Sunday, January 25, 2009

10 Awesomely Insane Movie Freak Outs on

I found this list while looking for pics from Pride and Glory. Fun. Swearing is involved in almost all of them, so if you're short, don't watch the clips. Loooooove number 1. I try to quote it all the time, but fall short every time.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I'm gonna borrow a bit (or completely) from the Fishbowl Facebook thread postings for this one (so wonderfully out of context now):

The lightning guy is my biggest complaint with the movie. And I'm not above pointing out its faults. It can be a tad simplistic for such an extraordinary premise. I keep hearing the fact that it's a kin to Forrest Gump - same screenwriter - in its tone, and I wouldn't disagree, to its fault. But there is something special about the execution of this movie.

Honestly, it's more than just the CGI that's dear to my heart. It features a great Brad Pitt performance (probably his best without comedic undetones, though an Oscar nom is a tad much for praise), and features some wonderful supporting performances (Jared Harris - see Igby Goes Down, Tilda Swinton - this is something new from her, and Taraj P. Henson).

But maybe my admiration is that they pulled it off. They told a story about a man who ages backwards and made me believe it (as much as a dramatic fantasy of this nature can). I won't be mad if it wins Best Picture or director, though it's not my first choice. And about Benjamin's promiscuity...I didn't see it as a detraction from the story or his life. It's obvious that the guy had a lot to learn about love and went about it in wrong ways, but that helps the real love, the big love that he finds with Daisy mean so much.

I could have done without the old Daisy/Hospital/present storyline. It didn't add depth for me. It really only serves as reason for Benjamin to tell his own story.

I really do think that we'll still be talking about TCCOBB in 20 or so years if only to complain about the which and how many nominations it got in 2009. I will look back more fondly. I'll also say that it has a lot more to say (nicely) about life, death, and love than Synecdoche, New York.



It should have ended with baby Ben.


Pride and Glory

Pride and Glory is the best thing that has happened to Edward Norton in a long time. He plays it as typical, with his mark of pure talent. This time instead of steamrolling through the process (I'm looking at you, Down in the Valley), he feeds off of others instead of punishing them for being onscreen with him. And he gets excellent help from Colin Farrell (with just a bit too much accent), Jon Voight (who's usually hit and miss and this time hits), and Noah Emmerich (quietly one of the best supporting actors in Hollywood). What makes the movie work isn't the corrupt cops storyline, though that is engaging enough if only overly familiar, but rather the way the corruption affects a family of cops. Now the family of cops genre is almost always tied to a corrupt cops kicker (I was reminded by the trailer and critical reception of We Own the Night from about the same time in 2007). But what works here and will endear the movie to me and enrage me (happily) for years is the family. Their scenes together in and out of uniform are what make the film work on all its other levels. Their history, their present, and the way the corruption tears them apart is the captivating element here. In lesser hands than these actors, this movie might have fallen apart under its "been there, done that" thriller elements. As it stands now, Pride and Glory is one of my favorites of 2008 and one of the most pleasant surprises I've had in the theater for a good long while.

Are you annoyed with the favorable reviews yet? I'm sure to get the reputation of being soft on Oscar fare.

Slumdog Millionaire

I loved this film, but I felt uneasy along the way to the ending. The film uses a Mumbai version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire(?) as a catalyst for a character to revisit his past and meet his destiny. The problem is...I couldn't take Millionaire seriously. It's been nine or so years since the American version was a cultural phenomenon, and what seems like eons since the whole thing was anything but a joke to me. So, it was hard to get the full scope of the stakes for the lead character as he sat in the hot seat answering often it was his "final answer". The stakes didn't escape me. I was engaged throughout, but the show seemed included only to provide an appropriate reason to tell his story. And his story is amazing and interesting and horrible and fresh and well-told by the actor, the writer, and the director (the wonderful Danny Boyle). His past was my favorite part of the film, but how his past influences his future, nay, destiny is why everyone keeps talking about it and what makes it more special than the average tale of international poverty and other hardships far away from our comfortable theaters. I was fulfilled. I was happy. I was pleased. And I was thankful that Danny Boyle is getting the recognition long overdue to him from the Hollywood bigwigs. Let's just hope he doesn't take his new clout and make The Beach 2: Beach Blanket Bingo starring Robert Caryle and Reginald Vel Johnson.



I had mixed expectations for the film. The first trailer was intriguing, but I didn't know what to expect. I was further confused by the mixed reviews from film critics. I enjoyed it. I was captivated. I was eager to discover how this historical movie would end as though waiting for a M. Night twist.

The Entertainment Weekly review said a lot of things right. The truth is, I was more of a fan than an objective observer by the end. I was swept up - with the story, the performances, the time - to the point where even the most obvious of detractions began to blur into admiration. Chief among them, an ending battle with a Hollywood-like surprise that isn't surprising at all. Though, as I was saying, I was so invested in the characters that I was immensely happy and couldn't have cared less if the turn of events was from history or a Hollywood screenwriter's studio notes. The movie is satisfying, harrowing, exciting, sad, beautiful, bleak, and wonderful. You owe yourself the gift of sitting through it.

It's not perfect. Even through blurry admiration, I can see it's flaws. But it's a well above average, underrated film that deserves some attention if for no other reason than to offer D. Craig some love for work other than 007. There are Hollywood conventions that are endearing but annoying if you don't look at the characters rather than their words. There are two intellectuals who become friends in the forest camp of the hiding jews. Their conversations serve merely as way to speak of the world at large, to be more important. But the characters, their place in the camp, the actors' performances are vital. Obviously, though the film is Craig's showcase, his work with the two actors playing his brothers is the heart of the film. I've been a fan of Liev Shreiber's for a good while, but this is his meatiest role yet. He doesn't disappoint even when his interactions seem contrived and scripted. He elevates the story. I've heard oodles about Jamie Bell for years and never really got the hype, but I'm starting to catch on. His performance as the second-youngest of four brothers is special without being awkwardly so. Strong supporting work.

I'm not being true to myself, even with all it's flaws, if I didn't whole heartily urge you to see it. And if you want to see an all around GREAT, similarly themed film see The Wind that Shakes the Barley.



This has been on my list to see since the trailer premiered some time ago. It's a great trailer. I wasn't let down. The chief attraction is the performances from the two leads: Michael Sheen (Frost) and Frank Langella (Nixon, and of Skeletore fame). The whole movie is coated in director Ron Howard's familiar Hollywood veneer. Still, Howard is a good storyteller. He can frame a shot and create drama out of lackluster material. Luckily, his material here is good.

Screenwriter/playwright Peter Morgan makes (not so much with subtlety as glee) a boxing movie out of television journalism and it becomes spellbinding to watch the ole rope a dope in a different arena. Nothing is subpar about the movie, but I do think the movie lacked some heft or weight to the first two acts (as though mirroring its "hero"). I could have done without the talking head interviews with the characters. It really only served to tell the audience what they should have only been told by the chief narrative. In this case, the past narrative.

By the final round, I was sold. I was interested enough to see what happened because early on the two leads were made intriguing characters. Even when what they were doing was not showy or bravura acting (though Langella certainly gets opportunities for that and takes them), I was drawn to the minuscule almost intangible moments with the two men, sparring partners. Sheen spends most of the movie reacting, and those moments when he says nothing with his words and everything with his face are the best part of Sheen's performance. Nixon is a bit of an un-PC chatty Cathy, but he also provides wonderful moments reacting. Though the supporting players (wonderful actors Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Matthew Macfayden, and Kevin Bacon; and actress Rebecca Hall) aren't the main attraction with Frost/Nixon, all do an above average job filling in the spaces between Frost and Nixon's many conversations with each other.

While Frost/Nixon isn't likely to make my list of Best Picture nominees, I'll remember the time when history (however inaccurate it might have been presented) was fascinating in a new way. I don't know that the film will stand the test of time as well as the controversy on which it was based has. Will future film historians and fans mention it in the same breath as All the President's Men as a vital part of the story?


Catchup: Not Pretty

I'm gonna update with some new reviews, but since there's gonna be a bunch, the writing's not gonna be anything to write home about. Fair warning.

Friday, January 23, 2009

On Ebert...and Movies by A. Gates

I was thinking last night about the joy of film and how my understanding of this love is in constant transition. I lost some of my fervor for the art of film spending a semester in Los Angeles. It's not a fault of the city, of its people, or the program I studied in. I was just intimately aware of the difficulty in making a worthwhile film and, above all, the fact that movie making is a business. From the independent film industry to "Hollywood", they want to make a profit. It's discouraging when all you want to do is read a good script or watch a great storyteller at work and people keep incessantly (and perhaps rightly) asking, "Will it sell?"
Oscar season is here, and it's a time of discouragement for some. Still, I am increasingly excited by Hollywood's Big Dance. I root for my favorite films, filmmakers, and performers, (and let's certainly not forget the writers) as though they were my beloved Packers in the the Super Bowl. I cringe at the ornamental ceremony and awkward speeches, but thrive when something or someone I admire, whose works MATTERS to me, is given the highest recognition they can receive. Sure, it's kind of a popularity contest and much is considered by voters other than the actual work itself, but it means something to those that receive an Oscar and it means something to me. If nothing else, awards season buzz gives me a list of movies I want to see. As the Academy leans more toward "independent" fare over the Hollywood epics of old (and lose TV ratings along the way), they align themselves with my tastes.
I thought about critics. They tell us what is good and bad. They frame a film by their standards and are both praised and maligned for it. I will say this. A critic whom you trust, one that can say what they mean and back it up intelligently (and whom you believe), is worth his or her weight in gold. It's hard to say if I have a favorite critic. I start and end my search with Roger Ebert. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, he (or his first TV co-host Gene Siskel) is probably the first critic you had ever heard of even before you knew what a critic was. As the years have passed, he has become like a trusted advisor to me. His passion for movies, even after all the horrible movies he has been forced to sit through, remains untarnished. "Two Thumbs Up" was the first recommendation for a film I can remember hearing, but I now look toward his written reviews for his wit, intelligent analysis, and standards. I want to know what he thinks.
I'll add this: everyone's a critic...and should be. I'll read Ebert's reviews for a starting point on deciding whether or not I want to see a movie, but sometimes I have to decide on my own. Sometimes I disagree with the man (such as on his review of The Usual Suspects), but I trust that he has reasons for what he's saying. Like a friend, I look to him for advice, not answers. Again, we should all do this. If you're having a chat with a pal and they begin talking about an awesome movie that you also think is awesome, pick their brain a while. Are your tastes aligned? If so, ask for recommendations. The best thing a fan of a film can do is tell someone else it is good and why. And like Ebert, you can look toward this person for advice, decide whether or not to see a movie, and come up with your own answer as to whether a movie is worthwhile.
If you love a movie, you have to share it. You could wacth a DVD in your living room painted in team colors or wearing a costume like the most rabid of sports fans (and many do), but remember that a good movie is a terrible thing to keep to yourself. And those who can't do, critique. That's okay, as long as they do it very well.