Sunday, 28 August 2011

Quick Rentals - The Big Lebowski, City of God, American History X

The Big Lebowski (1998) 
I've seen Jesus so many times, but I didn't know he smelt like pot

Having a cast reunion of a certain movie is rare because often two or more actors from the same movie will be in another movie twice, three times or more. But recently the cast of The Big Lebowski did that and it urged me to see that movie given that it was a celebrity favourite (Seth Rogen had shared his admiration for this movie in an interview) and a cult favourite.

Jeff Bridges plays Jeff Lebowski, an unemployed slacker who enjoys bowling with Walt (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi), a joint and White Russians and prefers to be referred 'the Dude'. However he is mistaken for another Jeff Lebowski and they are at both ends at the spectrum because he is more wealthy, has a lavish house and has accomplished everything and Lebowski berates him for not having a job. The Dude is mistaken for that Lebowski since he owes them debt to Jackie Treehorn but who's actually owing them is the other Lebowski's trophy wife (Tara Reid). So when she's presumed kidnapped, Lebowski asks the Dude to hand in a million dollars ransom to the kidnappers, but he doesn't not only because he is so lazy to do so, but because Walt assumed that she faked the kidnapping herself to gain the ransom and the fact that Lebowski's daughter (Julianne Moore) suggested that she went off making something dirty for a living.

Now I'm not a huge fan of the Coen brothers (I still haven't seen Fargo and I find No Country for Old Men and True Grit so overrated) but this is the perhaps the best I've seen from them. It's hilarious to see Jeff Bridges play a likeable person who haven't done anything in his life and who doesn't play too much on his accent. The majority of The Dude's situations are hilarious and almost all of it is an imitation of art both realist and surreal regarding most of the dream sequences. Also funny is John Goodman as the Dude's best friend who must be suffering from PTS after serving in Vietnam that is causing his short temper. BTW Julianne Moore spends half of the movie naked.

The reason why the Big Lebowski is so funny is simply because it follows oldest rules in the book of what a funny comedy should be, however it goes to the far opposite with the script itself. Every scene remains consistent but ultimately some just entered into a surge of surrealism. It's a case of mistaken identity but is dealt in an nihilistic manner. This is black comedy at its best and the Coens are good at it. A- (8.7)

City of God (2002) (Spoiler_Alerts)

Execution is so painless.
Any style of film that is so stylish is perhaps suited for me when it can also drywetch the mind out of me. Fight Club, A Clockwork Orange and Sin City are some of my favourite movies that can become malevolent with a huge meaning from its violence. And now we have City of God, a Brazillian film with so much violence it was disturbingly confronting.

City of God is the slums of Rio De Janiero, in where crime and poverty is common and not much have been done to combat it. Rocket and Lil'Dice are two boys living in the City and witness the Tender Trio robbing motels and gas trucks. Both boys decide to take on different paths. Rocket shies away from crime by turning into a photographer while Lil Dice changes to Lil Ze in where he becomes the biggest crime boss and drug dealer of the City and turns progressively sadistic and paranoid with his power.

City of God reminds me so much of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. In fact it's almost a homage of many of Scorsese's films up to Gangs of New York before City of God's release. The fast paced editing, the cold cinematography, it's kinetic soundtrack, Rocket's narration and much of Fernando Meceille's dynamic direction hands the oldest tricks in Scorsese's book. City of God gives an indepth character study of a crime lord turned psychopath. Lil Ze and Joe Pesci's Tommy DeVito is easily comparable and both this and Goodfellas share the same story structure however City of God goes into so many flashbacks.

The cast here are natural especially the guys who played Rocket and Lil'Ze (who I think is channeling Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci). To depict the brutal and nihilistic violence of gang crime anywhere to any age, the movie goes into high extremes with the violence where the film depicts kids holding all kinds of guns (we're talking 9 to 10 year olds) and where human life has to be wasted, I've find disturbing but at the same time it has a sense of anarchic realism (case in point - a young Lil-Ze shoots almost everyone at a motel then laughs like a maniac).

Then again, this is a film that knows what it is doing by executing flair with stylish shots and rarely stops telling the story. It inspired Slumdog Millionaire in a way that's made to be visually exhilirating that sticks up the point of crime and poverty together and yet restrains much of its heart. A (9.6)

American History X (1998)
Smoke on the water

Edward Norton plays Derek Vinyard a racist  who used to lead a white supremist movement before being sent to prison for three years of a third degree murder of an African American. His past and flashbacks are told in black and white where his racist views tears apart his family following the murder of his father by a black drug dealer yet it inspires his brother Danny (Edward Furlong) to come along. Following his release from prison, Derek radically changed his ways and becomes shunned by the movement. Derek also try to prevent his brother not to end up like him.

American History X brutally depicts the contemporary racism occuring in America and director Tony Kaye does that well. It's an honest concept of the strong and opportunistic hatred added with racial conflict and what it brings in mind is A Clockwork Orange another movie that is about opportunism and morality and how the message of becoming a reformist doesn't do you any good. What's also great is the swift paced dialogue David McKinna provides.

The film would've work alone with Edward Norton's powerful performance as Derek who at the end of the film shows he's ashamed of his past. Edward Furlong's character however doesn't go into any depth at all and felt really one dimensional and so many of the characters both good and bad involved. It's easy to conclude that American History X is tragic as you reach the end of the film but at its best it's a gripping and yet unforgettable character study of a person who rebels against society. B+ (8.4)

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