Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Currently Watching: Last Tango in Paris (1972)

I'll keep this one brief because I've been pretty busy.  "Last Tango" is a beautiful film that I've been wanting to see for some time.  From Bertolucci's filmography I've also seen "The Conformist" (think it's one of the greatest films ever made), and Tango seems pretty different but still has a rather unflinching and unapologetic view of humanity.  The film is complex, somber, and as it goes on it trembles with its own agony and gradually folds apart as a classic tragedy.  What does that tragedy MEAN though?  The film has little of hope to offer us and goes so far as to suggest we are all alone, we are determined by our mistakes and our foolishness.

Probably the most striking feature of the film is Vittorio Storaro's cinematography.  Among many other works, I remember him most for the aforementioned Conformist and for "Apocalypse Now."  Storaro's work is always unique, and here he uses sepia and wood tones to make the film feel aged.  Lots of stunningly lit close-ups allow the whole of Mary Schneider and Marlon Brando's performances to show off their complexities.  Great tracking shots and blocking are pulled off smoothly.

The film takes place mostly in an apartment in Paris, and the art direction is bare and crumbling, the perfect exteriorization of Brando's mental anguish.  And speaking of Brando, he's amazing in this role.  As a man who is trying to recover from his wife's suicide, he somehow manages to constantly make his character work on multiple levels, shifting the location of his agony from various external and internal levels.  The sex in the film, which has earned it a rather notorious reputation, is not particularly terrible.  There are many shots of Schneider's nude body, suggesting her vulnerability and her yearning to be favored as an object, as she is constantly objectified not as a sex object but as a prop for her fiance director.  One sequence in particular involving Brando's lewd desires is a real centerpiece of the film and is photographed and edited rather tastefully, but Bertolucci still pushes the emotions to the limits.  In the one moment he lets his characters fully confront their vulnerabilities and their pain.

"Last Tango in Paris" is extremely beautiful.  It's an art film, existing in its own space not determined by narrative and working into deep mental and emotional states not necessarily guided by external stimuli.  This is a very tight, very emotional film.  I really enjoyed it; I would like to see it again at some point to really understand all the aesthetic nuances Bertolucci sticks in it, but it does help cement my high opinion of him as a real film artist.

Films that frighten - The Mix

Films that frighten - The Mix

Take a look at this list of the best of the sub-genres of horror

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

'Man on Wire' reaches new heights - The Mix

'Man on Wire' reaches new heights - The Mix

Man on Wire - * * * *
D: James Marsh

British Independent Film Award Nominees

While yes, these have virtually no impact on the Academy Awards whatsoever, it's still nice to see In Bruges and Man On Wire getting recognition somewhere:

BEST BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM

Hunger

In Bruges

Man on Wire

Slumdog Millionaire

Somers Town

BEST DIRECTOR

Mark Herman – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Steve McQueen – Hunger

Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire

Shane Meadows – Somers Town

Garth Jennings – Son of Rambow

THE DOUGLAS HICKOX AWARD [BEST DEBUT DIRECTOR]

James Watkins – Eden Lake

Rupert Wyatt – The Escapist

Steve McQueen – Hunger

Martin McDonagh – In Bruges

Eran Creevy – Shifty

BEST SCREENPLAY

Enda Walsh, Steve McQueen – Hunger

Martin McDonagh – In Bruges

Simon Beaufoy – Slumdog Millionaire

Paul Fraser – Somers Town

Garth Jennings – Son of Rambow

BEST ACTRESS

Vera Farmiga – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Samantha Morton – The Daisy Chain

Keira Knightley  – The Duchess

Kelly Reilly – Eden Lake

Sally Hawkins – Happy-Go-Lucky

BEST ACTOR

Michael Fassbender – Hunger

Colin Farrell – In Bruges

Brendan Gleeson – In Bruges

Riz Ahmed – Shifty

Thomas Turgoose – Somers Town

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Emma Thompson – Brideshead Revisited

Hayley Atwell – The Duchess

Kristin Scott Thomas – Easy Virtue

Sienna Miller – The Edge of Love

Alexis Zegerman – Happy-Go-Lucky

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Ralph Fiennes – The Duchess

Eddie Marsan – Happy-Go-Lucky

Liam Cunningham – Hunger

Ralph Fiennes – In Bruges

Daniel Mays– Shifty

MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER

Asa Butterfield – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Dev Patel – Slumdog Millionaire

Ayush Mahesh Khedekar – Slumdog Millionaire

Bill Milner – Son of Rambow

Will Poulter – Son of Rambow

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN PRODUCTION

The Daisy Chain

The Escapist

Hush

Shifty

Telstar

RAINDANCE AWARD

Clubbed

Flick

One Day Removals

Zebra Crossings

BEST TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT

Wardrobe – Michael O’Connor – The Duchess

Cinematography – Sean Bobbitt – Hunger

Editing – Jon Gregory – In Bruges

Music – Harry Escott, Molly Nyman – Shifty

Cinematography – Anthony Dod Mantle – Slumdog Millionaire

BEST DOCUMENTARY

A Complete History of My Sexual Failures

Derek

Man on Wire

Of Time and The City

Three Miles North of Molkom

BEST BRITISH SHORT

Alex And Her Arse Truck

Gone Fishing

Love Does Grow On Trees

Red Sands

Soft

BEST FOREIGN FILM

The Diving Bell & The Butterfly

Gomorrah

I’ve Loved You So Long

Persepolis

Waltz With Bashir

THE RICHARD HARRIS AWARD (for outstanding contribution to British Film)

David Thewlis

THE VARIETY AWARD

Michael Sheen

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Currently Watching: W. (2008)

* * 1/2
D: Oliver Stone
W: Stanley Weiser
S: Josh Brolin

After sitting through "that" film, I'm still left asking the unanswerable question - why?  Why does Oliver Stone feel the need to make this film, why do it how he does, and why now?  There are moments of "W." that feel like some of the most honest he's made in years, but many that feel stinted and beneath him.  Too much is artificial, too much is contrived.

Stone uses history as a dramatic canvas, with the biggest fault being the script by Stanley Weiser.  If Stone had written it by himself it could probably be a more controlled and steady work, but Weiser's bizarre intermittent allusions to actual dialogue and historical instances often feels clumsy and mishandled.  What is fascinating about "W." and what ultimately makes it kind of-sort of work as a movie is how Stone reduces historical figures into allegorical concepts and rebuilds them into complexities.  Beyond that, Stone's economy as a filmmaker is pervasive; he doesn't waste any time with his flash because he's interested in forward momentum.  He rarely weights his project down and his shots all feel even - maybe even rushed - in the interest of getting his film made and delivered at this junction in history.  Maybe not to impact the election (because the portrait of the Republican is not really that scathing) but to say "I beat you to it; this is the first narrative film about this man and what he means."

I honestly don't believe he's out to demonize Bush.  Bush is crafted as a complex man, almost larger than life.  He is a pawn in a Republican game, the puppet to Cheney and Rove, a decider without anything to decide.  He's a man trying to prove himself, haunted by the legacy his name is equated to.  Though the film has several moments that plays on Bush's notorious ability to confuse and mispronounce words, it actually takes on larger implications by the end.  Bush is never shown as an "evil" man, but perhaps a misguided one - someone who wanted to change the world for the better and inadvertently caused the system to fall apart.

Josh Brolin is absolutely phenomenal as George W. Bush.  He's in nearly every moment of the film, and every tiny gesture, every little inflection he adds makes it seem like he's on a much deeper level than his director.  Brolin actually wants to sympathize with Bush, and regardless of how much truth is behind the film's psychological underpinnings, it makes for compelling entertainment.  Bush becomes a classic tragic figure; a man who wanted to turn his life into something good, who became "straight" only to fall.  His performance goes beyond mere mimicry and tugs at something deeper.

The film builds itself backwards and forwards until the debacle of the Iraq War, when the WMD intelligence turned out to be flawed only after the fact.  Richard Dreyfuss, as a crooning and manipulative Cheney and Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush give the ensemble's most textured performances.  Toby Jones gives a good Rove impression, but he feels utterly miscast, as does Thandie Newton as Rice and James Cromwell as George Bush, Sr.  Jeffrey Wright (as Colin Powell) is cast as the "good guy" who fights against the Iraq war, which helps the dramatic flow of the narrative but seems to make the character too awkward and one-dimensional.

So, all this rambling, but where do I end up on W.?  There are moments where it takes on the pathos of a Greek tragedy, a kind of tragicomic rumination on what happens behind the closed doors of power.  It doesn't attempt to break any new ground, but I don't think it wants to.  Stone's film may gain more attention as time goes by, or it may fade away.  By coming out NOW, before Bush leaves office, Stone beats the history books to the punch.  If he had waited decades, the history would have told us what kind of man George W. Bush.  Stone tries to answer that question for us, and for the most part I admire the way he toys with the historical facts to fit his dramatic ideals.  He does so with a subtle reserve that seems to always say "this is a dramatic reconstruction, not a documentary" but always trying to stay closer to the mark than would be expected.

It's actually a pretty admirable movie, though I somehow wish it were longer, deeper, more penetrating.  It feels largely incomplete and I'd like to see it again when it's on DVD.  Some people might see it as a largely empty movie, but I think there's something deeper and more profound going on here: Stone recasts history as high art, as penetrating food for thought, as a kind of somber "Dr. Strangelove" for the modern political discourse, where the people in control may not know all they think they do.  Regardless of how "W." ends up being perceived, it's a commendable effort.  If anything, Josh Brolin is utterly fabulous.  His quieter moments behind those squinting eyes hint at a deep sorrow, and when Stone puts his complete trust in Brolin, letting him develop Bush to his own liking, the film is like some kind of awestrikingly unique character portrait being painted with history's clock.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Currently Watching: The Long Goodbye (1973)


One of several Altman films sandwiched between "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Nashville," "The Long Goodbye" is an interesting if not too incredibly artistic look at the detective movie from one of the 70's most distinct voices.  Altman's signature roaming camera and naturalist dialogue are really the key aesthetic "updates" in this reworking of Phillip Marlowe detective stories.

I really enjoyed Elliot Gould in the starring role, especially contrasting him against actors like Bogart who helped define the character.  Part of the charm of "Long Goodbye" seems to be the way Altman incorporates ideas from the 70s - cocaine, nudity - more explicitly than could be allowed in the 40s under the PCA.  In a way this makes "Long Goodbye" feel dated, a kind of novelty item whose ideas of reworking a genre feel misplaced and shortsighted.

The film is visually very appealing, with Altman doing some great stuff with pans and zooms to incorporate many different views of the same conversation or character within one take.  Unlike "The Big Sleep," the plot is laid out very well, and the film avoids over-exposition or inducing any kind of weird psychological undertones.  It's appropriately plot-driven, with Marlowe existing, as always, as a mere catalyst and guiding narrative force for the story - an embodiment of the audience's curiosities.  Further production values stress a decomposing world with more grit and dark alleys and a more "street-wise" kind of a vibe.

Altman is saluted and recognized for his many contributions and innovations to the cinematic form in New Hollywood.  I like to signal him out as really driving genre deconstructions and reappropriations in a different kind of direction.  Propping this alongside "M*A*S*H" and "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" can only confirm this.  Whereas the other two are more like tapestries where the characters become interwoven threads within a larger commentary - much like his other great success of the decade, "Nashville" - "The Long Goodbye" uses adheres rather faithfully to its conventions, toying instead with the characterization of the protagonist, the delivery and formation of the dialogue, and the aesthetic of the camera and production design.  A very entertaining and often engaging detective film from a man whose loss still resonates.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

'Appaloosa' takes on West - The Mix

'Appaloosa' takes on West - The Mix

Appaloosa - * * *
D: Ed Harris
W: Robert Knott; Ed Harris (screenplay); Robert Parker (novel)
S: Ed Harris; Viggo Mortensen; Jeremy Irons

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Currently Watching: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)


For all the questions Stanley Kubrick posed to his audience during his nearly perfect career as a filmmaker who pushed boundaries, delighted in being esoteric, and frequently challenged the mediation and processing of the image, I think probably the biggest question mark still remains, what would "Eyes Wide Shut" have been if he had survived to finish it?

Though "Eyes Wide Shut" is considered his last "finished" film (he had developed "A.I." before his death; Spielberg finished what he began), he died four months before its release.  The film was cut into the form we have it today, but if Kubrick had been able to tweak it and edit it down some, perhaps rearrange scenes, would it turn out a better film?  Kubrick has always inspired a kind of mythology; reading production stories behind his films makes him out to be a kind of reclusive perfectionist, a notorious perfectionist who was largely unable to work with those around him.  The principal photography on Eyes Wide Shut alone lasted over a year and was kept highly secretive.

Watching it, one can't help but feel the master exceeded his grasp.  At its heart, the film is a disturbing, protracted and almost painful meditation on the complexities of ad-
ult jealousies and repressed sexual desires.  Though at times it seems needlessly meandering and overlong...that's almost a trademark of the auteur's best ("2001," "Barry Lyndon," and "The Shining" spend excessive amounts of time staring at nothing).  Even on a small, 17 inch computer monitor, the photography in EWS is overwhelming; Kubrick forces the 1.37 aspect ratio into severe disproportion by forcing the f-stop of his lens, using alternatively low and high fill light, and using complex (and often amazing) long Steadicam shots.

In many, MANY ways I think "Eyes Wide Shut" is the closest thing Kubrick came to making an "art film."  It doesn't have a cause/effect plot, but rather generates a psychological exploration, it uses silence and imagery to convey its story in radically different ways, ends in ambiguity, and is confronting the medium's construction and style... And as an aside, it's weird to think Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were married when they made this film.  That their marriage would later fall apart, that Cruise would collapse as Kidman gained fame (and the Academy Award Cruise has yet to win), makes EWS an ironic comment on their celebrity status.  Regardless, both are captivating in the film (especially Cruise, who pulls out all his "intense" faces - something I'm sure Kubrick loved him for).
I'm not sure where I come down on EWS.  Part of me loved it for its willingness to push the subject mat
ter.  Viewed on an allegorical level, a psychological, and a surrealist level, the film is actually pretty stunning and feels incredibly distinct from most American films of its period with its overlong shots, held-over edits and long dissolves.  There's just something about the film where the suspense feels stunted, where editing it down could have made it more effective, where the final 15 minutes or so just feel so anticlimactic that we get the point and yet it still feels too dull and drawn out.  Which begs the question, was this the rough draft, or the finished product?  The "director's cut" or merely the director's template?  These questions may never be answered, but all the better for it.

Part of what makes "Eyes Wide Shut" such a provocative piece of psychological interrogation is that we may never know everything about its meaning, its plot, and what Kubrick would have wanted out of it.  In that way, it stands up as one of the more alluring mysteries of our time.

Film questions 'Don't Ask' Army policy - The Mix

Film questions 'Don't Ask' Army policy - The Mix

Monday, October 20, 2008

Currently Watching: American Beauty (1999)

There are few things better than the sublimely beautiful, tragicomic "American Beauty."  Of all the times I've watched it (which has probably gotten somewhere near two dozen at this point), it never ceases to overwhelm me.  It's currently sitting happily at 132 on my Personal Canon, although I could probably stand to shove it even higher if I could figure out how to rearrange 101-125 adequately :).
But why American Beauty, which is essentially a film about an outraged male who overturns the lives of those around him in a bizarre quest of self-fulfillment?  It's a very, VERY rare thing for American cinema to find that elusive, eloquent balance between literary and cinematic art.  "American Beauty" is one of a handful of films from the last 10 years (among them Gosford Park, Mystic River, and Sideways) that takes a simple story and elevates its ideas into a kind of self-aware critique.  "American Beauty" is as much about masculine identity as it is about the deconstruction of idealized suburbia, about double identities, closed doors, passion, desire...

As I watched it again, I tried to watch Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening interact.  I always marvel at how Spacey uses his body in this film; he's so willing to degrade himself and yet at the same time uses the arc of the film to sculpt himself into an "idealized" male figure.  Mendes accentuates throughout the film the rough distance between husband Lester and wife Carolyn, perhaps never more explicitly than the much-cited dinner sequence where the two are poised at opposing ends.  In the amazingly-framed shot (courtesy of the late Conrad Hall), the entire mise-en-scene of the room is fram
ed like a mirror: the camera pushes in from the frame of the door way to incorporate mirrors, furniture, candles, and food to balance both sides of the frame.  The dramatic conflict of the narrative is carried out through Lester and Carolyn's argument about Lester quitting his job.  To visually show the conflict and to reiterate the sequence's critique of conventional gender spheres, Lester walks across the frame to Carolyn's side of the table to steal the plate of asparagus, disrupting the entire balance of the composition - he further disrupts it when he throws the entire plate into the wall.  This sequence is always used to show what a great job Bening and Spacey do to undermine the superficialities of their characters, but it strikes me as a wonderful sequence for the ways Mendes willingly undoes the balancing act he achieves so well in his set-up.

And then I noticed it across the entire film: perfect, balanced compositions, usually in long shots and usually serving as establishing shots for many sequences.  Mendes finds door frames, lamps, couches, and then positions his actors in ways that comment on their crumbling relationships within this polished, almost artificial landscape (and as a side note, the lighting is KEY here and even more beautiful than these balanced shots).  As the film goes on, Mendes willingly engages in escalating UNbalances, letting Spacey, Chris Cooper, Thora Birch visually cross their spheres, engage physically with other characters.  Every character's behavior in this film is questionable, escalating of course to the violent murder of the protagonist, but Mendes manages to find a simple and yet very profound way to articulate these ruptures.
Further, I still reveled in the deceptively simple use of reds and blues throughout: reds indicating passions, life, lust, and (in the end) blood disrupt the otherwise pervasive blues.  The blues, which pervasively line the Burnham home, are terrific indicators for the kind of complacent life Lester and his family lead.  The red that starts with the doorway and then gradually builds its way into the roses, the Thunderbird, Lester's garage...it begins to take over the film (probably the most obvious is when the blood from the gunshot explodes over the pale white kitchen walls at film's end).

What I love about "American Beauty" more than anything is how every time I watch it I come to love it even more.  Thomas Newman's score seems more complex, Conrad Hall's visual ideas more stunning, and the acting even more overwhelming.  There is so much about this film that works perfectly, on both a narrative and artistic level.  Perhaps most of all is Mendes's ability (along with Alan Ball's screenplay) to take us so far into peoples' darkest secrets only to pull us out with a bizarrely uplifting ending.  We sacrifice Lester so that he can understand his life.  Despite all the crap that the film puts its characters and audience through, it still manages to come out with the simplest message of all: "Relax, and stop trying to hold on to it."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Awards Talk: Studios Push Films Back to 09, Out of Oscar Race

Joe Wright's "The Soloist" and Edward Zwick's "Defiance" are officially OUT of the Oscar race; their respective studios have pushed them to 2009.

Wright's film stars Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. The latter has used 2008 as a paramount comeback with both "Iron Man" and "Tropic Thunder" - "Soloist" was being touted as his best shot at an Oscar nom to award his year.
Zwick's "Defiance" had many buzzing about BP, or at least an Actor nod for Bond boy Daniel Craig.  Despite "Last Samurai" and "Blood Diamond" scoring with many audiences, Zwick has failed to seriously position a film in the Oscar race since 89's "Glory."

Additionally, John Hillcoat's "The Road" is expected to push release date back to 2009 while EP Harvey Weinstein is expected to make an early Dec push for Stephen Daldry's "The Reader" - which has been facing a tumultuous post-prod regarding producer conflict.

These holes will likely boost status for supposed frontrunners "Revolutionary Road," "Benjamin Button," and "The Dark Knight," while also giving more room for small independent films like "Rachel Getting Married" to break through with AMPAS.  More to come as awards season heats up in the next month or so.

Will "W." Matter?

Oliver Stone's latest film, his third about a US President and his second about 21st century political events, goes into wide release today, much to the moan of Conservatives (and a lot of Liberals too).  Stone's film was rushed into production, hurried through, and blasted through post so he could release it three weeks before the election.  Most people asked, why?  Why Bush, and why now?  Most people who watch films from a historical perspective loathe the man for his purposeful reworking of history, challenging conventional prisms of thought to usually arrive at rather ambiguous conclusions.  Partly, I can understand Stone's strategy; he wants to make a cultural document WITHOUT the hindsight, without the context of history, without the final judgment of who was right and who was wrong.  He wants to try and examine President Bush under his own lens, try to get to the core of the man provide a COMPLETELY SUBJECTIVE interpretation before the history books deal with objectivity.
That said, many fear that "W." will turn into the kind of cartoonish portraiture offered by Michael Moore in his immensely controversial "Fahrenheit 9/11," mercilessly parading insults and jokes about George W. Bush, pointing the finger squarely at him for all of America's faults and manipulating him into appearing to be the dumbest president ever has ever seen.  This is to discount Stone's last film, "World Trade Center."  The film had MANY inherent problems, mostly in its over-the-top, teary dramatics.  BUT the visual style and Stone's care in trying to represent events as they happened, filtered through personal prisms, and the use of a restrained, almost invisible camera/editing approach was a SIGNIFICANT departure from his earlier work that merits a further look for anyone too quick to dismiss him.

So I haven't seen "W." yet.  Planning to this weekend.  But what made me want to write this post is that I'm actually kind of stunned at what I'm reading on Metacritic.  Right now the film hovers at 60% critical average, which is just about where I thought it would be.  I wasn't expecting many people to praise the film regardless of how good or bad it actually is, mainly because of its overt politics and subject matter, and the community's deteriorating lack of respect for Oliver Stone as an auteur.  What surprises me is the kind of ink the film is getting despite many mixed reviews; it seems Stone largely abandons his conspiracy theory hyper-edit filmmaking.  He may take liberties with history, but he's trying to do something entirely different.  Examine the following snippets:

Roger Ebert (who gave it four stars): "Fascinating...this film contains no revisionist history"

Charlotte Observer: "You'll be disappointed if you expect famed leftist Oliver Stone to apply a coup de grace to this man...[he's] more interested in examining the conditions that put Bush where he is now and made him the political animal he is"

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Seems a much more even-handed and thoughtful take on the man than anyone might have expected"

New York Daily News: "A measured and thoughtful meditation"

The New York Times: "Neither a pure (nor impure) sendup of the president nor a wholesome takedown, the film looks like a traditional biopic with all the usual trappings...History is said to repeat itself as tragedy and farce, but here it registers as a full-blown burlesque...As comic as it is sincere...A work of imagination...[that] does something most journalism and even documentaries can't or won't do: it reminds us what a long, strange trip it's been to the Bush White House."

New York Post: "An often compelling, tragicomic psychological analysis"

Los Angeles Times: "It is an interpretation of personality intersecting with history, and as a piece of drama it is persuasive and perfectly creditable"

Entertainment Weekly: "Josh Brolin...does such a phenomenal job in the title role that he carries every scene he's in to a place of subtlety and integrity"

I've said this countless times since I saw the full length trailer: despite how good this movie ends up being, it seems endlessly interesting. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Currently Watching: Wonder Boys (2000)

Curtis Hanson may only have one truly great film under his belt (LA Confidential), but he's nevertheless an extremely versatile filmmaker who has dipped his hand into multiple genres and styles.
"Wonder Boys" is a surprisingly charming film, with deft humor and strong photography to support its performa
nc
es, marvelously edited by the great Dede Allen.  Michael Douglas, who's seemed to disappear, does fabulous work and is barely recognizable.  The ensemble is fueled by a younger Tobey Maguire, whose performance reminded me of his great work in Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm," and Robert Downey Jr. at the very beginning of his comeback, doing his typical zany shtick but in a more minimal, more reserved way that precludes his recent supers
tar status.

The writing is great; strong characters and a small drama, but it occasionally feels like it relies a bit too heavy on its voiceover to elaborate exposition, making it a bit more literary than cinematic.  Still, the colors and the compositions are extremely vivid, with shots of New England snow and intellectual homes lit in alternating cold blues and warm browns.

At best, it's a warm, small film that very few people have heard of.  It keeps itself focused and contained, much to its benefit.  I enjoyed it immensely for its performances and the subtle directorial touches.

Jimmy's Trailer Park - The Mix

Jimmy's Trailer Park - The Mix

http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/sunshinecleaning/

^ ^ link to "Sunshine Cleaning," my pick for Trailer of the Week

Currently Watching: Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)

Widely regarded as Werner Herzog's most powerful film, I finally managed to see the German filmmaker's tale of Spanish conquistadors.  Most people might know Herzog for his more recent work, "Grizzly Man" and "Rescue Dawn", but his prolific work in German through the 70s and 80s is really what propelled his reputation.

"Aguirre" was shot in the jungles of South America on a budget of $300,000 and filmed with an 8 member crew and only one 35 mm
 camera.  Browsing IMDb after I finished watching it, I noticed some people complaining about the film's amateurish production values.  With virtually no sets, only a bare plot, and several editing flaws and poor camera movements, it's very easy to dismiss Aguirre.  Having known the skill and craft of Herzog through his later work, I think these flaws only add to the overall surreality of the film.  There are several flawed parts, but its final five minutes of despair summarize the intense emotions and the whole dreamlike quality of the world.


I don't know if there is any filmmaker besides Herzog who takes such fascination in watching people.  In both his docs and his narratives, so much of his films hinge on how the camera looks at people and how people behave.  Using many longer distance shots and some very minimal camera movements with extended takes, Herzog is obviously trying to capture the reality of this hunt for El Dorado.  By manipulating the poor production values to work for him instead of against him and by his choice of lens, blocking, and music, the film takes on this other-world quality.

"The Wrath of God" is many things, notably a journey through Hell, a journey into despair, a chart of man's desperation with the world around him.  The venerable Klaus Kinski, who worked numerous times with Herzog, stars in the title role and his intense facial gestures and eye movements help the audience follow the entire emotional register of the band.  A voiceover in the form of a diary by the band's Christian missionary helps keep the somewhat meandering narrative on task.

The film is one of the better examples I've seen lately of how less can REALLY equate to more.  Herzog systematically strips the entire filming artifice back to its primal status, using it how he can to capture things at their most basic.  How fitting then, that after most of the film's cast has died and the rest are presumed to die in the jungle, Herzog develops a complex, circular rotating camera shot for his poetic coda.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Currently Watching: High Fidelity (2000)


I still regard Stephen Frears's "High Fidelity" as one of the most balanced, charming comedies of the decade.  Frears is a fabulous director, able to guide his narratives with a very simple visual style that captures his protagonists' point of views succinctly.

John Cusack, whose career has disappointedly been on the backburner of late, gives my personal favorite performance of his career.  In a film that predicates its charm on breaking the fourth wall, Cusack manages to be amiable and cover a wide range of emotions while being humorous.

Most people I've shown it to over the years have gravitated to the film's wonderful screenplay that catapults through Cusack's memories as he tries to negotiate all his failed romances.  They're enjoyed its simultaneously wry and warm sense of humor, its sharp observations on love and music.

It's not a film I've written much about or thought much about in a deeper regard.  It fits its mold as a genre film, working reflexively and almost commenting on its own convention.  Rather, it's a small, well-made film that only gets better with time and worthy of pure enjoyment.

All 2008 Reviews to Date

In order to ease the transition from Xanga to Blogger, here's the star rating for everything, alphabetized (out of 4 stars):

Appaloosa - * * *
Body of Lies - * *
Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story - * * *
Burn After Reading - * * * *
Christmas on Mars - * *
Cloverfield - *
The Dark Knight - * * * *
Drillbit Taylor - * *
Encounters at the End of the World - * * 1/2
Forgetting Sarah Marshall - * * *
Funny Games - * * * 1/2
Get Smart - * * 1/2
The Happening - 0
In Bruges - * * 1/2
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - *
Iron Man - * * *
Kung Fu Panda - * *
Lakeview Terrace - * 1/2
Leatherheads - * *
Mongol - * *
Pineapple Express - * * *
Rambo - * 1/2
RocknRolla - * * *
Savage Grace - * * * 1/2
Semi-Pro - * *
Slacker Uprising - 0
Step Brothers - * * 1/2
The Strangers - * 1/2
Teeth - * *
Tropic Thunder - * * *
The Wackness - * 1/2
Wall-E - * * * *
Wanted - * *

Acting, thrills create deception in 'Lies' - The Mix

Acting, thrills create deception in 'Lies' - The Mix

"Body of Lies" - * *
D: Ridley Scott
W: William Monahan (screenplay); David Ignatius (novel)
S: Leonardo DiCaprio; Russell Crowe

Slater aims for comeback in thriller - The Mix

Slater aims for comeback in thriller - The Mix

The Batman Begins of Blog Reboots!

So.  Hosting on Xanga became annoying and inconvenient.

The blog will now move to this address, and hopefully will be able to offer more in the way of news and insights with a more user-friendly interface.