“Orphan” / “Brothers”


Orphan and Brothers came out last year to better-than-average reviews.  I was intrigued, but being a cheap-ass, I refused to watch them in the theater. There’s a reason I’m reviewing classic movies at Examiner.com, and not the newest movies of the moment.  Throw in the fact that a sizable chunk of humanity is kinda dumb and terrible, ESPECIALLY in the dark, and my love for cheap entertainment has been greater than ever before!

Orphan stars Vera Farmiga and Peter “I Always Seem Bummed” Sarsgaard as a married couple struggling through recent emotional turmoil  See, Farmiga got all drunkified, and while she was sloshed, her daughter fell into an icy lake and lost her hearing.  (Way to go, Vera.)  As our tale begins, Farmiga has been sober for a year and going to therapy, so the messed-up couple decides “Everything’s fixed YAYYYY LET’S ADOPT!”  In hindsight, it appears the couple didn’t really think this through.

Farmiga and Sarsgaard adopt a Russian girl from a local convent. who wears flowing dresses and looks like a goth version of Little Bo Peep.  This does not concern them. The girl turns out to be a complete psychopath, and all kinds of bloody doin’s ensue.

I really liked Orphan.  It’s amazing how a film in any genre can be approved with some basic intelligence.  There’s some really strong acting, especially by Farmiga and Isabel Fuhrmann as The Evil Brat From Hell.  Sarsgaard’s character is sort of a dour goof throughout the film, but he has a scene with Fuhrmann near the end of the film that I thought was effectively disturbing.

Brothers is also well-acted, although I find myself forgetting large swaths of it with each passing minute.  Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal play . . . wait for it . . . brothers.  Tobey’s going back to serve in Iraq at the same time Gyllenhaal is getting released from jail.  This handy plot contrivance allows us to cross-cut between Tobey being captured and going through a hellish ordeal as a prisoner of war, while Gyllenhaal . . . gets drunk and hangs.

Natalie Portman plays Maguire’s wife; at one point there’s some kind of sparkish thing with her and Gyllenhaal, but I didn’t really buy it for a second.  I found Gyllenhaal’s character really weak; I get that he’s an aimless dope, but the dramatic balance between his story and Maguire’s felt wonky.  The “brother” theme of this movie never really took off for me;  This is Maguire’s movie, ultimately, and the Gyllenhaal stuff simply isn’t as interesting.

Despite their familial titles, Orphan and Brothers both make a strong case that families tend to dissolve into an abyss of violent insanity.  AND IF YOU’VE SEEN MY FAMILY AT THANKSGIVING, YOU’D KNOW THAT’S TRUE HI YOOOOOO!  BOOYAH!  Crotch thrust. The End.

Orphan [Blu-ray]

Brothers [Blu-ray]


Nothing’s Shocking: Lars Von Trier’s Wankfest “Antichrist”


Years ago, my roommate at the time and I were watching Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis being interviewed by Conan O’ Brien.  After a couple of minutes, my roommate turned to me and said, “He’s a well-spoken dumb guy.”  I was reminded of this while watching Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist

Lars Von Trier is supposedly a provocateur.  I’ve seen a couple of his movies now, and I have yet to be provoked.  I guess some people find his work shocking; these people need to experience reality a little bit more.  Antichrist features graphic penetration, a baby dying, a talking fox eating it’s own guts, a guy ejaculating blood, and a chick cutting her clit off.  It bored me breathless.  Some people see Lars Von Trier and see a dark visionary; I see a depressed guy that needs to go outside.

Granted, this could mean I’m a sociopath, but as a 35 year old man that has grown up in the Internet age, it takes a whole helluva lot to shock me.  Considering the hours and hours of porn I’ve watched,  I’m not exactly blown away by prosthetic penii and simulated sex.  In a world that allows me to download the Budd Dwyer tape anytime I want, I’m rarely moved by simulated gore.  You know what really gets me going?  Interesting, well-drawn characters that I can relate to.  This is not Lars Von Trier’s wheelhouse.

Like his other films, the two characters in this film, Man and Woman (see what I mean?), are simply archetypes, vacant humorless boobs who are bummed out and bum me out in kind.  They seem devastated by the loss of their child, although their early sex scene isn’t exactly chockful of passion. Like other Von Trier films, none of the characters smile as they babble platitudes.  There’s a way to use archetypes to comment on society as a whole (Happy Birthday, Nashville!), but unfortunately, Lars didn’t learn that in film school.  It’s like he was told bad things about people when he was a kid, so he resolved to say mean things about them while never actually interacting with them.

Antichrist can be seen as a caustic commentary on the toxicity of relationships
, as Willem Dafoe’s psychiatrist character uses therapy to control his wife (played by Charlotte Gainsborough; Her performance is very brave, because she never smiles and she shows bush), but I didn’t really care.  These aren’t people; these are meat puppets being manipulated by the filmmaker so he can make the viewer say “OO GROSS!”

There is another movie I’ve seen recently that shares the same despairing worldview as Antichrist, but it also feels like a film made by people that have encountered humans:  William Friedkin’s Bug.  Both films are filled with despair and end violently, but Bug includes characters that I recognize, honest-to-God Earthlings that made me feel empathy.  The final acts of violence in Bug are genuinely tragic, while the violent scenes in Antichrist make a fratboy say “WHOA DUDE!” 

Bug (Special Edition)

“Sherlock Holmes” Upon Further Review


When I first saw Sherlock Holmes several months ago, I vaguely recalled liking it, even though I couldn’t remember much, save for those slo-mo sequences where Sherlock sized up his opponent before beating him up.  Rewatching it yesterday, I figured out why:

1)  The slo-mo sequences are prominent in the first half of the movie, then disappear.  This is too bad, because Holmes continues to get into fistfights with everybody. It’s the one great idea that this movie has, using modern film technology to showcase Holmes’ analytical mind, but then it disappears.  Since it’s the first thing fans of the movie talk about, look for the sequel to be clogged with these sequences from start to finish.

2)  Quick, those who have seen the movie:  What’s the central mystery of the film?  You probably can’t remember. I’ve seen the damn thing twice and couldn’t tell you much about it.  Some guy wants power.  Oh, and Moriarity’s . . . well, he’s there too!

3)  Did you know Rachel McAdams is in this movie?  I guess she’s sort of a love interest, although it’s clear that Downey and McAdams have no chemistry at all.  Sometimes, when they look at each other, they both wear expressions that say “I am contractually obligated to shoot this scene with you.”

4)  The whole movie is just a big pile of stuff happening, and I didn’t give a crap about any of it.  Holmes makes a quip, Watson gives him a look, the camera sweeps around CGI Olde England, then they’re somewhere else, making quips and looking at things.

5)  The film is so choked with CGI that the entire thing feels claustrophobic.  It’s like they filmed the thing in a basement then built Ye Old Cartoony England around the actors.

Sherlock Holmes looks fakey and is dull as dirt, but it made a lot of money and got good word of mouth because A) Robert Downey and Jude Law, even at their most bored, can be charming, and B) those two slo-mo sequences are cool.  That’s it. 

Sherlock Holmes [Blu-ray]



I wrote this for another thing. Might as well post it here:

Fritz Lang’s “M” is one of the great masterpieces of cinema. Made in 1931, it still feels ahead of its time. Often cited as both the first serial killer film and the first police procedural, “M” has influenced works as disparate as “Silence of the Lambs” and HBO’s “The Wire.”

Much of the praise for “M” is reserved for Peter Lorre’s performance as Hans Beckert (deservedly), but in truth, Lorre appears in less than a third of the film. Lang uses the serial killer case to explore different levels of German society. In one instance, he crosscuts between a meeting between members of the criminal underground and a meeting of the top brass in the police force, showing how both sides view Beckert with a cold practicality.

Lang feasts on these parallels, often using visual cues and transitions to show how all levels of Berlin society are affected by Beckert’s crimes. Since the film was shot silently and sound was dubbed in later, Lang cleverly uses this technique for maximum suspense, as Beckert’s whistling of “Peer Gynt” signals that he is near, sending a cold chill down the viewers spine.

“M” is visually stunning, impeccably acted and directed, and one of the landmarks of film history.

(Wow, re-reading that, I kind of hate it. Anyway, “M” is incredible.)