1-7 June 2009

June 11 2009 at 9:32 pm (The list)

doubleindemnityDouble Indemnity (1944)

Insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) visits the home of businessman Mr Dietrichson to discuss a policy renewal. Dietrichson isn’t home so instead he rampantly hits on his wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) and together they hatch a plan to kill her husband and nick off with the money. Of course, it doesn’t go according to plan thanks mainly to Neff’s cigar-chomping Columbo-style boss Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). Adapted from James M. Cain’s novel by director Billy Wilder with the help of one Raymond Chandler, the man behind hardboiled detective Philip Marlowe, this is the ultimate film noir. Such hardboiled detectives are nowhere to be seen but the film is full of shadows, murder, greed and a great femme fatale. The film never lets up for a second but it takes you with it – sparky dialogue allows for plot to be told on the run. Many of the most gripping scenes such as Neff coming face to face with Jackson (Porter Hall) the only man who could possibly identify him as a killer, creep up and take you unawares such is the quality of the script and the acting. MacMurray is great as Neff, the nice, mild-mannered insurance salesman turned murderous lover, and Stanwyck is suitably melodramatic. The real draw, though, is Robinson as the tenacious Keyes. There is a great staging device in which a wounded Neff shows up at his office in the middle of the night to tell the whole story by way of dictating a confession. The fact that Keyes is a friend first and a colleague second makes way for a gripping and moving finale.

Rating: 5/5

Shame list total: 1,212

the squid and the whaleThe Squid and the Whale (2006)

Conspicuously autobiographical having been based on writer-director Noah Baumbach’s own experiences of growing up in the middle of his parents’ messy divorce, The Squid and the Whale takes a bitter view of marriage, parenting and people in general. Teacher Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) is a ferociously intellectual one-time best-selling author who isn’t dealing well with the fact that his wife Joan (Laura Linney) is now more successful than him as a critic. When they decide to get a divorce, their children deal with it in a variety of odd ways. Teenage son Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) puts his father on a pedestal which makes him awkward and pompous – a kind of cerebral Napoleon Dynamite. He is caught out for claiming a Pink Floyd song as his own and defends himself by saying that he believes he could have written it had someone else not beaten him to it. Bernard’s way of bonding with younger son Frank (Owen Kline), who messily discovers alcohol and masturbation, is to curse his way through their tennis games, something that rubs off on Frank without him even noticing. All this acid is fuelled by great performances, especially from Jeff Daniels – Bernard, with his serious demeanour, corduroy jacket and academic beard, is a resentful, jealous, deluded, selfish bastard, and a bad father to boot. The handheld direction gives the film that extra dollop of squalor and realism, and considering the perpetually brownish tint (dusty hardback books and unpainted walls abound) it’s quite fast-paced. Still, despite the zippy brutality of the dialogue, it ultimately feels rather empty.

Rating: 3/5

the wrestlerThe Wrestler (2008)

Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was a big wrestling star in the 1980s. He still wrestles but he also has to work part time at a supermarket and he can barely afford to pay the rent in his shitty trailer park. This is his life, and we’re with him for every bloodstained second.

When he suffers a heart attack after a particularly bloody match in which his back is studded with staples, he is told that he cannot put any strain on his heart. Knowing that he’s doomed, he becomes desperate to make some kind of human connection with stripper Cassidy (an excellent Marisa Tomei) and his estranged daughter Stephanie (an equally impressive Evan Rachel Wood).

Such realism is a far cry from the surreal nightmares that abound in director Darren Aronofsky’s previous work. Brutal fight scenes cut to Randy entering the locker room to cheerful applause from his peers; men he beats to a pulp hug him with genuine respect.

Jump cuts like this give The Wrestler its home movie feel and reveal its theme of duality that makes it so fascinating – Randy has trouble balancing his persona with his own identity. While working on a deli counter, a customer recognises Randy as ‘The Ram’. His reaction is to jam his thumb into the meat slicer and quit in dramatic, theatrical fashion.

Such scenes work because of Mickey Rourke’s sheer intensity – his incredible performance is the film, and it turns what could have been pure trash into a surprisingly deep and unforgettable drama.

Rating: 5/5

role-models-posterRole Models (2009)

Paul Rudd is a genius. For years he has been an indie comedy staple, and more often than not his presence in a film is what makes it so enjoyable. So when he takes the lead in a film he co-wrote, it’s not surprising that the result is pure comedy gold.

When disgruntled energy drink salesman Danny (Rudd) and his colleague Wheeler (Seann William Scott) trash their work truck, their faced with the choice of going to jail or community service. Choosing the latter, the pair join child-mentoring scheme Sturdy Wings. Danny’s charge is Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) – an awkward, shy teen, obsessed with medieval role playing society LAIRE – while Wheeler has to look after foul-mouthed, racist, sexist, black kid Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson).

Danny and Wheeler’s reticence and irresponsibility eventually turns to fatherly affection but not before Wheeler loses Robbie at a party and Danny gets Augie kicked out of his beloved LAIRE. The script successfully balances sickly sentimentality (Danny’s dinner table confrontation with Augie’s parents is particularly sweet) with adult humour (Wheeler giving Robbie a lesson in ogling) mainly due to the quality of the acting talent. Paul Rudd’s intuitive talent allows him to switch between potty-mouthed outbursts and convincing emotion with such ease, but the real pleasure is watching the younger performers let rip. Bobb’e J. Thompson’s outrageous dialogue will leave you in hysterics and Christopher Mintz-Plasse shows a range that was unapparent from Superbad. If that wasn’t enough, the LAIRE battle royale finale will have you punching the air.

Rating: 4/5

The week before I also watched Lakeview Terrace and completely forgot to review it. So…

lakeview terraceLakeview Terrace (2008)

LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is a good guy on the surface – a model cop and devoted family man. When newlyweds Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) move in next door, Abel takes offence at their interracial relationship and becomes a force to be reckoned with. Confrontations that begin with all too familiar annoying neighbours stuff (intrusive floodlights, a petty fight over a hedge) get really ugly when the gloves come off.

Samuel L. Jackson has always been a likeable star and here he is, as ever, pure charisma. Seldom has he been so intimidating – it’s easy to forget that he usually plays heroes rather than out-an-out villains. He manages to imbue Abel with a vicious charm while spitting his dictatorial politics (because black people can be racist too). As he turns from rude to menacing to downright nasty with alarming speed, the perfectly pleasant Chris and Lisa have to find hitherto unearthed reserves of willpower and strength to stand up to him.

As Abel’s worldview collides with the Mattsons’, director Neil LaBute pits violence against luxury – shootings take place by the side of a pool, Chris loses his cool at a party at Abel’s house. Writers David Loughery and Howard Korder also manage to give the film a kinetic energy rare in such thrillers. Sadly this means that it peaks a little too soon so that after such sharp escalation, not even Jackson’s powerhouse performance can’t save it from a formulaic finale.

Rating: 3/5

I also re-watched The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day in preparation of Terminator Salvation. The original is much better than I remembered – taut and as menacing as its title character. The sequel is sadly not quite as good as I remembered – despite the groundbreaking special effects, it’s a flabby beast that replaces plot with explosions. Schwarzenegger’s acting has certainly improved but now that he’s the goodie and beshtesht fwends with annoying little squeaky twat Edward Furlong, he’s turned into an overgrown teddy bear. Still, it’s faster paced than its predecessor and makes good use of Robert Patrick as the truly sinister T-1000.

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