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with George

Tag: movie review

Taxi Driver (1976)

****

Taxi Driver opens with a man applying for a job. His name is Travis Bickle, he is played incredibly well by Robert DeNiro, and he gets the job that he applies for. And this is how he becomes a taxi driver. He meets, (slightly) stalks, and eventually asks out a girl named Betsy, who works for a Senator who is running for President. He then meets the Senator himself, by complete happen-stance, because he climbs into his cab. The Senator asks him what bothers him the most. After initial hesitation, Bickle answers that someone should clean up the city (New York). He complains of the scum.

Travis is distant. He doesn’t discuss much with cabbies. He spends a lot of time alone in his apartment (the famous “you talkin’ to me?” line came when there was no one else in the room). And he seems somewhat surprised when Betsy walks out of the Swedish porno documentary that he took her to. He reminds me of some tortured soul who opens fire on a university campus.

You are what you habitually do and judgement. Those were the two themes floating around in my head during this movie. The former at the beginning, and the latter at the very end. Everyone has a job. Travis drives taxis, the lady at the porn theater sells candy, Betsy does things for the Senator’s campaign. But Travis is different than the other two examples I give. If he’s not driving, he’s in his apartment, alone. That what this job gives to him. A chance to get out.

This is a film that explores it’s characters. There is a plot, and it’s interesting (I didn’t realize that almost two hours went by while watching), but it’s made by it’s very real characters. I recently saw “There Will Be Blood,” the 2007 self-proclaimed “epic.” That’s a movie that made itself too big for it’s characters, even though it has big characters. It felt like there was plot already built, and the characters were just dropped into it. Taxi Driver doesn’t give you that feel.

Two paragraphs ago (yes, it’s been that long), I mentioned judgement. Characters in this movie judge Travis, and so do I. I thought he was going to do something very, very wrong. I thought that he would actually clean up some of the “scum.” And that’s what he does, but instead of being scorned (or killed), as I expected, he is applauded for it. Earlier in the film, he had lied to his parents about his occupation, or had he? Did he really mean to be a hero? Is he still even alive (I was confused for a second)? See it and find out for yourself.

(Taxi Driver is NOT available on Netflix Instant, but you can rent it from iTunes as I did for $2.99.)

Rubber (2010)

***

The main character of Rubber finds a plastic water bottle. He crushes it. He enjoys the feeling of destruction. He then comes across a scorpion. He crushes it. He enjoys it even more.

The main character of Rubber is a tire. He enjoys blowing things up through mind-control so much, in fact, that he has begun doing it to humans. This movie has a very clear message: destruction and harm are real. In the film, everything surrounding this homicidal tire is fake. It’s all part of a show put on for a bunch of people who, you guessed it, end up dead. But not at the hand (or… leg?) of the tire. Instead, it was a human who poisoned their food. Everything surrounding the damage is fake, but the damage itself is very real.

Early on, one of the characters breaks the fourth wall, explaining that every great movie has an imperfection; something that is in it for no reason at all. A lot is missing from Rubber. We never get an explanation for some things.

I got a bit agitated when characters started giving their takes on the story. I felt it gave too many explanations. I wondered if that’s all certain characters were there for, but I got an answer quickly. Soon after a scene in which they nearly rip each other to shreds over turkey meat, the entire “audience” dies, bar one man. He calls his former watching-partners “animals” while he refuses to eat.

The characters meant nothing. I knew nothing of them, not even their names. They just appeared, played a role, then left. The tire was the most round of the characters. (Laugh. It was a solid pun.) During one scene, while he’s watching fellow tires burn in a bonfire (yes, the film has environment overtones, and they work), he shows great emotion depth.

The film ends. Everybody goes back to what they were doing. Except the tire, who is now reincarnated into a tricycle. He has more victims, and perhaps a sequel, in his future.

Being John Malkovich (1999)

**

During certain scenes of Being John Malkovich, I didn’t know whether it was trying to be dramatic or comedic. But it doesn’t matter, since, after the first half-hour, the movie isn’t good at being either one. This mess of a movie begins with humor. To me, when a movie about a portal into John Malkovich’s mind starts of with humor, I don’t expect it to swerve onto the road of pain, sadness, and nonsense. Not only were the characters enduring the pain and sadness, but so was I.

The story follows a mopey puppeteer, Craig (John Cusack), who takes a job at a “filing company.” (One of the few genuinely funny scenes is the bit with the secretary.) There, he finds a very small door which happens to be a portal into John Malkovich’s life. Maxine (Catherine Keener), a sexy woman he works with, takes advantage of him in order to gain money from selling 15 minutes inside John Malkovich. Craig falls in love with Maxine, but (whoops!) so does his wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz). She impulsively demands to have a sex change. I can’t decide which character is flimsier, Maxine or Lotte. Or maybe it’s the dark horse, Dr. Lester (Orson Bean), an old pervert who has a trick up his sleeve.

This movie is neither funny nor believable. Especially when Craig slams his wife on the ground, forces her to call Maxine so Craig can go jump into John Malkovich’s body so that he can trick her and (?!?!) whatever, and then puts her in a cage with the most likable character in the movie, Elijah the Chimp. This isn’t the first time I’ve disagreed with popular opinion, and it won’t be the last, but this one truly puzzles me.

(Being John Malkovich is available now on Netflix Instant.)

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

***

The problem with this movie is that it doesn’t try hard enough. If it wanted to, it could have given us some backstory or some motivation for Richardson, Thompson, and Mitchell (Slattery, Stamp, and Mackie respectively), but it didn’t. Those characters didn’t feel whole, and there was nothing wrong with the acting. I blame the movie.

The Adjustment Bureau doesn’t earn the rules that it not only makes up for itself, but then changes. The Fedora People can’t feel the vibrations from the water? And what happens when one of the “adjusters” just wants to get to the other side of a door he’s opening?

It makes up for it, somewhat, in a very strong chemistry between it’s leads. I don’t think I’ve seen a stronger female performance this year, if we’re not counting Juliette Binoche (in Certified Copy) and Leslie Mann (in Rio). Kudos to Emily Blunt. The romance between her character, the British dancer/wedding crasher named Elise, and Matt Damon‘s party boy Senate candidate David Norris is comfortingly believable.

They meet in the men’s restroom of a New York hotel. (Don’t worry, Larry Craig isn’t involved.) Immediately, you fall for them, as they fall for each other. Soon after, due to a failure by adjuster Mitchell, they meet again. Unfortunately, this second meeting was not supposed to happen, according to THE PLAN. And that’s where it gets hairy.

Certain moments are inspired and inspiring. They mesmerize you (thanks to Damon and Blunt), and make you think about life and what role higher powers play in it. Other moments (cough cough, the emotionally weak end) leave you at a complete loss for words. I didn’t know what to make of them. They felt like something out of a fluffy Disney movie in which Zac Efron’s brother dies, or something. But *** means, for me, that you should definitely see it. The benefits outweigh the risks.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

***½

I had heard a lot about this Woody Allen fellow, but I had never seen one of his films. Until last night.

Woody stars as Larry Lipton, a neurotic, complicated man in his fifties whose marriage seems to be falling apart (although the film fumbles around with whether it is or it is not). Carol (Diane Keaton), his wife, is just as strange as her husband, and acts all the more so when she decides that her neighbor has been murdered. She sets off to find some sort of evidence with their recent divorcee friend Ted (Alan Alda).

Other than a truly out-of-the-ordinary climax, Manhattan Murder Mystery manages tension very, very well. You root for these main characters, and you really hope that the Liptons don’t get caught snooping around their neighbor’s apartment. But unfortunately, just when you feel like they’re rekindling their love of old… just when you have reason to hope that Carol doesn’t do something dramatic… the film makes the Liptons mad at each other, again. It really is a shame.

There are just enough hilarious one-liners (my favorite came when they find a dead body in a hotel room: “Oh my God, she’s dead!” “Are you sure? Try giving her the present!“) to make up for the faults, though. And the laugh-out-loud, slapsticky phone call between the “group” and Mr. House doesn’t hurt. If this were an actual murder mystery, instead of a rom-com farce, I would be slightly upset with the expositional ending. But since it’s not, I’m not.

The thing MMM does best isn’t make you laugh (although it’s very good at that), but rather explore relationships. Ted and the Liptons are about the same age, but we see how different the stages they’re in are. The Liptons caught a second wind in their love, but Ted is starting over again. At the long dinner scene (featuring Anjelica Huston), we see these two different groups of three people forming within the table. During the beginning, we have these three frantic people (Larry, Carol, and Ted) discussing this murder that they know happened with the calm Huston character, Marcia. Then, later in that same scene, after this calm Marcia explains what happened, as well as what’s going to happen next, we see Carol getting jealous, as Larry was of Ted earlier.

This was only my first Woody Allen experience, but I will be coming back for more. Watch out, Netflix.

The Tree of Life (2011)

***½

Only 20 minutes in, a man and a woman got up and walked out of Terrence Malick’s newest film, The Tree of Life. 10 minutes later, another gentleman joined them. What a shame. They missed one of the most unique films I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.

Admittedly, I didn’t understand everything. Far from it; I am fully clueless of some of Malick’s intentions and meanings. But what I did understand, I enjoyed very much.

I understood that this film (I feel like I should use another term because The Tree of Life was more like an experience) was very much open to interpretation, a double-edged sword when it’s tackling subject matter as cosmic as this does. But it pulls it off incredibly well, welcoming the title of art and the responsibilities that comes with it.

This is the part of my review in which I would usually inform you of the backstory or setup, but since there really is no story, I’ll skip that.

So, instead, here are some things that I gathered from watching it:

  • There are two paths in life. There is the graceful path (<insert Hunter McCraken’s “mother” voice-over here>) and then there is the natural one (<insert Hunter McCraken’s “father” voice-over here>).
  • These paths are not mutually exclusive, apparently. (No matter what, I was going to drop a “mutually exclusive” on you at some point.)
  • You are given alleles from your parents (I think I got that right), and as to whether or not you express certain traits… we’ll see.
  • There are no natural things in Dallas. This might mean that maybe Malick is possibly commenting on what could be a detachment from nature in today’s children. Maybe.

I love the way this movie connects what happened billions of years ago to the life of a kid from a small Texas town. I love the way this film honestly depicts a complicated family. And I love the way there is no one answer for this film. Please go see this movie so you can understand what is happening in my head right now.