Saturday, January 29, 2011
Friday, January 28, 2011
There are certain movies whose quality you sort of take for granted. It’s not that these movies are unworthy of consideration. Just the opposite. It’s more like the film is so solid that automatically you file it into the “good” or “great” category, and never mention it again except when someone asks you “Hey how is X.” and you answer “Oh X is a great movie.” And then continue to not think about it.
Such is the case with Pleasantville. Gary Ross’s sly, yet earnest film in which two Clinton era teenage siblings, who end up in an idealized sitcom version of the fifties when Don Knots gives them a magic remote (You just kind of have to go along with that last part.)
Setting aside the obvious irony that the late nineties portion of the film looks as dated as anything in the actual Pleasantville, the film holds up remarkably well. Aided by a great cast, led by a young Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, neither of whom had at this point calcified into the tics that would occasionally straight jacket them in the future, the ever solid William H. Macy and Joan Allen and especially Jeff Daniels. In one of those “Blind Squirrel Finds Nut” performances that he occasionally gives. Don Knotts also gives a sly comic performance in what’s basically a walking Deus Ex Machina, proving that few things are funnier then Don Knotts cursing a blue streak.
Despite Maguire’s best efforts to keep everything the same, their presence ends up disrupting Pleasantville. Bringing gaudy splashes of color to the world, along with sex and the words to books in the library. It’s works well as both style and metaphor. Even if Ross does hit the latter occasionally hard. At one point in a garden like park Maguire’s love interest offers him some berries and just as I’m thinking “Oh well that’s a nice way to handle fruit based sexual temptation without hitting it too hard” only to have her drop them runs back to the tree and grabs an actual apple.
Still for the most part Ross is able to couch his moments in character so well that discordant on the nose moments like the above are actually pretty few and far between. When Maguire gives Daniels a book of art and Daniels wistfully says “How am I going to see colors like that? You’d have to be pretty lucky to see colors like that? I bet they don’t even know how lucky they are.” It’s not hard to see what Ross is getting at, but it’s even harder to care when he’s centered it in a moment of such genuine longing.
Same goes for the other side of the coin, take the sequence where Macy comes home to find Allen has left and is reduced to stumbling from room to room moaning “Where’s my dinner?” The key to it is that Macy doesn’t play it as angry, but thoroughly baffled. It’s not that an expectation has not been met; it is that a key tenet of the universe has been violated. The way Ross and Macy handle the scene it’s relatively clear that this is this man’s version of a horror film. Or perhaps an episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, which are after all only a channel flip away from Pleasantville.
There is a real element to Ross’s script and direction, take the way he handles the malice of Pleasantville’s citizen’s towards the “Coloreds” as the same gradual awakening towards sensuality as our heroes are experiencing. It’s the ugly flipside to their curiosity. The way that Ross posits that art is not the cure but the cause of such ugliness is genuinely subversive. To invoke passion and thought may be a fine thing, but there will always be ugly passions and ugly thoughts that will come as a reaction to anything challenging or difficult.
So yes consider me surprised by just how well Pleasantville holds up. I was happy to revisit Ross’ world and can’t help but wonder what else I may be neglecting up there in my “Good” file.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Why’d I Buy It?: Came in the Rambo boxset.
Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Well hell if I’m not going to watch Rambo II why the hell would I watch Rambo III? This is a movie that was considered unfortunate BEFORE it ended up accidentally endorsing the tactics and mindset that ended up leading to 9/11.
How Was It?: Look there’s no getting around the fact that Rambo III might as well be called Hindsight Is 20/20: The Movie. When you think about it the film really is a pretty fascinating cultural artifact. When it was released it was just another piece of anti Ruskie propaganda and now it still is a Propaganda film FOR THE EXACT OPPOSITE SIDE IT WAS PRODUCED AS PROPAGANDA FOR!!! Has this ever happened before? It’s like being in Oceania and coming across a piece of propaganda published by the Ministry Of Truth that is against Eurasia and has failed to go down the Memory Hole during one of the weeks when everyone is supposed to be hating Eastasia. It is most double plus ungood and confuses my belly feel.
The movie is filled with Long sequences in which Stallone has concepts like Jihad and Mujahideen explained to him and he nods with sage approval. Something, I would be willing to bet an awful lot of money on, which he would not do today. This is coupled with other long monologues extolling the bravery of the Afghani People and how they will never buckle under the weight of their monolithic technically superior foreign invaders.
Lots of lines like…
This is Afghanistan... Alexander the Great try to conquer this country... then Genghis Khan, then the British. Now Russia. But Afghan people fight hard, they never be defeated.
'May God deliver us from the venom of the Cobra, teeth of the tiger, and the vengeance of the Afghan.'
Which is dialogue that I'm also relatively certain wouldn’t show up in a movie today.
If strain to look past the staggering amount of cognitive dissonance that powers the movie, well it’s not really that bad. To the point where I’m actually kind of disappointed by that, I was holding my breath for a disaster of epic proportions. But it’s just your average mediocre overblown eighties action movie (Which I think makes the whole propaganda angle stranger. Incompetence would make it just another bad element among many). There are some good moments of shit blowing up real good, Including a helicopter battle where Stallone actually displays a fair amount of skill at framing and geography. If anything it’s a bit smoother then Rambo II because while that one started off as a pretty compact film before swinging wildly into overblown gore cartoon territory, Rambo III is in that vicinity the entire time. All in all I think more Russians are killed in this movie then in the battle of Stalingrad.
Any resemblance to the damaged haunted vet Stallone played in First Blood is purely coincidental. Anyway Rambo III is definitely worth seeing. If only so you can confirm for yourself that it exists.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go prepare for my two minutes of hate.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
It's not wrong to root for a team led by a quarterback who's a serial rapist, a coach who advocates steroid abuse, and the dirtiest Defensive Player in the NFL.
It's not wrong to support a Team whose number one goal seems to be to unseat the Raiders as the loud braying assholes of football.
It's not wrong to number yourself among the most annoying self entitled group of fans in any sports league. Fans who make Goddamn Yankee's fans look humble.
It just makes you a bad person.
For much less work safe sentiments go here.
And know Steeler Fans that now you may be laughing, but one day The Cleveland Dynasty will rise again, and on that glorious day that we give Rothelsberger his 18th concussion the one that finally makes him impotent and Colt McCoy sits upon a dark throne made of the bones of Hinds Ward and sips a martini made from the tears of James Harrison. On that day I shall laugh, oh how I shall laugh.
( Various establishing of cred by commenting on how you don't really care about the Oscars anyway. Blah blah blah hardly ever pick the right films. Pull back from coming off as a kill joy or too cool for school with with a "But they're kind of fun anyway." comment.)
So now that that's out of the way. Just so we're clear this is who I'd like to win not necessarily who I think is going to.
Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
James Franco in “127 Hours”
Haven't seen the Bitiful, 127 hours or The King's Speech yet (Though Jesus the pull on that fucking thing. I woman came into my store the other day on her way to see it and seemed positively dismayed by the prospect. "I guess I'll like it." she said with a grim shrug that suggested that she was going to march into a death camp rather then, you know, go see a movie. I almost wanted to tell her that if she gave her money at the box office and asked for a ticket to something else they would let her go.)
Anyway, Bridges Cogburn was a force of nature but I actually think Eisenberg's is the stronger performance. So yeah, Eisenberg.
Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech”
Oh I'm sorry I can't hear you over the sound of Andrew Garfield being robbed.
I'd be more upset about that if there was only one clear answer to this and that's John Hawkes in Winter's Bone. I know I'm verging on ad nausem here but Uncle Teardrop is one of the most fascinating characters I've encountered in fiction. Period. Renner and Bale both brought a lot of humanity to sketchy characters (and Renner a genuine feeling of danger) but they have nothing on Hawkes.
"Have you got the taste yet?" indeed.
Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter's Bone”
Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”
Huh I think this is one of the few times when the roles nominated for women are markedly stronger then those for men. At the present time it's between Portman and Lawrence. Similar to Cogburn Vs. Eisenberg I think Portman has the showier role and Lawrence the better one. I'd like Lawrence but whose kidding who here, this is Portman's to lose.
Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”
Oh I'm sorry I can't hear you over the sound of Mila Kunis getting robbed. That aside, another solid pack. I'm reserving full judgement until I watch Animal Kingdom, but at the moment it's Steinfeld. I am kind of stunned that Melissa Leo has been nominated for playing the actual Queen Of The Harpies.
Best Animated Film:
“How to Train Your Dragon” Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
“The Illusionist” Sylvain Chomet
“Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich
Bit of a let down after last years banner year. Would have loved to see Tangled on there as I continue to be the one person not in love with How To Train Your Dragon. I'M NOT USUALLY THE CURMUDGEON!!! THIS BURNS MAKE IT STOP!!!
So yeah Toy Story 3.
“Alice in Wonderland”
Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”
Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
“The King's Speech”
Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr
Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
Inception's design was brilliant, and yes I continue not to fly into a frothing rage when presented with the phrase, "Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland".
But True Grit turned The American West into a Diane Arbus inspired gothic piece of nightmare fuel while never once straining beyond the bounds of believability. It's one of the best designed movies I've ever seen.
“Black Swan” Matthew Libatique
“Inception” Wally Pfister
“The King's Speech” Danny Cohen
“The Social Network” Jeff Cronenweth
“True Grit” Roger Deakins
And this is where the Academy's timidness does bother me, because were is Bill Pope's name on this list? Love Scott Pilgrim or hate it, that movie's cinematography was some genuine next level shit.
Deakins is the easy answer here, but I would like to see Libatique take home the award, he's been doing ground breaking work for a lot of years without anyone really noticing, and Black Swan is no exception. That was shot on Sixteen Millimeter guys. That's a 1 and a 6. They got those images on Sixteen Mil. Wow.
“Exit through the Gift Shop” Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz
“Gasland” Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
“Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
“Restrepo” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
“Waste Land” Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley
Oscar Nominee Banksy, let that roll around on your tongue for a minute. Jesus can you imagine if he shows up?! It'd be anarchy. Or he'd probably just through everyone for a loop by politely accepting the award and moving on. Either way I want to see it happen.
“Black Swan” Andrew Weisblum
“The Fighter” Pamela Martin
“The King's Speech” Tariq Anwar
“127 Hours” Jon Harris
“The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter
Another check mark for Black Swan.
“How to Train Your Dragon” John Powell
“Inception” Hans Zimmer
“The King's Speech” Alexandre Desplat
“127 Hours” A.R. Rahman
“The Social Network” Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
The Social Network. Reznor's work has been the soundtrack to my writing for quite awhile. It opens up all kinds of locks for me... Oh and it works pretty well in the film too.
“Coming Home” from “Country Strong” Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
“I See the Light” from “Tangled” Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
“If I Rise” from “127 Hours” Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
“We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3" Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
Hey you know what's not on here? A song from Scott Pilgrim the only good musical released this year. What the fuck.
Tangled is the one on here that is least offensive but man even if I thought the movie was delightful (Yes that's right DELIGHTFUL!) that soundtrack was not all it was cracked up to be.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
Envy is not an emotion I normally associated with art. But contemplating Sorkin's script for The Social Network turns me into a brooding Salieri. It's a thing of beauty. A meticulous perpetual motion machine that is the finest of it's format.
AND OH HOW I COVET IT...
Best Original Screenplay
The Kids Are Alright
The King's Speech
Once again it's an act of construction so meticulous I can't help but marvel at it. That van, that van...
“Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
“The Fighter” David O. Russell
“The King's Speech” Tom Hooper
“The Social Network” David Fincher
“True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Yes I'm surprised at the Nolan snub as you all are. The Fighter was not Russell's best work by a long shot.
Yep Aronofsky again.
“Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
“The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
“Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
“The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
“The King's Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
“127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
“The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
“Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
“True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
“Winter's Bone" Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers
Chances are slim but man I hope this one wins It's nice to remember that sometimes all you need to do is make an excellent movie about people.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Which all leads to nothing being ready right now.
Well there has to be something! I've got a work ethic to maintain, a reputation to uphold yadayadayada! There's gotta be something I can post on this blog other then a tumbleweed rolling mournfully down the column!!!
What's that you say? Doug TenNapel has a web comic! Which he is publishing daily! A page at a Time!
I may occasionally find the man himself frustrating, but there is no denying that he possesses one of the most singular (and thankfully productive) imaginations and gorgeous art styles in comics today. To read Iron West, Creature Tech, Monster Zoo or Ghostopolis is to be happy. And man if Ratfist doesn't leave a big sloppy grin on your face then we're living on different planets... which is an acute possibility.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Disney has one of the most notoriously, almost compulsively, meticulous archives in film history. And it has been gratifying to see them put it to good use in the past few years in their documentary work. Coming on the heels of the riveting Waking Sleeping Beauty, both Walt And El Grupo and The Boys (also Disney And Dali, included on the Fantasia Blu Ray) stand alongside the former title as a scrupulous and refreshingly unguarded look into the Disney legacy.
Walt And El Grupo is a look at the good will tour, that Disney took to South America in an effort to ignore his striking workforce, shore up his struggling studio with government contracts and do what he could to halt the spread of Nazism while he was at it. It is a good deal less urgent then Waking Sleeping Beauty and at forty minutes over that films runtime it’s a great deal saggier. A great deal of this time is spent with family members of the deceased principles telling second hand stories and reading their correspondents and problematic postcard shallow depictions of the countries in question. Both of which are downright home movieish. Only Argentina, usually considered the most stable of the three countries visited, gives any lip service to the political turmoil that is South America. The film oddly enough also makes time for a lengthy passage about the urban myth of Disney’s frozen corpse. An odd inclusion to say the least, though notable for being perhaps the first time the corporation has acknowledged the myth.
But the sheer amount of sketches, rough animations, pictures and rare footage make the film a pleasure to watch and the film is wise enough to be generous in the screen time devoted to them.
The film also fascinates as a portrait of Disney himself (Much of the narration is actually provided by the him). Disney at the time of filming is caught at almost the exact midpoint between the warm every uncle that he eventually settled on as his persona in his latter years and the handsome, dapper artist so indelibly captured by Neil Garbler.
The film makes a case for Disney’s effectiveness in winning American sympathies south of the border without overstating things. As well as, perhaps unintentionally, capturing the beginnings of Pop Culture as a colonizing force.
The film is also refreshingly open about the frustration of how little the film that came out the trip reflected the creativity that the trip so evidently inspired. No one is going to claim that Saludos Amigos is a Disney Film of the first water and all involved seem to realize it, and have no trouble voicing their disappointment.
All in all, Walt And El Grupo is strictly for Disney fans, something I wouldn’t say for Waking Sleeping Beauty. But for those fans it is a rewarding look at an under represented slice of the studio’s history and art.
While the archival material on The Boys is less impressive, partly because the film has less to do with animation and partly because it comes from one of the least interesting creative periods in Disney history. Is there really a Disney fan so compulsively completest that they crave behind the scenes information on The Gnome Mobile and The Monkey’s Uncle? On second thought I don’t think I want to know the answer to that question.
That being said, in the truth in criticism department the archival footage does feature footage of a balding Nehru beclad John Williams, looking totally stoned as he writes the music for the ill fated Tom Sawyer Musical. Which is to say the least quite impressive.
The film follows the careers of The Sherman Brothers, who became one of the most recognizable songwriting teams in history, while all the while apparently wanting to kill one another with their bare hands. It’s a shockingly unsentimental film, not many Disney Documentaries are going to contain footage from Dachau.
The film is smart enough to let the (still living) brothers and their music tell their own story. Although it does pad things out with interviews that range from “but of course” (Alan Menken, Randy Newman, John Lasseter) to so random that you can’t help but wonder if they were selected by spinning a wheel or throwing darts at their rolodex. Including I shit you not, the lead Guitarist from Wings, Ben Stiller and John Landis. Landis in particular, is so avuncularly entertaining that it actually takes you a moment to wonder what the fuck he is doing there. As he is neither or musician or has ever had anything to do with Disney. In all fairness it is revealed, very late in the film that he gave the Sherman’s cameos in Beverly Hills Cop 3 (Which Landis has the unmitigated gall to straight facedly call a “comedy” rather then “A hate crime against laughter.”) This leads to a bunch of talking heads speaking warmly about Beverly Hills Cop 3. Marking both the first time in history anyone has ever done so and thusly garnering one of the biggest laughs in the film.
Disney appears as a supporting character in the film as their patron and father figure, though it does take the time to dig into his passion for bringing Mary Poppins to the screen, by all accounts the last time he really deeply cared about the making of a movie. But the movie is surprisingly generous, for something bearing The Disney Logo, in highlighting the work the Shermans did for films outside of the company’s walls.
While The Boys is a worthy tribute to both the music of the Sherman Brothers, and the movies that they wrote them for (aside from you know, the terrible ones) it is less moving as a documentary about artistry as it is about the bewildered hurt that creeps into any sibling relationship. It is a deeply sympathetic, yet unmistakably bitter portrait of two people who cannot stand each other, no matter how much they might want to.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
There are two defining moments in I Love You Phillip Morris. In the first Jim Carrey goes to confront his birth mother, who
“I WAS THE MIDDLE CHILD!?!?” he howls to the shut door. Softly inside the people start singing “Happy Birthday” to drown him out. It’s a jet black moment. And it’s hilarious.
The next moment comes a few scenes after, in the aftermath of a car accident Stephen’s being wheeled away on a gurney and decides fuck it; he’s tired of living a lie. His split lip bursts into the unmistakable Carrey grin, his blood caked face lights up. “I’m A FAG!!!” he announces and repeats it over and over and over again rapturous smile still on his face.
What both scenes benefit from is Carrey’s go for broke nature that is at the core DNA as a performer. Occasionally it makes him nigh unbearable. But here, where it allows him to embrace both the sheer starkness of where the movie takes him and the eager almost ebullient way he embraces his characters sexuality, it ends up being almost an incalculable asset.
For all the ground that Brokeback Mountain broke there have been very few movies that have followed its lead of frankly depicting homosexuality (And the exceptions that I can think of, say Scott Pilgrim or Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist are aimed squarely at the youth market… and Michael Cera fans. No conclusions drawn) the fact that it took two whole years to get Phillip Morris on a handful of American screens is frankly troubling. This is after all a movie featuring big stars, including one that the American Public has more or less proved they’ll go to see in just about any old fucking thing. And though the movie is certainly frank about sexuality, it’s hardly anything beyond the pale. The already somewhat infamous fellatio sequence ended up being kind of underwhelming. If it was done in a movie with a straight couple it’d be considered downright coy. Like I said, this isn’t so much a knock against the movie as it is this bizarre feeling that people can’t take it. I Love You Phillip Morris is nothing more or less then a big mainstream (though unusually dark and smart) comedy.
This isn’t difficult material. This is Catch Me If You Can off its meds. Frankly aggressive and anarchic at times. We’re talking about a movie that gets big gut laughs from a suicide attempt made by a sobbing man.
Praise must go to Ewan MacGregor as Phillip Morris. He has a less showy role then Carrey (as costars in a Jim Carrey movie are want to do) but he has chemistry with Carrey. Leslie Mann also deserves a great deal of credit for taking a role who starts out an annoying cliché and makes it into a character.
Welcome to I Love You Phillip Morris, the first great cult film of the decade. If the subject matter didn’t guarantee it, then the timidly small release did(Compare its gross to the one’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins is all but guaranteed to rake in and prepare to feel depressed). The movie has made it ripe for rediscovery virtually before it was ripe for discovery virtually guarantees it.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Why’d I Buy It?: Came in the Rambo Boxset, which if I recall was actually five dollars less then the single disc Rambo.
Why Haven’t I Watched It?: I’m kind of at a loss on this one. I like most of the kids who grew up in the VHS boom am very well versed in this particular brand of OOTP 80’s action. And yet I’ve never gotten around to watching what is arguably the apex (or nadir depending on your point of view) of the genre. The film that embodied every meathead cliché the subgenre had to offer, whose very name has become a synonym for Hyper Testosterone driven mayhem. It’s not like I was unaware of the Rambo series either, First Blood is a great grungy thriller, and if you’re avoiding it for its association with the franchise you’re missing out on one of the greatest B-Movies ever made. I even have a good deal of affection for Rambo, whose final third is a bloodbath of such staggering proportions that I can’t help but shake my head in awe at it.
So why avoid Rambo First Blood Part II? Like I said it’s tough to put my finger on, it’s not Just the risible “Do we get to win this time?” politics of it, stomaching conservative politick is part and parcel of watching 80’s action movies. It’s just that Rambo II always seemed just too much. Let’s put it this way I love Rock but I don’t listen to a lot of Ted Nugent or David Lee Roth either.
How Was It?: Bizarre. For a movie reputed to be one of the most over the top action films of all time Rambo II gets off to a surprisingly sleepy start. The first half hour is almost pure exposition, involving Rambo being released from Prison to go on a mission to find American POWs. Betrayed by the evil CIA Rambo does what he’s best at. Killun’.
But really up until the forty five minute mark Rambo First Blood Part II is a surprisingly compact little action movie. There are a few sequences, particularly a shootout on a boat that makes good use of the enclosed spaces and lethal speed of a gun battle, that are just first rate action filmmaking. I began to compose the revisionist review in my head. And then we hit that halfway mark…
Suffice to say, almost like clockwork Rambo II becomes exactly the movie you’ve heard it is. There’s a good ten minutes of straight torture that would make Mel Gibson roll his eyes. There are spurious Russian Villians who make Ivan Drago look like a sympathetic fully rounded character. There is Rambo shooting wave after wave of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of baddies. There are exploding arrows shot into torsos and large pieces of machinery. There is speechifying. Oh lordy there is speechifying. And Stallone gets to deliver his trademark fuming “I Hate You So Bad. I’m Going To Kill You So Hard!” Glare whilst hyperventilating.
Is it good? Is it bad? It is tough to quantify. Let us suffice to say that it is very, very Nugent.
The Expendables on the other hand is not very Nugent at all.
Warning here there be spoilers…
You Can’t Have A Movie Called The Expendables In Which Nobody Dies.
Furthermore You Can’t Have A Movie Named After A Team And Not Have The Team Show Up For A Good 2/3rds Of The Movie.
That’s Also Stupid.
The Movie Was Not Called Jason Statham And Sylvester Stallone Fuck Around.
It Was Called The Expendables.
As In A Team Of Expendable People In Which Nobody Is.
Now look, I’m sure there’ll those who argue that I’m missing the point here. But I haven’t seen a movie this tonally confused since The Wolfman. Is it a movie that is seriously trying to follow the consequences of a life of violence. Mickey Rourke’s monologue about The horrors of war, made hilarious by Sylvester Stallone’s baffled reaction shots certainly seems to think so. Is it a fun gore cartoon ultimate action movie? If it is it sure plays it close to its chest.
The Expendables is at the end of the day just another film that hedges its bets. It wants to have its cake and eat it too in almost every element. It won’t commit either to over the top spectacle or serious Peckinpah style last stand. It wants to be a team movie but it doesn’t feature a team. It features one of the most insulting final scenes I’ve ever seen in a film. It is a movie called The Expendables in which no one dies.
On the plus side my friends and I will now occasionally turn to each other and gravely intone “It is good to hang pirates.”
So it has that going for it.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
It’s funny sometimes how the image one gets in one’s mind when they hear about a film forever is often exactly the inverse of what the film actually is.
I’d heard vaguely of The Friends Of Eddie Coyle; I knew it was one of Mitchum’s last great lead performances, that it was considered one of the great Boston crime films a sub genre that any reader of this site knows I have an affinity for and that it was the story of a low level crook having to turn rat to save himself.
I had expected a bruiser of a film about the tragedy of Eddie Coyle having to betray his friends and turn rat. What I didn’t expect was a film as cold, lonely and bitter as The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. This is noir at it’s darkest, where nobody has a chance. The bitter truth at the core of The Friends Of Eddie Coyle is that the tragedy at the center of the film isn’t that Eddie must betray his friends, it is that he didn’t take the opportunity to betray his "friends" much much sooner.
The Friends Of Eddie Coyle follows Mitchum as a low level hood who is coming up for sentencing after he was caught transporting stolen goods in New Hampshire. Desperate to avoid prison time he cuts a deal to turn over a gun runner to a federal agent in exchange for leniency. Tragically unaware that he’s about to get fucked over by everyone he knows.
Robert Mitchum at his most ursine holds the movie together. He doesn’t play Coyle as a badass, far from it, in fact I doubt I’ve ever seen Mitchum in a movie were he has less control of the situation and I’ve seen Ryan’s Daughter. Instead he plays Coyle as a kind hearted schlub whose biggest concern about going to prison is that his kids don’t get made fun of.
Yates gives the film an effortless authenticity as well as an admirable economy. His Boston is a cold harsh place of low grey buildings and ominous patches of open land. The people in it just as harsh and hard but completely real. Take the scene between Mitchum and his wife. It’s one scene, barely lasts two minutes and we never see the wife again but it communicates so much about who Mitchum is and what’s at stake for him. There’s an effortless rapport between Mitchum and the actress, which actually make them seem married. Little throw away lines (“Work?” “Eddie it’s morning.”) tell us more about, and gets us more invested in, their relationship then we do for most movies devoted to the topic.
The film’s few action sequences, if that they can be called, are tense clipped affairs. As efficient and professional as the robbers who are their subject (and there’s one shot that actually had me laughing, as it proves that Affleck definitely screened this movie a couple of times before making The Town). But Coyle is like the best Boston Noir, not so much about the mechanics of crime as the people. Everyone schemes to save their own skins but at the end it doesn’t matter because the game is rigged.
The film doesn’t merely say that there is no honor among thieves. It says that there is no honor among people either.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.
Did I adequately answer your condescending question?
Sometimes no matter how much you try, no matter how much you want to, you just can’t make it to a movie. It’s not like I wasn’t aware of The Social Network and it’s not as if the disquieting short film that was the trailer didn’t make me rabid to see it. It’s just for some reason the theater seat and I never got together.
Which I’m almost happy about now (though had I seen the film in time it certainly would have made my top ten) because it’s one thing to be in on the first wave of discovering something and another to see it absolutely live up to the hype.
Let’s get this out of the way. Everything you’ve heard about Aaron Sorkin’s script for The Social Network is true. It is as good as you’ve heard. No matter how much of a chip on your shoulder you go into it with, or inversely, no matter how high your fannish expectations are, the script will be better then you think it is. It is face meltingly good, like the God speech in Malice stretched to feature length.
And the cast absolutely nails it. At this point I feel as if I’m just dishing out the same praise that everyone else is. But the movie so manifestly deserves it. Eisenberg is revelatory here. Seen most of the time in a would be alpha male faux confidence, or in a resigned slouch, eyes caked in more shadow then Vito Corleone’s by Fincher’s camera, mouth forever drawn in a petulant frown. But while with Brando this effect suggested a mind forever working in untold depths, the effect on Eisenberg brings only to mind a kind of slack reflectiveness. That is until he gets plugged in and something kindles at the base of those eyes a kind of mania of inspiration. Timberlake too far exceeds expectations. As someone who enjoyed his supporting turns in the batshit crazy Southland Tales and Black Snake Moan I wasn’t completely surprised by the fact that he could be an enjoyable actor, but the fact that he’s a good one came as a pleasant surprise. He invests Sean Parker with rock star bravado, because well duh of course he can, but also with a sense of self aggrandizing cowardice which is just so true to form. Rounding off the trio is Andrew Garfield who has a deer in the headlights look that seems like he’s just begging for someone to come and screw him over. It’d be easy to imagine him in another movie played as a patsy, a bumbling impediment to Zuckerberg’s greatness, but Garfield has far too much soul to let that happen. After all his only mistake was thinking that his friend possessed stores of decency and loyalty that he doesn’t. We haven’t even talked about Rooney Mara yet, whose performance here gives me another reason to hate the Nightmare On Elm Street remake, or Arnie Hammer whose astounding duel performance takes what could have been, in hands less sure then Sorkin’s, a walking villainous cliché and gives it real soul.
Over five hundred words in and I haven’t even said anything about David Fincher, who once again proves to be one of the most fascinating filmmakers working today. Much has been made of his and Sorkin’s peanut butter and chocolate like sensibilities, though I think the reputation of Fincher as a chilly stylist has always been overblown, he’s always known how to make a human moment hurt (“If you do decide to keep it- Spoil that kid every chance you get.”) What I do think he brings is a certain crucial sense of remove. He’s the coolant that keeps Sorkin’s demon hotrod of a script from overheating and bursting into flames.
Everyone talks about the “Hall Of The Mountain King” sequence, and as impressive as it is I think the sequence where Fincher really proves his value is in an early sequence in which Fincher intercuts Zuckerberg writing the program for “Facesmash” in his dorm room with a party set in one of the Final Clubs, to which, Zuckerberg so desperately craves admission., The film was originally supposed to be directed Sorkin and it’s easy enough to imagine what he would have done with the sequence. The party is a bit of a bacchanalia and Sorkin would have gotten right up in the excess done a line off it and then motor boated it. Fincher on the other hand keeps a very definite remove. It’s not even a condemnation, just an observation that no matter how good he is, this world of privilege and old money will never be open to Zuckerberg with his Asperger’s posture and wrong last name. They may recognize his genius, they may want to use him, they may even have some affection for him, but he will never come past the bicycle room.
In short a sharper more well observed movie about people was not made last year. The Social Network is the kind of movie that makes you feel as if the seventies never died.
Friday, January 14, 2011
It is impossible to exaggerate how pure a movie Invincible Armor is. The movie runs an hour and forty minutes and if you timed it with a stop watch I doubt you’d find five minutes of content that did not involve people fighting spectacularly over the top kung fu duels.
The story is in the basic “They Killed My Master. I Have Been Framed For His Murder. I Must Seek Revenge” template. But with the intriguing twist that the ultimate person behind the assassination turns out to be a master who has mastered the invincible armor technique, a technique that allows him to undergo a breathtaking amount of abuse. Also, thanks to the fact he has remained celibate he also has the power to retract his testicles up into his body (!). This comes in handier then you might think. But all in all I’m not sure that it’s a fair trade. Particularly given how things turn out for him. Would it be giving away too much dear reader if I reveal that the movie features a shot of two eggs being crushed in a single hand? And that after that shot the movie consists of little more then the old master rolling around on the ground in agonizing pain. I can only imagine that “I wish I had put those to better use!” is running through his mind as it happens.
You know what mere words don’t really do it justice…
Prior to that glorious sequence there’s a kick ass Kung Fu movie. It’s not going to win any points for story. But the efficency of it is really quite astounding. When I say the characters in this movie are fighting all the time, I mean that quite literally. They arrive at a tavern, fight, receive some exposition, fight, go to a duel, fight. It would be an exaggeration to say that any of these non fighting sequences run past two minutes.
But lets give the film some credit, fighting like anything else grows dull after being displayed incessantly for a hundred and forty minutes. To its credit though, Invincible Armor is suitably innovative that it never really does get boring. The choreography and camera work are inventive, as are the various techniques and weapons the filmmaker’s trot out to enliven each battle. And while the weapons and techniques (and occasional Wu Xia fifty foot leaps) are all suitably wild. They never become so distracting as to take away from the actor’s obvious skill at Martial Arts.
All in all Invincible Armor is one of those movies that’s tough to review, because it so manifestly is what it is and you already know if you want it or not. And if you didn’t when you saw that the movie was called Invincible Armor then you certainly did when you saw the above clip. No more honest review of the movie exists…
One more time.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
It’s one of those ideas that strike you as fundamentally wrong. A modern day transplanting of Sherlock Holmes. One in which the protagonist uses a cell phone, is on the nicotine patch instead of smoking a pipe and has his contemporaries accuse of him of being psychopathic and autistic rather then simply standing by and marveling at his genius (Holmes counters that he is merely a “high functioning sociopath”). Yet ironically these three TV films stand as a much more faithful and convincing testament to the durability of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation then the big budget Robert Downey Jr. relaunch of last year. While Guy Ritchie’s film was marvelously entertaining, it was also overly insistent. Straining to prove that Holmes was still relevant “for the kids”. In all fairness the film accomplished just that, turning out a robust adventure film that freed the Holmes franchise from the straight jacket of respectability it had been in for so long. Conan was a pulp novelist and Holmes a pulp character. The fact that the new Sherlock Holmes embraced that was no more disrespectful of the source material then the fact that the makers of the Sherlock Holmes films had more or less spent the last fifty years ignoring it. Ritchie’s revelation wasn’t so much that Sherlock Holmes could be relevant as Sherlock Holmes could be fun, an altogether more surprising announcement. And if in doing so Ritchie was a bit hyperactive, well that’s in his nature as a filmmaker.
This new BBC version on the other hand doesn’t insist on a thing. It merely plops down Holmes in the modern day, complex mythology fully intact and observes that hardly a thing needs to be changed in order to produce some immensely tense satisfying detective stories. There’s Moriarty passing orders and arranging assassinations from behind a grey question mark on Skype. There’s Mycroft embedded in a seat of power. And most importantly there is London still a place of mystery at both its uppermost strata and its lowest. A place where it is equally easy to have a lot of fun and get in a lot of trouble. A place perfect for Holmes and Watson to cut through, an environment that never takes very long to produce something interesting enough to be worthy of Holmes’ talents.
As for the central duo they inhabit the roles with ease and conviction. It wouldn’t be stretching far to call them the ideal. Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch (and seriously how perfect is that?) with the perfect mix of hauteur, dry wit, brilliance and self satisfaction, with just enough obliviousness to make him endearing. Martin Freeman (The Future Bilbo Baggins) makes a wonderfully solid Watson. Neither the fussy rolly polly comic relief of the early films, or the crisp superman that Jude Law portrayed him as. Instead he is both remarkably capable and remarkably human the perfect foil. Sherlock is simply put near perfect for what it is. Crisply plotted, smartly written and stylishly directed. It’s the best kind of update, one that realizes that there’s nothing that really needs updating.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Potential is a fantastic thing, but it can be a double edged sword.
Up until this point the Potter series have been thriving on pure potential. Why so many of Lost’s fans turned so viciously on it is because the series seemed like five seasons of potential and one of pay off. Goblet Of Fire is the installment in which Rowling finally shows her hand and to my mind she pulls it off wonderfully.
Mortality, which would become the series’ central preoccupation, rears its ugly head here and the threats which had been building abstractly around Rowling’s cozy world became startlingly concrete. And I think it’s these threats, just as much as her hominess that give the series such a juice. Voldemort and his Death Eater’s have always been a much more substantial villain than your usual children’s book (or for that matter fantasy) Big Bad. Here’s what Drew McWeeny had to say in his take on The Deathly Hallows.
After all, this is a series about the battle between a philosophy of racial purity and one of inclusion, and that disturbing subtext is made clear again in this film. The result, for me at least, is that the bad guys in this series are genuinely upsetting and not just generic action movie bad guys. One of the things that I grow weary of in movies is the idea of "saving the world" because it seems like such a ridiculous easy thing to say, but such a hard thing to actually define. I have a hard time understanding why any villain would hope to destroy the world or end the world. There's nothing in it for them, no goal that makes sense. With these films, the goal is reshaping the world into a place where wizards and witches live in a superior position to the plain and boring Muggles, where magic gives them an advantage and where blood defines your place in the world. It's believable, and it's awful,
And it’s that real sense of menace that makes the novels relatable. It seems to me that the battle in Harry Potter is less about Good and Evil in the Cosmic capitalized sense, but between those who are decent and those who are not. The scene in which Mr. Weasly, who though befuddled and eccentric remains perhaps the most decent character in the Potter universe, doesn’t allow Harry to leave until he has made Dursely say goodbye, becomes as much a battle between the forces of good and evil as Harry’s final duel against Voldemort. The series has always seemed so English to me in the sense that like The Lord Of The Rings it is at the end not a battle for glory, but rather a battle in defense of coziness. The Good character’s fight in Harry Potter, to defend not lofty ideals, but the simple things, the hearth and the home, the library, and the kitchen.
It’s decency not morality with which Rowling ultimately paints her conflict, its why someone like Crouch is able to painted so wrong despite being on the right side and why for all the fantastical elements Rowling’s universe always firmly resembled our own.
And it’s really kind of amazing just how little of this Newell makes of any of this. If Columbus’s work was inelegant then Newell’s is out and out clumsy.
Mike Newell is of course the owner of one of the most half assed careers in Hollywood. And if upon revisiting I think the film he made here was actually worse then the Columbus ones. Which though poor at least were coming from source material that is at it’s core, children’s books, charming though they may be. Here Rowling has stepped up her game and Newell has not followed.
There’s hardly an element in the work that’s not problematic. After Cuaron teased more naturalistic performances from them in Azkaban, the young cast here has backslid. Mightily. Everyone is playing broad here, even some of the older cast, Gambon hits his nadir playing Dumbledore drunker and surlier then Rooster Cogburn. All exposition and plot machinations are startlingly inelegant. The perfunctory checklist nature of the films also intensifies under Newell’s watch. Also backsliding the films imagery, after Cuaron’s elegant eye it’s more noticeable then ever when a director knows nothing to do with this world then point a camera at it and shrug.
Occasionally all these disparate bad elements combine (take the rival school’s entry to the Hogwarts Hall). In which Dumbledore stands up, slurs his way through about a minute of explanation of whom these people are and what they’re doing here only to have these ill defined characters storm in and perform with some startlingly bad CGI. Then we’re off to the next scene.
Like the film’s of Columbus the film is partially redeemed through spot on casting, In this case a spot on Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, whose casting is frankly ideal. He’s an actor who can embody the contrasting elements that make Voldemort such a compelling villain; the aristocratic hauteur, warped intelligence, core of cowardice and genuinely twisted core.
So credit Newell with this, he did like Columbus before him at least gather the elements, thankfully someone who knew how to make better use of them was coming.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
The Golden stock literalizes what I've always thought was Smith's primary appeal. The secret of Smith’s enduring popularity is how friendly his vision of the world is. The title Smith chose for his company, “View Askew” was spot on, his world is our world, but just a bit off. Our world in which everyone is just a little bit smarter, funnier, stranger, kinder and on the whole less mundane. A world that is in this case literally brighter. For all the potty humor Smith's world has always been a surprisingly innocent place.