Monday, September 27, 2010

LIGHTING ROUND - Catfish, Monsters, and MORE...

The Reel Rhino has been BUSY this weekend.  Along with parenting, husbanding and putting in two hours of "work" work, I managed to take in a great pair of theater films as well as a bunch of On-Demand titles.

Of course there was WINNEBAGO MAN on Friday (WINNEBAGO MAN Reel Rhino Review).  That would have been enough for me...but of course I had to push it a little harder.

Stay tuned to the bottom to see my review of CATFISH!  The secretive documentary that has the internet all a-twitter, and twitter all tweeted out!

Friday Night kicked off the ON-DEMAND weekend at the Reel Rhino house.  I started things off with an apparent spousal-unit friendly viewing of I'M STILL HERE: The Lost Years of Joaquin Phoenix.  While I found it to be engrossing (and sometimes gross) from start to finish, there were some coarse moments...very coarse! 

I loved every minute of it.  Tracie on the other hand, loved about 60 minutes of it, then feel asleep.  That was perhaps a blessing as the continued slew of drug use, degradation of women, and defecation....yes defecation, may have been too much for her.

I'M STILL HERE stars, of course, Joaquin Phoenix, and was written by he and Casey Affleck, who also directed.  In a nutshell, I loved this movie.  I cared about Joaquin as an actor.  He has always been consumed by his roles and he embodied whoever he was portraying for any given film. 

I guess I shouldn't be surprised at the level of passion and angst that was shown and was so demonstrative of Phoenix's train derailing.  For two years we have publicly seen the downfall of a once great actor.  From the infamous Letterman interview to some leaked clips of some horrendous rap efforts, it all seemed as though things were going badly.

Well I was both sad and happy to learn the film was in fact a semi-scripted effort that is now officially being called a hoax film.  I had not heard the hoax announcement until after I watched the film.  I was 100% sure that this film was authentic.  This is what makes me happy.  Joaquin has put together one of the greatest performances in the history of film.  Which brings me to what makes me sad.  I think calling this film a hoax is the out that Phoenix mentioned at the end, when he was curled up in tears in a bush in Central Park.  This was real and Phoenix was embarrassed.  What will always make this an ambiguous decision to make is that yes, Joaquin sailed off a cliff, with no seeming way back up river.  How will we ever know?  I hope that as Joaquin gets back in film and back on his feet, he will admit that what this film showed us was a terrible string of events in his life and while he does not relish in that time, he will at least have the courage to admit it was the truth.

Want to see how things were and get a taste of the film?  Check out this interview from Letterman during this period in his life.  He was on the show promoting TWO LOVERS, a film he did with the always lovely Gweneth Paltrow.  Here's the clip:

Watch this movie and see the pain in Joaquin's eyes moments after the interview ends.  This film caught a flash in the pan of a train wreck that we rarely have such a window to look through at the essence of the breakdown, rather than seeing snippets on TMZ.

It gets 4 of 5 horns from the Reel Rhino, if for no other reason, to celebrate something different and to see a film where what you believe is really up to you.  Also worth the price of the movie is a moving bit of dialogue offered by Edward James Olmos when he comes to visit the troubled Phoenix.  It is the water drop analogy that came to be played in several of the trailers.  Brilliant story, brilliant delivery.

Here is the second appearance on Letterman....the apology interview as it can be said.  I include this for the sake of showing both sides of the story:

I think even here we see some residual pain in Phoenix's eyes.  I hope he heals from the series of events and I know he is being considered for the role of J Edgar Hoover for an upcoming biopic.  I think he would be great and it would be the perfect Oscar-bait-esque film for his reintroduction to Hollywood.

Next up on Friday for the Reel Rhino, MONSTERS.  Slated for theatrical release on Oct. 28th, this is one of those see-it before it hits theaters releases on On-Demand.  MONSTERS was directed by Gareth Edwards, previously a visual effects specialist and a director of several Documentaries. 

Edwards's first "big-budget" debut was anything but.  I loved this movie primarily because of this piece of information: the reported budget for this film was $15,000.  $15,000!?! is this so.  This is a very solid piece of science fiction with a finished, polished product that looks more like a $15,000,000 effort.  Now it is being said that $15K is an underestimation, but even if it was $50K, it is still amazing.  I love seeing an indie film like this and it gives me hope that some day in the future, I can scrape together enough cash to do something similar.

Now it helped that Edwards is an effects wiz and it is rumored that he did all the visual effects by himself on his laptop.  Bravo, sir!

MONSTERS was an enjoyable movie for so many reasons.  It is fun and a unique spin on the alien invasion tale we have heard so many times, but never like this.  The premise is that 6 years ago, a space probe crash landed in Mexico and strange things started happening.  Creatures start appearing and essentially take over a large portion of northern Mexico, which is labeled "THE INFECTED ZONE."  This infection is being handled by members of the US and Mexican armies and this comes off as more of a post-apocalyptic flick than a straight monster movie.  These creatures have a place in the food chain. Unfortunately, it is above that of humans, which is what gives us the fuel to the tension in the story.  At any moment, a creature may show up, and people will die.

We follow a man who is trying to get his bosses daughter home.  They quickly find themselves in a situation where taking the Mexican ferry to the US mainland isn't an option.  They have to pay top dollar to hire mercenaries to escort them through the infected zone.

Hijinks's ensue.  This is as much a complex relationship film as it is a creature feature.  To Edwards credit, perhaps based on the availability of time and funds, the monsters only have a modest amount of screen time.  This film is as much about the suspense as it is about the visceral scares.  Did he pull a page from Spielberg's JAWS playbook?  Perhaps he did, but regardless of how he came to that conclusion in his story telling, it works

The climax of this is excellent and seeing how they wrapped things up, had me returning to the opening of the film again to try and make sense of what I saw. That is not to say that this is a confusing movie, but things at the end of this film make you reconsider what you saw at the beginning.  I was just happy to be able to "play again" and pay closer attention to what seemed like unrelated details in the opening sequence.

I gave Monsters a 4.5 of 5 horns, mostly because of the unique voice telling this story and the shoestring budget that impressed me with how well they spent their money.  Check this out if you can...check out the trailer...I have it embedded at the bottom of the page.

Saturday night brought about another pair of flicks.  First up was CITY ISLAND.  A dramatic family piece with quite a bit of situational comedy.  The film stars Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Alan Arkin, and several other talented actors, including Garcia's real-life daughter, Dominik Garcia-Lorido.  Steven Strait has a great turn as Tony, a prisoner at the jail where Garcia works as a correctional officer.  He becomes a critical player in the scheme of events.  I enjoyed Strait as Warren Peace in the much-better-than-it-gets-credit-for SKY HIGH.

The family is presented to us as an every-family, but we quickly see that each of them has quirks, some more damaging to the family than others.  The through line is Garcia's desire to become an actor.  In an acting class taught by Alan Arkin, he is partnered with Emily Mortimer and engages in a troublesome relationship that takes an interesting turn by the end of the film. 

The daughter is hiding a secret, that she lost her scholarship and is paying for school as a stripper.  The son is obsessed with feeding meals to overweight women,  The mother is extremely self-conscious and she acts out as she feels that things in her marriage are not so good.  The patriarch in Garcia is a good man, who has a knack for keeping secrets, any one of which could be damaging to his place in the family.  It is each of their idiosyncratic traits that combines together for a fun movie, and a spectacular conclusion in which all loose ends come to a head.

City Island is located in the Bronx and it serves a great setting for this piece on the functional-dysfunctional family.  This was a slightly depressing film at times, that takes a redemptive turn near the end.  It is worth seeing and I gave it 4 of 5 Rhino horns.  Check it out if you can.  I think the accents made it more enjoyable, but even without them, I was engaged from start to finish.

Next on the agenda, THE EXPERIMENT, starring Forest Whitaker, Adrian Brody, and Clifton Collins Jr.  I had high hopes watching the preview for this, but oh how I was disappointed.  This film was very lacking in style and substance.  This could have been something great, but when things started to get interesting, this film stopped way short of delivering the goods.

The heart of the problem with this film was predictability.  Everything that happened, I expected to happen 5 minutes before it did. 

THE EXPERIMENT is loosely based on the Stanford Prison Experiment, which was conducted to see how people would react in a situation when they were put in positions of power in the guards or as the have-nots in the subservient prisoners.  They have to live this way for 14 days and they each earn $1000 per day for participating.  No violence allowed, or the experiment is over.

The premise is great, the delivery is not.  With these actors, I had much, much higher hopes.  I give this a 2.5 of 5 horns, mostly for the unacceptable amount of unrealized potential!  Remade in more capable hands, this may one day be something worth watching.  I should have been more critical of the fact that this was a direct-to-DVD release.  I have seen plenty of great direct-to-DVD releases with many great actors.  This just wasn't one of them.

Sunday gave me the crown jewel of the weekend.  I got to see CATFISH.  The tagline might be the most appropriate of all-time:  Don't Let Anyone Tell You What It Is.

This is a documentary and on IMDB, but it is also listed as a thriller.  I think thriller is a stretch for genre type, but would be more appropriately described as bad egg salad.  You get an upset stomach from the first few frames and you don't get to feeling better until you hit the light of the sun outside the theater.  I felt uncomfortable throughout.  Things start out weird and they get a whole lot weirder!

A thriller this is not, a well-told and unique story it is.

The star of the show is Nev and he is being filmed by his brother and friend.  Being filmmakers and seeing Nev began his foray into a very odd Internet relationship, they saw a great opportunity to film something wonderful, if not out of the worst parts of curiosity. 

Nev is befriended by an 8-year old girl who had sent him a water-color painting of a picture that he had published nationally (he is a photographer).  A friendship grows and Nev comes to be FACEBOOK friends with ABBY, the young girl who sends him paintings.  He speaks to her mother, and all throughout the very beginning, you may get a creepy pedo vibe, but it quickly becomes evident that Nev is a guy on the up and up.  As time moves forward, Nev gets to be friends with all of Abby's family on FACEBOOK, and this includes Megan, Abby's older sister.  He calls them his "Facebook Family" A long distance, phone and Internet only, relationship ensues between Nev and Meg.  This is where things get interesting.

The trailer shows the filmmakers and Nev head to Meg's house to meet here.  That is all I will say so that I spoil none of what follows for you.

This film gets a 5 of 5 for me for one reason: this movie disturbed me from start to finish like no film ever has.  My blood pressure was up throughout the entire picture and I had a profound sense of nervousness until I got back to my truck.  IT IS BIZARRE! But it is a beautiful bizarre! 

You must not find out how this ends and you must see this movie.  The filmmakers did a wonderful job of telling this story.  As long as this doesn't go the way of I'M STILL HERE and this is held up as a true documentary, then I would definitely see this getting an Oscar nod. 

There is a line in the trailer that indicates the film is not based on true events, but wait to see it and make your own call.  This was real, this was odd, and this made me feel alive at this movie from start to finish.

5 of 5 Reel Rhino Horns.  Great movie.  See it!

Whew...that was a hell of a weekend.  Thank goodness for On-Demand.  Thank goodness for a decent set of releases in the KC area for this weekend.  While AMC manages to pull a few winners here and there, the Fine Arts Group, the Tivoli, and the Screenland theaters continue to wow me with their dedication to bringing quality films to this area.

Thanks gang!

Reel Rhino

1 comment:

  1. I almost did the On Demand thing with the Joaquin movie this weekend and then decided that I don't want to give the film any of my dollars because it's just over the top with all the hoax/non-hoax crap. I think he's probably pretty disturbed anyway, and let this movie take him down further than he meant to be taken. His whole family is full of whack jobs. Why would he be any different?

    So then I was going to rent Monsters, but I was all alone in my house and I don't really like alien invasion stuff anyway because it never gets as good as Alien (or was it Aliens? you know, that movie with that lady from GhostBusters?)

    And I have heard that Catfish is worth seeing, but I don't want to be icked out and I only watch surprise ending movies after someone tells me the surprise ending because I'll fall asleep at almost every movie I ever try to watch especially if there is suspense or drama. Yawn. If a movie isn't hilarious, it doesn't have a chance with keeping me coherent.

    So, I just read a book until I fell asleep both Friday and Saturday nights. Thus proving once again that you and I are the polar opposites when it comes to this movie watching business.

    But you have no idea how much I appreciate these reviews. Because when this stuff is out on Netflix and I can watch a movie the way it's meant to be watched- 15 or 20 minutes a day for nearly a week with frequent snack and bathroom breaks from the comfort of my own couch- I'm all over it.