18 November 2012

ParaNorman (Chris Butler & Sam Fell, 2012, USA)

A young boy who can see and speak with the dead must save his Salem-esque town by resolving a 300 year old curse, which ultimately means learning how to forgive bullies. To be honest, I found it tedious for the most part, and intermittently grating. The stop motion animation is creepy and weirdly ugly. It was like looking at ugly carpeting for an hour and a half. A promising enough cast is wasted on recycled storytelling and unappealing animation. Really, the animation reminds me of that hideous animation you see these days on children's television programs. The basic shell of the story is compelling, but it's buried in so many cliches and under so many shrill characters spouting so much bad dialogue that even the things I liked about it started to wear thin. I have friends who liked this, so I guess other people like this sort of blander than Tim Burton childhood kitsch. I didn't see anything particularly interesting or engaging though.

Les Miserables anticipation fatigue

I'm entering that exhaustion phase of film anticipation that comes when a movie has been promoted for what seems like eons. To be honest, I was more than a little excited that Les Miserables was finally coming to the big screen. I've also been more than a little nervous that the director is Tom Hooper, since I found The King's Speech more than a little annoying.
Anyway, I'm still bursting with anticipation to see whether and how Anne Hathaway can carry off the line, "Come on, Captain, you can wear your shoes, don't it make a change to have a girl you can't refuse?" I can't even imagine those words coming out of her mouth since she strikes me as a bit prim, but she's pulled off being a junkie, so maybe she can pull off being a whore...

15 November 2012

Worst Comedies of All Time

I guess FILM.COM has this list of the worst comedies of all time. Apparently over there at film.com the world started in 1984. Probably these kids are sheltered and don't know anything about movies from before E.T., though one of the authors, let's call her Molly Q. Millennial, says in a comment that the worst comedies are all from the past 20 years. I guess it never occurred to her that people thirty years from now will never have heard of Freddy Got Fingered. In general, the list is pretty uncontroversial, except for what kind of psychopath would include Who's That Girl on a list like this unless they were born after 1985 or before 1965? Also, it's not controversial to put All About Steve on this list, but I always felt that it was better than The Blind Side anyway, not to mention countless 'successful' romantic comedies like Sweet Home Alabama. Of course, I went into All About Steve expecting it to be bad so maybe my expectations were too low. I actually thought it was better than a lot of the movies of its sort. I mean, I haven't even seen New in Town, but I'm sure it's substantially worse than All About Steve. But why do people always have to be hating on Pat? Bullies, I say.
Anyway, I'd also suggest that Rhinestone (1984) transcends the conventional good/bad dichotomy, though I wouldn't necessarily go as far as saying I would watch the movie in one continuous sitting. Of course, this brings us back to what a questionable exercise it is to assert a supposedly objective evaluation of art. I'm willing to concede none of these movies are particularly good, with the exception of Who's That Girl of course, but I'm not sure it's a very well considered list of the the 'worst comedies of all time.' Which comedies have you seen that were more painful than these? For the record, the worst SNL films are Coneheads  and MacGruber.

14 November 2012

End of Watch (David Ayer, 2012)

There are a number of reasons I'm not generally a fan of cop dramas. My stepfather was a cop, I'm generally resistant to authority, I find them strong on machismo and weak on sociology. They tend to feel sad and tense and generally oppressive. More generally, they tend to overly simplistic, reactionary, and borderline fascistic. This film is a typical buddy cop drama in a lot of ways, but it sidesteps a lot of the frequent weaknesses. The characters are more developed and the dialogue is stronger, for starters. The approach is more naturalistic, even though some of the subject matter is really kind of sensationalistic. Given the news reports about the Mexican drug cartels, it doesn't seem like anything here is particularly implausible though.
The focus of the story is the relationship between two beat cops who work in South Central LA. Played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña , they seem relatively authentic. Gyllenhaal is the war vet taking courses so he can go to law school. This higher education justifies the film's strangely half executed found footage conceit. He's recording everything for a documentary class he's taking to satisfy an arts requirement. The found footage conceit in the original script was apparently scaled back during preproduction, and some viewers seem to find its vestigial presence more confusing or frustrating than anything else. Personally, I didn't get too invested in the conceit. While watching it, I assumed that the video would somehow come into play as evidence, a turn of events that is foreshadowed by another cop's remark about the dangers of filming their work because it could be subpoenaed. Ultimately that ended up as something of a red herring, but I still found that that constant thread of the filming somehow made the characters seem more human. It was just this running bit that gave a sense of continuity. Peña's character is sort of a romantic and the head of a young family. There is a certain sweetness in the way that Gyllenhaal seems to follow Peña's path with his best girl Anna Kendrick, whose milquetoast quality works oddly well here.
I made a mistake partway through the film of looking at the film's Wikipedia page because I wanted more information about the director and supporting cast. It turns out there's a spoiler embedded in the title. It seems like it might not be much of a spoiler if you've seen the trailer, which I haven't, but as someone who knew nothing, it alerted me that the film was going in a somewhat different direction than I was anticipating. After that, it became pretty clear how the film would end. I thought it would surprise me for a while, but then it didn't. So sad. Oh well. As a whole, I found the cast relatively strong and the characters relatively sympathetic, which is probably something of a feat in a film like this.
When I was thinking about this movie it reminded me of my thoughts during the film festival. How do you give an objective assessment of a film? I have my own ways of assessing films, usually based on how much they stir me in the gut or in my head, but sometimes the rubrics people use in assessing film don't seem to make sense. This isn't really my genre. It's sort of predictable, the characters may be a little sanitized, it's kind of dour sometimes. Still, considering the genre it really excels. It made me appreciate what cops do in a way that few films have inspired. I grew very fond of many of the characters, even a couple of the thugs in the neighborhood. There are these great ironic moments, like the one where the dynamic duo is arguing about a rubber band while gangland assassins are in the car behind them discussing whether or not they will attempt to kill them at the stop sign they're approaching. I don't know that I'd watch it again, but it impressed me in what it did well. I don't know that everyone would like it, but I'd probably recommend it to most people, as long as they don't mind movies that are kind of serious. It's strange to me that this film was written, directed, and produced by the writer of The Fast and the Furious.

13 November 2012

Steven Spielberg Top 5

Largely because of my tendency to agree with JR Jones, I tend to read the Chicago Reader film feed pretty regularly. Monday there was an interesting top 5 from a writer named Drew Hunt, whom I've honestly not taken much note of before. It seems to be an installment of his "Monday Top 5" series, which I sort of vaguely recall having read before. This particular list is of Steven Spielberg films, and while I don't necessarily feel the same about all these movies as Hunt does, I was pleased to see that it didn't focus on a lot the Steven Spielberg movies that make him one of my cinematic bêtes noires. I've been more annoyed than anything else by films like Saving Private Ryan, War Horse, the Indiana Jones films, and even The Color Purple (I loved the novel though) . I guess starting even with E.T. as a small child I never seemed to be able to connect with these over the top bourgeois populist entertainments, but there were some exceptions. Hook came out when I was in middle school, and I tended to like that largely because I really liked Julia Roberts at the time. I loved Schindler's List when it came out and I probably still think it's his best film, though I haven't seen Amistad, Lincoln, Munich, or The Terminal.

There's no sense in going in reverse order here, because the best film is obviously Schindler's List, though Drew Hunt seems to disagree because it's not even in his honorable mentions, let alone his top 5. Just to make sure we kill all the suspense here, there's no Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third Kind here because I mostly think those movies are really boring.

1. I'm aware that some people have some problems with Schindler's List (1993), like maybe it's too manipulative or operatic or I don't even know what. It's absurd because these are the criticisms you could throw at almost his entire body of work, but it works in Schindler's List, in contrast to almost all of his other movies.

2. Sugarland Express (1974) found Goldie Hawn at the top of her game. And Steven Spielberg's kitsch was still somewhat restrained by the 1970s aesthetic.

3. Duel (1971) is a classic. I say this without even having seen the last ten minutes or so, but I tell you I saw enough. One day I'll need to find out if I'm right.

4. Minority Report (2002) could have gone either way, but the world is a better place because Samantha Morton has magic powers and her witchcraft made the entire film soar. Well, that's how I remember it anyway.

5. I'm still going to post this thing because hardly anyone reads it anyway, but I'm starting to wonder how all these real writers of content manage to come up with these things all the time. I honestly haven't seen most of these movies in years and years and years. With that said, of all those other movies I haven't seen in years, I'd probably pick Empire of the Sun (1987) as my fifth best Spielberg film, although part of me wonders if it's only because it was the favorite film of my best friend in high school. I don't know, I remember thinking it was a respectable film at the time. Anyway the only other possible contenders I could possibly think of would be AI or Always. Actually, to be honest, I fell asleep once when I saw Munich in the theater. It seemed pretty good, but I was super exhausted. Beyond that, I think Catch Me If You Can was somewhat better than I expected, and I'm hoping Tony Kushner's hand will mean I like Lincoln. So yeah, I guess that's why it's Empire of the Sun, even though it's no The Killing Fields.

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012, UK)

A few years ago I had only seen a few of the Pierce Brosnan James Bond films and Dr. No. At the time I had a job where not much happened, but I could basically watch TV all morning, and Spike had a Month of Bond thing where they played almost all of the Bond movies in chronological order. Honestly, I'm not that huge a fan of the series. I liked some aspects of some of the installments and I liked some films better than others. I probably liked Sean Connery the least and possibly Pierce Brosnan the best, but I'm not sure. Anyway, I say all this to put in context my assertion that I think that Skyfall is probably the best James Bond movie I've ever seen. It has a lot of the weaknesses that characterize the previous films, and it leans heavily on the template that pretty much every James Bond movie is structured by. As usual there are two love interests here, but the interesting one (aka, the bad one for whom things don't work out too well) is probably among the most mesmerizing Bond girls in history. Honestly, I'm having trouble writing about this movie because in order to discuss how it fits in with the tropes of the series there are all kinds of spoilers that come into the equation. I guess what's interesting is that this movie fulfills most of the expectations you'd have for a Bond film, but it does so in ways that are sometimes inventive or even challenging to the canonical representations, particularly the role of Moneypenny, who appears very late in the film.

My boyfriend, like some of the reviewers I've read, complained that many of the action sequences seem weirdly slow or non-thrilling. I agreed, but I felt like it fit into the larger agenda of the film, all character development and ruminations on what it means for him and M to still be at this. Much of the acting is pretty good, particularly by Bérénice Marlohe (the bad girl, pictured above) and Judi Dench (as usual, M). Daniel Craig, Ben Whishaw (Q for Quartermaster), and Naomie Harris (Eve) are pretty strong as well, though Whishaw and Harris have weaker moments to offset their stronger moments. Javier Bardem is generally strong in his performance, though it sometimes (as is probably appropriate for a James Bond film) borders on cartoonish. The one off note for me was Ralph Fiennes. In fact, his first scene is a conversation with Judi Dench, which really becomes an object lesson in why she's considered such a great actress. Compared to him, she's so present in her role, so in command of what she's doing. There are a few criticisms you could make, particularly about the tightness of some of the action sequences, but except for one thing, which takes up less than thirty seconds of screen time but still manages to almost sink the entire film, I wasn't particularly bothered. But then, there's that thing that happens. I'd heard people talking about how absurd it is what the characters do in a pivotal moment of the film, acting stupider than anyone ever would for no particular reason at all, and as the movie progressed I had started to wonder if I was somehow missing what those actions were. Let me tell you, if you go see the movie, you will know it when you see it. It's like something from Scooby-Doo or one of those stupid spoof comedies like Scary Movie. I really couldn't believe it. The shock of it has dissipated and I'm not bothered by it as much as when I was watching the movie, but last night in the theater, I felt like my mind was blown by the inexplicably stupid direction the film seemed to be taking. Oh well.
For what it's worth, I also quite liked the Adele song and think it fit in with the movie better than they sometimes do, and the opening montage was also generally well executed.

10 November 2012

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012, France)

You can't really deny that this film is a pretty pure example of masturbatory filmmaking. The filmmaker here has cobbled together all of these concepts of his in a way that seems very personal, and possibly somehow autobiographical. At the same time, the audience is constantly stroked, exactly like the audience in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris for being hip to what he's doing here or there. It's also pretty easy to say it's like a David Lynch movie, but not as straightforward. For me, there were stretches of the film that I found tedious or insipid, but there were also segments that I found compelling or even beautiful.

Denis Lavant, who played the main character Merde in that annoying middle section of that omnibus film Tokyo! from 2008 or something, is back here playing the same character and about ten others. In the film, he is chauffeured around in a limosine, possibly with bodyguard protection, and taken to different "sessions" or appointments. The almost mystical chaufffeur is played by mesmerising Édith Scob, who is perhaps best known as the girl in Franju's Eyes Without a Face. Like many of the characters in the film, it's hard to know whether to think of them as benevolent or menacing. Perhaps, as in many dreams, the figures are meant maintain the suspense of that mystery. They make nine or so stops and at each stop, Lavant plays a different character: a gypsy beggarwoman, a green screen actor, that same stupid troll from that Tokyo!movie, an emotionally abusive father, a murderous gangbanger, etc.

Man is said to differ from other apes in his propensity to ask why. So watching all these episodes, which end in the chauffuer donning her Eyes Without a Face mask and leaving the cars to themselves, it's hard not to try to make connections. He's clearly working through something about the artist's role, probably about his own life as well, since the protagonist's name is the director's real middle name, and it ends with a photograph of his lost lover. Like any other story about artists, it's easy to see metaphysical themes in the piece. Maybe god is in all these people in all these acts. I don't know, maybe this guy is just self-absorbed and preoccupied with the grotesque. I can't tell if it's because I had lost patience by that point in the film, but I was really surprised by how absolutely bored I was during the entire Kylie Minogue scene. In constrast, I was pleasantly surprised by Eva Mendes in the film. She's in the session with the stupid troll, but for some reason the troll shtick just barely tips toward succeeding in this film while it pretty squarely hit with a thud in Tokyo! Weirdly, my biggest reaction to the film is that my new dream is to enter Paris by car some day. I think I've been to Paris three times, but all three times I entered by train. In fact, I don't think I've ever even taken a cab in Paris, but this film makes driving around Paris look incredibly beautiful, all the while eschewing a lot of the kitsch that that idea is probably conjuring in your mind. In fact, there are all kinds of gorgeous views of the city, particularly as they stand atop the historic Samaritaine department store, which is allegedly being converted into a hotel, according to the interwebs.

I imagine I will probably watch this movie again at some point in the future, but I can't think of many people I'd recommend it to. I'm honestly surprised by the critical reception it's received. It won the awards for best film, best director, and best actor at the Chicago International Film Festival. I wasn't surprised at all to find out at after seeing the film that the director's mother is a long time friend of the festival organizer. Maybe it was nepotism, my cynical side says. Of course, it's also true, as the French say, à chacun son goût. I don't know, I can see making love letters to the movies, but for me there needs to be more than that, and this film didn't really connect to me like it seems to connect to a lot of other people. Oh well.

It occurs to me while reading through these reviews that I really did love the film for about the first third and it gradually kind of wore on me. Like Roger Ebert apparently, it brought to my mind the Walt Whitman line, "I contain multititudes." I guess I'd also agree with Ebert that the film is exasperating and sometimes funny, though I didn't really sop it up as much as he did. It's amazing how all these reviews keep talking about how exciting and not boring this movie is, since I was more or less bored for much of the second half of the film. The sessions in the latter half become increasingly more dour and confounding, I thought. In reading these reviews though, it's surprising how many people, like myself, seem to have forgotten about one of the more enjoyable scenes in the film, the entr'acte, in which a band of hipster accordionistes rampages through an old church.
I've also discovered that the title refers to old film cameras and the movie, shot on digital for financial reasons, seems to be about the death of film in some ways, though the director says allegedly that this movie isn't about film at all. I feel as gypped as the next guy when it comes to seeing a movie in digital projection, but I don't know how thrilling a two hour lament on the subject is.
It's funny as I read through the reviews listed at mrqe.com, everyone seems to agree that this movie will elicit all these possible responses from the audience. It's a unique film, but it's not as unique as people say it is. It can be touching, it can funny, and it can be frustrating, but I really don't see why people react so strongly to it. There was one review somewhere that said that the film says most of what it has to say in the first few episodes. I'd agree with that. My own experience of the film is that it would have benefited from some trimming, since like I said before there were some significant dull patches in the second half of the film.

Surviving Progress (Mathieu Roy, 2011, Canada)

Apparently based on the book A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright, this documentary looks largely at the inherent dark side of progress. If you're a thinking person, you've probably thought about most of this stuff already, but I did learn one interesting concept from the film: the progress trap. Essentially, progress has a tendency to lead to a saturation point past which dire consequences occur.  A primitive example is native people driving herds of mammoths over cliffs and driving the extinction of their main food source. The film features people such as Margaret Atwood and Jane Goodall talking about primates and progress and the ecological dangers facing us today. It's interesting, but I often found it difficult to pay attention to because it's so distressing. I think I will probably endeavor to read the book, and I may watch the film again when I'm feeling more emotionally robust.

Now streaming on Netflix, btw.

09 November 2012

Deadfall (Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2012, USA)

One of the many strange things about this movie is that it was directed by the director of the Oscar winning foreign language film The Counterfeiters. Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde star as siblings on the run after having robbed a tribal casino in what I took to be Michigan. Their flight toward Canada has been deranged by a freak car accident on a snowy country road. I'm not sure whether I should start with the strengths or the weaknesses here, because they probably balance each other out.

Their stories smash up against a few families in and around the community of Beaver Lake. All of the people involved seem to be struggling with the same sorts of family troubles that fuel the madness of our pair of siblings, particularly Eric Bana. Eric Bana's character seems to have some weird incestuous energy flowing toward his sister, but she ends up looking for redemption with a disgraced Olympic boxer fresh out of prison, played by Charlie Hunnan. The boxer's parents are a retired sherriff or something played by Kris Kristofferson and idealized homemaker Sissy Spacek. The boxer and the father naturally have issues. The new sherriff's daughter, a friend of the family, played by Kate Mara, also has issues with douchebag father.

Basically everyone in the whole movie has trouble with their fathers, probably because aside from Kristofferson's charcter, they're all total scumbags. The actors are all pretty good and they really tip the scales toward making this film worth watching. The only trouble is the film gets kind of weighed down in sorting out everybody's endless family dramas which keep playing out all over the place. It's also tricky becayse you're trying to follow along with Eric Bana, but he does a couple of things that are hard to forget about, which makes the ending a little flat. It's a mess, but it's probably worth renting from VOD if you're pining for something new on the VOD.

Mission: Impossible (Brian DePalma, 1996, USA)

It's strange that I'd never seen this film before, or maybe not, since I've rarely ever liked Tom Cruise (possible exceptions being largely films he starred in from 1999-2002, and possibly Collateral). On the face of it, it seemed relatively promising. Brian DePalma, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Béart, Vanessa Redgrave. Add to that that I saw John Woo's M:I-2 in a second run theater because its coincided with the time I was assigned to write a paper on John Woo and auteur theory during my brief stint as an intended film studies major. I haven't seen M:I-2 in a dozen years, but I can only hope it's nowhere near as dated and unsatisfying as this one. It's funny, I think I've been wanting to see this movie since about 2001 when my French teacher, in one of those oddly random foreign language class moments, showed us part of the sequence on the train, to demonstrate, apparently, that the TGV (train de grande vitesse) was in fact de grande vitesse.
I kind of feel like the most remarkable thing about this movie are the talents it squanders. It's amazing that Brian DePalma produced such a dull film. As tedious as any lesser James Bond movie, it seems to follow the same blueprint, which naturally includes offing the most interesting woman in the first fifteen minutes. Kristin Scott Thomas is riveting in her scenes, but so are Emmanuelle Béart and Vanessa Redgrave. Weirdly, Emilio Estevez is also quite effective in his small part. Jon Voigt and Tom Cruise on the other hand are beyond tedious. Not that it would have mattered if that plot had made sense at all. It's this weird combination of setpieces connected only by the most strained bit of logic. Ving Rames and Jean Reno are brought on halfway through the movie to steal some data from CIA headquarters in a dull, drawn out "action" sequence notable only as a potential missing link between the 70s and the 21st century. Ving Rames is completely wasted in a flat characterization, but Jean Reno is relatively effective given the limitations of the script.
blah blah blah
There was a nice moment at the end where Mazzy Starr is playing at a cafe.

08 November 2012

Madea's Witness Protection (Tyler Perry, 2012, USA)

As painful as Diary of a Mad Black Woman was, I thought for some reason that this movie would outlandishly bad enough to be entertaining, but I guess I don't feel like that was the case. The acting is beyond dreadful, which may or may not have to do with the script of the editing or I don't even know, but this film might contain the worst performances by Tom Arnold or Denise Richards to be caught on film, if you can believe it. Some of the characters are sort of likeable, but the dialogue is so grating, it's hard to feel at ease at any moment in the film. I guess nobody goes into these Tyler Perry movies thinking they'll be any good, but you always want to believe that something this popular has some kind of redeeming quality.
I guess the real problem is that the whole things feels very amateurish, from the plot to the dialogue to the performances. It all feels sort of thrown together, like they made the whole movie in two weeks.

07 November 2012

Keep the Lights On (Ira Sachs, 2012, USA)

This more or less autobiographical drama is about a documentary filmmaker who takes a break from cheap flings long enough to have a years long frustrating relationship with a crack addict. In the lead role is Thure Lindhardt, whom I recognized from Danish films Flame & Citron and Brotherhood, both of which I probably liked better than this movie. Lindhardt plays Erik, the documentary filmmaker who spends a lot of time on those phone lines that existed before people starting hooking up through websites like gay.com and manhunt. Because much of the film takes place in the 90s, in Manhattan. It's one of those movies where you can always tell what year it is by what cell phone someone is using. Anyway, he hooks up with Paul (Zachary Booth) and gets smitten with him even though he's basically a closeted homosexual with a crack problem.

For me, the film was too cavalier about all the drugs. I guess it reminded me of my own life in the 90s, to some extent, but I feel like the weakness of this film is that the director seems too uncritical of the character based on himself. He's a sweet and likeable character, but I ultimately didn't find him believable. I almost felt by the end of the film that the director used it in such a way as to grant himself absolution for something.

I liked the film, I guess, but something about it seemed flat to me.

06 November 2012

Ted (Seth McFarlane, 2012, USA)

That this cinematic atrocity has earned almost a half a billion dollars already and critical approval around the world will likely be a source of despair for me at many points throughout the rest of my days. Seriously, I'm starting to wonder if the only thing that separates man from monkeys is an aversion to feces. I sort of suspected that this movie would be what it ended up being, but I guess part of me thought the presence of quasi-respectable actors like Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis might indicate that it would pleasantly surprise me. Oh god, how it was worse than I could have imagined.

I think I chuckled twice in the hour and forty-five minutes this film ate up of my life. Once when a fat kid was called Susan Boyle, and once when the fat kid was punched in the face and Joan Crawford was invoked. Beyond that, it's just a lot of really stupid humor that would seem best suited to boys who are technically too young to watch this movie. Seriously, it's a lot of jokes about retarded people, fat people, women as sex objects, and hitting bongs. I am a stranger in a strange land.
F (for fuck this shit.)
Edit: I forgot about the scene with Giovanni Ribisi dancing in front of the television. In context it's stupid, but taken on its own, it's weirdly delicious. In fact, I guess I'd say that creepy ass Giovanni Ribisi is probably the only reason to watch the movie, though it would be a long walk for a short drink of water, if we're being honest here, which of course we are, because we're friends like that.

05 November 2012

Total Recall (Len Wiseman, 2012, US)

I think it's borderline hilarious the way people compare this to the original as though the original film were any good. For me, the Schwarzenegger film is hard to watch, since the only redeeming qualities I found in it were Sharon Stone's shoulder pads. It's silly and the special effects are embarrassing as is everything about the plot and the acting, pretty much.

Given that I don't hold the 1988 version in very high regard, despite my sometimes affection for Paul Verhoeven, it should come as no surprise that I found this version superior. I mean, I would certainly rather spend two hours with Colin Farrell than Arnold Schwarzenegger. In theory, I prefer Sharon Stone to Kate Beckinsale or Jessica Biel, but while I found Beckinsale a little flat, I liked Biel in the film, though her role was slightly limited. In this film we follow Farrell, who may or may not be a spy in what may or may not be reality. I prefer to think the movie deals with reality, improbable as it sometimes may be, because if it isn't really, the logic of the film is severely flawed. I like the themes of this movie relating to stark divisions among classes and the exploitation of workers. It seems to bear reminding that the workers paradise that seemed to emerge in the west in the latter half of the 20th century was likely an aberration which is now dissolving into the mists.

The film was generally engaging and sort of energetic and sort of compelling, but for me there was just something flat about it. Maybe it was like listening to someone else tell you their dreams.

Brave (Mark Andrews/Brenda Chapman/Steve Purcell, 2012, US)

I confess that I've never been particularly enchanted by Pixar films, and off the top of my head, I can't think of the last animated Disney film I cared much about. I guess for me, they're about as empty as an old Care Bears movie, but with less charm. Anyway, this film got attention for featuring Disney's first female hero. If Disney was trying to step into the modern age with this film, I can't say they met their mark. Sure, this princess is tough and can shoot an arrow straighter than any boy. But she's still a princess. And the main struggle is whether or not she'll be forced to marry some idiot she doesn't know. I guess it's interesting that the main conflict here is with her mother since research seems to indicate that it is usually other women who enforce social norms among women.

In this film, the fiery princess is something of a tomboy, much to the annoyance of her mother. She comes of age, apparently, although she seems pretty young here. All the same, it's time for her to choose the first born son from one of the three rival clans, and thus ensure further peace among the clans. She decides she's not going to cooperate and the mother tries to force her and the witch in the forest makes a spell which turns goes awry. Blah blah blah. It was marginally engaging, but eminently forgettable. I also thought the CGI looked like a video game. I can imagine children liking it though.

03 November 2012

The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield, 2012, USA)

This film, which is recently out on DVD, is described as a documentary surrounding the construction of the largest home in America. Or something. Anyway, I feel like my experience of the film was colored strongly by two extraneous factors. One is the fact that the businessman, David Siegel, at the center of the film is the guy who made news recently for threatening his Vegas employees that they ought to vote for Mitt Romney if they wanted their jobs. The other is a piece I read recently in the New York Times, which discussed the subsequent lawsuit surrounding this movie, which is about as interesting a story as anything in the film. Other than giving some more insight into Mr. Siegel's perspective, the piece also left me with reservations about the filmmaker's approach. There are scenes in the film which are misleading, and some that are out of order. There are scenes in the film which were more or less choreographed by the filmmaker. I know this is very common practice among documentarians, but it makes me a little uneasy all the same.

Mr. Siegel is the very wealthy man behind the Westgate time share operations in Orlando and Las Vegas. His (third?) wife is a former Mrs. Florida and mother of 7+1 who kind of presides over the madness of the household with a kooky authority. The movie starts out fairly promising, if disingenuously so. The Siegels have begun building what is meant to be the largest home in America, inspired by Versailles. The time share business is more or less devastated by the financial crisis in 2008, and Mr. Siegel, who never set much aside, is suddenly in trouble. I felt pretty ambivalent about all the characters in the film, but the film certainly has something to say about a lot of facets of America, from just about any social, cultural, or economic angle you could think of.

I don't know, something in me rejected the film. Perhaps it's meant to leave you uneasy. From a distance, these aren't supposed to be very likable people, but they are actually likable to a point. And really, despite their extreme wealth and seeming detachment from reality, I'm not sure I've ever seen such authentically American people on film before. They really seem like anyone you've ever met who lives in the suburbs. Affable, delusional, entitled, and living beyond their means to some extent. And then you have the wife who is something like Norma Desmond or Little Edie mixed with your average billionaire soccer mom. Like I said though, I feel ambivalent about it. I'll probably watch it again some time.

01 November 2012

Cloud Atlas (Wachowskis/Tykwer, 2012, USA)

I saw this movie again last night, this time at one of those fake IMAX things called "The IMAX Experience." We were kind of hesitant about driving out to the suburbs for what the internet said was a fake IMAX experience, but I have to say that at least in the case of the AMC Showplace Crossing in Skokie, Illinois, that it was worth the trip. The sound was a million times better than at the AMC in downtown Chicago and the picture also seemed appreciably superior. Plus there was free parking. Certainly it may be less convenient than taking the train downtown, but it was a fun adventure I might do again.

The things that bothered me the first time I saw it were mostly the Tom Hanks style acting that largely dominates the film, the too obvious makeup, and the confusing barrage of information. I characterize this Tom Hanks style of acting as generally uneven and over the top. Except in a handful of rare moments, Tom Hanks is always playing a caricature of himself as much as a late career Bette Davis. The first time around I felt the same way about Jim Broadbent. I actually found Jim Broadbent pretty likable this time around. Surprisingly, I also liked the hammy acting and the cheesy makeup this time around as well. It seemed to help in stressing the theme because the actors are almost always obvious in their roles, so you can see the way these archetypes fluctuate through time and so forth. I also found it less confusing the second time. There's so much information about the characters and events, it's really hard to process it on the first viewing, even as someone who had read the novel.

On the subject of the novel, of the many absurd criticisms I have seen of this film perhaps the most patently absurd is that the film lacks the depth of the novel. Because any sane person would walk into a three hour movie and expect to find the depth they found in a 600 page novel.
I'm also surprised by how many critics sneer at Lana Wachowski. It's no wonder their tastes are so bad, they all sound like a bunch of straight, white men, clinging to their 1970's glory days.

In any event, I liked it quite a lot, and I imagine I'll watch it several times more. I think it will be something of a cult hit, though I won't be surprised if it loses money. $100m on this type of film was a real gamble.


Click here for my original post on this film.