Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Crimson Rivers

Two French cops and their seemingly unconnected and bizarro cases converge in spectacularly far-fetched fashion.  Jean Reno (Leon) is a living-legend Paris inspector venturing to a countryside college town to investigate the grisly torture and killing of a Ph.D student. The murdered monsieur was found in a glacier that looms over the college, bound in the fetal position, missing both hands and both eyes, with acid-rain in his eye-sockets. I shit you not.

Meanwhile, Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises) is smoking a joint on duty, and sets out to investigate the desecration of a tomb for a girl who's been dead since '82.  The case leads him to the dead girl's school, a convent, a group of kick-boxing skinheads, and eventually to the sleepy little college town where he teams up with Leon.

The story is ludicrous. There's a crazy blind nun who sees demons, a group of incestuous, fascist intellectuals, a Nazi breeding ground, and an avalanche.  I liked the beginning, the early characterization of both detectives and their initial investigations, but it quickly turns into a muddled made-for-tv mess of a film, with poor dialogue (even by French standards) and an over-dramatic score, saved only by not-surprisingly strong performances by both leads.  Think Boys From Brazil meets Cliffhanger.  I was never bored, but never dazzled.

Tomatometer:  68%
Netflix Est.:3.0/5
Rating: 3/5 (I'd probably give it a 2.5 if Netflix allowed, but if I have to round I'll round up)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Burma VJ

In September of 2007, thousands of Burmese monks and students took to the streets of Rangoon to protest decades of brutality, ethnic cleansing, and overall unhappiness inflicted upon them by the ruling military junta, and to demand the release of democratically elected Prime Minister and Burmese heroine, Aung San Suu Kyi, who's been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.  The police responded with gunfire, tear-gas and torture.  Hundreds of monks, perhaps the most peaceful beings on the planet, simply vanished, leaving only a trail of blood on the streets.

This collection of harrowing footage from the guerilla video journalists of the Democratic Voice of Burma, filmed with hidden hand-cams and cell-phones in the midst of flying bullets and exploding tear-gas cannisters, needs to be seen.  It fucking yearns JUST to be seen.  The brave men and women who risked their lives to acquire such footage and then smuggle it to news outlets outside of Burma realize the fact that most people don't know, understand or care enough about their plight to do anything of actual substance to help them.  They realize that most people who see or hear about Burma on the news don't give it a passing thought.  They realize that most likely this film is at best third place in the Best Documentary Oscar category; another tragic human-interest story for people to watch on HBO and then forget about.  They say as much in some of the special feature interviews on the DVD.  But none of that stops them from risking what little freedom they still have and their very lives, just by turning their cameras on.

Now to step off my soapbox for a second.  This isn't me just being pseudo-advocate here, this is how I really felt after watching this doc.  And this obviously isn't the best quality of film footage, but it's footage filmed in complete fear of being seen or caught with a camera.  So just the fact that it has surfaced at all is impressive beyond measure.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rob Roy

I'm gonna keep these short from now on because if I don't, if I write about everything I have a mind to, then these things will rival L. Ron Hubbard for his lack of brevity.

Rob Roy (Liam Neeson) is a Scottish clansman and it's 1718.  The clans are dissipating due to famine, disease and greedy noblemen, and many are immigrating to America.  Rob Roy doesn't want to do that, he wants to stay in Scotland and ravish his wife (Jessica Lange), and maybe a few sheep now and then, and hang out with his two boys, and herd cattle and listen to Enya down at the town bonfire this weekend.  But he and his clan need money in order to live that lifestyle, so he arranges to take out a loan with his lordship, the Marquis Montrose (John Hurt), and sends his buddy Eric Stoltz (Eric Stoltz) to collect it.  Unbeknownst to Montrose, his factor, Killearn (Brian Cox) and English nephew?, Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth) conspire to rob Rob's friend Stoltz of the money, murdering him in the process. Thus begins the plight Rob Roy and his family and clan find themselves in for the bulk of the story.

I love this movie, and not just for the constant bagpipe, but also for the roughly-hewn characters and the actors who portray them. Tim Roth tears this shit up as spoiled English hedonist and all-around bastard, Archie Cunningham.  "Love is a dunghill, pretty Betty, and I am but a cock who crawls upon it to crow," pretty much sums up his role in this story. Dare I say his finest role, or at least the most convincing I've seen him play.

Jessica Lange turns in another randy performance as Rob's wife.  She just has this raunchy and weathered way about her that doesn't subtract from her beauty or skill as an actress, indeed it only enhances them.  When she wakes up one morning and walks down to the beach near her home to relieve herself, it just looked so natural. It could have been a brilliant little piece of cinema verite from director Caton-Jones, but something just tells me Lange did that on set on a whim and a camera-man was lucky enough to capture it, because that's how she rolls.  But Lange's performance during the whole r-bomb scene, and the restraint she exhibits in keeping that nastiness from her husband, is where she really fucking shines.

And Liam Neeson is just Oskar Schindler with a sword and a skirt.

Rating:  4/5