Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3

Pixar may have found its masterpiece with "Toy Story 3," which excellently caps off the only series in the production company's repertoire, not flawlessly but gloriously. Most of their films have tried to create a "galvanizing emotional impact" (as they say), but Lee Unkrich's work has finally done so. I had a much different experience last year with "Up," where I walked out of the theater annoyed, my heart's target being far missed (save during the "prologue"). There an emotional showcase had not been set up well, at least to me (although I know others who have gotten a lot of tears out of that film). Here, like a friend said, it is done enough to actually get me (or him for that matter) to "almost cry," very, very close. As that friend said, for a person who doesn't outwardly display (as with that friend or I), that is sensational. I truly staggered out of the theater.

Like other people I know, I haven't exactly memorized the series, although I can recover bits and pieces from earlier viewings. The People magazine critic and my friend seem to agree that this film trumps the other ones, which is probably true. As a poster on IMDb titled their review, "the gang's all here," that's most definitely true. In the exceptional opening, Unkrich places the characters in an absurd scenario, which happily is what you will intuit it is. I'll skip past it like other critics have done with certain parts of the film, and instead go into the real plot and setup. The toys are in the chest, and apparently, while "living" their own "lives" (which I'll discuss later), they haven't been conventionally "played with" in a long while. They even pathetically have to make Operation Playtime, which involves calling Andy's cellphone, etc., in order to try to get his attention. As the trailers have touted, Andy is going into his freshman year of college and, as expected, has moved on to other things (like the computer) and is expected to renounce his toys. As opposed to what his sister Molly does, in donating them to Sunnyside Day Care, he intends to put them in his attic. But a series of Toy-Story-typical contrivances (speaking of these, one later in the film is a little annoying) lead the toys to believe he wants them thrown out, and they happily escape off to the Sunnyside container in the car, except for Woody, who believes that they should remain loyal to him (to preserve his innocence, perhaps?).

They all end up going to the day care, though, and they meet the extravagant cast of toy characters, which are so well-incorporated that I was willing to drop my grumps about Pixar being "smart-alecky" and willing to label the company as my friend did, which was "witty." Of course it's old news to say how Pixar has done the whole "inventive" thing, but it enchants nonetheless here. The day care is juxtaposed with new life/old life, daycare/nursing home symbolism, which is perhaps a little obvious, but I still think it's pretty well done. Nursing home is a little odd for toys, though, as they seem to have eternal life as they can change into an inanimate object at will and withstand everything except for disintegrating fires and things that would destroy their vestige. It really refers to their "play life," as the toys here have reached the end of their tenure with their owners, who of course are human beings who have a finite lifespan.

They are welcomed with open arms by Lotso-Huggin'-Bear, who seems a very nice guy, but is in actuality very wounded and extremely corrupt. Think of him as a Lou Ford type. He runs the place in more capacity than you would think, along with his assistants, Big Baby and Ken. The toys are very receptive to this good care, except for Woody, who really thinks that he should go back to Andy. The others have no idea what they're in for. The film's climax involves the introduction of a "prison break" (as Jessie and just about everyone else would call it a "prison") narrative, one that is rather common to the Pixar oeuvre, but which is done to massive effect in this one. Although it does have the usual "conventions" of a type of picture like this one, I guess those are rather "obligatory" (like Ebert said of "I Love You, Man") , and they aren't really to be nitpicked. Because look: to paraphrase Lisa Schwarzbaum's critique of "Prince of Persia," this is what a Pixar film is. And for a small kid, this sort of thing would take the cake. As AspergianSarah reminded me when I was trashing "Up," these films are for kids, as well as the adults. I shouldn't forget that.

This film is consistently amusing, with a script that seems to be the frontrunner for the Original Screenplay award at the Academy Awards as of yet. EW pointed out that Michael Arndt's joining the writing crew made some difference, and I'm sure it had, what with the sometimes (as EW said) "on-the-mark one-liners." And the voiceover work is great as well, from everyone, especially, as my friend said, the "Potato Heads" (Don Rickles and the excellent Estelle Harris) who, as my friend said, have some "body part innovations" (you'll see what I mean, as Pixar employs an extraordinary plot device that seems at first like a cheesy or bizarre thing and also something that reminds me somewhat of "Coraline"). We realize by the ending that while all the other toys have the crazy and funny innovations, the toys at the core of this film, especially the old-fashioned Woody, have wonder and heart as their gifts. I feel like a saccharine fool writing that, but there you go. A

What a magical moviegoing weekend this was, with three of the year's best films.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is a counterpoint to "Exit Through the Gift Shop" as perhaps the best non-artistic nonfiction film of 2010. Of course, as a friend says, it's "well-done," but no, as people have said, "conventions being broken" here. Like my friend said, this is the "Tyson" of this year, and it's even better than that film. As my friends said, Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg have "helped you get know Joan Rivers." Watching her on television will never be the same after seeing her here, which is, as has been said, marvelously behind-the-scenes, pairing incidents from her life with related bits of her stand-up comedy.

Joan Rivers is continually thinking that she is going through hard times, whereas in the public eye, as my friend said, she's "extraordinarily well-to-do" (as Vonnegut would say). She pulls people in who want to let go and laugh about incredibly out-of-line things designed to make you shake your head. As Carrie Rickey and other critics said, "the film follows her through a year in the life," through countless performances (which makes the ending exactly spot-on in its routine feeling), through trying out her play in Europe, and also back into her past. Like as was said before, we see into her (as opposed to what Michael O'Sullivan would say), and how she wouldn't be damaged if you said she was bad at comedy, but if you made a comment about her acting, she would fall apart. This was illustrated with how she at one point moved out of New York as a result of terrible buzz about a disastrous play. Also we see her relationships with her suicidal husband (not a "madly-in-love" relationship but one that works; one that she felt she had to reenact in a fiction film), her daughter who she tries to be overprotective of but often apparently fails, and also her manager who she finds as her "only link" to her past but who always hates to be around in trouble. Her brushes with famous people (a rank that she is a part of) are interesting, such as with, as my friends said, Johnny Carson (when he had her on 20 times and then "blacklisted" her from NBC after she left his show; the film sees her getting back on that network with "The Celebrity Apprentice") and Jack Lemmon (who thought a line of hers was so edgy that he exited a show early and told her it was "disgusting").

Drawing similar praise and using a similar technique as "The September Issue" and "Valentino: the Last Emperor," "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is an "entertaining" (as others have said about this film and those other two films) film that perhaps (I'm not sure if she was even acting for the camera, which would be even more interesting) gives you an idea of what Joan Rivers is like, which is, as my friend said, tender on the inside while keeping sharp tongue. As I believe was said before (by Rex Reed and others), this is one of the most substantial 84 minute films ever made, and although at times it feels long, it's all good. Even at 75, she wants to keep working even if she doesn't have to, yet to quote the film, maybe she will continue to "open doors" as she did before for people such as Kathy Griffin, doing more things than just pocketing the cash for enduring a Comedy Central Roast, and maybe inspiring people, although her job may be a little too hard for most folks. A

Friday, June 25, 2010

Winter's Bone

"Winter's Bone" by Debra Granik (based off of Daniel Woodrell's novel) has been compared to "Frozen River" before, which is deserved, as both possess a key element, which is their year's best female performance. Here it is Jennifer Lawrence, who acts marvelously and (as my friend said) "naturally" as Ree Dolly, whose mother is so far gone into pills that she is really the matriarch and the raiser of both her siblings, Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson). Her father is not present, and this is a problem, as he has put the assets of the family (such as the house) as his bond to go to court. Problematically, he's blown it and is not around. So, thus, as Ebert says she "rises to the occasion" as she doesn't want her family to lose their property and goes and asks around and seeks him.

One of the first people she asks is Teardrop (John Hawkes, very good), who is her uncle and her father's brother. He has a reputation for being a menace (as well as a druggie) and this is definitely shown. She also asks Merab (Dale Dickey), who tries vehemently to get her to go away. Another character is Ree's friend Gail (Lauren Sweetser), who calls Ree "sweet pea" quite a bit and who helps her out at home while she isn't there.

To speak of the film's technical properties, they are excellent. Cinematographer Michael McDonagh captures the landscapes in a color desaturated lens and it is beautiful. And of course, the performance work is superb. Lawrence already deserves the Best Actress Oscar, and, as of yet, Hawkes is a good Supporting Actor candidate. This film isn't perfect, as it is hard to keep track of, but still, it's watchable and, as my friend said, "quite a good film." A-

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Amazing Poster For Uncle Boonmee...

I don't want to become one of those people who just posts posters, but here I am. This is an incredible one. It's as "bizarre" (as said before) as the film is said to be. If I can get this poster framed, I will. For those who don't know, this is for "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, winner of the 2010 Palme d'Or, easily one of the films I want to see the most in the coming months.

Restrepo (Human Rights Watch Film Festival)

"Restrepo" is a brave film to make, not necessarily because it is "audacious" (as they would say in the film) but more because it is dangerous. Shot and "directed" by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, its purpose is to make you realize along with the soldiers that the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan is insane. At one point there is a base only hundreds of feet away from where the soldiers are stationed, but as one person puts it, "it may as well be in another country." Junger's book "War" describes this in print, but it takes on somewhat of a different feeling when it is transposed onto film. The film is a little low on actual combat footage, but to ask for more would be a little disheartening to Junger and Hetherington (who ironically actually lost the footage they did through smashing the camera into a wall).

As others have mentioned, this is supposed to be a documentary with no connections to politics or to reasons. We're supposed to have the time that the soldiers had. Of course, unless you've heard of it, you're going to be as naïve as the soldiers at the beginning going in, where they're drinking beers and being pretty much oblivious to what's really going to come ahead of them. When they see it, they are astonished. The audience finds this out through "one-on-one interviews" that have been conducted with individual soldiers. The film's power comes from these moments, when the soldiers describe (or fail to) the Korengal Valley to them. The images from here "bring it to life", but not nearly as much as when we see and hear these soldiers. This could have been edited into its own documentary, but of course the actual footage "puts you there", and that is important, because this film also shows to military wives the trials that their husbands went through (a purpose Junger has brought up).

The soldiers try to be gung-ho (shouting and swearing and wrestling), but really they have been shattered and torn apart by the experience. Their major accomplishment was to make a very risky (or "ballsy," as Cpt. John Kearney would say in the film) move forward by putting a fort right where their Taliban enemies had been situated and simultaneously fighting off fire and building it. The name of it was O.P. (Outpost) Restrepo, as "Doc" Restrepo was an important figure in their platoon and he was killed. The fort was somewhat messy and "shitty", and a soldier Pemble says, with no irony, it is "just like the person [Restrepo] was." But still, with his guitar-playing and humor and everything, he created a persona big enough to be dearly missed when it was shot down.

The film has the same feeling in parts as other war documentaries, with the fraternal, jokey feeling in the middle of "chaos." It's not exactly revelatory, and, as Variety critic John Anderson noted, it's hard-to-follow. In its editing, it's a little heavy-handed, but I guess that's not a huge problem. When the camera is on the guys talking, it seems staged, but it is not in fact; it's just showing those nervous with the camera on them. The sound is not always very good. Despite these things, it's atmospheric and traumatic, a film that is somewhat worth seeing. B

I'm not exactly sure, but perhaps the fact that I had about 10 hours of sleep over the two nights before I saw this film made somewhat of a difference in my perception.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New York Film Festival 2010 Hopefuls (Cannes Picks)

The only film festival I have ever attended and the only one probably will attend this year (save for the Human Rights Watch Festival) is the New York Film Festival, which is held at Lincoln Center in New York City. Last year, I had the great pleasure (and surprise) of not only seeing two films ("Precious," "Mother"), but being able to see their respective filmmakers and members of the "Precious" cast.

Despite being a great place to see famous film people, this is also a great place to watch films that a) don't have a distributor and b) haven't yet been released. Also, as blogger The Playlist notes, this is a place to view the Cannes pics of the year. For the past few years, the Palme d'Or winner and other films that played In Competition and Un Certain Regard have shown at the NYFF, which makes it an event of some anticipation for me (although I do want to enjoy the summer).

Here is a list of films that I think may be at the 2010 New York Film Festival, backed up with pieces of evidence as to why:

Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance) - This will probably garner one of the three esteemed spots: Opening Night, Centerpiece, or Closing Night. The star power is huge. Plus, this film has taken an identical route to last year's centerpiece "Precious," from Sundance to the Un Certain Regard Category at Cannes. Plus, it has a distributor, and films with distributors have bigger showings. Almost guaranteed to make some sort of showing.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul) - As said above, the NYFF has played the Palme winner on and off since 2005, and I'm positive this will continue the trend. Also, Weerasethakul's last two films ("Tropical Malady" and "Syndromes and a Century") showed in previous programs. (Side note: it would be awesome to be graced with Weerasethakul's presence.)

Poetry (dir. Lee Chang-dong) - Same as Weerasethakul, Chang-dong has played here before, with the underseen "Secret Sunshine" in 2007.

Another Year (dir. Mike Leigh) - Leigh's past two works, "Vera Drake" and "Happy-Go-Lucky" took places in NYFF programs. And a Leigh film always rounds out a program.

Of Gods and Men (dir. Xavier Beavois) - Gran Prix winners are popular. Especially Gran Prix winners that have distributors (then again, don't they all?)

Certified Copy (dir. Abbas Kiarostami) - The director's "Ten" played here in 2002 and "Taste of Cherry" in 1997. This looks like it could be an Opening Night, Closing Night, or Centerpiece because of Kiarostami's and Binoche's combined star power.

Aurora (dir. Christi Puiu) - NYFF/Film Society of Lincoln Center is big into the Romanian New Wave, and Puiu's debut film "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" played there in 2005.

Hahaha (dir. Hong Sang-soo) - His "Like You Know It All" played at Film Comment Selects, and the previous Un Certain Regard Prize winner "Dogtooth" played at a Film Society event this year. Less sure that this will bow there, but it very well may.

The Frankenstein Project (dir. Kornel Mondruczo) - This could be wishful thinking, but Mondruzco's previous film "Delta" played at the Chicago Film Festival, which sometimes mirrors the NYFF program. This seems like a good debut at the NYFF for Mr. Mondruczo.

Biutiful (dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) - "21 Grams" was a selection in 2003, but "Babel" wasn't (although it played at Chicago). However, the debacle over the distributor (which I'm not sure if it has or doesn't have), the fact that Javier Bardem won Best Actor, and that Inarritu is a big name perhaps could lead to a Opening or Closing Night, but probably not Centerpiece.

My Joy (dir. Sergei Losnitsa) - Looks like a NYFF-type film to me.

Carlos (dir. Olivier Assayas) - The film will play similarly to "Che" (which it has been oft compared to) at the NYFF. Since it's IFC and since festival programmer Todd McCarthy loved it, it will surely make an appearance. Like I'll be surprised if it doesn't.

Heartbeats (dir. Xavier Dolan) - His film "I Killed My Mother" figured big in New Directors/New Films, so I don't see this new one missing out.

A Screaming Man (dir. Mahamat Saleh-Haroun) - More of the wishful thinking, maybe? Then again, a filmmaker can make a debut.

The Princess of Montpensier (dir. Bertrand Tavernier) - IFC is releasing this, and it's by a very prestigious director. He's been at the Chicago Film Festival before (not sure if whether he's graced Lincoln Center), and I suspect he'll show here this year.

Those are at least the Cannes picks. Maybe I'll look at the Venice selection and see if anything there may cross over.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di ferragosto)

Judging by my audience, the fact that this film was "from the makers of "Gomorrah"' wasn't what got people to come to this film (although the preceding phrase on the poster, "A delicious comedy," may have). Either way, finding two more different films could be a challenge. "Mid-August Lunch," the second acting credit and first directing one from, as other's have said, one of "Gomorrah"'s six scribes Gianni Di Gregorio, is a nice fit for this guy. He plays a character named Gianni, which may be playing himself, but maybe not. He's already pretty stressed out, though his life has somewhat of a rhythm, of reading to his mother (Valeria De Francisis, whose character is similarly named) and buying food and, as many have said, his comfort of wine. He doesn't get enough sleep, and he's also facing the problem of (as my friend said) "having the bills to pay," which he's pretty terrible at. Luckily, or unluckily, he is confronted on the day before Mid-August Lunch (which is apparently a pretty big Italian holiday) with a solution: he takes in the mother (Marina Cacciotti, an Italian Betty White) of the guy who's collecting his money (Alonso Santagata), and some of the debts will be paid. I doubt that Gianni knew that this woman was a troublemaking, smoking, saucy old lady.

This is for Gianni already a hassle, but add to that the fact that Alonso also pushes on Gianni his aunt, played by Maria Cali. To add to that, his doctor Marcello (Marcello Ottolenghi) gives him his mother, who's even more of a problem as she can't eat a lot of things, which leads to the conflict of not being able to let her have the dinner.

Let's get one thing out of the way: this is a short movie. Wes Anderson turned a similar plot into a 110 minute film called "The Royal Tenenbaums" (a better movie I might add), whereas Gregorio turns this into a 75-minute film that is not quite of the same sort. I mention the running time like many critics have because it really governs how you think about the movie going in. When you check your watch, it's not the same experience as with a film over 90 minutes.

Similarly to "Gomorrah," it has a nonconventional narrative structure, as it is more about atmosphere than plot. Gianni could have been looked into deeper as a character, although I guess there really isn't anything to know about him other than the fact that he wishes he didn't have to entertain so many people.

There are good moments in this film. I love the shot where Gianni and his friend Viking (Luigi Marchetti) are riding to find fish on a motorcycle; it's reminiscent of the magnificent final sequence of "Amelie." Gianni's duties and behaviors are also out-of-the-ordinary and find some disbelief in the audience.

The film is ultimately about realizing that going with the flow is the best way to go if you want to have a nice time. This is admirable. And Gregorio I like as an actor, in his singsongy way, casting himself perfectly. But I was at times feeling like Mike D'Angelo when he tweeted about Daniele Luchetti's Cannes entry "Our Life": "shit happens but has no repercussions, so why should I care?" And, though I'll admit I was tired going to see it, the dreaded disconnect (as Ebert said of "I Heart Huckabees" and my friend said of "Mother and Child") was there. But if you really think about it, you see why it goes where it goes. B-

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mother and Child

"Mother and Child" has good sections, but the film is still problematic. It manages to be enjoyable in portions, but there are many minutes where the action barely registers. As my friend said, it can be chalked up as a "disconnect," as something similarly happened to me during Olivier Assayas' extremely overrated "Summer Hours" or Matt Tyrnauer's "Valentino: The Last Emperor"; however, this film is more entertaining and engaging (although it struggles at points). As ruminated on before, the film touches on the hardships of pregnancy and parenthood, plus the fact of, as people have said, "adoption."

The film is in three parts that are cut between all the time, which is a well-done facet of Rodrigo Garcia (who, as said before, has done this before with "Nine Lives" and "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her"). One is of Karen (Annette Bening older, Alexandria M. Salling when young) who has an erratic and rocky personality, almost manic-depressive, and who will always be scarred by the fact that her daughter was taken away from her at age 14 when she got pregnant and had the baby. She knows that the kid is now a 37-year-old living a life unrelated to hers. She is having a hard time courting a guy she likes at work (Jimmy Smits), because she doesn't have a really meshable personality. Her mother is dying, and she's really pissed off that the maid and the maid's daughter have a closer relationship to her mother than she did.

We also follow Karen's daughter (Naomi Watts), who's taken on the name of Elizabeth as she really didn't have another. She's a high-maintenance lawyer who's got a great resumé. Her new boss Paul (Samuel L. Jackson) she likes and he likes her. He takes her to a dinner that she thinks more people will be at, and then she brings him to her apartment. He's old enough to be her father; speaking of which, she actually has him masquerade as one. This woman is very devoted to her will, enough so that she's pretty manipulative. She pretty much drinks Paul into a stupor so she can have sex with him. The same goes for her affair with a man in her apartment building, who she messes around with, as my friend said, by putting her panties in his wife's drawer. She gets pregnant, and, as my friend said, she isn't too happy about that, as it will tamper with her solitude.

The third part is with Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her quiet husband Joseph (David Ramsey). They can't have a baby together, and they want a baby, so they try to adopt one. The baby's mother is very finicky and wants to control everything, down to the last minute. She is uncertain on the right couple and is thinking that Lucy is giving the right answers to her questions, although they are difficult (like what theism she believes in and what she will teach the baby. Lucy is receiving a lot of pressure from her mother and is feeling that her husband is not giving her support.

The scenes in this film sometimes feel awkward and stilted, but perhaps Garcia has intended this. This draws more attention to them. For the most part, though, this wasn't really a big problem. My interest just wasn't captured enough for large portions, even though I was sometimes engaged. Also, the plot itself felt a little creaky. I, like my friend and the critics, was supportive of the performances. But this film needed at least some work, to make it more interesting and less shaky. C+

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Father of My Children (Le pére de mes enfants)

Like Ebert's review of this film, I will use liberty with spoilers, for the same reasons Ebert did there and Sight and Sound did with this film in their article. Just beware... This is not the review to read if you want to "go in cold," as they say, although I already had heard what had happened before I saw the film.

Mia Hansen-Løve's "The Father of My Children" focuses at first on a producer named Grégoire Canvel (Louis-do de Lencquesaing), who's, as my friend as well as the film said, always "on call." When he spends time with his family, he's always thinking about work in the back of his mind, and the moments he has with them are few and far between, although he makes a good father (as my friend said) and although the moments are idyllic. At work, he has many different films going at once, and only one of them seems as if it's a genuine success (the aptly titled "Jackpot"). Everything else is financially disastrous, especially one called "Saturn," by, as Ebert said, a "serious auteur." This film is having somewhat of a financial black hole, and Canvel and his production company Moon Films are being sucked in by it (weird about all the astronomy in this film). This film is all about the monetary side of the cinema. Here, it is seen how much it costs to put a film together, emotionally and financially. The people here don't get to the cinema much, especially Gregoire, though it has been implied that he likes movies.

When it all comes down to the nitty-gritty, this film is all about money. Canvel's wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) I'm guessing wants Moon Films to survive, but she also wants Gregoire to enjoy the family vacations. On a certain level, he does, in the way he loves his daughters, Valentine (Alice Gautier), Billie (Manelle Driss), and Clémence (played by de Lencquesaing's real-life daughter, Alice). But his job is all-consuming, and puts him down, and the guy rather selfishly shoots himself because he really can't handle it. There is a shot where he looks at his reflection in his computer that's very disturbing and is perhaps the film's most perturbing image. We see his grief in his actions, but this shot, where he shows it to himself, shows it the most.

What he does doesn't make anything better. Everything just gets worse. There are the same problems at work, except now his family is shattered, especially Valentine (the older of the two smaller daughters). As Ebert says, Sylvia shifts into Gregoire's position as the controller of Moon Films. She opts to try to keep it alive, but it's bound to nosedive to liquidation, especially when some guy reads off the pessimistic fortune of the company.

The first half of the film is ultimately much better than the end. We see more of the smaller kids, whereas in the second half it's all about Clémence and her discovering more about Gregoire's past and getting to do what she wants, etc. I agree with Nick Davis that it is "eloquently humane," and this is nice, until we as the audience see that that's all it is. The film ends so abruptly that it's completely surprising. I guess it ends in the only way that it could have, but I dunno. I, as well as my friend, was expecting a little more catharsis. I think it comes down to the fact that one underestimates the level of importance of a main character, a level that can be discovered when that character dies. B-

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Looking For Eric

"Looking For Eric" is a film among the ranks of "Adoration" as one of the worst Cannes competition entries I've ever seen. It's a film of a questionable tone, marketed as a comedy, but as markgorman of IMDb states, it "is not a Ken Loach comedy." Oh, and that's just another thing: Loach has apparently made two of the worst films of his career back-to-back with this and "Route Irish" (which I have yet to see). I wonder if it will affect people's perception of his body of work.

Steve Evets (who has a palindrome name) is probably the right person to play someone like Eric Bishop based on appearance (as the character describes himself as "scrawny" and Evets fits the bill) and on basic personality (pessimistic). But somehow he gets extremely annoying very fast, be it his downbeat nature or perhaps the fact that he desperately needs his mouth washed out with soap (as it has been noted, he drops about as many f-bombs as possible without sounding like a Joe Pesci character; perhaps it's not a coincidence that the Loach film "Sweet Sixteen" is 9th on the list of films with the most of this word). If you're like me, having your patience worn thin before the hour mark, you can see why he's been divorced two times. He's like your veritable Moses Herzog (who had the same number of divorces).

This film follows this character for 116 minutes, which a friend correctly notes as "too long." He's happy only in two instances: 1) when, as said before, he's watching Manchester United with his friends (who are nicknamed things like Meatballs), and 2) when he's thinking about the "best night of his life," which was a dance at a gathering with his first ex-wife when they were really young. Otherwise he's trying with no success to be a father to teenage sons who make a mess.

The main portion of the film (or what the title refers to) is his relationship with Eric Cantona, who I believe is a retired Manchester United star who Eric Bishop considers the "best soccer player that ever lived" and selects him as "the person who's confidence he wishes to emulate" when led in a group exercise (the group exercise scene is pretty much pointless, although it has some of the film's only humor). Cantona's career is rehashed in far too many clips of archival soccer footage as he makes goal after goal (and in one case, a pass). Cantona apparently appears in an imaginary state, although in one instance he can turn on a stereo just by pointing to it. Surprisingly, these are the worst scenes in the film. Ebert complained about not being able to hear what Evets said and saying Cantona was more clear, but that's exactly the opposite for me. It was hard to decipher whether or not Cantona was speaking in English or French at times.

Anyways, these scenes are terrible, taking place in Eric's room, which makes them incredibly easy for Paul Laverty to have written. We learn most of the backstory through them, a technique which I'm terribly against and seems to me as just an easy way out of introducing the information in a believable way. Truth-Telling Stories are worse, but these are bad.

What does happen, but not to the extent that it usually does, is that Eric gets his groove back (figuratively and literally). He talks to his 1st wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop, which is sort of an odd coincidence), although he barely mentions his 2nd wife. Lily is now a do-gooder as a result of the relationship, whereas Eric is a complete ne'er-do-well who won't relinquish the past.

What perhaps prevents him from reaching the confidence level of Joel Osteen is that his sons start getting involved with some sort of kingpin named Zac (Steve Marsh) who takes them periodically to Man U. games. That explains a gun being hidden under the floorboards, which one of his sons says he is doing for Zac's sake. Eric goes to confront Zac, where he gets beaten up and is filmed and put on Youtube. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the site is for. What good would putting a video of a nobody like Eric getting roughed up online do? (The video though appears to be compressed in a ghostly software program, though.) There's no stakes involved, as opposed to what Eric decides to do at the end of the film, which is embarrassing, idiotic, stupidly done, and explains something the audience has fully grasped. This whole subplot basically screws up the film's tone and only serves the purpose of accelerating the film to a longer run time.

"Looking For Eric" might not be completely horrible, but it fails to engross in large portions. I checked my watch at a little under an hour in, and I was shocked by how little of the film had actually gone on. This is the type of film that proves a film cannot be judged good just on the fact that it played In Competition at the Cannes festival or just on the fact that the company IFC is the distributor. If you happen upon this film, deservedly dwindled into limited release, I wonder if you'll have as unpleasant of a viewing experience as I did. D+

Friday, June 4, 2010

Up, The Second Viewing

I will not elaborate as much as I did in my original, scathing, "C" review. This is not for plot summaries, etc. This is similar to my revision of my "Slumdog Millionaire" review.

After getting into arguments with bloggers, etc., it was a good thing that I attended another screening of last year's Best Picture nominee "Up." The film admittedly shows much skill, but the problems for me are there, albeit in a smaller form. The "prologue sequence" is excellent. Of course, it strains a little for emotional response, but it works in the way that the rest of the film was intended to work: it inspires wonder and fluttery emotions. I loved it. Another great sequence is the one where Carl Fredricksen takes off in his house for the first time. When the colors of the balloons rush through the nursery of a small child, it's jaw-dropping.

I also admit I was more receptive the character of Russell than before. I'll admit that Dug (and Pixar) somewhat got me with his humorous lines and injection of "ruff" where "roof" should have been. Kevin's wail is hilarious, too. Pixar is the place for details. Nothing escapes them. That could be why their plot ties feel at times a little labored. Everything is connected.

The major problems I have with it this time, and what I believe really doesn't do good for the film, involve the ending, which Pixar is renowned for screwing up. Fredricksen and Russell are veritable mood rings in the climax, changing how they feel from instant to instant, unrealistically. (And am I the only one who thinks Fredricksen looks one time too many at his wife's "Adventure Book"? A lot of emotional manipulation there, eh?) The ending, with the whole "showing up for the ceremony," is rushed. I don't care how you slice it. The end with the fight between Charles Muntz and Fredricksen is an overused tactic, one I'm shocked Ebert didn't criticize. In a film of intense deliberations, this stuff is embarrassing. This is a film that gets steadily worse after the prologue (not that the body of the film is bad; it's good), and on that level, I see it the same way I did before. That's not to say that the film isn't good; it's just not as polished as it could or should have been. B-

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Friendly Announcement

Hello. I just wanted to tell you I bought tickets to see the film "Restrepo" at the Human Rights Watch film festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. So ratchet up some excitement. (If possible.)

Here are some other titles I will likely review in the coming weeks:
"The Father of My Children"
"Looking For Eric"
"Mother and Child"

and just possibly
"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work."

Excitement levels advancing?

I've also seen the films "Walkabout" and "Howards End" on their beautiful Criterion Blu-Ray releases. I do recommend the latter, and the former for its image quality but not its style.

Now this is like a full-force excitement source. I will write some reviews soon. Just wanted to keep you posted, as I haven't written a review for a week.

On a baseball-related sidenote, what's up with that perfect game mishap? That was terrible.