming out so early in the fall season.  There should be some performances here that are worth academy award nomination.  Alone the cinematography should get some mention.  "The American" is a movie worth seeing for its performances and its story of a man who can't escape his past.  If you like good cinema I suggest you see it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Harry Brown (2009)

Harry Brown is a movie I wanted to see when it came out, but never got around to it.  I was thrilled when it released this week on DVD.  With Michael Cain as the main character I wondered how this movie didn't do as well as it should have.  Say anything about Michael Cain he always gives his A game in a film.  The man could read Webster's dictionary and make it a good performance.  Harry Brown is Daniel Barber's second feature, and he comes out of the gate swinging with this one.  A film about revenge and growing old is what the film Harry Brown is all about, yet it plays on so many other levels too.

After Harry's (Cain) best and only friend  (David Bradley) is murdered Harry takes on the hoods that have taken over his neighborhood.  I know "visions of Charles Bronson in "Death Wish" come to mind, but "Harry Brown is a different movie.  This film is not heavy on dialogue.  Cain's face portrays his character in this movie.  The loneliness, the desperation, and the anger, and the sadness is written in Cain's performance of the character. 

The movie is violent when it gets going, but it does not portray violence for violence sake.  It's dirty, and filthy.  The filmmaker makes a point about today's society without hitting us over the head or becoming too dogmatic.  I really liked Cain's performance in this film.  At 77 years of age Cain can out perform any other actor of his day or of today's actor.  He's fresh and he plays his part so close to the vest.  You can feel his pain, and his loss.  It's not over acted and over dramatized.

I've been a fan of Cain's since The Ipcress File and he has never disappointed.  Anyone who is interested in Cain's acting should read his book: "Michael Caine - Acting in Film: An Actor's Take on Movie Making (The Applause Acting Series) Revised Expanded"  In it he gets very matter of fact about acting and film making.

If you want to see a good film with a good performance by a veteran actor watch Harry Brown.  I would also be amiss in not pointing out the performances of Emily Mortimer, and Charlie Creed-Miles who play the two detective assigned to investigate Harry's friends murder.

The film is a very entertaining and well acted piece of cinema.  On one level you enjoy it for the stories sake, but on another level you really feel for the characters in the film, and for what the film is trying to say.  This is another jewel in the crown of Michael Cain's career and one that should not be overlooked.