Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Jeffrey Overstreet Review of Zodiac

I came across this Jeffrey Overstreet review while doing research for The Open Frame Blog. He didn't gush about the movie as much as I did (he refers to Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as hamming it up). But he gives good insight into the film and provides some thought provoking questions at the end of the review.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Further Thinking on A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

I previously wrote, "At first, when I didn't like it, I likened the film's attempt at realism to be a kin to David Gordon Green's films, although his films are set in forgotten burgs and southern podunks (and are great whereas AGTRYS is merely good)."

Now I see that the comparison is not fair to either filmmaker. I don't believe either filmmaker wants to make the same movie. Dito Montiel is no David Gordon Green and to expect him to be is unfair. I guess what I was getting at is how each director seems to value naturalistic acting, warts and all. Moments seem to flow out of boredom and laziness in the best way (really). Each filmmaker uses his own style to capture their films' moments. Green uses clean camera work and basic shot setups, while Montiel goes for the flashy shaky handheld shots. I prefer Green's style, but the setting and nature of Montiel's story lended itself more to the style he used. Again, Green equals great. Montiel equals good. Green does not equal Montiel.

Wings of Desire

This film is beautiful to look at. It is also boring as all get out. I tried very hard to give the film time to develop, to get better and bring my attention back. It barely happened during the film's final twenty minutes or so. All that preceded it was philosophical posing. The film would have made a better short or work of fictional literature. On screen, it merely is a chore. I had to make myself sit through it. Again, the cinematography is gorgeous, but the story (thin as it is, which can be okay, but wasn't) didn't earn my time. I did watch the making of doc on the DVD, and it allowed me to have some respect for what they were attempting to do. But the idea wasn't translated into a very good film. Shorter might have equaled better, but I'll never know. I sat on my bed watching, giving time limits for the film - "It's been a long time. Nothing's really happened. It'll end soon." "I was wrong last time. But it has to end soon. Nothing has changed." "Dear Lord, help me. Finish it."

Maybe one day I will give it another chance. Someday far off in the future. You can't even see it from here.


Monday, March 5, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction (2nd Viewing)

I've recently had this awakening to the fact that it is impossible to duplicate the feelings of a first viewing of a film in the theater upon seeing that same film again (and again and again and again...). I felt the difference with my second viewings of Stranger Than Fiction and Children of Men. This is a bit frustrating because my intitial experiences of the films were some of the best of my life. And the second viewings weren't bad by any means. The films are still wonderful and amazing, but the "magic" is fading. The elation I felt leaving the theaters after my first viewing of the films is gone.

Good news: my parents liked the movie. This was pleasantly surprising. I had wondered if Stranger than Fiction was too "weird" for them. I asked my mom about that and she said that I've gotten her more used to "weird" movies over the years. So, kudos to me and my mom.

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit

Before you look at my rating, know that I like this film. It holds a deep hold on my youth where I would watch this movie that my brother and I taped off of TV. There is some strong nostalgia for this film. But the film itself is laughable. I don't know if teenagers of 1993 were like the teenagers portrayed in the film (spoutin' off "that's whack" and "yos" like they were articles of speech), but I doubt it. The plot is really just an excuse to make a sequal to the successful predecessor (and a poor excuse at that). But it's good, clean fun. The film itself is lame, but the experience of watching the film with others who had similar memories of a wonderful film (now proven mistaken) is priceless.



Two things: 1)Zodiac is nearly flawless. 2) I only really liked it.

Zodiac has great, award-worthy performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. (who's becoming a favorite of mine), and Mark Ruffalo in his best peformance since You Can Count on Me. Every time Robert Downey Jr. spoke, I was thinking, "Oscar, Robert. It's on its way."

The film looks great. The film is stylized at times, but not nearly as stylized as Fincher's other films. This is more a straight up drama, a police procedual and mystery, than it is a thriller. And it succeeds in spades with the drama, but the film's running time (2 1/2+ hours), made me rely on the characters for "entertainment." Luckily, the characters are complex and wonderfully portrayed by the cast. Still, the film is a labyrinth of information.

The film does a great job of capturing the fear of the period of the Zodiac killings. The media-savvy killer knew how to push people's buttons, and their buttons were always ripe 'fer a pushin'.

The costs of being a part of the search for the Zodiac are abundant and plague the latter parts of the characters' lives during the film. The costs of obssession and failure ripple on throughout.

Facts of the case come in droves, leaving me to backtrack to review all the previous information over and over again in my head. This wasn't terrible, but it did take my attention away from the action on screen for short periods of time. This left me perpetually playing a game of catch up for the majority of the film. I think a repeat viewing should prove more fruitful as a movie-going experience. I'll write again after the second viewing.


A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

This is pretty much your standard coming of age film set in Queens during the 1980's. The film's writer and director tells his real life story. The film starts off aimless and confusing. I kept asking myself what I was supposed to take from it. But as the film went on, the drama increased and the confusion settled down. The further the film progressed, the clearer the vision became. At first, when I didn't like it, I likened the film's attempt at realism to be a kin to David Gordon Green's films, although his films are set in forgotten burgs and southern podunks (and are great whereas AGTRYS is merely good). The fact that Montiel's (the writer/director) film was set in the city gave the two filmmakers a stark contrast. Both filmmakers are content to capture bare bones drama - overlapping dialogue, seemingly meaningless moments to elaborate characters, and acting that strives for realism (although the realism in AGTRYS is clearly more stylized/heightened). I ended up liking AGTRYS quite a bit. The acting was very good. I didn't expect much from Channing Tatum because he's a former model whose success as an actor thus far was limited to the dancing romance Step Up. He ended up really creating a volatile character that polarizes and moves your loyalty back and forth. The guy's kind of a jerk. But he's also mixed up and looking for a place in this world (cue Michael W. Smith). He's doomed to be a thug, a charismatic thug, but a thug none the less. And he'll drag Dito down if Dito doesn't make a break away from Queens. That works. That was communicated very well. Shia Labeouf (as Dito) is great. He's the main character, filling the part of a younger version of the writer/director (Robert Downey Jr. plays an older versioN). He, like Tatum, takes an attempt at realism. Like Tatum, the results can be bothersome. We really don't get to know Dito Montiel unitl the introductions are over and problems start happening. Ultimately, his performance rings true. His scenes with Tatum and Chazz Palminteri as Dito's dad are particularly well acted. In truth, not a lot actually happens in AGTRYS until the end, but the characters are so richly presented that it makes a viewing worth while. The film succeeds at creating a sense of gritty realism and jerk cool. Antonio (Tatum's character) is a jerk, but he's cool. It's Dito's story, but you'll be more likely to remember Antonio when all is said and done.


Friday, March 2, 2007

Children of Men (2nd Viewing)

I saw Children of Men again last night. It is amazing. I didn't have the same intense theater going experience as I did the first time, largely in pary to the fact that I knew the plot from beginning to end. However, I still cared deeply for the characters and their plight. This time out, I marveled more at the cinematography and the vision of chaos the film portrays. There is a scene where a single shot is used for 5 - 10 minutes (maybe more). Blood splatters a bit on the camera and it is part of the audience's view for much of the single shot. I wondered the first time what was meant by this. Why would the director choose to break the reality of the film in favor of the blood. My conclusion upon seeing it the second time is the single shot was so good on that take, so good the minutes before the blood splatter, that the director kept rolling and let the actors continue with their action. The weird thing is that the blood disappears from the camera view three or four minutes after it is splattered. I expect they did this with CGI because wiping the blood away would ruin the shot. That makes me wonder if the blood was CGI'ed onto the camera in the first place. If so, that puts me back at square one of my investigation. Again, great movie.