Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Flushed Away

This film comes from the makers of Chicken Run and the great Wallace and Gromit series of films. The style is the same, but the animation is no longer clay animation. They have moved on to CGI. The film looks great, but I miss the wonder of clay. The film used a lot of the same humor as the W&G films, but doesn't employ the same subtleties that make those films so great. Still, Flushed away has charm and some really fun scenes. The voice acting from Hugh Jackman, Andy Serkis, Bill Nighy, Kate Winslet, Ian McCellan (sp), and Jean Reno is great and lively. A fun movie to watch with the gang, whoever your gang may be.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Updated 2006 Favorites (with room for changes)

1. Children of Men
2. Stranger Than Fiction
3. The Proposition
4. Half Nelson
5. The Fountain
6. Casino Royale
7. Little Miss Sunshine
8. The Science of Sleep
9. Babel
10. A Scanner Darkly

Babel (2nd Viewing)

My second viewing was a reaffirming of my earlier feelings for the film. Themes became more noticeable and I was able to be more involved in what was happening in the present of the film because I knew the future. I had a bad audience to see the movie with. The movie theater was packed with older people (the gray-haired clans of Canton and surrounding villages). They must have thought they were at home because they constantly said things out loud to the people they came with. People laughed or snickered during serious moments in the film. A woman behind gave a running commentary of how she was feeling about what she was seeing on screen. But I persevered. I liked the movie the 2nd time around, a good sign the movie will remain on my top ten favorite films for 2006.

Jeffrey Overstreet review on christianitytoday.com

Children of Men

Children of Men is my new favorite film of 2006 and perhaps (time will tell) one of the best films I have ever seen. It's an ultra-suspenseful movie that created suspense out of my utter devotion to the characters. The more danger they got in, the more I pleaded with God for them to be alright.

The story takes place twenty years from now in 2027, with the new cause of the world's problems being the fact that women of the world have not been able to carry children to term for the past eighteen years. The world has lost hope. Seeing through the eyes of the characters, my life is trivial if it is only for me, if the world ends with no new generation to inherit the earth. The world in the movie is desperate for hope. They haven't felt it for so long that they've forgotten what it feels like. Then a yougn woman becomes pregnant. And like the main character in the film and the subsequesnt characters the young woman meets, the hope is new. strange, and deeply felt by myself. I know what hope feels like. I've got some right now. But I was sucked into the movie to the point where their renewal of hope was my renewal of hope. And it wasn't just hope that you get a good parking spot or meet the right girl; it was the hope of the world. Yowza!

The film's suspense is not contrived or fake in any sense. Every difficulty that could come between Theo (Clive Owen) and bringing the young woman to safety comes into existance, but the obstacles are organic. People do not behave in the manner they do in most suspense films, doing things they never should or would do. Nobody walks into a dark room saying softly, "Is anyone home? Billy, this isn't funny" before being spooked by the wild man with the meat cleaver hiding behind the door. The films "action" scenes are breath-taking and great studies in audience participation. I put my hand over my mouth to keep from gasping or shouting several times.

Even though I was immersed in the film, I was always aware of the high quality of the production elements. There are some great, memorable shots that should go down in history as some of the best (certainly of the science fiction genre that this film could be classified in) if this film happens to find a devoted audience on DVD.

The direction by Alfonso Cuaron guides the story and actors well. The film gets a great, award-worthy performance from Clive Owen. I have always been aware of his talent, but in some of his past films he has had some sort of impenetratable aura around him. That voice. That face. His sad eyes even when he's happy. But he is fully committed to his character in Children of Men. He is completely engaging, bringing the audience along for both his figurative and literal journey.

Back to the production values: the camera work was at times stunning. There was a "chase" scene involving a car and a mob of people that put you right in the middle of the vehicle our heroes filled, but somehow fit comfortably in a thimble sized space because the car was full with three people in the back and two in the front. How'd the camera get there? How does it move the way it does? It's constantly changing views to give us every angle possible, but never shaking uncontrollably like most thrillers these days (though I'm sure the film did employ that technique at times).

The main reason to stay is the story. It hinges on a simple premise that happens to be endlessly interesting and involving. It works so well. I'm sure repeat viewings will review flaws in dialogue and plotting, but I don't think I'll ever forget my first time seeing Children of Men. It was an amazing experience.

People have been saying "children are our future" for a long time now, but the absence of children is never really considered as the loss of a future, a sentence to be doomed to live out the present hopeless and downtrodden. That's where the movie begins. It's the journey to the ending that will stay with me. I have to see it again. I'm sure I'll look back at this post in later months and my words will seem pompous and pretentious or something of that nature. But these words do accurately represent the excitement I feel today, a few hours after finishing the movie.


Jeffrey Overstreet Review on Christianitytoday.com

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Great Interview with Independent Filmmaker Allison Anders (Gas, Food, Lodging)

I have never seen an Allison Anders film before, but I came across this interview when looking for interview of female independent filmmakers for the open frame blog. Andrew suggested looking for interviews with Anders. She offers very insightful comments about the current state of independent film and hollywood movies as well as her own filmmaking experiences. Check out the interview here...

Click Me

Illuminating Hal Hartley Interview

I just read a wonderful interview with Hal Hartley when putting together some info for the Open Frame Blog. It's completely regarding his film Henry Fool. If you read my review of the film, you may recall that I had mixed emotion with the film, giving it the middle of the road rating of **1/2. The interview I read was completely drenched in "aha!" moments. I feel like i finally get the film and especially the characters. For anyone who has seen the movie, check out the interview at about.com. It just might change your mind.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Scanner Darkly (4 viewings)

In my last post about this movie, I said, "The animation truly suits the movie, though at times the effect of the beautiful look in some scenes is lessened by the animation's use in drives in the scenes where everyone is just acting stoned and crazy (barring the hallucinations, which really come alive)."

After watching the film twice more since then, I have changed my mind about the animation, or rather my opinion of it became clearer. The animation is always beautiful. The look borrows from comic books and paintings more than anime or disney. Things are authentic looking and easily observed even though the reality it depicts is slightly "above" or "more (beyond)" when compared to ours. And that is what I was trying to say earlier. The scenes where everyone is just hanging out being paranoid don't seem spectacular because at that point, I had become accustomed to the style and tone of the film. Seeing these events that I could witness in my own neighborhood or on the highway depicted in animation seemed different from the other scenes in the film. Again, they looked real enough to be real, but were actually just off center enough to make those scenes heightened and more acutely observed. I think that I started to look past the visuals into the stories and the moments within represents a great quality of the animation. I watched the movie with the commentary on and it was a very unusual, good commentary. Linklater, Reeves, a producer, one of Phillip K. Dick's daughters, and a Phillip K. Dick expert all watched the movie and talked about themes and ideas and the source material more than "how'd they do that?" sort of information. There were instances of "HTDT?", but the larger portion of the commentary was different from what I've come to expect from commentaries. That isn't to say I haven't encountered the like before. The movie continues to grow on me. Part of the reason I've watched it so often is it's new to me and one of the only new movies I had in the house. Plus, it's good. It's interesting enough to reveal more and more to me each time I see it. The commentary certainly revealed a great deal to me. The true test of the film will be how fresh it feels in three months or so.

Jeffrey Overstreet review on lookingcloser.org

Saturday, February 17, 2007


This is another addict movie, the genre of which I have been watching much of late. Sherry (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a manipulative, angry, selfish woman trying to get her life in order. She exhibits a lot of bad qualities complete with bad habits, but she honestly wants to do better and be better. She just doesn't know how. And everytime she tries and fails is a wince-inducing moment. She tries often. The peformance is uncompromising and the writer/director has created a complicated character who is hard to root for. She has goals, specifically to become a mother to her daughter again, but in that respect I found it difficult to want her to get there because every attempt was maddening. Her brother roots for her, but even he has gotten used to the idea that his sister may never get right for good. And that is the feeling I as a viewer was left with. I wanted to see her pull through and win, but any movie that tries to portray that faces the risk of sentimentality. I've seen it before. Still, I want to believe every time that addicts will get better and stay better. Sherrybaby portrays the attempts in a realistic manner, with Sherry ultimately facing the idea that she can't make the jump from being the idea of mother to being an actual mother without help. And she offers honest humility before her brother before going into in-patient care. The ending avoids the over sentimentality it could have embraced in favor on a more authentic, satisfying feeling.


Henry Fool

I was disappointed by this movie. I had been wanting to check out the films of Hal Hartley for a few years and had never gotten around to it. I saw Henry Fool on the shelf at the video rental place and couldn't pass up the opportunity. I was happy with the film for the most part for the first three-fourths of the movie. The characters were very original and the movie had a go-for-broke attitude that promised many surprises. The title character was a treat until he became the sad sack of the last fourth of the film. He was no longer interesting. I didn't like him anymore. The film lost speed when he lost speed. He was such a lively character, a great foil to the other lead, an aspiring writer who used to be a garbage man. Where the garbage man is primarily quiet and lack confidence, Henry Fool more than makes up with his vocabulary that falls out of his with arrogance. But the arrogance is more endearing because it is accompanied with confidence and countered by a relentless desire to instill his knowledge of the craft of writing on the garbage man. The film has some very funny things to say about writing, things that will make any aspiring writer grimace and silently guffaw. The charm of the film is the great short hand between all the characters. Henry Fool abruptly enters the lives of the other characters, but behaves in such a manner that he has every right to treat them with bluntness and familarity. And the other characters reciprocate. The film doesn't want to be a laugh riot, though it is very funny. It offers some short beautiful moments (a mute [?] woman sings softly) usually centered around the poem of the garbage man. But the movie lost its energy when the garbage man reads Henry Fool's opus that turns out to be literary scurvy. That in itself is funny, but what follows is not enjoyable at all. Where did all this gloom and seriousness come from? That isn't to say that the film prior was not gloomy or serious, but certainly not to the extent of the last fourth. Also, Fool is a convicted pedophile and I admit I was unable to look at him as the same charming wannabe world-changer once the fact was revealed. The fact offers the character some complexity and depth, but I found it difficult after the fact to like the character afterwards. Still, I managed to come out the film unscathed. It certainly is not a bad film. It strikes me as what indepedent film strives for. It is daring and edgy without appearing to show an obssession to be so. I will probably watch it again with the hope that it will surprise me with new positives now that all the negatives have already been catalogued and stored away in the appropriate warehouse.


A Scanner Darkly

I had mixed emotions when deciding whether or not to rent this movie. I had heard a very small number of critics praise it and a horde of others condemning it as an indie that could not live up to its own ambition. I'm glad I rented it. I've watched it twice now. It looks as though it will sneak into my top ten favorites of 2006 easily. I was pleasantly surprised to feel myself entranced in this head trip of a movie. The film is far from perfect, the mark of any movie featuring Keanu Reeves in any capacity. But this is easily Keanu's best performace since The Matrix and perhaps since the beginning of his career. He is able to convince me he's a conflicted drug addict/undercover cop. That isn't necessarily a stretch for his talents, but he fills the role quite well. The real strength behind the movie is its ability to shift from its dark/stoner comedy scenes to its sci-fi cop story. It struggles a bit to keep the authenticity in its sci-fi cop scenes, but the lacking in that area is only apparent to me because the dark/stoner comedy scenes stand out so well. The melding of the two elements makes for an interesting story that I had no trouble surrending my attention to. There are is a lot of talk in the extras from those involved in the making of this movie that speaks of the source material's prophetic nature. Indeed, the paranoia that once was left primarily to the drug addicts and mentally deranged has found its way into reality. There is also an attmept to come up with some sort of condemnation of the costs we pay to try to win the unwinable war against drugs. But I didn't latch onto these themes. The proof was in the pudding. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say. I may have used that idiom wrong. But the fun and entertainment is following the lead character and his merry band of addicts around as they lose their minds over and over again. The substance to the film, the sacrifice of Keanu's character, only holds together the other elements. The twist near the end is not surprising, but rather the kind of odd shock when you realize your guess is correct. It also fit the work. I felt the film could have ended on the zoom in on Keanu's coffee near the end (you'll see), but I am not opposed to the end the story presents in the film. I also want to point out how much I enjoyed Robert Downey, Jr. in this movie. It's a piece of loose cannon acting where you can tell Downey really committed to the eccentricities of his character and just ran with it like a sprinter. The animation truly suits the movie, though at times the effect of the beautiful look in some scenes is lessened by the animation's use in drives in the scenes where everyone is just acting stoned and crazy (barring the hallucinations, which really come alive). Linklater crafts a dreary cautionary tale with some old tricks and some new.


Maria Full of Grace

I saw Maria Full of Grace with great expectations for the indie. I wasn't disappointed. Catalina Sandino Moreno was amazing. The film won't work if she won't work, but luckily for me, she does. She is a natural. It is one of the best performances by a leading lady that I have seen in a long time. She just inhabits the role. She lives in the skin of the character to the point where I can no longer see the actress, leaving only a life-like character dealing with extraordinary circumstances. I don't know anything about the drug trade or what mules go through other than their small roles in Law and Order and Traffic. But the portrayal of the life of a mule and the dangers and fears they face felt extremely real. Even when the face of Maria was quiet and steadfast in danger, I could sense her fear. It's the mark of a good film to get complexities across when surfaces are what you see. That isn't to say the emotional scenes do not reveal as much as the quiet ones. Each offer their own kind of intensity. Maria Full of Grace is a very intense movie for a drama. This is not a thriller or action movie. It is just a well made bare bones drama with a great lead performance.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Catch a Fire

The only real complaint I have is that this movie is too short. There seems to be so much more to the main character's story that is left out. His time in prison is presented more as a footnote. What happened in all those years? That was a question I felt that needed to be answered. The performances are good. Derek Luke is an actor I'd like to see more of. Check him out in Spartan if you get the chance. Tim Robbins is good as always. He's a brutal monester, but the film grants him the complexity of real conviction that wah he's doing is not only necessary, but also right. I feel guilty watching all the horror of what people went through (and still do go through) in Africa that I have largely been ignorant of for the majority of my life. And once I know, I am given the ability to turn the movie off when it is finished and eat some ice cream or start a dark comedy about growing up in the suburbs. And I forget. I remember and I want to forget. I see depiction of horrible things that people do to other people and I think "how is that possible? How does one person do that to a human being?" And I realize the movie's only PG-13 and what we don't see is far worse that anything we do. I like that the movie ends on the words of the actual person the story focuses on. We see his face and it's more real than we could ever want it to be. It's at that moment that the film becomes real. Real events. Real tragedy. And I can't forget it now.



This was much better the second time around after my initial sky high expectations had lowered and I was able to accept this film for the lovely indie it is. I never questioned the quality of Amy Adams' performance. She is a "firecracker" who alternately warmed my spirits and broke my heart. The ease with which she does both is the mark of a truly talented performer. She is, in my opinion, thbe Best Supporting Actress of 2005. The rest of the performances are very good two. It would have been easy for the actors to put in caractures of southern bumpkins. But each character is felshed out and complex. There's subtext to every action and every word. It's had to put a finger on the reason I'm not giving it a higher rating. I guess I just didn't love it. It's a good movie, no question, but I didn't have that deep connection with the final product.


Winter Passing

I didn't really care about any of the characters. I didn't really need to find out what happened to them. That's a negative. I love Zooey Deschanel. I saw her in All the Real Girls and decided I would marry her or give her a kidney, which every situation came up first. But she is not spectacular in Winter Passing. She's not bad. I just didn't feel anything for her. She's the protagonist. I should have wanted for her to break through her funk. But I didn't. When things worked out for the characters, I thought "how quaint," not "hurray" or "at last all is right with the world." I couldn't connect with the characters. Will Ferrell was good in a different role. But I didn't really care about his character either. I just asked myself what he was doing in the movie.

But, you know, it was okay...


The King

I have to be honest, part of the reason I did not like The King was that the subject matter was too disturbing, even disgusting. I liked some stuff, like William Hurt's performance. I was disappointed with Gael Garcia Bernal's performance. I can grant him leniency because I think very few actors his age could play this role well. The story's real strength is in the questions it asks. They are difficult questions made all the more difficult by the plot's events. What can you forgive? When can you not? What the hell is going on in Elvis' (Bernal) mind?

Paul Dano is good in a small role. The best performance I think comes from Pell James as Hurt's daughter and Bernal's seducee. Where did this actress come from? Where has she been? I'm exaggerating a bit, but she really was the best part of the cast in a cast full of prominent performers. Her sweet, quiet nature ripe for ruining. She's so trusting and oddly rebellious. It's not odd how she rebels. It's more how innocent she still seems after all the drama.



I had seen this movie three or four times prior to tonight's viewing and I had always favored the film. This most recent viewing (as is common with 4th or fifth viewings) revealed flaws I had either missed or glossed over in previous viewings. The writing is wonderful in its quiet conversations and big speeches, but offers tomatoes for Eric Bana to throw at times. Eric Bana is great. This is his best role. He is very talented. For the first time, though, I felt like I was watching him act. I could feel the effort in his words, his accent. Still a fine performance. His hollowed out brokeness shown in his eyes and echoed in his emotionless words. His duty to protect and serve had taken something from him.

I loved the supporting players. They don't get the spotlight scenes and lines that Bana gets, but they all shine. Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, Ciarian Hinds, and Mathieu Kassovitz each infuse their characters with emotion and urgency appropriate to the story.

The film deals with themes of home: loyalty to where you came from, the duty to protect your home, and the get back the one you lost. Everyone is looking for home, or rather to keep it safe and theirs. And to keep it safe, people are killed. The story tries to cover all its bases. It brings light to every end of the terror people cause other people to endure. We do awful things. Sometimes those awful things are right. Sometimes they are necessary. But Munich brings up a valid question: can it stop? Will it ever stop? When does it quit? And that's when I feel heavy and beaten.

I found myself marveling at Spielberg's direction this time. His camera moves with such precise movement that I hadn't really noticed prior to this most recent viewing. He builds suspense with an expert eye. The movie is gritty and bleak, washed down colors and dark city streets abound. All these and more created a sense of dread in me every time someone stood up to move forward. The sex scene intercut with the killing of the Munich hostages bothered me for the first time this past viewing. I get what Spielberg and his writer's were doing. Avner (Bana) couldn't get what had happened and what he had done out of his head. He was a slave to all these overwhelming ghosts. I guess I just don't know why it had to be part of the sex scene. It's the most forced scene of the movie. Second to that is the music drenched, "intense" moment where Avner senses he and his daughter are the targets of a dark car with tinted windows. Bum Bum Bum! Still, the film's action is very intense with real stakes always rising. The men risk their lives, and, though it may sound corny or trite, their souls.

Still the best film of 2005.


Actors in their mid 20's

It was asked of me that if Joseph Gordon Levitt was not the most talented actor of his generation, then who is? My suggestion is Ryan Gosling or Jake Gyllenhaal. If you have any other suggestions, let me know.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Brick was one of my highest anticipated films of the year. It's trailer was dynamite, a gasoline soaked rag waiting for a match. And the movie's pretty good, too. I guess the question with this film is whether its viewers will be able to suspend disbelief long enough to really enjoy the noir dialogue pouring out of high schooler's mouths. I was able to. Once I did, I had a grand time. The twisty mystery is pretty confusing, to the point where I'm not sure the explanations offered actually satisfy my curiosities. But it's a highly sylized, well made film with good performances and creative cinematography and direction. Joseph Gordon Levitt isn't the most talented actor of his generation, but darnit if he's not the most charismatic.


Marie Antoinette

This is not for history buffs. The inaccuracies will bug the hell out of them. But, you know what? Get over it. It's a character piece. It captures feelings of real people during real events. I don't think Coppola has ever claimed that she was trying to tell it like it was. I think she was aiming for what it could have been. And that's fine. That's good even. Because it works on that account. Kirsten Dunst has never been my favorite actress, but I think she breaks a bit of ground with this film. In between her usual Dunstisms, she believably portrays a teenager obsessed with "things" (i.e. - owning them) and the pressures of fulfilling the expectations of an entire country (which she doesn't). Jason Schwartzman steals the show with his understated humor. He's hilariously awkward, a teenager that happens to be king. Complaints could be made about the contemporary music being inserted into the period film, but you just have to get over it. Toss yourself in and submerse until you're breathing the movie like air. It's a fun time. It's a good film.



A slow moving character piece, Babel is not for everyone. I questioned my involvement in the film several times, but was captured fully when Rinko Kikuchi and Inarritu brought me along on her drug induced parade. The film is at times alternately beautiful and bleak. The film does not instill gladness on the viewer (or I believe it does not intend to do so). What it does intend, I think, is to demonstrate the gulfs we've built between us and our cultures and how language is connects and separates us. Misunderstandings abound and people cry. The emotion is real and wrenching. The plight of Rinko's character left me speechless, struggling to find the words to describe how I felt. where the film had taken me. And that sums up the movie: the emotions it stirs are confusing and confounding. And that is wonderful.


The Science of Sleep

Imagination station. Michel Gondry's mind at work. The story is about a guy who mixes dreams with reality. It has been suggested that the whole film is a dream. I don't think so. I think it can be interpreted in different ways, you can choose to ignore certain clues and focus on others. But that doesn't really hinder from enjoying this little film. I love Gael Garcia Bernal in the movie, but I still find the character grating at times. It's hard to imagine a man being so childish (though that may play into the "movie's a dream" scenario. He's endearing in his own pathetic way. And I root for him. I think that's important in this kind of movie. He's in love with Charlotte Gainsbourg (lovely and amazing), but not able to "get the girl." But I root for him. I love her as much as he does, so I root. The visuals are amazing. The dreams are funny and whimsical to say the least. It's a good film each time you see it. I bought it and the only regret from doing so is that the making of doc revealed all the secrets to the magic of the film and took away my sweet ignorance to the people behind the scenes.


Little Miss Sunshine

This is the funniest movie I saw last year. Its not exactly the most authentic movie of the year. It's calculated. But that's not always a bad thing. I don't think it is here either. I've heard that the characters of Little Miss Sunshine fall into independent film cliches, but I must not have seen enough independent movies to be in the loop because they felt fresh to me. Sure, it's a bit of a shock that such singularly defined characters would be in the same family, much less the same movie, but that's okay. The acting melts the family into something I found believable. I could empathize with them, and that made them real. They're real in the world of the movie (a comedy where everything is accentuated a bit above normal=the beauty pagent). And I liked the performances. Paul Dano's character could have been a one-note hijink, but I feel comfortable with saying he infused the character with heart and angst I could buy. His breakdown shook me in ways that I did not expect from this movie. Real acting bravado. Abijail Breslin was a treat. Her scene with Alan Arkin in the hotel was pure acting joy. Alan Arkin's character is a bit of a cliche (the foul mouthed old yeller who says what he wants to when he wants to), but he made the most of it. I had a good time with it. I laughed. Sometimes uncomfortably, but laughs none the less.


Casino Royale

I actually don't have a lot to say about Casino Royale other than it was probably the most entertaining movie of the year. I didn't grow up on Bond movies. I wasn't allowed to watch them because of the way Bond treated women (as objects, I guess). Because Daniel Craig was the new Bond and everything I heard and read pointed towards Royale being the grittiest and darkest Bond yet, I hopped on board. I was not let down. The movie is a rush. The action is intense. The plot is believable (well, you know, at least plausible). And Craig is the real deal. An actor's actor bringing his chops to an iconic character and making his own Bond (from what I can tell). The plot gets muddled near the end, but I can forgive the film easily because it's such a blast.


The Fountain

The Fountain is one of the best films I saw last year, but certainly would be further down the list if based soley on that. It is my fourth highest favorite film of the year for different reasons. The movie is so damn ambitious. I admire it. It has big ideas. Old ideas made fresh. And its slow, but wonderfully so. Whispered words and bark eaten in space. The light on the back of Rachel Weisz's neck. The sight of a funeral on a snowy farm. Wonderful images all working toward telling the story. The story can be difficult to follow with its bouncing from way in the past to the present to way in the future. But it works to tell of a love, an obsession that stood alone through time. Sounds pretentious, huh. Yeah, maybe. But so what. It's a beautiful film worth watching again and again. After the first time I saw the movie, it rolled about in my head for days, keeping my thought hostage when I was supposed to be learning or listening to conversation. And I liked it. I liked asking questions after the last reel finished. There's a lot to be asked. Such as, with a director so confident, a story so rich, and a pair of talented performer to guide us, why are there moments of unreal emotion, stretches of inauthenticity and, GASP, overacting? I couldn't explain. I'm not sure the people involved in the making of the film could tell you. In spite of a few moments of forced emotion and crazy eyes, I found Hugh Jackman's peformance in The Fountain to be my favorite of his. He's constantly seeking to stretch his limits, to explore his acting range. I guess I never really felt he had done that before. Sure, the fruits of his labors can feel over-the-top at times, but at times I was completely on board with the guy.
As the music (a highlight of the film) swelled, my heart did the same. The last big hurrah of the film really punctuated the feelings I had for everything prior.


Half Nelson

Half Nelson is a wonderful film about friendship and making strides. There have been plenty of films about teachers making a difference in the lives of their students, but how many films actually show a real difference a student can make in the life of their teacher. The film can be heartbreaking with generic tear drop scenes that somehow scream authenticity or looks in characters' eyes that linger and are so layered I could take about the resonance for hours. I liked how Half Nelson portrayed addiction. Ryan Gosling just kept making me to yell "snap out of it!" But addiction is harder than that. We forget sometimes. The struggle Gosling goes through is internal. His words betray him. He can handle it, and all that jazz. But the struggle feels real. He's not a bad guy. He can be self-centered and rude and cold, but he genuinely cares about Shareeka Epps. Without that gleem of caring, I think it would have been more difficult for me to sympathize with Gosling's character (like the trouble I had with Nic Cage in Leaving Las Vegas). Gosling's performance is, I think, the best of the year. It was very genuine, sometimes painfully so. And in spite of his character's flaws, I felt justified in rooting for the guy, in part because Shareeka Epps was rooting for him. She is a real find. Her laughs, her little smiles and anger all breathe naturally. The characters needed each other in a way that I think is unique in the portrayals of teacher-student relationship in film where usually one depends more on the other (usually student depends on teacher). The change was welcome.

Gotta' love that open-ended ending. They give you hope without ramming your skull with it. the ending felt so natural to the point where any other possible ending just seems wrong now.


The Proposition

This is the moodiest western I've seen (save perhaps the popular Unforgiven). It's dark. It's gloomy. It's also beautiful. There are shots of the Australian outback that belong on my wall. There's a very affecting scene somewhere in the middle of the film where a man sings a lovely Irish song that I can now hear my brother sing from time to time. But the song is forever connected to intercut shots of a mentally challenged outlaw being whipped to pieces. I can't describe how it makes me feel to hear something so beautiful sung while low volume screams of pain filter through. The acting is topped notch. While Guy Pearce is the most recognizable name from the bunch (he does a great job being quiet and letting his solemn face speak volumes), Ray Winstone and Danny Huston deliver amazing work. Ray Winstone is a sometimes brutal man who wants civility in a town where people are thirsty for revenge, and this conflict was the most interesting to me of the films many buttings of heads. More lyrical and poetic and gut wrenching is watching Guy Pearce toil over whether to kill one brother to save another. Danny Huston is an odd villain. He's a brutal killer with the soul of an artist (a crazy artist, but an artist none the less). The last shot of the film is the one that sticks with me the most. A bitter ending that paints the screen beautifully.


Stranger Than Fiction

I haven't felt as happy or as satisfied for years as I was leaving the theater after Stanger Than Fiction. I think I really loved the film for how it handled its clever premise. The plot sets itself up for what could have been an awkward, poorly done meeting of two of its characters, but I think the film handled the situation wonderfully. I also love how the film allows Will Ferrell's character to hear a narrator's voice (from a woman who actually does exist) without explaining why. The answer would have been trivial to the plot. Who cares why he can hear it? I like films that keep us caught up with the characters' available knowledge rather than concocting answers to questions better left unaswered. Will Ferrell was very good. He showed great subtlety in his performance that I never would have guessed was in his range. I also really got into the love story. Sure, it was "cute." But it also felt real in a very surreal way. The film doesn't depict reality in the way we know it to be, but the reality it portrays is very real on the screen. And that's where I took it all in. Great script, too. A lot of comparisons were made to the work of Charlie Kaufman, but I think Zak Helm found his own voice and told a story much sweeter and more endearing than anything Charlie has written. But Charlie's the best out there, so...ya' know...


Tentative Top Ten List for 2006

I haven't seen enough movies this past year to set a list in stone, so expect updates.

1. Stranger Than Fiction
2. The Proposition
3. Half Nelson
4. The Fountain
5. Casino Royale
6. Little Miss Sunshine
7. The Science of Sleep
8. Babel
9. Marie Antoinette
10. Brick

Starting Anew...

Well, back to movies I go. "About time," you say? Indeed. I will try to keep this blog in line with the new movies I see, but I'm gonna start with a 2006 top ten favorite list (sure to anger the Betzes of this world). Soon enough I will start blogging about movies following the watching of them. I hope you enjoy this blog as much as I am looking foward to filling its blankness.

Andrew G.