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Archive for December, 2010

Robert DeNiro. Ben Stiller. Teri Polo. Blythe Danner. Owen Wilson. Dustin Hoffman. Barbra Streisand. Harvey Keitel. Laura Dern. Jessica Alba.

Taxi Driver. Tropic Thunder. Northern Exposure. The X Files. The Royal Tenenbaums. Tootsie. Funny Girl. Reservoir Dogs. Jurassic Park. Fantastic Four.

Why?! WHY?!

"This script isn't getting a rewrite?!"

This very unneeded third installment of the movies that series that started with the mildly hilarious Meet the Parents and Little Focker’s hilarious predecessor, Meet the Fockers, is a holiday turd. Or, wait, it may be 2010’s turd. This is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and a tragedy for everyone who is involved. The plot follows the Fockers and the Byrnes as they lead up to the celebration of the twins’ birthday party and BLAH BLAH BLAH. The rest is not important. Over the plot of the film, we get the same old “oh, it’s so awkward because it looks bad” humor that got old in the first film. Anyone who has seen Meet the Fockers would know that the aging hippie Hoffman/Streisand duo are more interesting/funny than the sternly conservative DeNiro/Danner duo. And yet, we get the latter for the majority of the time. Whoopee.

There are kids in this installment! What do they do? Well, what do kids do in most comedies? If you guessed projectile vomit, potty humor, and making fools of themselves, you guessed correctly. It’s not funny in Daddy Day Care (and a bazillion other kids comedies – that one just came to mind first) and it’s not funny now. What else is new? Um, well, Harvey Keitel shows up as a lazy home builder. Jessica Alba shows up as the most annoying and shallowly written character on film in 2010 (and maybe the last five years as well). Laura Dern’s character has the “Harvard for Kindergarten kids” thing and gives as much effort as – wait a minute. This same thing happened in Daddy Day Care! The Ivy League 5 year olds! If you’re going to rip off a kids film, at least have some class! Little Fockers is truly embarrassing. It’s the biggest “I’m just doing this for the check movie” I’ve probably ever seen. Well, I hope it was worth my respect for the actors involved. And not just the actors! Paul Weitz directed In Good Company, About a Boy, and American Pie. What happened? We know you, and the cast, could have done better. F-

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I’ve seen this classic Chaplin film once before and absolutely loved it. My second time is not different at all in the slightest. Modern Times is a story about a Chaplin’s Tramp character struggling through the Great Depression, working a variety of jobs and frequently going to jail for his hijinks. He meets a orphaned older girl and they grow a rapport while they struggle to find and keep a job through the harsh times. The story is universal even today 70 years later. The film touches lightly on and satirizes the strikes against jobs and the burgeoning communistic thoughts that American society were having. Nothing is explored fully; all political points are fleeting. The film isn’t about all that. Modern Times is, at its heart, a film about hope against the odds of a increasingly dangerous society.

There are always new things to be found on second viewings. One of the big new things I noticed is the brilliant replacement of dialogue with music. I’m sure there were many times it happened before the time I saw it, but it’s incredible nonetheless. The scene I noticed this technique used was late in the film where the gambine is getting a job and she’s trying to get one for The Tramp too. The film was made after the advent of talkies, so the replacement is even more noticeable than before. It’s something beautiful because it gives us more details into the character. We know what they’re saying, so we don’t need to hear it. The music gives us a sort of context – the boss is tough, the girl is persuasive, the Tramp is nervous. Any normal dialogue-dependent cast would find difficulty with the film. But Chaplin doesn’t use a normal cast. As The Tramp, Chaplin exceeds (in his mid-40s) comedic heights I’ve never seen him dared before. The physical comedy is hilarious and there is some unexpected drama thrown in as well. As the Gambine, Paulette Goddard gives what I might consider one of my favorite female performances ever. The scene where she discovers the death of her father is absolutely heartbreaking and she shows it with horrifying despair. The little jump she makes upon seeing him breaks my heart every time.

I think this film may have one of the most wonderful original scores of all time. It’s just so colorful and bouncy. Little known fact – the famous song, “Smile” didn’t get its lyrics til almost twenty years later. It fits the film’s overall hopeful tone perfectly. A lot of people consider City Lights to be Chaplin’s masterpiece, but I prefer Modern Times a hundred times over. It lightly touches on many political meanings and gives us room to think about society while making us laugh and not give up on hope of a better day. The ending is bittersweet – they may have lost their jobs, but they are together. In the end, that’s all that really matters. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. A+

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Satoshi Kon’s unusual Christmas film is such a runaway mess of a film. It’s continuously absurd, yet surprisingly heartwarming and hilarious. I cried. Naturally, I loved it. The film follows the lives of a trio of homeless people: Gin – a drunkard with a mysterious past, Hana – a drag queen drama/baby obsessed man, and Miyuki – a teenage runaway. This unlikely family happens upon a baby girl in the dump and set out to find out what happened to her parents. What follows is a tale that’s so over-the-top crazy that it could only be told in animation. Speaking of the animation, the character models and design are incredibly fluid, but it doesn’t kid itself. This is a cartoon. But in a way, having it be up front with its animation consciousness allows us, the audience, to accept it for what it is. It allows us to be swept into the film, to allow the artistry and emotional impact to truly affect us. By making the film animated, we become surprised when the film goes into some heavy material to find ourselves crying. Animated films get too caught up in looking realistic – realism is something an artist should never strive for. Art can never be truthful. That’s why it’s art. Satoshi Kon’s films are always beautiful – Tokyo Godfathers is no exception. The backgrounds are gorgeous and varied. The city is a winter wonderland. And the music selection/score? Lovely.

My big problem is that only one of the three characters is given a full back story.There are only mere glimpses into the characters Hana and Miyuki, yet we get a full back story of Gin. There’s so much more to the reasons they became homeless, but the film generally concentrates on Gin’s character. Another problem with the film is its overall messiness. I understand that it’s part of the charm, but the way it’s edited can be somewhat annoying after a while. It’s generally a fast paced film with little breathing room. After thinking about it for a while, the ending seems a little bit tacked on. The final ordeal the characters go through is a bit forced. But overall, it truly is a wonderful Christmas/Holiday film. B+

I didn’t discover Satoshi Kon until just this year, actually. A movie forum recommended me the title, “Millennium Actress” and said that his works rivaled that of Hayao Miyazaki. I watched Millennium Actress immediately afterward. It was amazing. I loved every last second of it. It’s wondrous beauty was entrancing and the layered story will stay with me forever. It was so great that I have declared it the best movie of the year 2003. Around the time I had my viewing of it was around the time that Satoshi-san found out that he was dying of cancer and only had a few months to live. Of course, this fact wouldn’t have been told to the public until after his death. He was taken too soon. If you’ve seen Millennium Actress, or any of this man’s work, you’d know that the work he has achieved has truly transcended the art medium that people usually dismiss as if it’s just a nerdy niche. Satoshi Kon, you will be missed. Thank you, Satoshi Kon. RIP.

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Oh boy. Like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland earlier this year, True Grit feels awfully sanitized when you compare it to the directors’ other works. Both this and Alice in Wonderland felt more studio made than any of the previous films the directors had before. I’d say that the Coens, being probably my favorite living directors at the moment, have a bit more artistic integrity than Burton, but with True Grit, it seems to be beginning to slacken. The film starts off with a flashback narration over the corpse of the Frank Ross aka Mattie Ross’s father. We know by the trailer that she’s determined to go after the murderer, a man by the name of Tom Chaney, who’s part of a gang. She enlists the help of two Marshalls – one Rooster Cogburn (played magnificently by Jeff Bridges) and La Beouf (played hilariously by Matt Damon). This unlikely bickering trio set off to bring Tom Chaney to justice.

That’s practically the plot for the film. No surprises. No twists or turns like the last three Coen Brothers film. True Grit has some wonderful cinematography, some tense editing, and greatly detailed set design and art direction. The film dampers in the exploration of the morality of men in a tough as nails society, but fails to say anything. Not a single scene stands out. The ending feels way too rushed. Everyone looks to be having a wonderful time, but nothing much actually happens in the length of the narrative. There’s some reflection on the past life of Rooster, but it never reaches a conclusion. As a visceral non-intellectual experience, the film fails as well. There are not a lot of action scenes and when there are some, they are usually pretty brief. The best part of the film for me was the snappy dialogue, especially the exchanges between La Beouf and Cogburn. Otherwise, the characters seemed pretty flat to me.

Hailee Steinfeld, the lead of the film, performs with unusual gusto that’s rarely seen in her age group of actors. But to play brave is one thing, to actually make a brave performance is another thing. In certain scenes, it’s quite obvious that she’s acting. She comes off as a bit precocious at times much like a similar age ranged actress in Dakota Fanning. But for what she did, she was serviceable. There are a few scenes near the end where she hits the ball out of a park. But it’s still a flawed performance that probably shouldn’t be considered for any serious awards. As said before, I particularly enjoyed the performances given by Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. These two actors may just be the most versatile in Hollywood. And they work brilliantly together. But my main problem with the film still stems from the direction. I could hardly tell this was a Coen Bros. film. In fact, a person next to me commented on how they were surprised to find out that they directed it. Sadly, I share the sentiment. It was definitely a well made movie, but I never found a strong emotional connection to the characters or the situations presented in the film. B

For Your Consideration:

  • Best Actor in a Leading Role – Jeff Bridges
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Matt Damon
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Costumes
  • Best Original Score

Ranking of the Coen Bros. Filmography:

  1. A Serious Man (A+)
  2. The Big Lebowski (A)
  3. No Country for Old Men (A-)
  4. Barton Fink (B+)
  5. True Grit (B)
  6. Fargo (B)
  7. Burn After Reading (B-)
  8. O Brother, Where Are Thou? (B-)

I’ve seen Raising Arizona, but can’t remember a single thing about it. I just bought Blood Simple and I will buy Miller’s Crossing soon. I own The Man Who Wasn’t There and will view it shortly.

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Wedged between what I consider Allen’s two best films – Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) – Interiors shines as a drama break between the two comedies with a perfect ensemble cast and a uniquely cold atmosphere. It’s a wee bit overbearing at times with it’s dramatic conflict, but the strong acting always ties it down from getting too over the top. The film is about a mentally unstable mother (played by Geraldine Page), her separated husband (E.G. Marshall), and her three grown but troubled daughters (Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt, and Kristin Griffiths) over a course of a few years. At first, her husband wanted a trial separation, but later he meets another woman and tries to get his wife to finalize a divorce. This pushes her to the brink of her insanity and leads the daughters to deal with the consequences. It’s a fascinating portrait of a already broken family pushed farther and the naturalistic performances by the ensemble are all fantastic.The matriarch Eve, played by Geraldine Page, is sensational as the mother who’s falling apart – she’s a regular ice queen who, in turns, struggles to hold herself together and tries to navigate her husband back to her again. But she doesn’t change much. Can people change when they are older? Woody thinks not – I share that belief. Neither do his daughter characters Renata and Joey, who in turn say he’s coming back and he’s not coming back.

As Joey, Mary Beth Hurt gives a masterful performance as the daughter who seems the most negative about her mother’s chances with getting back with her husband, but is at heart, jealous for her mother’s attention. It’s a complex role that contains neuroses with a monotonic, disconnected voice. But she can’t be more of the opposite. The final scene between her and the mother is absolutely heartbreaking. Her mother can’t love her and she’s forced to forgive her for that. Diane Keaton, as Renata, is given the typical showy role as the daughter with marital and pscyho-artistic problems. It’s here that Woody dips into his themes of infidelity and creative struggle that he has going through all of his films. Nevertheless, Keaton gives a wonderful performance as a woman who is also falling apart, if less so than her sister Joey and her mother. Last of the sisters is Flynn, who’s rarely seen onscreen. She’s a beautiful and very vapid actress who’s the most disconnected and ignorant of the daughters. She’s the youngest one who doesn’t care to know what’s happening with her father and mother. Kristin Griffiths gives a alright performance – it never ascends to great as Keaton and Page or masterful as Hurt. Maureen Stapleton, who, other than Page, got nominated for a Academy Award for her work, turns in a fine, if uneventful, performance as the other woman that Arthur (Eve’s husband) wants to divorce Eve for. E.G. Marshall has some wonderful subtly. He’s a character who has his own reasons as to why he wants to break it off with Eve that are very understandable, but still cruel.

I love this shot.

Interiors is a complex film. There are so many layers to it that a second viewing is absolutely necessary. It is indeed a cold film as many critics have said of it before. You can tell by the sterile art direction and moody yet minimalistic cinematography that the world these characters inhabit in reflect the mental state of the matriarch character, Eve. These daughters are constantly at odds, trying to break free from their mother’s grip on them, while also trying to make her normal and/or happy. Woody came to his own with this film. There are few flaws throughout – the initial nervous breakdown that Eve suffered through when the daughters were young is never fully explored, just mentioned in a passing way and the infidelity subplot with Renata’s husband feels awkwardly forced to give Flynn some more dimension – but overall, Woody creates a believable world with wonderful ease. With more thought and perhaps a revisit, I could easily see this become one of my favorite Woody Allen films ever made. A-

 

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The Notebook may be considered as the late 80s/early 90s born generation’s Titanic, in the way that it’s universally loved and highly influential. If it weren’t for Cassavetes’ 2004 film, we probably wouldn’t have seen repeat offenders of Nicholas Sparks film adaptations all over the place. The Notebook is about two people (a always brilliant Ryan Gosling and a solid Rachel McAdams) who meet when they are relatively young, fall in love, get separated, see each other again seven years later, and fall in love all over again. The film is gracefully shot, well paced, and all around very lovely. But that’s the thing – the film is too lovely, hitting a breaking point that demeans the excellent acting with making the story absolutely obvious to its demographic. There is little point to this film. All tension from the main story is cut from the narrative style – older versions of the couple reflect on their past in the effectively original and topical (if tension killing, as I said) way of having the older version of Allie (Gena Rowlands! DO. MORE. MOVIES!) have alzheimers and her husband, Noah (James Garner), retelling her their story of how they fell in love. This technique kills pretty much all of the excitement. Romantic films are built on the will they/or won’t they dynamic – when we know they will, then why should we watch? The film should have been about one or another.

Beautiful? Yes. Deep? No.

My other major problem with the film is late in the plot where Allie meets another man (after the separation between her and Noah) and gets engaged before rekindling her relations with Noah. It’s not the infidelity that bothers me, but the absolute indifference her fiance has towards her going back to him. I was hoping a violent reaction or trying to screw them out of town. But nothing changes. It’s just everyone here is so beautiful and perfectly understanding, even Allie can hold back her jealously for a woman that Noah shared a bed with while “waiting” for her to come back to him. There are two people who step in their way: Allie’s stingy mother (Joan Allen, superb) and her handlebar mustached southern rich man husband (you can tell a mile away that he’s some sort of antagonist). Even though these two split them and keep them split (for seven years, no less), the arc of the story is too dependent on this cliche (she’s rich, he’s not) to push the narrative down the track. It’s too light and fluffy for such seriousness that’s given by the mostly excellent performances given by a perfectly cast ensemble. Ryan Gosling is incredible – he makes his performance effortless. He’s a actor that understands more than any other actor onscreen in The Notebook, the less is more. He takes his time with his scenes, and, aside from a few hiccups, gives one of the best performances of his career. Gena Rowlands, in the brief scenes she’s in, gives a subtle and beautiful performance of a woman who is continually losing herself. She’s a master. We have few actresses like her out in the world and I feel so blessed that to have seen her in this rare performance. Her freak out at the end broke my heart and her final scenes were absolutely perfect. Somebody give her a movie role, please.

Mostly, though, this film feels like a excuse to make as many pretty Southern Romanticism shots as possible. It’s all there – sunny glares in the nature scenes, morning shots of wildlife, spacious mansions of beautiful architecture. Fluff for the sake of fluff. But I can’t say its bad – men love action fluff, women love romance fluff. I get that. It doesn’t excuse it, especially one with a universal love like this one. There could have been more risks made, heck, they’re could have MADE risks. You know what this is by the trailer. Its nothing more, save a phenomenal ensemble working with some pretty weak material. C

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Lawrence Olivier was extremely egotistical. You don’t have to know him personally for this fact to be relevant. All you have to do is watch the movies he’s directed. With Henry V, he’s rarely off screen and when he’s on, he’s always the character with the biggest voice and most fantastic clothing. With Richard III, Olivier downplays his colorful on screen presence into that of the lowlife hunchback that is Richard III. He plays the titular character with menace. The subtly of his characterization in earlier scenes helps set up his later very showy big scenes. He plays Richard with a sleazy lisp, a nerd who’s finally going to get his due. There is a undeniable homosexual subtext between him and Buckingham. In certain scenes, there’s “will they or won’t they” dynamic that plays out, but it never ends up amounting to anything.

As a film, the story kind of turns into a mess. Certain things are left out (for instance, the French storyline about overthrowing England is incredibly murky and underdeveloped in the film) that make the film feel awfully imbalanced after a wonderful first act. Towards the end, the film becomes drearier and drearier because the pace slows to a near stop. It’s a showcase for the talents of Olivier as a actor, not a director. Olivier seems like a theatre director who somehow got a hold of a camera and was forced to make films with it. The majority of his usage of the camera seems forced and uninspired. Everything is meticulously staged. He rarely does anything but extended shots with a few pans. There are some excellent breaks from this mediocre work – in particular, whenever Olivier addresses the camera (Richard breaks the fourth wall), he, as the character, directs the camera towards him and leads it to tell a story. It’s a interesting way to film the breaking of the fourth wall scenes – he’s an actor directing the film and his character is also directing the filmĀ  – and I’m sad to say that this only happens a few times in the 158 minutes of the film. The rest is rather average for a period piece flick. The set design is refined, but repetitive. They’re simple theatre sets. I do love the colorfully expressionistic and diverse costumes that inhabit the set. Especially Richard’s wardrobe – it definitely matches his closeted homosexual undertones.

One of the few visually impressive shots of the film.

The editing is mostly non existent (like the cinematography), except toward the end where Richard’s nightmare commences. There are slow paced films and there are fast paced films – neither method I favor over the other. But both kinds of film have a certain rhythm to them. Richard III is void of that aspect. I doubt there was any thought into pacing the film any differently than the play versions. But once you start cutting scenes/lines from a Shakespeare play for a film adaptation, the editing of the play has to match the editing of the film. I feel that Richard III completely fails with this certain aspect of editing. It’s stilted and boring – only a handful of scenes make me excited to watch this piece of work. The score is only used to add emphasis to important scenes – scenes we could tell were important. The score feels completely forced – Olivier uses it as a crutch for his lack of directorial finesse. Luckily, it’s not just a Olivier show 24/7 (even if the egotistical nature of the play fits Olivier too well). John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Claire Boom all do exceptional, award worthy work as the family and “friends” that surround him, all of whom, he eventually has killed. Ralph Richardson’s gleeful Buckingham, Claire Boom’s tragic Lady Anne, and John Gielgud’s sorrowful Clarence – one of the best casts of the 1950s definitely. This piece would be a masterpiece if it was treated like the medium (film) it’s being conveyed on. But the film is ultimately a positive experience all thanks to Olivier’s energetic and confident performance as Richard III. Perhaps the film would have been better if he directed it in character? B-

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