Monday, March 22, 2010

Revanche (Vengeance) (2008)

This 2009 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film presents you with the facts, the complications and the fall-out linking two couples on opposite ends of a socio-economic scale.

Austrian ex-con Alex (Johannes Krisch) and Ukrainian prostitute Tamara (Irina Potapenko) are enjoying a clandestine relationship in the city. She’s a prostitute working at a brothel where Alex works as an errand boy/handyman. When the boss wants to take Tamara out of the club to work appointments in an apartment, she is trapped. She owes the boss a huge chunk of money (30K Euros) and declining the offer proves difficult.

Couple Susanne (Ursula Strauss) and Robert (Andreas Lust) live peacefully in the countryside. Their marriage is struggling as a result of Susanne’s recent miscarriage. Susanne believes conceiving will not happen, due to something in Robert’s reproductive DNA not jibing with hers.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Alex devises a scheme to rob a bank to get Tamara out of her situation. The earnings will payoff her debt and bankroll Another day at workthem into a life away from the city, away from the seedy boss and his henchmen. The robbery doesn’t go as planned and Alex loses Tamara. Now, an investigation into Robert’s actions and judgment at the robbery are called into question. He pulls away from Susanne and their relationship strains further.

Alex heads to the countryside to lie low and visit his elderly grandfather. He arrives stoic and introverted. His grandfather is friendly with Susanne who visits often and enjoys the grandfather’s accordion playing. She meets Alex and is drawn to him. She learns Alex is hell-bent on revenge, but doesn’t have a clue that his plan for revenge will strike close. The psychologically tangled plot is a winner that will keep you plugged in. The fantastic twist of an ending makes this one excellent.

Writer/Director: Götz Spielmann

Country: Austria

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 117 minutes

Scale: 5

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Un Prophète (A Prophet) (2009)

Just 19, Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) ends up in prison for six years. He knows no one inside nor has anyone awaiting him on the outside. While Malik is no stranger to the prison system, he’s just a kid and receives awakening—his shoes are promptly lifted off him and he’s beaten upon his arrival.

Malik listens to the propositionMalik is offered protection by the Corsican mafia who run a powerful prison faction but only in exchange for an extreme favor...a favor that will haunt Malik. While he receives protection, he is treated poorly for his Arab heritage by the Corsicans, but this doesn’t deter Malik. He forges alliances that guide him as well as put his good standing in the prison and the Corsicans in jeopardy. Yet these experiences shape his coming of age and rise to power within and outside prison. He takes advantage of school, begins associating with other Arabs and ascends to a position of trust with the Corsicans.

Social commentary is abundant, surrealism and allegorical elements are rich and the psychological arc of Malik’s rise within the prison system mafia are well storied. At just over 2 hours, 30 minutes, it’s long, yet I was never bored. There is so much going on in this movie; subplots are nicely paced and tie together, although several situations are left to interpretation (which I tend to favor). The movie’s climactic ending is worth the time commitment. The soundtrack is pleasantly varied. From the director of 2001’s excellent Sur mes lèvres (Read My Lips), this is a must-see.

Co-Writer/Director: Jacques Audiard

Country: France

Genre: Drama

Run time: 159 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Basket Case (1982)

While visiting New York City, my gracious host, Marty, invited me to a Cult meetup event viewing of Basket Case.

The movie starts off with young, fresh-faced Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) entering a Times Square hotel seeking a room, toting a wad of cash and a wicker basket. The curious on-lookers ask the obvious question—what’s in the basket. He answers in a friendly manner: “Clothes.” Duane makes his way up the stairs to room 7. We soon learn that the basket contains a hungry tenant prone to violent and murderous fits of jealousy and rage.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Turns out the small beast in the basket is Duane’s once conjoined twin, Belial. They two are in NYC to execute their revenge on the doctors that separated them years previous (at the request of their father). Duane has cared for Belial since the surgery (saving him from the garbage heap), but he can’t control his brother’s killing sprees. When Duane sneaks away on a date, Belial erupts into a murderous rage.

This is an excellent movie to watch with a group. It makes for fun viewing with plenty of peanut-gallery ready moments including the busybody neighbors at the hotel, gritty NYC as the backdrop, the prostitute with the heart of gold and ‘80s era horror. What more could you ask for in a cult classic? Just see it (and if you like it, you have the option of continued watching with two sequels: Basket Case 2 and Basket Case 3: The Progeny).

Writer/Director: Frank Henenlotter

Country: US

Genre: Horror/Comedy

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 3

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cop Out (2010)

Tracy Morgan is a guilty pleasure. He heads up the 30 Rock success trifecta (along with Jane Krakowski and Alec Baldwin). Cop Out got plugged so often that their subliminal adverts did a number on me.

Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) and Jimmy Monroe (Paul Hodges) are partners on the police force and have been for 16 years when they get suspended for a bust gone wrong. They are each struggling with some personal matters. Paul believes his wife, Debbie (Rashida Jones), is cheating with their neighbor and takes some extreme measures to learn the truth. Jimmy is trying to finance his daughter’s costly wedding. To protect his ego and prevent his ex-wife’s rich husband, Roy (Jason Lee) from picking up the tab, he decides to sell a collectible baseball card that will fetch him close to 100K. With the earnings, he’ll have enough for the wedding and still have some leftover for himself.

When Jimmy arrives to sell his baseball card, the collectibles store gets robbed. The two thieves take money and Jimmy’s card. Jimmy and Paul track one of the thieves, Dave (Seann William Scott in a look and role reminiscent of Jack Black), who helps them locate the card. This leads them to Poh Boy (Guillermo Díaz reprising his role from Weeds), a gang leader with a penchant for baseball who isn’t giving up the card, unless they are prepared to find an valuable item of his that has gone missing.

The movie continues like this and while the plot is basic, the magic is in the details. Tracy Jordan is underrated on 30 Rock; he makes this movie. His vulnerability as the semi-village idiot works damn well. Jordan and Willis make an unlikely coupling. Seann WIlliam Scott does this mimicking thing that while junior high and obnoxious is hilarious. There is a cast of familiar faces provide laughs a plenty.

Director: Kevin Smith

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 107 minutes

Scale: 3

Magic (1978)

Corkey Withers (Anthony Hopkins) has a lukewarm magic act that fails to attract attention until he morphs into a ventriloquist. Soon Corkey and his dummy, Fats, are living la vida loca. Corkey’s dreams are coming to life but so is Fats and Corkey seems helpless to shut out his sinister voice.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

When Corkey’s manager, Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith) expresses concern about Corkey’s mental health, Corkey ignores him and disappears for some R&R to the country getaway owned by his high school crush Peggy Ann (Ann Margret) and her husband, Duke (Ed Lauter). Corkey’s feelings, which haven’t faded, grow ardent. He confesses to Peggy Ann. Peggy Ann, in an admittedly unhappy marriage, starts falling for the old flame’s charm (she’s very amused by the creepy Fats). They reminisce and soon they are discussing running off together. As Corkey begins to display rage and erratic behavior, she goes with the flow. Seems Duke has his own issues with anger, so she might be accustomed to the behavior but as you watch, you want to yell at the TV for her to see the signs that this won’t end well. Instead, she uses phrases like “You bastard!” in a joking manner that are oddly amusing. Fats and Corkey are on a collision course with insanity and the climactic ending heightens to an almost unbearably suspenseful ending.

The acting is A+. The cover alone on this classic creeper is enough to make you shudder. Fats head is the same size or a bit larger than Corkey’s and as the movie progresses and Fats grows more forceful, I noticed it more. Adapted from the novel by William Goldman, the story does a good job depicting mental illness. Watch it alone, late at night in a dark room.

Director: Richard Attenborough

Country: US

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Run time: 106 minutes

Scale: 5