Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 of Something Super - The End

I am writing about this film, even though EVERYONE else is also writing about it.  I have nothing original to say about Breaking Dawn, I am sure, but its always easier to rip a film apart and be negative and hyper-critical...easier and therefore more fun.  I didn't want to miss my chance to jump on THAT bandwagon.  Honestly, I just want to get this post over with.

Let me begin with this bold statement:
NO I HAVE NOT READ THE G.D. BOOKS. so stop asking me
Yes, thank you, that bold statement was actually in bold.

Ok So, Don't read this if you don't want confirmation that yes yes they get married and yes yes the have the much anticipated and longed for coupling.  Yes, Jacob is so very sad, and Bella is so very mumbly and nonverbal, while Edward is so very dreamy.  And everyone else gets there little cameo's too, and fill in the cracks in an otherwise unworkable screenplay.

Here is the deal:
The dialogue is of no substance.
The acting is infantile, angsty, uncomfortable and melodramatic.
The plot is packed to the ceiling with family values subtext.
The direction is so weak, I couldn't help but wonder if they just used a robot.
The CGI was woeful. If you have seen it...the scene with the wolves (you know what I'm talking about).
...and no one got naked. 

Yet, the audience - packed to the rafters with Twihards - screeched in delight as the film opened with Taylor "Daffy" Lautner ripping his shirt off and running toward the camera like a teenage wet dream.  They screeched again as the film ended with Bella reawakening as a vampire.  This leads me to conclude that we the audience of theTwilight series don't care about substance or artifice or any of that crap, we just wanna see the hot kids do sexy stuff. Whether you are a tween, a teenager, a 20 something or an actual seasoned adult, sometimes it fun to let go and embrace the melodrama of the teenage realm - the urgency and immortality of youth; the lusty silences of first love; the silly decisions made by the unrequited and rejected. 

In conclusion: this movies blows serious chunks, but for you, the Twilight fan, are getting EXACTLY what you have been waiting for.           

Monday, November 21, 2011

Submarine - The Weird Tale of Love, Welsh Style


This is cinema.  Truly a piece of cinematic art, cinematic ingenuity, cinematic magic, cinematic genius - this is cinema.  This is why we love film - to be transported away from the mundane, the trivial, the ritualized, the route, to be swept into the impossible, improbable, the unlikely and believe.  We the audience are left with goose flesh at the stage of this artistic flurry - colors, perspectives, dialog like notes left penciled in on the edges of a epic poetic masterpiece - wild, lovely, comforting and chilling in its innovation, its tiny grandiosity, its limitless restrained timelessness.    

Other than some music videos for Sheffield's finest, the Arctic Monkeys, director Richard Ayoade has not done much directing...Submarine, then, will be the first of hopefully many feature length projects to come from this visionary and liquid aueture.  The lucidity of the nearly twilight'ed tonality is nothing short of visual deliciousness.  Bold in one moment and muted in the next, Ayoade's vision plays on emotional cues using editing, highly stylised mise-en-scene and the strangely lovely narrative voice of the protagonist, 15 year old Oliver Tate.  Oliver is in boyhood love with Jordana Bevan.  Neither is very popular, but neither is unpopular either.  Both suffer from being teenagers.  Both have parental fears - Oliver, afraid that his mother is having an affair with a long lost love who has recently returned to live next door fails to post for Jordana as her mother battles cancer.  What we get is a coming of age, love story humored through the mind of a teenage boy of rare intelligence.

Why is this film so luscious?  Let me show you:

           The above still is of Oliver and Jordana, who are about to unceremoniously hold hands for the first time.  Oliver pale and dressed in black is in bold opposition to Jordana dressed in vibrant red.  His hair is floppy and free, while she don's a sharp angled frock.  Both stair straight ahead, Oliver looking dazed with anticipation and Jordana the smirk of being in complete controll.  She is a smoldering ember and he is repressed, controlled careful.

The care with which scenes have been constructed, edited and shot create an experience that is highly cinematic.  No other medium could tell this story in quiet this way.  Submarine a fun, free, fresh, poignant, high calorie, British dark comedy and well worth the $1 at RedBox. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Anonymous: Shakespeare and the Royal Conspiracy

  A brilliant premise for a film, no doubt...Was Shakespeare (one of the most prolific thinkers of all human history) a fraud? It has long been thought amongst Shakespearean scholars that only a man of considerable education could have concocted the iambic pentameter masterpieces of the Elizabethan age. To be well educated would assume great means and access to travel, ideas, cultures and influences outside the reach of common people of 16th Century London. A man perhaps then of noble birth may in fact have been the author of these time-transcendent works.
Without giving too much away regarding the film itself, the basic premise is self-evident. The actual William Shakespeare is proposed to have been a somewhat popular actor who seizes upon an opportunity to lend his name to a fabulously well written and well received new play by an anonymous author. This author, in turn, knows the only hope of having his works performed, and thus shifting the climate of cultural intolerance and political persuasion present at the time, is to pay an class-acceptable party to pretend to be the author - a duty which comes with fame, fortune and lasting acclaim. So who was the "real" Shakespeare? The film centers around this hypothesized author within a gloriously dark and drab London and a conversely lush yet weary Noble court. What a strange Queen Elizabeth this film constructs...a vision of her perhaps we have not seen recently. An aging Vanessa Redgrave plays a withered and often confused Elizabeth at the end of her days creating an atmosphere of fragility ripe for the reinventing while juxtaposed against the buoyant youthful rebellions of her people and her stage.

While I really only desire to have positive things to say about this film, alas, the plot get a little dodgy. To suspend disbelief long enough to accept what the film proposes as even remotely true is an adventure in the first place...but to go where this film leads, is head shakingly embarrassing. At the risk of giving away a vital plot point revealed at the top of act 3, Elizabeth becomes suddenly far more involved in the Shakespeare conspiracy then most educated viewers would begin to fathom, let along find acceptable. No doubt, Elizabeth was a rebel of her time, that’s one of the many reasons we continue to find her so very fascinating; but this film is constructed on an odd series of assumptions that lead to a very dark conclusion. Perhaps in the time of Shakespeare and Elizabeth's London where refuse was poured from windows into the streets, prostitutes lingered in doorways, and political and theological beheadings were the solution to tides of envy, such a plot twist would be commonplace and not so difficult to put aside; however, in these modern times and with our modern sensibilities, the proposal becomes preposterous, trashy, and begs numerous more unanswerable questions.

All in all, Anonymous carries a velvety complexion, robust with lyrical dialog, and spun with a gloomy aesthetic. Reds, blues and gold colors are rich and vibrant while all other hues are muted and grayed creating an atmosphere befitting the time and the subject. The acting is of course marvelous as was the majority of the script. Several outstanding scenes between the male leads erupt into tears of honest affection between the characters, breaking the tense environment of scorn, betrayal, distance, abandonment created by a spirit crushing call to station, title, and duty.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Everything Must Go

The ravages of alcoholism make for cinematic gold.  It's a fact, plain and simple.  Many a plot twist has centered around the terrible cycles of spree and remorse suffered by a boozy protagonist.  It's not surprising that Will Farrell would shine so brilliantly in this lovely portrait of a semi-functional alcoholic who is forced to come face to face with the realities of his lifestyle.  The premise of this simple, muted film would be funny, if only it wasn't so tragic.  Farrell has already proven his ability to crossover into dramatic acting after his role in Stranger Than Fiction, but die-hard Will Farrell fans still expect the easy genius of Farrell's improvisational dialogue made even more hilarious by his complete confidence in playing the most radical loser.  Everything Must Go is entirely different.  Its serious, but not preachy in anyway.  Its sad but you probably won't cry.  Its dramatic, but you will not be satisfied by a sense of closure. 
A basic synopsis: Farrell plays Nick Halsey a Regional Sales Manager in his 40's.  The film opens with Nick getting fired, not because of downsizing or poor performance, but because of repeated long term absences from work over the years for substance abuse treatment culminating in an apparently devastating binge incident while on a recent business trip.  Nick returns home to find everything he owns on the front lawn of his beautiful suburban home; wife gone, locks changed, car repossessed, cell phone disconnected and bank accounts frozen.  After a trip to the local store to stock up on beer, Nick camps out amongst his worldly possessions, nowhere to turn but inward.  Insightful relationships with neighbors act as a catalyst for forward momentum as well as provides back-story and depth to Nick's character.  The heartbreaking feature of this film is the miraculously underplayed tragedy of Nick's circumstances.  It's obvious from scene one that Nick is a nice guy who when drunk finds himself in trouble - the problem is Nick can't go a full day without drinking.  The only solution is to sell what he possesses and try to move on with his life, alcohol free. 
There are many moments of subtle beauty and intelligence in this film.  Farrell revises his famous George Bush accent to a slight Texan twang, having an effect which is two fold: 1) This reminds the audience that he is a comedian who successfully satirised a controversial public figure and 2) a play on the former presidents famous alcoholism.  Nick befriends another lost soul of sorts in a young husky kid who has nothing to do but wander around the neighborhood all day on his bike.  Putting him to work on his "yard sale" Nick is no doubt a defeated yet generous and lovable character. The real foe, alcoholism, becomes more of a character than a personality trait as Nick's innocence and befuddled bafflement are juxtaposed against inexperienced wonderment of an impressionable youth.
A cluttered living space is a reflection of a cluttered mind, or so the mystics say.  Everything Must Go is a visual dramatization of this spiritual truism.  Every morning Nick comes to in a disaster zone of his life.  Precious objects whose meaning have been long ago lost on him are strune about the lawn and a foggy reckoning of the events which led to his current predicament demonstrate a wise stylistic choice.  In this obvious state of chaos, the viewer is asked to care for a man so broken that life on the lawn is a reasonable alternative to "normal".  A brilliant and subtly sobering film, Everything Must Go is another great Will Farrell endeavor as well as an honest, unsparingly real portrait of American desperation in the quest for normalcy and the wrenching nature of alcoholism.        

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cowboys vs. Aliens - No, It's Not a Comedy

Nope, definitely not a comedy. What !?!, you most likely exclaim...How can this weird western-slash-sci fi staring James Bond and Indiana Jones and set in 1880's-ish dust-bitten America where yokels battle a bunch of ET's NOT be some sort of campy parody? Fact: This premise is odd, and maybe doesn’t work without suspending disbelief to an unhealthy degree, yet is somehow unhindered and temptingly curious. Question: Why would anyone risk making such a ridiculously silly film? A silly film that obviously takes itself very seriously? Answer: Because its Spielberg, that’s why (well, his production company anyway). And this is what made Spielberg THE famous groundbreaking visionary formula setter of our modern Hollywood age that he is.

I won’t insult your intelligence by repeating a plot outline when the title so clearly gives it all away. Daniel Craig is our protagonist, an unwitting hero who we are not convinced at first isn't a villain. Well played, Craig brings the wiry desperation and confused ruthlessness of a trained killer with amnesia to a whole new level as he plays Jake Lonergan...an obvious Twain-ian play on names. Jake's nemesis turned frienemy turned battle brother is Woodrow Dolarhyde, humbly played by Mr. Jones himself Harrison Ford, who manages a moment or two of authenticity in his attempt at acting. Ford clearly is a wizened vehicle for steadfast and sturdy foundational acting, lay down the bedrock upon which Craig can brilliantly carve out a bizarre character, deep, brooding, sad, and animalian in scope of danger - nearly alien himself in a depth of calm while faced with certain doom.

Loyal to the Spielberg-ian repertoire we find a weird plot, an unwitting hero, a conflict of impossible proportions, a woman who needs saving and another who sacrifices herself so that the men may lead the other men to victory....oh yeah and a kid and a dog. While Spielberg didn’t direct this film, he earned an executive producer credit and Cowboys vs. Aliens is saturated in his aesthetic stamp.

Basically - I liked it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

That Doc Will Make You Cry - The Human Experience

When I decided to pursue a Master's in film theory after completing an undergrad in Art History, I had a serious amount of catch-up viewing to do.  Don't get me wrong; I have always loved the experience of watching films.  Loved them on TV, loved them on VHS, loved them on DVD; really loved them in the theater; and soon loved watching them on streaming Internet.  But I had never really challenged myself to do anything with film other than have a passive, escapist experience.  I had never seen formative classic films like Citizen Kane and had never even heard of auteur's like Godard.  So, in Grad School, I watched a lot of film, tons of film - sometimes 4 films a day (the best homework I've ever done).  
What's my point?  The point here is I have seen many films ranging in reaction from "I'll never get that 90 minutes of my life back" to "I'm going to tell everyone I know to see this extraordinary film". 
Only a few films, however, have garnered the thought, "Wow. I wish I had made this film".  The Human Experience was one of these films.
There is certainly a reason why The Human Experience has received so many accolades and honors from the festival and award community.  It is everything a great documentary should be.  It has a compelling mission, clearly stated through a first person narrator backed by impressive images, wild adventures and strong motifs, themes, participants, interviews, and best of all, makes a prediction which over the course of filming is proven to be true. 
The film follows two young brothers on three adventures in search of a better understanding of life's meaning and the perseverance of the human spirit through illness, homelessness, poverty, and tragedy.  Brilliantly interwoven interviews by top theologians and scholars of Philosophy, Religious Studies and Science serve to intelligently and seamlessly incorporate a timeless questioning of the human condition, man's search for God, and the ability to continue forward in life despite grave obstacles. 
From living homeless on the streets of NYC in the dead of winter, to working for an orphanage for ill and disabled children in Peru, and travelling to a leper community in Africa, The Human Experience works hard to prove its own thesis: No matter what the outside circumstance, the human spirit is something of awe and wonderment, propelled forward by a divinity so lovingly simple, we cannot understand it but be humbled by it. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Neil Jordan's Irish Fairytale: Ondine

Colin Farrell, Ireland's prodigal son, and little known Polish actress Alicja Bachleda perform cinematic miracles in Neil Jordan's latest film. Jordan, who is one of Ireland's most prolific auteur's, writes and directs this modern day fairytale of a Cork County fisherman who scoops a drowned woman in his net.
Darkly poetic and hauntingly tender, Ondine lulls the viewer into believing odd occurrences are more than just random strangeness floating up from the chilly black waters, but a manifestation of magical properties come to enlighten and inspire.  In typical Jordan style, a dulled tonality matches the sentiment of a small drink and gossip-riddled coastal town in rural Ireland where Syracuse, or Circus as he is called by everyone (played by Farrell), is the only sober drunk.  Though conversations with his only "sobriety buddy", who is Stephen Rea playing the parish priest, and drama with his ex, Circus does his best to rake in a living from the sea and prove himself worthy of his young daughters affections.  His routine is softly interrupted when a beautiful women is found amongst the fishes in his trollers small net.  With her she brings excitement, wonder, trouble, love and redemption.  Though the film as a whole is wonderful, special praise must be given to Colin Farrell's performance for his tender sweet and introverted interpretation.