MQGTTM! The Road (2009)

My Queue Goes to the Movies:

Directed by John Hillcoat
Written by Novel: Cormac McCarthy
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron

I had a rare chance to escape to the movies over the Thanksgiving break, amazing how tough it is when you have a child. I state this due to the added impact this film had on me as a new father. I was equally thrilled and filled with dread at the opportunity to catch The Road adaptation, being familiar with the source material. The film was devastatingly good, heart-wrenching, and depressing, but completely immersive, terrifying, and honest.

Viggo delivers one of the best performances since his Cronenberg film duet as the diseased and desperate father, trying to lead his child to safety through a post-apocalyptic landscape. Unlike the schlock big budget 2012, Road spends a scant 30 seconds on the disaster that salts the earth. The aftermath of the apocalypse is the mileau for this tale, following the pair’s struggle to find food in world devoid of any kind of life, scavanged by starving bands of cannibals.

The imagery in this film is impossibly bleak and unrelenting. Compositions of forrests of burning dead trees, black skeletons smoking amongst rusted hulks of cars, gray landscapes with lonely rotting houses permeate every minute of the film. Father and son constantly have the look of gaunt terror in their eyes, staring out from sooty visages. Viggo’s character is plagued by horrific encounters at every turn and haunted by the suicide of his wife when he closes his eyes. The direction and execution are flawless, leaving the audience trapped in this future with no hope. Beware, this film is riveting, but also not for the weak of stomach, or heart.

Other Films by this Director: The Proposition (2005)

MQGTTM! Inglourious Basterds (2009)

New feature on My Queue, My Queue Goes to the Movies (MQGTTM). These will be peppered throughout the dvd reviews as reviews of current releases, be they good or bad. In this case, mediocre…


Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Starring Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger

Saw Basterds last night,the story follows a motley crew of Nazi killers, all Jews aside from the part Apache 1st Lt Aldo Raine and crazed ex-Kraut, Sgt Stiglitz. It also follows a French Jewish woman who escaped the Nazi killing squads led by Col. Hans Landa to Paris where she opens a cinema soon to be the focus of the film’s final set-piece…it also follows a British film critic turned Army Captain’s secret mission to contact a German film star who wants to turn state secrets.

Basterds feels like a hodge-podge of ideas that never coalesced into a singular theme. I’m not sure why it was called Inglorious Basterds for the amount of time you spend with them, getting to know their characters, it could have been called, “The French Cinema Propreiter,” or “Random British Film Critic Commando.” Most of the crew end up as unexplored silhouettes, used only as stand-ins for action scenes. Definitely no Dirty Dozen. Strong performances by Cristpoh Waltz and Malanie Laurant, but Pitt’s protean Brando impression was distracting. Tarantino’s exploitational cutaways, whimsical fonts, and anachronistic music choices draw you out of what could have been immersive dialogue scenes, but ultimately most of those could have been edited back as well. Some moments of interspersed brilliance, like the final set-piece, but other action scenes were brief and overcut.  Somewhere between Grindhouse and Reservoir Dogs, but too confused and self-indulgent to be either.

Other films by this Director: Pulp Fiction (1994), Resevoir Dogs (1992)

A clip…

The Celebration (Festen) (1998)

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Starring Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Paprika Steen, Birthe Neumann, Trine Dyrholm

A Danish film based on a lie told on a radio talk show, Festen, is the story of a terrible family secret revealed at a father’s 60th birthday. Regarded as the first Dogma 95 film, Festen shuns the excesses of modern studio filmmaking and focuses on creating realistic portrayals of characters, settings, and actions without the crutches of props, post-production, and artificial lighting. The result is a startling and immersive film.

For those who have not seen the movie, I won’t ruin the surprise and encourage you not to read anything on the film that would give away the secret before seeing the film. Even with knowing though, the complex character portrayals and interactions, the cinematic style, tension, and humor are engaging enough to warrant a viewing.

For those curious about Dogma 95 filmmaking, here are the rules laid down by directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg:

Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs within the scene being filmed, i.e., diegetic).
The camera must be a hand-held camera. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; filming must take place where the action takes place.)
The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
Optical work and filters are forbidden.
The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
Genre movies are not acceptable.
The final picture must be transferred to the Academy 35mm film, with an aspect ratio of 4:3, that is, not widescreen. (Originally, the requirement was that the film had to be filmed on Academy 35mm film, but the rule was relaxed to allow low-budget productions.)
The director must not be credited.

In Bruges (2008)

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes

I have to lead the review with the stated prejudice I went into this film with, a general dislike for Colin Farrell’s previous body of work. Nothing against the actor, it seems that the majority of his roles revolved around playing some egotistical, over-confident, one-dimensional tough guy with a chip on his shoulder. I find it hard to relate to that kind of character or harbor any shared empathy. Which is probably why I liked this departure from form on his part.

In Bruges is the story of two hitmen hiding out in Belgium after the younger inexperienced Farrell accidentally kills an innocent child. Immature and unsure how to deal the guilt he’s feeling, Farrell attempts to quiet his conscious with women, drugs, and drink but his sins eventually overcome. Coincidental encounters set against the backdrop of a film set with a Boschian theme adds to internal torment the protagonist is undergoing. Strong supporting character performances from Gleeson and Fiennes add a whimsical morality that make the final act come together in a very satisfying way.

This film is beautiful, shot in a storybook town in Belgium, with lots of subtext and allegorical meaning. It’s funny, tense, heart-warming, and sometimes sad. The only gripe I have with it would be the odd insert of the American dwarf actor who’s comedic scenes seem to detract from the momentum of the script and never really add much to the plot except for the payoff.

Brazil (1985)

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Kim Greist

Awards: Nominated for Oscar for Best Art Direction and Best Writing/Screenplay and Hugo for BestDramatic Presentation(1986), Won BAFTA for Best Production Design and Best Special Visual Effects (1986)

Self described as 1984 1/2, Brazil is Terry Gilliam’s take on an Orwellian vision of a retro-future. The government controls everything as the populace is held hostage to overpowering bureaucracy. Sam Lowry is an everyday man who gets tangled up in the wrongful death of a man mistakenly killed for being a suspected terrorist. As he tries to unravel what has occurred, he crosses paths with a woman who he has been dreaming about, gets branded a terrorist himself, and soon becomes a victim of the system he has long been a part of.

Brazil, like most of Terry Gilliam films, is a dark comedy wonderfully realized through art direction and style. Sets made up of old buildings retrofitted with ductwork, typewriters and old televisions converted to computers, and a society that is obsessed with the perception of image are all just a few of things that make up this fantasy. Gilliam suggests in the commentary that everything that occurs in the film was based on real life events during the eighties and was meant as a social commentary about overindulgence and corruption in America. I think it is safe to say that the film rings even more true given the current state of our political government and lifestyle. Everything is mocked in the movie ranging from obsessions with plastic surgery, slave-like devotion to remedial jobs, and blind obedience to overbearing laws and regulation without question.

Notoriously known for having trouble on his films, Brazil was no less a mess for Terry Gilliam. The film was held back for a year from being released in the United States due to Universal re cutting the film for a happier ending. Gilliam fought back by showing the film without the studio’s consent for two weeks at in LA to movie critics and film students. Pressure from them and rumors of attempted pre-release Oscar nominations eventually forced the studio to put out the original version of Gilliam’s film. While the visual effects are somewhat dated by today’s standards, the film is still fun to watch and serves as a chilling warning to a future that may yet come. All from a film that came about from a wish by Gilliam to do a movie where a man losing his mind ends up being a happy ending.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Time Bandits (1981), Twelve Monkeys (1995)


Walk the Line (2005)

Directed by: James Mangold

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Patrick

Awards: Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (2006). Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, Best Performance by an Actor, Best Performance by an Actress (2006). Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album (2007).

When I was a teenager and started to wear all black, my stepfather would tease me and asked “who do you think you are… the man in black?” At the time I had no idea who he was talking about. Sure I had heard a song or two from Johnny Cash on the radio or in a movie, but I didn’t really know anything about the man until later as my music knowledge grew. There was just always something about his songs that appealed to me. Dark lyrics, catchy rhythm, and an underlying attitude that seemed to tell the world to fuck off. Walk the Line goes even further by pulling back the curtain and letting us see just who was the man behind the music and what drove him to make the songs that he did. Like many talented artists, there are few demons wandering around in Johnny Cash’s past. An overbearing father, the loss of an older brother who was his best friend, a wife who didn’t share his joy for music, the hardships of living on the road, and of course: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The film also deals with Johnny’s courtship of June Carter as she comes and goes through out his life and ultimately helps Johnny conquer his demons. It is their underlying love story that helps elevate the movie past just being a memoir of another musician.

Joaquin Phoenix is outstanding in the role of Johnny Cash. He simply loses himself and becomes “the man in black.” Likewise, Reese Witherspoon brings in a great performance as well and together the two are just enjoyable to watch. They both even performed the songs themselves rather than lip sync to the original music helping to make the movie feel all the more real. Even if you are not a fan of Johnny Cash’s music, this film stands up well as it tells the story of a man who reaches rock bottom and then manages to pick himself up with the help of others and rise above the darkness. Come and take a walk with the man in black.

Other Notable Films by this Director: 3:10 to Yuma (2007); Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Here is one of the last music videos Johnny Cash made before his death, his cover of Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt. It is a fitting end to his legacy and is both powerful and sad. Shortly after, June Carter Cash died. Four months later Johnny Cash joined her.


Dreams (1990)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Starring Akira Terao, Martin Scorsese

Based on the dreams of the accomplished director, Dreams is a stylishly visual film that explores the possibilities of the medium. Haunting and original, Dreams is unlike any of Kurosawa’s previous films but in its essence an art piece.

The film is divided into several vignettes, punctuated by three nightmares. Each is unique and memorable in their varied imagery, but certain scenes have a strange permenance that cannot easily be forgotten. Standing out for me was the impressionistic meanderings through a Van Gogh painting in The Crows, the blue-faced dead in the Tunnel, and the horned mutants standing out against a gray sky in the Weeping Demon.

Watching this portmanteau film is more of an image-driven experience than a narrative one, but Kurosawa achieves an original method of conveying true horror, joy, dread, and mystery. Look for Martin Scorsese’s appearance in The Crows.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961), Ran (1985)

My favorite, scenes from The Weeping Demon have stuck with me for years…