Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

"Inglourious Basterds" is as my friend calls Tarantino films "gratuitous," but it's also an absorbing film on many levels, one of which being how (as has been said very often) Tarantino has his films look and how he shifts between "genres" so effortlessly. Filmed by Robert Richardson ("Kill Bill") with what Ebert calls in his review "the deep, rich colors of 35mm" with set decoration by Sandy Reynolds-Wasco (a Tarantino regular), we have a visually sound film here. This is the building block for something good, and we get that.

The film chronicles "Nazi-occupied France" when very key things are happening within it. An unseen force is literally cutting through the heads of the Germans. These are the eponymous Americans, and their methods are as such due to the fact Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) wants to "be cruel to the Germans." The script by Tarantino (which I read beforehand to get somewhat of an idea of what this movie would be, and it was very helpful) gave more backstory on them, or at least Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth), who rivals the collective methods of the group with some gruesome ones of his own. Germans (at least for a little bit) have a resource of their own in Hans Landa, a Colonel who critics have described as "charming" and who is undoubtedly deplorable. Christoph Waltz has gotten a lot of awards attention, and he's, as another friend said, "very good." As that same friend noted, he sounds at times like he's taken a couple notes from Heath Ledger's book, since when he exclaims "That's a bingo!" (a line endearing to users of Itunes) there's a trace of a Joker there (and in a couple other moments, too). Anyways, I probably should get back to the plot.

As Ebert noted, it's a "big" film, and it's a wide one. As noted in the structure of Ebert's review (with "The Hero, the Nazi, and the Girl"), the film is a wonder of three converging plot strands, and has more to offer than just those. If I had to pick a problem, perhaps it would be with Melanie Laurent and her sort of rushed plots. But then again, that section may have suffered from the "loss of Maggie Cheung's part" (as reported by the Playlist). If I remember correctly from the script, the sections were a little more divided correctly with her in it. But nevertheless, the movie is still good. I was worrying about how the "basement fight scene" and beyond would turn out on screen, since when I read it I was a little underwhelmed. But my friend (who thought the film was "bizarre") acknowledged this scene as "ingenious," and I think I have to agree. It's definitely a visual thing.

What I have to say is this: some have said this is one of the better films of 2009. It's good, and actually very enjoyable (sounds like a macabre thing to say, but yes). I strongly recommend (like myself and others such as the Playlist, who may have given me the idea to read it) reading the script beforehand to get an idea of the film you're seeing (like others on CommonSenseMedia among other places have said, "It's not all about the basterds"). For me, it was like I got to see the film twice. This is how you should "experience it", not through just plot details. B

Yes, the film is "self-indulgent" (my friend and/or a lot of other people said this). So was "A Single Man". So how is this one better? More diverting. As Ebert said, "quixotic delights".

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Up in the Air

Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" is sort of what I expected it to be, as it split reviews among the heavily faithful and the mildly detracting (who weren't all that scorning after all, save Time Out New York and Salon), but maybe I was expecting it would sail above into what everyone loves to call (especially Owen Gleiberman) that "Cary Grant" thing. George Clooney, who's better playing a fox or a "fixer," acts as Ryan Bingham, who's hired to give people the exit as "the position is no longer available" where they work. As my moviegoing partner noted, Bingham talks up a storm of vacuity as much as Sy Ableman, and he's trained himself not to care that much. He just floats between luxuries given from his "rewards cards" and hates to be at home, rather wanting to be up in the air and traveling (regarding the latter at least I think).

To use a phrase that he slaps down on those he lets go, he receives two "wake-up calls": first from Alex (Vera Farmiga), a similarly on-the-go woman who he falls slowly into love with and who is readily in reviews called "his match," and secondly from Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a new employee at his company who wants to make the company more efficient by relegating the decommissions to video chats. First this puts a dagger in Ryan's step: he was perfectly fine flying around, and he is not impressed with her plans to keep people "at home." But then, as he is told to give her firing skills, I believe he starts to lighten up a little and have more thoughts about his "isolated existence." Relationships progress, and Ryan starts to rethink other things, too, such as his sister's wedding that he would normally just pass by. Clooney's performance in these scenes becomes better and less dry.

My fellow moviegoer said that Clooney was acting flat for a reason, but then again it's pretty bland due to the fact that Clooney is narrating monotone about his travels in a very tongue-in-cheek way. Sure, he's done this before, but thought should be put into the fact that the subject matter in other instances was a little more forgiving. This movie is not awful, but sort of empty and macabre, but I guess that's the point People at my screening were laughing consistently, and not in the DeLillo way. I think I've even read that Walter Kirn's book is a "satire," and if so, perhaps it's better (not to mention that, according to a Film Comment interview, the book is also very different, and Reitman added a lot in the movie). From what I've read and according to IMDB, Reitman intended it to be that way, but decided to change it a little bit. I might have liked it better beforehand, since lame humor is not quite as good as "biting satire." And as the obvious white elephant of "the recession" (which was loved by many critics but derided by Nick's Flick Picks as it was forcedly "'timely' and 'relevant'"), I personally agree with NFP about it being "sketchy," which it definitely was. Non-actors were put into this movie to give it that feeling, and it, I agree with my friend, didn't work, due to the way the clips were spliced in there.

When you take a look at Reitman, his films are not terribly well written (I mean, I still have a bit of affinity for some lines in "Juno," which I actually partially re-watched and don't think is quite as good as before), with pretty obvious and unfunny jokes ("secondhand", as Gabe Toro said). As I said before, people laughed, because this was an "adult comedy" just like "An Education" was (which also brick walls us with a late-game surprise, just like this one). You can be safe here. I'm not the hugest fan of these films, but there are many that are. Another thing I feel the need to point out is the content similarities between this film and Oren Moverman's slightly better "The Messenger." Bingham trains Natalie like Woody Harrelson trains Ben Foster to "stick to the script" while giving out "casualty notifications." It was an altogether more effective movie, even though "losing your job is often equated to dying" (Arthur Miller and my Humanities teacher, among others looking back Joseph McCarthy, say so). In this movie, the whole schtick feels tired (which is cynical, yes, but how else can you feel about the sequencing of, as others have said, "the "calm" ones with the hysterical ones"?).

For the performances, I thought Farmiga and Kendrick (though not perfect and, though another friend prefers Farmiga to Kendrick and where I prefer Kendrick to Farmiga, who with sometimes one is better than the other) were both better than Clooney, who did well despite acting with a bland presence. One could wonder whether if Jason Bateman (who played Ryan's boss) and Clooney had done a "role reversal" the movie would have been better or at least more interesting (Clooney being the obvious filler of such a role, which, as my friends and NFP note, is against type but at the same time fitting). That's what we need here: more interest and less calculation of mileage. C+

Sunday, December 20, 2009


"Avatar" is an extensive, expansive film. Here is James Cameron's most immense movie by far, returning to outside of Earth's parameters again. What he does is create an environment and setting instead of a "backdrop" by focusing in on it. He wants to cover its every expanse, to capture the essence of a beautiful place. And that place is Pandora, where apparently human relations have gone on for a while. They are led by the authority on the subject, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who wants peace among the tribe on Pandora and the humans. Giovanni Ribisi (who was derided by The Playlist, but who actually I thought was funny) wants otherwise, attacking Pandora for a stone that is worth quite a bit. His operations are headed by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who often comments about how Pandora is a lot harsher than human combat.
All of this probably would have run smoothly but for Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who wasn't supposed to be along for the journey but was a last minute substitute for his deceased scientist brother. Sully is a "warrior" but widely regarded as inept among humans and Na'vi alike. His job for his "side" is gunman on a plane, but he ends up spending a lot more of the time in avatar form as a Na'vi. He excels immediately at being his double. But after he gets chased away during a mission and meets Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he finds himself struggling at being Na'vi. A good portion of the film is dedicated to his training at the hands of Neytiri, and this is where, if in any places, the film could have been trimmed (as one of my fellow moviegoers said it was a bit long). It felt a little redundant and it made use of animals like that of "Harry Potter." Another of my fellow moviegoers said it had to be this long to portray such a subject, and I think he's right.
"Avatar" has been called a "space epic" and this is most definitely true. It lives up to the term. Cameron builds an amazing landscape, filled with idiosyncratic plants and vicious creatures. It's the anti-"Moon"; while that film was compacted into tight spaces, this film spills out over miles. Not to say that there are not similar motifs among the films. For example, the use of "video logs" (or in "Moon" "video link", as Ebert would say) reminded me of "Sunshine." Also necessary to note and probably noted before (in Ebert's review) is the use of a fictional language, subtitled in papyrus font. This draws obvious comparisons to "Dune," among others. I also thought of Conrad Richter's "The Light in the Forest" and one of my fellow moviegoers brought up that "Avatar" was an Indian captivity narrative, which is true. I should note also that it is better than "District 9," the other science fiction splash this year, the more beloved of the two films. Ebert thinks the same way, and cites the last scenes in "9" causing it to fall into dullness, whereas in "Avatar" everything seems justified. I agree. The films also (noted by an IMDB user I can't find) shared the Indian captivity narrative style "mastery" of foreign tribe/species.
But perhaps the most revolutionary concept is that of the eponymous avatar. My fellow moviegoer noted that this is a metaphor for experiencing the arts. Another good point. It's also somewhat of a comment on both dreams and video games and how we would like to live them both, but alas neither are real. Jake experiences Pandora as a Na'vi so much that he finds his regular life the lesser entity, an interesting flip of sorts. Cameron also uses this as a device for tension, since (unless one participates in a spiritual ritual) a human must be "plugged in" ("The Matrix" reference, not only here, but in the beginning, and I believe this is noted by many, some indirectly as well, like another IMDB user I can't find) for the avatar to have life. And not everyone will respect this time where the human is the avatar, especially when that avatar just beat up the security cameras.
To comment on the screenwriting or the acting (as the Playlist did) would not be helpful, since as my fellow moviegoer said, these things are supposed to sort of be wallpaper to the rest of the movie. But then again, I'm guilty to the same offense. The script and acting did in some ways take away from the enjoyment of the movie for me, but there are some junkies of sci-fi who don't give about those things and are swept away by special effects. In the end, "Avatar" for me is not perfect, but it's engrossing, engaging, not afraid to dish out numerous concepts and "technobabbles" (courtesy of the Angry Video Game Nerd), not slight, and really puts you into an environment. B+

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Proposal

As IMDB user jmbellin noted, "The Proposal" has a good beginning and a contrived ending. It starts off in New York where an editor named Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) must go back to Canada. Since she is so high up in the chain of command and also because she doesn't want the reigns to be handed over to slacker Bob Spaulding (Aasif Mandavi), she improvises a proposal to Andrew (Ryan Reynolds, at least at the beginning well-cast), her subordinate, so that she can stay in her place. This is pretty shady business, and draws concern. Anyways, the film mostly takes place in Sitka, Alaska (setting of Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policeman's Union") where Andrew's family lives and where Margaret and Andrew are going to share their news.

Basically, since the marriage was such a surprise to Andrew, he does what he can to make things difficult for Margaret on his home territory. At the same time, they must maintain a lie to so many people. Every aspect of their relationship is a fabrication, especially the dramatic retelling of their proposal, which demonstrates their skills as storytellers/editors (Andrew is a fiction writer). The film decides to take a turn for the worse, as it becomes, to quote jmbellin "fairly traditional Hollywood pablum." The whole movie is formidable to this point, which is the mock wedding or something around it, and then goes into a tired routine whose tensions are only annoying blocks of time that add to the film's bulk. Jmbellin also adds that there are "a lot of family characters thrown in," which is true, but the only one I really objected to, and that was Andrew's father, Joe (Craig T. Nelson). This part is sappy and it's not as if we've seen it many a time before (I think critics knew this in spite of themselves, especially Chris Nashawaty). But even then, I still was in favor of the movie and was able to forgive and see the good things of it. After the whole wedding ordeal, not really. I think it could have avoided where it went and pretty easily at that. You've gotten yourself into something good with good potential, so why try to take the easy way out? The characters don't even do this at the end.
Bullock has been loaded even with a Golden Globe nomination for her work in this movie. She's pretty good, but what she does is awkwardly strain for the length of the movie, which can be kind of annoying, but I guess due for what the part calls for. Reynolds can't save the movie at the end, but, as fellow moviegoers and I agree, he's very nice at the beginning. Everyone loves Betty White here, and she and Mary Steenburgen create an affable family background for Andrew. I think that the beginning was a sort of interesting look at how people are able to separate business and love, and perhaps a satire on how much and how little people know each other after a while. It also shows how people act when they are in their own environment versus how the act in other places. I guess if the movie had tried to make these points clearer it would have worked better. I know I'll get heat from the same people who "disliked" my review of "Paper Heart," but here we are. C+

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

"The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" has Nicolas Cage playing a screwy policeman who gets smashed on cocaine and other intoxicants very often while conducting business, which leads of course to a lot of inappropriate behavior on the job. He's one who does a whole lot on a case to get information just to go up to the man suspected of it (while illegally giving information) and say that he doesn't give (but this could be yet another ploy, and now that I think of it, probably it is). You get the idea. Without Cage and Werner Herzog, the film would be an incredibly simple police procedural, scripted by a William M. Finklestein, who wrote episodes of "L.A. Law," among others. They are definitely who count here.

Cage brings vigor and immorality to the role. He's actually good, especially in the scenes when he shows how he can be. The articles I've read (in Film Comment and Sight & Sound) cite that the film is humorous, and yes, it can be when Cage lets loose what IMDB calls a "hysterical laugh." Anyways, Cage's Terence McDonagh is stumbling through his lieutenantship as he goes to drastic measures to get to Xzibit's Big Fate, who is the main suspect in a case involving a guy who did some drug selling and his family. McDonagh cannot do anything well, as he messes up with all of his leads, especially Denzel Whitaker's Daryl, who he loses sight of at a casino where he's trying to find his woman Frankie (Eva Mendes). He's incompetent, double-crossing, and altogether dishonorable. That should give you good enough of an idea of what you're getting into.

But then again, according to people I know, it's not nearly as "gritty" as the "Bad Lieutenant" of 1992, with Harvey Keitel as an awful, awful, awful person, who does despicable things. According to the coverage I've read like in (I think) Hollywood Reporter and Rolling Stone , it's very dissimilar in other ways. I just think I should put it out there, but I don't have an opinion to match, as I haven't seen the original. It's the white elephant in the room for most people. I just think this movie, shadowed or not by Abel Ferrara's movie, should be perhaps a little better done. The plot is low-rate for a movie like this, and while not completely underwhelming, at least without too much scope. It's Herzog, it's Cage, meaning it's combined madness. But then again, while not insubstantial (it is a pretty inflicting movie), not quite as much as you might desire (at least of Herzog). C+

Friday, December 11, 2009

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" is about the two founding members of the eponymous band and their struggles to really get back into the popular opinion after their heyday back in the 1980's, when they were on the same bill as Bon Jovi at a festival in Japan. This was their limelight, and they attracted a lot of attention due their onstage methods and other things. They were considered pioneers of hard rock back then, but 12 albums later, when the film sets its focus, they aren't riding as high as before.

We see from a series of dismal concerts that they struggle to fill a room with people. But they still want to record, especially Steve Kudlow. He's never given up his dream, even though it's taken hit after hit, and judging by this film, he never will. Robb Reiner, the drummer, wants it to happen as well, but not with the fervor that Kudlow does. He's always wanted to play the drums, but then again, he also likes to paint. Kudlow is like Jeremy Renner's Sgt. James in "The Hurt Locker": only one environment will suit him. Kudlow is part of a family of businessmen, so clean-cut that with Kudlow's long, flowing hair and informal attitude he doesn't seem to fit in. As noted before, the only place he can really function is the stage.

Now about the technical aspects of the film. I assume from a credit cookie picture that Sasha Gervasi is to Anvil as Anton Corbijn is to Joy Division. In the style of Corbijn's "Control," Gervasi crafts a documentary, which is the correct narrative form for this movie, as the story continues into the present and perhaps beyond. He gets unrestricted access to all of everything that goes on with Anvil. As A.O. Scott says, Gervasi "makes a case and a place for" Anvil, and that's vital, since otherwise Kudlow would just be another dreamer left on his own. It's also perhaps time to see what happens after a band goes downpeak from its highest stage. Since we sort of know this, it's all the more depressing and sort of downbeat a movie.

The documentary for me started out really well but then sort of swirled into doubtfulness. It needed a little more direction. But hey, this was where the mood and information headed. What I'm saying is that Gervasi was on course for a great directorial debut, but what he ended up with was something only good. But it's not a disaster finish (as a matter of fact, the opposite), and "Anvil! The Story of Anvil!" does very well in leading us into territory that at least that I (an alternative rock lover) hadn't gone into. B

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Cove

"The Cove" isn't the best made documentary, but it definitely has its purpose. People for years have tried to get behind the cliffside at Taiji's notorious cove to document to the world the assassinations of dolphins. The techniques are cruel, the set-up is well planned (a with high security), and the butchery is unheard of in Japan and in many other places. Japan is shown here as tricky, trying to bribe third-world countries into helping them legalize the practice of whaling again, and what could they do? But the message here is made clear: we can do something about all this mess.

The leader of this insurgence is Richard O'Barry, former Flipper trainer who grew to love the dolphins and eventually was getting routinely caught trying to let them go. Also is the film's director Louie Psihoyos, who I believe started an organization called OPS or the Oceanic Preservation Society. His inexperience directing is shown here, since the film technically fails to be very stimulating, often sticking to the same techniques again and again and again to convey the story and resorting to the same shots of the same interview subjects. But the subject is enough to propel the film through whatever stretches Psihoyos couldn't, and thus we have an effective film that gets its message across, while conventionally, in a way that would inspire you to help. This is a case like "Food, Inc." where the sheer force of the facts offered bring the film to well-being. Even without the same threats posed as the former film, "The Cove" still manages to paint an frustrating picture of a corrupt Japan that will not stop unless the public makes it. That's exactly what the people behind this film are trying to provoke, and the only way of truly doing this is getting into the cove and showing what goes on there. No one will like what they see.

The fact of this footage (although we know what is coming thus making it slightly underwhelming if you could call it that, I guess due to the build-up to it) makes this film worth seeing. There will be converts from "inactivism" to "activism," to use the words of one of interviewees (perhaps it was O'Barry, but maybe Psihoyos?). Perhaps it's good that the film is being considered for Best Documentary (only since it should be seen, not because I think that it necessarily is a great film or even a great documentary, and this is one of the places to provoke audience viewing); thank God for every opportunity for this information to be passed onwards. It's because a cause needs to be seen not heard of, which is exactly the same reason "Food, Inc." ended up being decent. "The Cove" is good for its content, not for its style (except in a couple of instances), but I guess that's made clear. B

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Soloist

Joe Wright's "The Soloist" adapts a book by Steve Lopez that chronicles his relationship with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr., who's a multi-musician who went from good talents to being homeless because of his unstable mental state. It has some interesting sequences from inside the mind of Ayers as well as dealing with his love of classical music, but it doesn't really work as it should. While it meanders, there's small moments of beauty, but that's not enough to save the film from its boring stretches among other things.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays Steve Lopez as an easily bored LA Times reporter, hard-drinking (a character trait that occupies all of about 30 seconds), raccoon-pursuing, and writing a column titled "Points West." While walking past a statue of Beethoven, he finds Ayers, who's playing a two-stringed violin, which I believe attracts Lopez's attention. Jamie Foxx plays Ayers in a performance that is good for the same reason I disliked it: even though it's clear that he's mentally unbalanced, it's still depressing to see him not take advantage of what people have and are giving him. But I guess that's talking more of Ayers than Foxx's acting, and speaking less about what he can control and more about what is expected of him. Anyways, I was frustrated, but perhaps that was the effect trying to be projected. What I'm saying is, it's kind of hard to take after a while of Foxx's repeated Lucky-esque mumblings which probably could be attributed to his mental state. But then again, if I were hearing many voices in my head, I probably would be doing the same. But this a review of the film, not an analysis of Ayers' psychology. On the film, I didn't really care for it all that much, especially the sections involving Lopez, which are dry and bland.

The film has some interest, what with the musical sequences as well as some other things, but not enough to keep the viewer fully hooked and not occupied by something else. I don't know really what to say other than that there are much better movies to be seen now instead of this one. Foxx is good in his role, yes, but perhaps there could be a little more other than just him to focus on. As I think other people said, I guess Downey, Jr. is newspapermanish enough for the role (since he was in David Fincher's "Zodiac") and I guess supplies wry humanity, but then again, maybe the movie would have worked better with a different actor. Not to say that he's all bad, but he's just a little boring, and inhibits the film from success. For Wright, think about those music segments and go much farther. What I was expecting was something more music-oriented than what was there. It's not so much the relationship between the two that's interesting, it's the musical aspects. But judging from how Lopez doesn't seem to be paying any attention to any of the musical performances in the film, I think I may be the only one. C+

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Paper Heart

"Paper Heart" captures the feeling of one of those projects, ambitious or whatever, that you can't quite finish. I've had these in terms of videos and the like: you put in time on them, but you just can't get the mileage you need out of a certain idea or plot. That's probably what the fictional representation of Nicholas Jasenovec (Jake M. Johnson) feels as this film starts to wind down. It's hard to capture life on camera, dulling for the person on it and frustrating for the person behind it.

This movie somewhat captures this feeling that I've been describing. It would be different if Charlyne Yi played someone who couldn't feel love who finally developed a relationship with someone played by Michael Cera. It's interesting since you get the whole feeling of the moment, as it is played as real, so you have the difficulties described above coming into play. But that's not all it is. Yi, who finds herself (fictionally or not) without a trace of love in her, goes out to find definitions of love from people scattered throughout the country. For me, what she found felt a little contrived, but I guess these are real stories. The best interview scene for me involved children in Atlanta, which may sound like it will be a groan coming, but think otherwise. I thought it was actually pretty funny. As I said, this is intercut with her relationship with Cera, which looks very predictable when you think about it. This is especially true in the end when the progression of the relationship seems to be accelerated to the point of Yi bemoaning the absence of Cera in her life. Ebert is right: the thing in this movie that is really important and perhaps the X factor for it to be good is Yi, who is endearing and an encouraging interviewer (though, as some IMDB people said, kind of difficult).

The same could not be said for Bill Maher, who takes on the equally gargantuan subject of religion in his film "Religulous." That film could be considered better considering that it's a real documentary and also because the results are (slightly) more interesting. That film also was trying to make somewhat of a point, however heavy-handed. This film is less about its subject than its techniques, at least for me. As self-conscious and "quirky" Yi and Cera are, I guess the conclusion of this film could never have been satisfying (for me or for people on IMDB). But perhaps as I said before maybe it's supposed to be a project too big too finish, but I dunno. A paradox: the movie works because it stars moderately famous Yi and Cera, and because a relationship starts between them on film, but then we sort of know what will happen since it's in a self-contained box of sorts. You know what you're getting, which is charming, but also problematic and obnoxiously "quirky," like Jake Johnson's character. C+

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Messenger

Oren Moverman's "The Messenger" contains pain, and you can see why and yet cannot even believe that Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) gives the advice to not get personal when telling the "next of kin" that their loved one has died in service. How could you not interact? Yet at the same time, it's something unbearable to see. Stone has calculated this throughout his years, and passes it on to Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), who seems like a hardened person when we see him at the start of the film.

But he, as anyone else would besides Stone (who Montgomery calls out as being inhumane), starts to sympathize with the people he is indirectly victimizing, especially Olivia (Samantha Morton, playing a sort of annoyingly unreadable yet very awkward type), who he helps far beyond the dreadful notification. She's the only one whose story we get to hear in great detail (in one relentless shot). All others are given to us in small doses, which are used in the screenplay to make the suffering all the more real. Now that I think about it, the stories are kind of cliche and contrived (of course some happen like this, but it feels old at the cinema), but the sadness is all too real.

The scenes from which the film derives its name and which the film is pretty much based upon are sad, especially the first, which uses a bait technique to gain tension but still provides some pretty devastating moments. You think what's imprinted into the mind of one of these "messengers" and, although not life-threatening, a comparison to the war would be very fitting, while obvious and probably already used in countless reviews of this film. I wasn't wildly excited about seeing this film due to its look on paper, but I guess you can't really transcribe what's here down. You have to show it, since it's human emotion.

The real reason I saw it, like many others, was due to the National Board of Review's award of Best Supporting Actor to Harrelson, which most definitely translates to Oscar nomination (one less spot for Paul Schneider, who prognosticators like EW still count in there, but who really seems to be heading out of the race). Harrelson goes into the role well-cast, as there is a jokey yet serious type needed here, and he delivers in that respect. He does some fine acting here, not in the same range as some others this year, but not bad. He uses his persona, which was truly patented this year with "Zombieland," but I guess does some other things, too. Ben Foster is pretty decent as well, playing a hardened guy who sounds weird when he yells and who really faced some traumatic horrors when on duty. But he's not talented enough to really shoulder the load at the end, where I agreed with my moviegoing companions who said it wasn't up to snuff with the beginning. Another point of one of my fellow moviegoers: too long. 105 minutes is long and hard here. "The Messenger" got and engaged me for long stretches, which is valuable, but not enough. B-

Friday, November 27, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

I believe I've read some review about Nick Cassavetes' "My Sister's Keeper" comparing it to a Hallmark or Lifetime movie. I'm not entirely sure about if I've read it, but I would think that this is a good description. This is a film with an interesting idea, yet it's forgettable, due to the way it's shot (bright-lit but depressing nonetheless), structured (flashbacks bordering on ridiculousness), etc. You've read the book, by Jodi Picoult, or if not heard about the synopsis somehow: a girl (Sofia Vassillieva) gets cancer and her parents conceive a child exclusively to cater to her needs, giving her necessary parts to sustain her life.

The child (Abigail Breslin) feels like she's being taken advantage of and goes to sue for her freedom. Her mom (Cameron Diaz, who plays an interesting character who does things that are not fully explained), who we find is conveniently a lawyer (which makes it easier to battle against her intent daughter) has put everything aside to help her Kate (Vassillieva) stay alive like the mother in "Mother" trying to get her son to freedom. Maybe with stronger technical support, the film could be excellent, but it's not here. It's just like "The Time Traveler's Wife," not in subject, but in tone. It's another example of a Hallmark movie that shouldn't be: there's an interesting idea, but it's either not realized or perhaps it doesn't have enough in it to fuel a film (this is something I doubt). This is just your average medical drama, nothing more, just as heavy-handed as you would expect, (apparently) not wishing to go beyond that. Plus, it feels sort of misguided, especially with Kate as a character. We see her go through different phrases, the weirdest and most detached of which being a punk stage, where we see her briefly drinking and pill-popping. Why? It doesn't fit into the film, basically just a flashback conjured out of thin air to explain something, a task it fails to complete.

This is the sort of thing that's a common occurrence. We look backwards into family history, and it all seems to be terribly sentimental, as well as deeply depressing. That's an emotion I felt during "The Time Traveler's Wife," as well (a film I saw in glimpses on a plane, not avidly enough to review, but enough to capture the emotion of). I dunno. I really don't. Devout fans of the book will flock to see it, and there's no stopping them. But for those who stumble upon it: it didn't work for me. Consisting of clichéd moments and ambient and mediocre music, this is not a good movie. It's insufferable for all, but in different ways to different people. There are some interesting developments, as in most of these films, such as the influence of Judge de Salvo's (Joan Cusack) own traumatic experience on this one. That's one element that spun my mind. Plus, Diaz's character is interesting. Finally, Alec Baldwin's lawyer for Breslin's Anna is, as I believe others have said, persuasive and satisfying to watch. He's talented, which is well-known, but should be said. There's also Taylor (Thomas Dekker), also shown in flashbacks, who gives Kate a nice time as she begins treatment. But it's dealt with uninterestingly, though playing to those (IMDB posters I gather from) who praise it for being "realistic."

Fine, fine. But I wasn't totally stimulated, a phrase I could apply to many an aspect of this piece. I struggle to find something to say about it, other than to talk about the widely known fact of the re-scripted ending, which feels like it devalues the whole pursuit of the heroine, in favor of showing affection. Made me feel a little warmer, perhaps, that it was done all in good intent, but then again, conflict beyond a point would have been interesting (although turn-offing to many a viewer). As I said before, I'm not converting any lovers of the book. I'm just saying to those on the outside, seeking a choice for a film to watch, I'm not a supporter of this work, which is unfortunately not very interested in aesthetics and into everything else obsessively. Okay. Maybe I'm a little hard on it. But "My Sister's Keeper" fails to be of much stimulation, which I feel a good movie inspires. It's confused, and although I'm pretty negative about it, so am I. C


Lukas Moodysson's "Mammoth," while thoughtful, seems familiar, as if borrowing from other movies of its type. It bears resemblance to "Babel," an obvious comparison, yes, but it’s the elephant in the room the whole time. Both have caretakers to American families, both from countries that each respective film dove into and followed, both follow two brothers in a foreign country. "Mammoth," however, opts to observe characters more clearly. We see a happy, affluent family at the film's beginning. The father, named Leo, is Gael Garcia Bernal, who runs a website called "Underlandish" or something of the like, is as over-flowingly rich as the people who started Facebook. The mother, named Ellen, is Michelle Williams, who is a doctor and who is kept at the hospital at night as doctors are. The film centers around Leo having to go to Thailand to make a deal. He ends up staying there for a long, long time.

In this time, Gloria, the caretaker (Marife Necesito), and Jackie, the child (Sophie Nyweide) bond. Ellen feels sad that she is not able to nurture the child herself. But she is grateful for the love and care of her nanny, who lets Jackie learn her native language of Tagalong and takes her along to Mass and the Hayden Planetarium. Gloria is working day and night to care for her poor family across the globe. She has two sons, Salvador (Jan David G. Nicdao) and Manuel (Martin Delos Santos), and she wants them to live nicely. Salvador wants to work for her to come home. This is much to the dismay of his grandmother (Maria Esmeralda del Carmen), who believes he should be thankful that his mother is giving such an effort. Leo decides to move outwards from Bangkok, going to live at a "bungalow" on the beach. I won't go much farther than that.

I appreciated that Moodysson (seemingly) took the time to shoot on location. It's interesting to see different locales. He does something that feels authentic, captures the emotion of people and places. He has strength in his actors, as they are very, very good. I especially liked Williams and Carmen. I could have asked for more out of Necesito, who embodies a typical role typically. Moodysson's screenplay also sometimes goes down roads that I've seen before, such as the treatment of the nonspeaking Anthony (a kid who Ellen treats as a son and as a patient) as a character as well as (to a lesser extent) that of the brothers. The very end, a "perfect moment" as described by one of the characters, is bittersweet, partially well-done while also leaving room for disappointment.

"Mammoth" is a movie worth seeing for the reason that it usually employs different ideas than what you may be thinking. It's thought-provoking. Not to mention containing strong acting. You've maybe heard early hype from Ebert (ed. I thought he was going to rave about it, but his review was about the same as mine), and it's true to an extent. "Mammoth" is not great, but it's unusual and interesting. Your heart may be tugged by some of the contents. Mine was in some ways, but my mind was more. In the end, I'm left a little cold (as was an IMDB user, who created a thread of "Pointless movie"), but it's not all for nothing. B

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is a very eccentric film in the beloved styles of both Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl. It's a very amusing and entertaining movie chronicling Mr. Fox (played by George Clooney, who is most definitely himself in the back of my mind but at the same time well-embodying of his character), who's a newspaper writer as well as a consistent tormentor of Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness), and Bean (Michael Gambon), who are considered "some of the meanest farmers in the history of the valley" by Fox's lawyer Badger (Bill Murray). He's had contact with them for a long time (presumably), but now he's their neighbor, living in a huge tree.

This film is just as unconventional as it sounds, but then again, that's what makes it Anderson (who wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach). Mr. Fox would continue and continue with these daring exploits, but he's calmed down due to the fact that his wife Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep, in a equally esoteric role) wants to settle down. But, in a rather dubious move, Mr. Fox puts himself back into the line of fire by buying that tree-house against his lawyer's counsel. Oddly enough, a quiet and skilled nephew named Kristofferson (Eric Anderson, who is a good fit in the role) comes to live with them, arousing jealousy in the heart of the Foxes' son Ash (Jason Schwartzman). Ash is somewhat of a typical inept son, but in this movie, what with its warm vibes and nice personality, I'm willing to forgive that. Mr. Fox also encounters Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), who he uses on his clandestine late-night raids to the farms of the aforementioned "mean" farmers. After they do a lot of raiding, the farmers are forced to use some serious brute force.

From there, the plot goes off like the many directions of a tunnel dug by the foxes. But this is fine, due to the fact that it's a particularly fun film to experience, partly even because of the spontaneous feel in the air. The fact that the film eventually centers on something perhaps not totally satisfying is okay, because Anderson portrays it well. It could be said that the film is a little slight, despite being a long and engaging 87 minutes, but that's plot-related and is solved by Anderson and Baumbach's hilarious writing. Many members of the cast (notable exceptions being Clooney and Streep) have appeared in an Anderson film before, so it's authentically Wes. And, in my opinion, it barely tops "Where the Wild Things Are" in the whole "adult filmmaker makes children's film" craze that's spawned articles aplenty in the NY Times Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, etc. My personal favorite WA film is "The Darjeeling Limited" but this film surely is good. This is one of my few favorite animated films this year (alongside "Sita Sings the Blues"). You'll like it if you have a Andersonian sense of humor, and you know if you do. For me, it was a lot of good fun. A-

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Every Little Step

"Every Little Step" is a meticulously edited film about perhaps the most languidly written musical ever (I say that last comment not knowing much about Broadway history). It's a meta-meta-physical documentary, probably the most ready-made showcase for showing the process of audition (another thing I profess to know little about). "A Chorus Line" seems to be one-of-a-kind: Michael Bennett recorded a bunch of personal, personal stories and put them together. Perhaps it sounds contrived, and it would be if it were thought up by some playwright. But these moments are real. And to think of the casting: they are the hardest and easiest roles to choose, since while there is a face and a personality that the revival's stars have to match, everyone shares the dream.

"Every Little Step" I believe is concerned more with what you can't see that what you could have. Me, I've never seen "A Chorus Line". That's not hard to believe, though, since I only travel to New York to see a play when it seems like it's going to be actually good. I don't go on whims like I do with movies. I didn't even know what it was about until I saw the trailer for this film. I didn't have high expectations for this film, either. "Every Little Step" is not a powerhouse documentary in the way "Tyson" or "Man on Wire" was, but you can't get to that plateau every time. I was expecting "Valentino: The Last Emperor" or worse from it, and I got something more. It's that same way you watch "American Idol" or something else. A little less personal, but then again, you're given less than two hours to meet many, many actors. The film is set up many times to make it easier to compare your favorites for each part, since this is what I'm always drawn to do. Any devoted viewer of talent competitions knows there are those moments when you find out who should be the victor, or in this case, the actor who gets the part.

In this film, there's only one really great scene, with Jason Tam playing auditioning for a part as a gay actor. You don't see him sing or dance. He only just gives a fantastic performance of a tough monologue, with great precision on each heartbreaking line. It's something you need to see to believe. I mean, there are other good performances given by capable actors (such as Chryssie Whitehead with a magnetism like Sally Hawkins or Deidre, unfairly uncredited by IMDB, who's not the best singer but a very good actress nonetheless), but Tam is phenomenal. The stingy casting directors (very much like your average Simon Cowell, capable of being moved by anything, but by convention "not easily impressed") are reduced to tears. He's so good, so perfect, that he's cast upon the spot. That's too bad, since that's the only time you see him really perform.

Never mind that, though. This is a good, very skillfully edited movie. That doesn't mean it isn't slight. As I said before, this movie is much more about behind-the-scenes than on the line, so you get a rushed montage of celebrity arrivals and small chunks of different numbers. I also had slightly mixed feelings about the flashbacks, as they are a little distracting, but I guess the provide some insight, and they don't spoil the movie. The most interesting subject was Martin Hamlisch, who makes note of all of the little musical bits. It's also interesting to hear the basis of the story, and it's good that the filmmakers got the permission to use it (noted in a title preceding the film). "Every Little Step" is not perfect, but it definitely is a solid movie. I would recommend it to people with any range of "Chorus Line" experience. Look, even I got something out of it. "Tyson" is available on DVD, and that's perhaps a better option, on a slightly higher playing field, but if you've seen that (like me) and are exploring, this is a good one to try. B

Friday, November 20, 2009


"Bronson" is a film that's in limited release, and having sat through it, resisting the strong, strong urge to walk out of the theater, that's the level of exposure it should get, if not less. I like enduring the unendurable sometimes, but this movie takes that too far. There are more than a few scenes that persist for what seems ages, and to no avail. I applaud all those who find this film "pointless." That is exactly, exactly, exactly, exactly what "Bronson" is. If you noticed, I left two or three more "exactly"s than necessary, and that's what is done throughout the film in many different ways with many different things. Nicolas Winding Refn (whose "Valhalla Rising" looks like a good follow-up to this) seems to provide little to no supervision over any technical aspect of the film, so cuts are free to let to run on as long as Matthew Newman as editor wishes. That's at least how it felt.

It's an excruciating film, and simply because it doesn't know where to stop before it becomes tiring. Add to that the fact that we have to watch Tom Hardy do a painfully annoying (but perhaps from some angle good) performance all the way through in scene after scene. This is not the best movie to have the lead actor present some sort of tedious (as said before) "schtick in front of an audience." He's front and center, doing some sort of twisted routine, and that is supposed to be appreciated. Maybe this is, as others have said, "the best way to showcase Charles Bronson" (although I've heard complaints about different aspects of how he's portrayed probably by people who've studied him enough to know). If so, great. It's just maddeningly unpleasant. That's something I can take, but if I come out of the film feeling like I got nothing or close to nothing out of it, it's not worth it.

I should describe this movie first. It's the story of Charles Bronson (Hardy) who has an underlying desire "to be famous." He does it unconventionally (in a sense). After he commits a small crime, he's jailed and basically he's a total problem. He goes from prison to prison to mental hospital to prison in an everlasting circle beating on whoever is trying to hold him down. Maybe I was expecting it would be Steve McQueen's "Hunger" all over again. That film featured long shots, but they were engaging because of the beauty of Sean Bobbit's cinematography. See that instead. Go get the Criterion release when it comes out. It's a great film, Steve McQueen's one and only film, hopefully not forever. "Bronson" hammers you, but with lack of intellect or purpose and abundance of disgust. Oh, yes. There's that one scene with a infuriatingly long take where there's low-grade muzak playing in the background as you follow a mental patient, who walks back and forth before the camera finally rests on Bronson. I don't think it would be very nice if I described what he looks like. It's sickening. There's another scene that was mentioned in the content advisory by the SF Chronicle's negative review as "a scene of defecation." It's as awful as it sounds. (And yes, "Hunger" has "a scene of defecation," too, but in that film it is extraordinary art, however hard that is to picture, whereas here it's used to illustrate the boredom of Bronson and mental hospitals. In "The Hurt Locker," there's a very similar scene when Jeremy Renner returns from Iraq and is shopping. A lot less revolting, and in a much better movie.)

Technically, although containing decent cinematography, "Bronson" features many distractions, too, the greatest of which probably being the overused classical music. In one or two scenes, if any, maybe. But not as often as here. There's a scene in an asylum where there is dancing, and that may be the film's most enjoyable stretch. Plus, the walking of Hardy is tolerable and nice. But that leads right in to the next elongated, elongated moment. Suggested ways of using the amount of time spent watching: read Anthony Burgess' stimulating "A Clockwork Orange," which is considered a major influence on this movie, go see a great movie around in your area, or do something else. You don't need "Bronson." I'm not saying this film would be unenjoyable to all audiences. If it sounds like the best movie of the year, take a shot. You'll likely find it, judging by the comments on IMDB, a waste of time or absolutely amazing. I believe I've made myself clear which side I've found myself on. D

The language in this film was particularly offensive. The "c-word" was used far too many times. I am not usually squeamish about swearing, but here for some reason it kept on getting to me. So just know what you're in for, since the MPAA gives only a citation for "language," while it should be "pervasive strong language."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Girlfriend Experience

It's common to wonder if you're experiencing the "real" someone, as opposed to just being another person who's interacting with a front. "The Girlfriend Experience," Steven Soderbergh's first of two 2009 films, one where he controls just about every technical aspect of, gets to the bottom of this. It's distractingly and pointedly lo-fi, and sort of flat, but at least it investigates something interesting.

It's about Chelsea (Sasha Grey), an "escort" who tries to channel the least amount of emotion as possible during every encounter she has with a "client." She's part of such a big classification that, according to IMDB, it has it's own name, which is the film's title. I think this film understands this fascinating idea's potential, and that's definitely a strength. So it has its whole intellectual thing down, but as a movie it feels a little slight. Other reviews have mentioned this, definitely, but this has to be said. Somehow I wasn't surprised when I found out that the movie was this short. It seems to fit on some sort of weird level. Anyways, Chelsea goes from person to person, giving each what she calls "the time of their life" without feeling anything. Passion is not involved in the slightest, and even though Grey seems to have some in the brief makeout scenes, it would make sense that it's all a practiced game. This is shown especially in the way she, without a trace of affect, reads off descriptions of her sessions. I guess the ironic thing is that they're frank, creating a juxtaposition between the public and the private, one that, with a slight exception, always calculates well.

That exception is with a screenwriter named David (David Levien), who she's surprisingly naive about. She overlooks the fact that he's married with children and hopes to have a relationship with him, disregarding the one she has with Chris (Chris Santos). It's all sort of confusing, but I think it's meant to be, putting into consideration the staggered time structure plus the editing in of truly unnecessary Vegas plane tapes. These have a connection to Chris, but they seem to just be self-indulgent waste for Soderbergh to just create cinematography of a different tone than in the Chelsea bits. That's when you start to wonder: is Soderbergh just spinning his wheels? Does he really care about the story or does he just want to create nice compositions and be rid of it all.

I liked "The Informant!" better because it went beyond the cinematography to a point where I was interested in the story. Here, it doesn't really work that way. Everything is just so under-shot that you can't help but notice. Whatever. What can you expect from Soderbergh? He either brings his game or he doesn't. What I found interesting is how the film ends on a genuine note of passion, where Chelsea is faux-romancing a store owner. He seems to really be feeling something, but Chelsea won't unless she finds just the right person. I didn't particularly enjoy "The Girlfriend Experience," and I really didn't get something out of it. Enough to satiate my cinematic hungers? Not really. There are some really interesting issues raised here, and perhaps they're shot in the right way, but don't expect me to be having a good time. B-

Friday, November 6, 2009

An Education

"An Education" is another one of those clean-cut films like "Julie & Julia" that large audiences wouldn't be ashamed of seeing themselves at. In a year of risky filmmaking such as "The Hurt Locker" (which, admittedly, there was a packed house with) and "Julia," people buy tickets in droves. Lone Scherfig's new movie is pretty good, but not one that everyone will talk about in years and not one I particularly found enjoyable beyond a certain point. It inspired some emotion within me (as opposed to "Julie & Julia"), but doesn't work really I guess due to the fact that it finds vapidity in all things yet tries to conclude showing that the heroine made the best choice. But this is based off of a memoir, so I guess the parameters cannot be tampered with.

Odd thing is, why exactly would we want to see such a film? It's not extraordinarily profound or anything, so why do we need this? I can answer on a small scale. It's interesting to see how the ideas of society have, over the course of nearly 50 years, made a sharp change. This romance would doubtfully be plausible now. In fact, it would be called predatory (yes, she does "come of age" in the film, but just barely). I am babbling on, but I really am fascinated by how this relationship works and with what ease. It inspires a thought.

The film, if you haven't already picked up, is about a "schoolgirl" (as she's called in every review and on wikipedia), in such a way that the word seems invented for her. Her name's Jenny and she's portrayed in a mix of smiles and tears by Carey Mulligan, the recipient of more than a little too much acclaim for such an okay performance. Jenny is the only child in a lower-class family consisting of Jack and Marjorie (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour), who are urging her onwards to Oxford, especially Jack. As she later remarks, not unlike Professor Larry Gopnik (a character in a film you should see instead of this one), she "hasn't done anything." And then David (Peter Sarsgaard) enters the picture, with his flashy car and boatloads of cash. He's the adult male who thinks he'll try to snare a young female like Jenny. Does he ever. She remarks after her first unofficial date, it was "the best night" of her whole 16 years, something that shows she needs to relax more and have more things to look forward to. Of course, that turns into much more cultured activity, from auctions to weekends in Paris and Oxford. Her parents seem strict, but David, although a Jew (real source of controversy, but it seems sort of artificial here), sways them with his silly humors and smooth talk (reminds me of another Jew by the name of Sy Ableman, who just so happens to be also in that same movie that you should see instead of this one). Look, this may sound dark, but it's lighter than it is (perhaps until the end, where David is revealed to be quite the pathetic type).

If you're looking to have a good time at the movies (especially if you enjoyed "Julie & Julia"), you might be swayed like Jenny in this film. You might as well see it anyways, just since everyone's jumping up and down with Oscar talk (Look at her dresses! His suits! And Nick Hornby! Branching out!). But if you're looking for a little risk at the cinema, go see "A Serious Man," an Oscar contender as it should be, one of the actually good films this year. They'll be fighting for you. "An Education" is sound, I guess, but I come away not feeling challenged (there are attempts to engage you) with a sigh. If you put a little gloss on (the sets are nice, I will admit) and you intertwine the controversial and the sentimental without going too far, you'll get an audience. That's what "An Education" proves, which is nice, but not testy, and thus not ingraining in my mind. B-

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Serious Man

The Coens' "A Serious Man" is another very good film, another high mark in the oeuvre of the brothers. I'm not sure if it's a "No Country For Old Men" in their career, but it definitely continues their rich tradition of strong filmmaking. It's a chronicle of a professor, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), who's heading through a ton of problems, perhaps the most prominent of which being his wife (Sari Lennick) and how she wants to get a "ritual divorce" and live with Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), who's smooth voice seems to get him pretty much everything he wants (just look at his name). Another thing: he has a brother (Richard Kind) who is draining his syst and working on bizarre mathematical things and getting involved in gambling is living with him. At work, he's facing, among other things, a Korean student (David Kang) who desperately wants a grade change and will bribe for it. Also, his distinctly American "goy" neighbor is cutting his lawn.

On another level, his son Danny (Aaron Wolff) is heading towards his bar mitzvah (let me tell you: that scene is handled very, very strangely) and facing his own trials, like paying someone back. All of this is interwoven in the best way possible, by the Coens and their friends, including cinematographer Roger Deakins, costume designer Mary Zophres, and art director and set decorators Deb Jansen and Nancy Haigh, respectively. As always, the brothers create a very good script with great characters, from the leads, to Adam Arkin's knowing lawyer, to the rabbis that Larry visits, and others. They also decide to branch out, adding a moralistic prologue in a much earlier timeframe than most of the film. For me and my friend, in a lot of ways it was really not like any of the other Coen films.

But then again, there's always that unsettling humor that they patented over the years that spikes the punch. They know how to really inflict you with something. This is an element that sometimes puts me off about their films, even though I think they are achievements. In "A Serious Man," this is slighter and has a smaller but still effective burn. And the performances. They're quite good. Stuhlbarg, Kind, and Melamed are all convincing in their respective roles, and the supporting cast, like Arkin and even Michael Lerner (in a very, very brief appearance), adds to the density of the film. So while I don't think "A Serious Man" is perfect, I do think that it is one of the best films of the year, one you should get to if you can for its blend of old and new for the Coens. Also since it's a really good film in a weaker year. Such delights as these are hard to come by. A-

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

"Where the Wild Things Are" marks the first film by Spike Jonze where he has flown without Charlie Kaufman, and it's perhaps his most limitless. Here, he adapts Maurice Sendak's picture book phenomenon into a movie with the help of Dave Eggers, who's coming off the low-grade "Away We Go." They craft a whimsical, deep, and morose picture, one of the most interesting children's films in a long time. And one good adaptation: the book is much colder, and less affable towards its characters.

The screen version is more understanding. Max Records, who's at the start of his career, plays the infamous Max, who is given good reason to be sad. His parents (one of which is Catherine Keener, the link between Jonze's three works) are divorced, his igloo has been ruined by his sister's friends, and he's troubled by the thought that the sun will explode. After an incident at home when Keener has a date with, as been said before, Mark Ruffalo, Max runs away to a boat, which he travels away in to the land of the wild things. Before I dive in to explain these furry creatures, let me say that they have been terrifically re-created onscreen. This is one of the biggest reasons to see this film. And what wild things they are. The biggest I believe is also the one with the biggest soul and the biggest capacity to be wounded, Carol. James Gandolfini turns in a saddening vocal performance, and should be ranked among the best voices this year with Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Mary and Max." Both fit their parts so well, yet both will not be recognized due to their mediums.

Anyways, Carol is perhaps the most disliked of the bunch, but he ends up to be the closest to Max. There are also Judith (Catherine O'Hara, with a slightly antagonistic role here, gladly moving on from "Away We Go" as well), Ira (an unrecognizable Forest Whitaker), Douglas (Chris Cooper), Alexander (Paul Dano, another actor who was recently in a terrible comedy, "Gigantic"), and another amiable outsider, KW (Lauren Ambrose). There is plenty of depth in this lineup. Max, as you may very well know, becomes their king after talking his way out of a corner (being eaten). He decrees that a wild rumpus shall begin, and sets off a wonderful middle piece, one of joy, beauty, and unstableness. Lance Acord (who has shot for both Jonze and his ex-wife Sofia Coppola) does marvelous work and reaches the film to its highest of heights. The cinematography is the film's strength, easily, as is the art direction. Also, I think the film is better when in Wild Thing-dom as opposed to at home with Max and his fragmented family.

The film is like a dream: wonderful, but it has to end, and it makes you feel sad when you think that you've lost it. The film is more blissful than that, and ends lighter than that, but that's an essential truth: when Max says he wants to run his kingdom forever, you know it cannot happen, but he probably does not. As people said, that's the beauty of being young, and, as people said, the film captures that. However flawed it may be at times (such as the beginning and the end, which were a little too uniform), "Where the Wild Things Are" is a very good film about childhood and playing and blissfulness, that may not appeal to those going through it, which may be a good thing. Why? I think the film works better for older kids and adults, for these are those who can think back on their childhoods and think wistfully of their adventures and relate to a character that wasn't really in the picture book. B+

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mary and Max

I think "Mary and Max" would have been better if it had been "Max" and excised the "Mary." As with "Julie and Julia," here one section is not quite as good as the other and ends up taking its toll on the entire film. Don't get me wrong, Mary's part is not awful, but it just doesn't deliver the same delights as Max's. Philip Seymour Hoffman voices him, in perhaps one of his best performances, and what will come to be known as his one of his most overlooked, since it's an animated film as opposed to "The Savages," "Synecdoche, New York," or his Oscar-winning portrayal of Truman Capote. Max's dialogue is a near-endless stream of the ridiculous. It may seem "quirky," but it works nonetheless. He's an orderly, chocolate-loving, lonely man who has a psychiatrist, is an atheist, and attends numerous Overeaters Anonymous meetings. He had a troubled childhood, and also a troubled time as a younger adult, taking many jobs and reading books that changed his idea about his faith. He's a New Yorker troubled by the squalor of the city and of its people. He talks about "humans" as if he is not one, and quotes his "favorite physicist" about the two things that are endless. This is as bizarre as it sounds, but then again, that's a good thing.

But this is not where the film starts. It begins first across the globe in Australia, where Mary is living a depressed life of "The Noblets" (a cartoon TV show that Max also finds solace within), condensed milk, and being bullied. This section I thought had weird, detached sexual connotations, with visual gags involving dogs and her father's odd job of attaching the strings to teabags ("he could get all of the teabags he wanted" was a particularly off-putting line). Well, she decides to send a letter to an American to see how babies are born there, since in Australia she is sure that they are wrenched out of beer glasses. Speaking of alcohol, Mary's mother Vera is consumed by alcoholism and makes great use of sherry. During a post office visit between the two of them, she finds Max in an American phonebook, and thus the link is forged. This is one that will span a great portion of their lives, and predictably drifts at times into sentimentality.

These letters do, however, inspire some great responses, and copious amounts of chocolate, in different forms. As time passes, things get more ridiculous, opportunities are wasted, and there are strains in the relationship. I will not reveal any more plot details, but I will say some of what happens is tremendously depressing, as Mary encounters a masochistic stem and takes on traits that run in the family. The ending itself impairs the film as it slams you into a brick wall, shortly after which the film takes flight. In this, and in some of the weightless plot details, the film loses its real ability to stay in your mind. With this film, you're eating more of a candy bar than a gourmet chocolate. But, of course, there is still value in that. To use another confectionary metaphor, "Mary and Max" is the bar that's below your vision at the candy selection where you checkout (I learned about this whole system by talking with someone who read Steve Almond's "Candyfreak"). If you miss it, it wouldn't be too much of a big deal, but if you happen upon it, you may like its interesting taste. B-

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bright Star

Jane Campion's "Bright Star" is a good film, a little clipped perhaps, but delightful nonetheless. People may deem it "boring," and in certain small instances I would agree. But it's actually very engaging, as a love story between two charming people: Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), who is a seamstress, and John Keats (Ben Whishaw), the poet. Whishaw is an interesting choice here, since he played the poetic manifestation of Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There." He slips in in a sort of natural way, as does Cornish, although I could be wrong.

I don't know a whole lot about the relationship, haven't read the letters between the two or the poetry of Keats. Perhaps this was a good thing. I felt a magic worked upon me as the poems were read by the two lovers, and maybe that would have been different if I was more experienced. The film chronicles how the two meet, from the time Brawne first serves tea to the poet to the end. It shows the obstacles, especially that provided by Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider, who played John Krasinski's brother in "Away We Go"), the poet that John writes with, who pretty much wants to separate Keats and Brawne in the name of literature, not in the name of love (as you may think such a thing would turn out).

The film blossoms like the relationship it shows (as Brawne reads Keats, loves parts of his poems, and desires to have an education in poetry), and starts wither in monotony as the relationship hurdles through conflict. But I think the film is effective, in the way that it could appeal to a seasoned Keats reader, or, like me, one new to the pages of his books. Let me now talk of the film's technical design. As Fanny designs her own costumes by trade, wearing a new one in each scene, there is a bar set for good attire, and let me tell you, it is met and much more. Designer Janet Patterson (who's worked with Campion before) creates spectacular costumes, ones that you'll be hearing about come Oscar night. There is also lush cinematography to be had from Greg Fraser, and great period art direction, too. Campion's screenplay is well-written, as it should be. And of the performances: there is a natural feeling given off by the leads, Cornish, Whishaw, and Schneider. Schneider is the best of the three, as a man who wants Keats all to himself. The other two make an involving couple, riffing on John's poems together. All seem well-cast. What can I say? I don't believe the film can be seen as a triumph (on the most part for its clipped editing and its sometimes disconnected feeling), although it is moderately successful and entertaining for the most part. I suggest you try it out. B

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

"Precious" can be at times a brutal and unrelenting film, and this is where it has strength. There's a sort of gritty realism shared by this film and by Steve McQueen's "Hunger"; also, both involve a sort of prison. Precious' (Gabby Sidibe, in a good debut) is her own house, where her terrifying mother Mary lives. Mary is played by Mo'Nique, in one of the most startling, outstanding performances of our time. She gives two powerful monologues, one consisting almost entirely of expletives and insults, and one in defense of her self. Both are immeasurably effective, and on these alone I will go as far as to say she should garner an Oscar nomination. But it's a completely horrific performance, especially since you don't know whether or not her tremendous wrath will be incited and to what extent.

Anyways, Precious is abused (the target of flower pots and frying pans thrown by Mary) and abused (impregnated two times via her father) and wants better, although she won't ever let anyone help her. But when her school principal (Nealla Gordon) gives her the address for an alternate school, she goes on it. And she meets the most inspiring person she could, a teacher known as Ms. Rain (Paula Patton). And here's where everything goes into a whirlwind.

Whereas (nearly) everything in the sections at home was grounded, realistic, and well-done, in the Each One Teach One scenes control is lost. It becomes much more cliche, and it takes on the face of one of those inspiring films. Not that there's anything wrong with that in itself, but here it looks a little amateurish after the grit of the first half. I guess it's supposed to be a contrast between abuse and good, but couldn't it be a little better done? At the New York Film Festival screening I attended last night (one in which the film was started 45 minutes late and multiple times protesting claps and boos were overheard), director Lee Daniels said the cops were running after them while the film was being shot. Could this be one of the negative results of that?

Well, I should mention the other supporting characters in the film. Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey) is a welfare person, and while she probes Precious for a long time, she can't get the full picture about what's going on within that household until a climactic scene that has to be one of the most moving and yet most appalling in a while. And, of course, there's Nurse John, who is interesting to watch because of who's playing him (I won't mention names), even though he's in perhaps the film's weakest section. All in all, I think "Precious" the film isn't a very good contender for any awards, even though the buzz is overflowing (Sundance and Toronto audience awards). The editing saps a lot of the power out, and the scenes of inspiration are dreamy yet take up a large block of the time. But it does contain a fantastic supporting performance, one that's worthy of all the acclaim it gets. B

Friday, October 2, 2009

Away We Go

"Away We Go" (from its title among other things) brims with jauntiness. You know this from the trailers, but still, it's overwhelming. Of course, Mr. Reitman's 2007 film that I do not care to name again was the same, but at least it was smartly written, acted pitch-perfectly, and very funny. This film is none of those things. It's the chronicle of a baby, one not yet born. Burt and Verona are the parents, and John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are the actors who play them. Oh, and Sam Mendes is the director who directs them. Surprised? So was I when I saw the trailers. He doesn't particularly have an imprint. Well, other than that of stark set design like that of "Road to Perdition" and "Revolutionary Road." In "Away We Go," there were a couple shots and sets I admired, but probably more trademarks are offered by screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, who are spouses. I may be mistaken, but I think Eggers has a reputation for being quirky.

And, man oh man, is there quirky written all over this film. I will go as far as to say no character in the film is realistic. There are a lot, since Burt and Verona go visit a lot of people and try to see where they want to set up their family. First stop: Burt's parents, played by Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels. Burt wants to be close to them so that they can see the baby as he gets brought up, but the parents have other plans, wanting selfishly to move far away. Oh, and the way they say it! This little jaunt sets the tone for the whole film. Bosses, sisters, distressed brothers, friends turned hippies, friends rendered horribly sad by lack of childbirth. All are visited in due time.

Good performances are given by few. In fact, by only one: comedian Jim Gaffigan gives an inspired and bizarre performance as the husband of a wacko Allison Janney character who delivers line after ridiculous line with comic ease. Hey, he's a professional. Or, at least, he's the only professional acting to his full ability, despite being trapped in a silly script. Some people may enjoy it, but for me, it's mostly on par with "(500) Days of Summer" in lack of real amusement. And there's another reason I bring up that film. There is a scene involving the screaming of inappropriate language, which is played for laughs. If this is a new trend in comedy, that's pretty awful. It's also pretty ironic that Krasinski (who, judging from this film, should abandon film acting and just stay full-time on his role in "The Office") has directed an adaptation of "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men" by the great writer David Foster Wallace, a good friend of Eggers'. Hopefully it will be something different and better than this. If it's quirky, at least give it's quirks a point. This film is not a good example in that field. C-

Monday, September 28, 2009


I can't believe this. So I go to check out Ebert's blogroll and I see that he's looking at comments of the readers of his blog. So I comment and he responds... with some amazing feedback... I'm so honored. It's the equivalent of Michael Jordan praising your basketball skills. It's the highest tier of movie praise.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


"Gigantic" is uneasy from the start, it being Matt Aselton's first film, but it really falls to pieces in the end. How many tepid, "quirky" romantic comedies are we going to get from the mold-breaking, actually hilarious "Juno"? "Little Miss Sunshine" came first, but Jason Reitman's film was better. Anyways, "Gigantic" is one of these eccentric little films that was spawned from that 2007 film. It stars Paul Dano as Brian Weathersby, a typical girlfriend-less character who is plugged into the position of mattress salesman due to the lack of a realistic idea, who has one big ambition in his life: he is intent on adopting a Chinese baby (a little smear of eccentricity). He's also being repeatedly attacked by a "homeless man" (Zack Galifianakis), something the film doesn't linger on, and doesn't provide an explanation for (thus, confused IMDB users starting threads).

Well, as always, there is a love interest, and that's the overused Zooey Deschanel, who plays Happy. She comes down to the mattress store after her father (John Goodman) decides to buy an expensive Swedish mattress. A relationship begins. The odd thing is, there's no real energy. The same thing can be said for the movie. It feels oddly weary, and, in a way, drug-induced. There are a lot of plot elements that seem to have little or no effect on the film. Such as the random attacking or the studies of rats that Brian's alcoholic friend from college (Brian Avers) conducts (I suppose these exist so that there can be poor similarities drawn between rodent and homo sapian). Not to say the film is all for nothing. I'm not sure the name of the character or the actor, but there's a good performance given by Brian's meditating mattress co-worker. He supplies the only life into the film, delivering offbeat lines with a nice ease. There's not much else here.

Dano is all over the place, and Deschanel is lukewarm playing two notes: quirky girlfriend a la "(500) Days of Summer" and self-effacing girlfriend. Goodman does moderately well in a comic part as one father. The same cannot be said for Ed Asner, as Brian's old, conventional-thinking father, at least as the film fails and caves in at the end (a fellow moviegoer noted his awfulness and I think he wasn't very good either). Mary Page Keller as Happy's estranged mother delivers another standout terrible performance. I dunno. I guess nothing could have really solved Aselton's problems here. Here's a slipshod, fragmented romantic comedy that does not work save for a couple of bits. "Gigantic" (poorly-titled to say the least) is not gigantic in terms of influence on anything. The title describes only the drawbacks in Aselton's poor movie. D+

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Informant!

Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!" is based on a true story, but if not for the elaborate title cards and retro sets I wouldn't be able to tell so. If it really stays inside the box of reality, it's an incredible plot. Also very hard to summarize. It involves Mark Whitacre, played by a puffed-out Matt Damon, who turns in some of his best work as a rich VP at a corn company called ADM. I'd be hard pressed to find a role where Damon is as in character as this, or as good.

Well, there's a mole in ADM giving info to a Japanese corn company. This development is a reference to the director's earlier work "Schizopolis," which you should know is a terrible film. Anyways, I can't describe what happens next because it's hard to follow, but a couple bends later, Whitacre is being wired by the FBI. He meets with an agent, Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula), a dull man who wants to get an inside look at ADM, since ADM is a shady company in the corn business. I think what the intention of the film is is to show how ridiculous and how twisting the plots were and how dull and how mundane office people are. No matter. To discuss too much of the plot would also to divulge too much information, to inform you, and I won't do that.

What I will describe are the film's qualities. The lighting and the set design capture the feeling of 90's office life quite well. They illuminate the dullness. So do the hilarious musings and meditations that Scott Z. Burns (co-writer of "The Bourne Ultimatum") supplies Whitacre, on bizarre TV shows, polar bears camouflaging, and other things. These were definitely the high points of this eccentric film. And the way that Damon delivers them is exactly on target. But the most accentuated bit is the music, which mimics 70's spy shows to funny but mostly overbearing effect.

That's how the film works: very good in smaller doses, but too much over the span of 108 minutes. I think a big flaw of the film is the last 30 minutes, where there's a drop in interest. I mean, it's what happened, but here it doesn't really help. All in all, Soderbergh does what he likes, and that is making silly films. He coaxes out of Damon a great deal, and I think it's notable. I would say "The Informant!" is a pretty humorous comedy of intrigue. I enjoyed it for the most part. Also for Damon's interesting work. But this is not an Oscar contender. B

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It Might Get Loud

"It Might Get Loud" is a look into the styles and histories of Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge. It requires you at least have a basic knowledge of these three musicians, since it feeds off of your nostalgia. Why these three guitarists are connected is because of a meeting in January of 2008, where they talked about and played rock music. This convergence is the centerpiece of the doc. The film opens with White constructing a guitar out of a soda bottle, a piece of wood, and a string. This reflects his overall way. He's influenced by blues (especially "Grinnin' in Your Face" by Son House, which he says is his favorite song), and doesn't like to overload the effects. Although he's the youngest of the three, he's got the most traditional mindset. At one point he states in his self-satisfied, Dylanesque manner, "I never wanted to play the guitar," and until he was an apprentice at an upholsterer (where he formed a band called "The Upholsterers"), he stuck to the drums.

This couldn't be farther from U2's The Edge, who plays simple riffs and uses effects to make them majestic. He describes watching the "Top of the Pops," and how every once and a while something revolutionary came out. He was wary of his homeland of Ireland, as he experienced the bad economy and violence of the times (and was heavily shaken at that). The latter was inspirational for U2's "War." He remarks later on in the film that if he hadn't been a member of the still-running band, he wouldn't still be playing guitar. "I might be a banker," he says.

Jimmy Page, age 64 at meeting-time, is the real rocker of the group, as he mostly prefers just amplification. As a member of Led Zeppelin and the Yardbirds, he's one of the greats of classic rock. The film goes into him in less detail, although it does linger on archival footage of a live performance of "Stairway to Heaven." Going in, he was the one I had heard the least of. He doesn't give away any secrets here, as opposed to White, who composes a song onscreen. There is a little bit about his early career (a lot of gigs), and about how "When the Levees Broke" was recorded, but not a whole lot.

So you can see all the history coming into this gathering, as they talk about their inspirations and such. I guess it's mostly for the small performances they give of each other's work. There's not so much of this segment; in fact, it's only intercut sometimes. Overall, "It Might Get Loud" is an uneven documentary, with a lot of padding to get it to feature-length status. It was interesting to see into huge figures in the music industry, but I wish it could have been made a little better than it was. It is (no shock) self-indulgent, like a long solo by a guitarist that overstays its welcome. But if you want to see how guitarists roll, this is where. C+

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Julie & Julia

Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia” is a mediocre excursion into Julia Child and her influence not because of anything relating to Meryl Streep’s work. I just wanted to make that clear. No, what spoils the dish here is the section regarding Julie Powell, a New Yorker with a dead-end job who likes cooking and who makes it a project of preparing all of the recipes in Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one single year. Amy Adams, who’s usually pretty solid, doesn’t do very good work here. But what’s really odd is how the feel is so different in these two separate parts. They feel sort of as if made by different directors. They should be, but instead they’re bundled into one film, with the Powell story getting slightly more attention.

The film is all about the parallels between the lives of Child and Powell. As Julia moves to France because of her Communist husband Paul’s (Stanley Tucci) job, Julie moves into a small apartment in Queens near her husband Eric’s (Chris Messina) office. Both of the women are not in good job situations: Julia is stuck with what to do, and Julie is in a boring, white-collar job. As you may guess, both start to get some happiness from cooking: Julia becomes a chef, and Julie starts making Child’s dishes. There should be much, much more time spent on Julia Child than on Julie Powell, at least if the stories are going to be told the way they are, because whenever the movie jumps forward in time, there’s a lessening in the quality. Ephron seems to not care about stumbling into many clichés when delving into Powell, and she also doesn’t mind falling into suit among other mainstream romantic comedies on this front. It doesn’t help when Adams and Messina (whose performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” I said to be “one of the non-romantic joys of the film”) are lukewarm and stilted. The usage of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” in this part of the film is sad and lame. Plus, if the biggest laugh in your subdivision is from Dan Ackroyd's impression of Julia (yes, that's also in this movie, and what we get is not only him but the reactions of the two modern-day cookers, which provides for an awkward, tepid feeling), you know things are not going too well.

Another element I thought sorry was how under-nourished Streep’s performance was. I mean if she does get nominated for an Oscar, it would only be fair for Best Supporting Actress. She’s given not very much space and time with Ephron’s objective, every-scene-has-a-clear-purpose style to spin a good Child. In a feature-length biopic, she would shine brighter and clearer. Here, she’s bogged down by her counterpart.

Well, I don’t think my review is going to influence your choice of film. You’ll probably have decided whether or not you want to go. But if you’re on the fence, there are better films to see in terms of parallels (“Sita Sings the Blues”) and mainstream romantic comedies (“Duplicity”). When it comes to food films, this is only one in really wide circulation at the moment. I know there’s definitely an audience for it, and a big one at that. I’m not part of it, however. But there is something to be said for the fact that with choices like "Inglourious Basterds" and "Halloween II" available, this film gives off somewhat of a feeling of warmness and good intent. When I left packed theater, almost everyone was talking about dinner. This is how films are supposed to inspire, and I'm glad that "Julie & Julie," no matter how good I think it is, is at that plateau. C

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In the Loop

Armando Iannucci’s “In the Loop” is the closest to obsessive British insulting (“bullocksing”) I’ve ever been. It’s a fly-on-the-wall take on a lesser Minister named Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) who makes a statement about the possibility of a war in the “Middle East” (about conflict being “unforeseeable”) on a radio interview. This angers Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), a big cheese whose exact position I’m unclear about, and thus does harm to Foster’s reputation. This angering I’m talking about is not subtle at all, and includes an abundance of strong language, so if you’re expecting a refined political comedy, move along to another theater as quickly as possible.

Another component in this absurdity is Foster’s newly appointed aide, Toby (Chris Addison), whose first workday is the morning after Foster has made his remark. He gets Foster involved with the Americans by scheduling (through his high-rep girlfriend) an appearance by Foster at a meeting involving war (where Foster is supposed to be “room meat” and pretty much stay in the background). At this little meeting we find out about Liza Weld’s (Anna Chlumsky) papers, which mention a war committee. These documents are known throughout as “Quip Hip” or something like this. The war committee comes to be known as “The Future Planning Committee.” This group is headed up by Linton Barwick (David Rasche), a head honcho on the American side. Among those attending are General George Miller (James Gandolfini, the biggest name in the cast), and his ex-lover and the woman who holds the first meeting, Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy). This war committee is supposed to be secretive, but is divulged by someone I will not name. It causes an uproar, etc.

The film is sort of divided into three acts: the first in England, the second in Washington D.C. when Foster, Toby, and eventually Malcolm (“Are you coming to insult me in another time zone?” Foster asks forlornly) come to the war committee meeting and the effects of that, and the third as mostly everyone converges at the UN and votes on whether or not to declare war. This may sound underwhelming. In most films it would be. But here, the humorous script (by Iannucci and three others) and the performances carry the film onto a bit of higher ground. I mean, this is not a film many will talk about in twenty years, but it is fine entertainment for now.

“In the Loop” is very well cast, and well acted by its players. Hollander and Addison are funny and whimsical British presences, which is what the roles needed. Gina McKee as a fellow aide to Foster is good as well. Capaldi, given the film’s punchlines often, is overbearing, but I suppose that’s the point. Rasche, as the glib Barwick, perhaps turns in the film’s best performance. Gandolfini is formidable, and Chlumsky I found below average and the film’s weakest performance as a cliché American. She does very little with the least shaded-in character.“In the Loop” is a very amusing and moderately satirical, but mostly just a comedy of errors and high-level idiocy. There are many quotable lines and little bits of wit. It’s pretty good for the genre it’s in. Although it’s not an extremely impacting or really standout film, it’s delightful in a way and vulgar (this is hard to take at times). The crew rarely lets you get deep in the loop, but that’s okay. It’s enough to watch from the outside in. B-

Monday, August 24, 2009


Erick Zonca’s “Julia” is an insane and very complex film, one of the most insecure movies that I’ve seen in a while due to great cinematography by Yorick Le Saux and very disorienting editing by Phileppe Kotlarski. But there’s one component that really couldn’t have been well replaced, and that’s Tilda Swinton. This is probably the year’s best performance, a shaky, captivating portrayal of a "reckless alcoholic." It easily deserves an Oscar nomination, for this is perhaps Swinton’s very best work (better than even her Academy Award-winning acting in “Michael Clayton”).

Well, the film stretches nearly two and a half hours, providing the room for a long, insane plot. Julia Harris (Swinton) is a desperate, desperate woman who owes money to plenty of people who’ve helped along the way and who drinks so much she regularly passes out. The interesting way the film handles this is by telling it from her point of view, so you see only before and after she faints. One who’s tried very hard to help her is Mitch (Saul Rubinek), her advisor of sorts on alcohol who wants to go to AA meetings, which she refuses to stay more than a few seconds at. At one she meets Elena (Kate Del Castillo), who’s also her neighbor. Elena tells her about her kid, who was taken away from her. She asks Julia if she wants to take part in a plot to kidnap the son from his stepfather, and Julia goes along, not knowing the full extent at all of what she’s getting herself into. What ensues is completely loco, wildly intense, and very inflicting upon the viewer.

Julia, previously only an owing drunk, now gets caught inside of a web of intricate plotting and into many different troubles, part of the overly elaborate script by Zonca and Aude Py which gives Swinton a spectacle to be a part of. It’s very well orchestrated, in a way that makes you feel the layers being brought upon Julia. Why I think the cinematography is so good is because the camera lurches and shakes like viewing from the perspective of a tippler. Le Saux also does bizarre things like pan the screen and pan back during shots involving multiple subjects, creating a feeling not found in most films. The editing is well done in creating a bewildering atmosphere.

I’m not sure if this is a Best Picture contender or anything, but it’s a very good film in which Swinton gives a masterful performance of little control. Zonca gets to make an interesting film that only could be made independently, due to the fact that it’s hard to endure and many would only see it once, or fractionally. I’m not sure I could really go through it again, but I probably will sometime or another. If you’re easily shaken, this is not a good film for you. But if you can take it, it’s a movie of great ability and compromising lunacy. A-

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rudo y Cursi

After seeing Carlos Cuaron's directorial debut "Rudo y Cursi," about rivalry between brothers, I can now say that I believe Alfonso, his brother and the director of the amazing "Children of Men," is the better filmmaker. Carlos' film is a profane, somewhat sickening take on soccer and its deep effect upon people. Tato (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Beto (Diego Luna) are two brothers working on a banana plantation in rural Mexico. In their spare times, Beto and Tato play soccer, and Tato sings (not exactly well, but I don't think the film makes a big deal of that). Suddenly, a greedy-looking fellow by the nickname of "Baton" (Guillermo Francella) comes to town and wants to turn the two brothers into superstars.

"Baton" accommodates both brothers eventually, but he's difficult. He first only takes Tato on the basis of a penalty shot which the two coordinated to go one way (for Beto's sake), and well, Tato aimed otherwise. Moving on, when they're on their teams, both brothers take in large paychecks and live in the house Tato (now known as "Cursi" since he does a lot of theatrics after he scores) has gotten a hold of as a gift from the team. Cursi is dating a TV celebrity named Maya (Jessica Mas), a woman who we realize (but not Cursi) just loves the player who's hot at the moment. Cursi is also trying to launch his career as a singer (his signature song is "I Want You to Want Me"). Beto (or "Rudo"), the more successful soccer player of the two (probably since he's more devoted), is investing with his wife Tona (Adriana Paz) in a vitamin company. He's also gambling a lot, using a "system," which you know is not good news.

As noted in Ebert's and the Playlist's reviews, the film is more about the energy surrounding soccer than than the sport itself. This is necessary in the situation presented, since it helps to understand the emotions of the two brothers, who are the real main focuses on the field. What the film comes down to in the end seems like a melodramatic sports cliche, and it sort of is. But the intention I think of Cuaron is to show a dream that turns sour due to the fact that there is so much on the line (one reason why neighborhood soccer is somewhat better). If you think you know what will happen in the film's conclusion, you probably are slightly off. This whole scene is supposed to be dreamy and weirdly downscaled, but if you're looking for an ending you can't quite find, there is one. All-in-all, "Rudo y Cursi" isn't very solid (although Bernal and Luna are decent and Adam Kimmel is a great cinematographer), but it provides an interesting, realistic, and darkly funny look into superstardom and how two man-children having it brought upon them are too naive to see that they are being played. C+