29 December 2008

Semester Round-up, Part II

Continuing on throughout the semester...

Rachel Getting Married
I can say this for certain: it caught me off guard. In many ways. It's a completely different kind of film than anything else I've seen this year. Anne Hathaway finally comes into her own, and will deserve her Oscar nomination. Jonathan Demme continues to be one of the hardest directors to predict. Though the handheld style always pinches a nerve in me, it was used to good effect here. Beyond that, I'm finding it hard to find the words to describe it. It's sort of like my own wedding: I remember fleeting images, the general impression, but the details are hard to recall. It's a unique experience to be sure.

Quantum of Solace
I adored Casino Royale, and I think Craig's terrific as Bond. And so some of that charm made Quantum pretty enjoyable. The plot's not fantastic, but then again neither are many of the plots of Bond films. That's not the reason you go see a Bond film. You go see it for Bond, and with Craig in the role, it's worth watching. I wanted to nail the camera to the floor sometimes, and maybe strangle the editor. All in all, not particularly well-made, but again, Bond movies aren't about great filmmaking, they're about a memorable character once again saving the day and getting laid. Add to that some emotional momentum from the last film and you've got a movie that will be better respected as time goes on.

Role Models
I think Paul Rudd is hilarious. I kind of despise Seann William Scott. So it was a coin toss to begin with. But I actually really enjoyed it. It may not have the biggest emotional range, but it made me laugh. A lot. It's exactly what the trailer to it promised, no more, no less. And it also proves that McLovin is not just a one-hit wonder.

I seem to be one of the lone defenders of this movie, but I think I really understood what Baz was going for. As I've discussed with friends, I don't think he was quite finished yet. As in, I think the director's cut will be shorter, not longer. The stuff in the movie was great, I just think there could have been less of it. That would clarify the style, which wavered uneasily from over-the-top melodrama to social realism. It would make Nicole Kidman's performance make more sense. It would give the aborigine scenes more grounding. That said, if you're expecting a sweeping epic, a la Gone with the Wind, you will be better prepared than if you're expecting something along the lines of his earlier films.

Let's hope this incredibly silly adaptation stops this teen phenom in its tracks. I don't understand this new vampire chic trend. Vampires are evil, they kill people, end of story. I prefer the traditional side of that story. So to try to change it up (giving the vampires super powers) and adding several heaping helpings of teen angst (imagine watching an entire season of Dawson's Creek) makes the whole affair a big waste of time, to me at least. Although no scene in any "drama" this year has made me laugh as hard as when we discovered that when vampires go in the sunlight, they don't die, they just become fabulous and sparkle like diamonds. Wow.

Synecdoche, New York
One of my favorites of the year so far. I've been fascinated by Charlie Kaufman since first seeing Adaptation, and seeing him direct his own work is a stroke of genius. The film is a manifestation of some of the theatrical theory I've been reading this past semester, and so it all came to a visual head in this film and the experience was wonderful. There are layers upon layers upon layers, and to begin to try to explain the plot would be futile. You just have to see it. Great acting, great direction, great script. A truly original film.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
The latest unnecessary remake from Hollywood is not as bad as most critics believed it to be. But it's not that great either. Keanu Reeves is just as good as you'd expect him to be playing an alien. And for Keanu Reeves, that's actually pretty good. The rest of the cast goes through the paces, though there's a distinct lack of urgency in any of the characters. They're not excited or scared enough, if that makes sense. I understand the thematic reasons for remaking the film, but at the end of the day, as I said, it's just simply not necessary. The old film stands up just fine on its own.

I'm kind of indifferent to biopics. They neither excite me nor bore me. So there's a level playing field there. Like a lot of biopics, however, the film rides on the performance of the central figure, and on that level, the film excels. Sean Penn is just great. A lot of people won't go see this film, I expect, because of the subject matter or political reasons or whatnot. Since I'm apolitical, that wasn't an issue for me, but if you are political I urge you not to let politics come between you and a good film. The movie is very good at selecting the parts of Milk's life that were most important/intersting through the framework of Milk himself recounting his past achievements. He is proud of them, and we are proud of him, by the end. No matter what you believe about the issue, you'd have to be a rock not to be moved by the courage of a man who takes the podium at a rally with the promise of being shot once he's up there. If the film weakens it's in its supporting players, who, while performing wonderfully, seem to fade around the central light of Penn. When he's not onscreen, we want him to come back, and some of the sideplots suffer for it.

Slumdog Millionaire
I agree with whoever it was that pointed out that it's a strange and off year when a film by Danny Boyle is a contender for best picture. I've never been particularly impressed by Boyle, and this film is no exception. Everyone seems to be getting caught up in the wave of the film's optimism and life-affirmation, but if the movie didn't have a happy ending, would it be as popular/successful? I think not. It's not a bad film per se. It's actually a good film, but not a great one. The filmmaking is capable enough, the acting not particularly notable. It's the story that is catching people afire, and I wish more people were level-headed enough to see that when they are proclaiming it as the best picture of the year.

A fascinating play becomes a fascinating film, but with conditions. The play is famous, rightly so, for the ambiguity of its conclusion. Did he, or didn't he? I'm wondering if the film, directed by the playwright John Patrick Shanley, is his answer to the question, since he did have it in mind when writing the play (he also told the Broadway stage actor, and I'm sure he told Hoffman). I won't tell you my conclusions as to the answer, but suffice to say that while it doesn't totally erase all doubt, it does provide a slant that the play does not. And this is inherent in the form of film. By its nature, and this has been pointed out before, it is less ambiguous than theatre. That doesn't weaken the film, however. It remains very engaging, and its performances, while not entirely consistent, make it terribly entertaining and engrossing to watch.

So that's the semester round up. All the movies that I saw in the theatres from the end of August to today. From here on in I'll be trying to post slightly longer individual posts on movies I see in the theatres, as well as some posts on movies I watch at home. I'm making the goal of watching 4-5 movies a week in 2009, and I'm going to try to post weekly updates as to what I watch and what I think about them. Some will be movies I've seen before, maybe even written about before, but I'll try to say something. Got to keep the conversation moving.

15 December 2008

Semester Round-up, Part I

I know I said I was going to do this for the summer movies as well, but that's a little far back and far too many movies to cover. So here's what I've seen since school began, and some short thoughts on them.

Vicki Cristina Barcelona
Anyone who knows me knows I'm a big Woody Allen fan. Needless to say, I enjoyed it. I thought it was much better than his previous two efforts, Scoop and Cassandra's Dream. The actors are all pretty great, though I tend to think that Scarlett Johansson's best work is ahead of her, meaning I think one day she'll be really great, but sometimes she just doesn't have the experience and insight to make a performance truly great. That said, she's more than competent in this role, and holds her own against the greats Bardem and Cruz. Spain is beautiful and this movie makes me want to visit. The film is beautiful too, and gets the right amount of emotion while still retaining that slightly cynical Woody edge.

Burn After Reading
I'm never quite ready for the body count in a Coen Brother's comedy. And this one is particularly violent, and it always caught me off guard. I thought the style and tone of it were great, with performances to match. It's refreshing to see a comedy that, and I know this sounds counter-productive, doesn't invest too much emotionally in its characters. It's able to keep its distance and see the people in all their idiocy, which is what screwball is all about.

Ghost Town
What an incredibly pleasant surprise this was. If you saw the trailer and thought it looked like a mediocre romantic comedy, you were right, it did look like that. The advertisements were awful. But the actual product was so much more, and delivers some of the most genuine emotions you're likely to see in a comedy this year. Though the concept is a little cliche, the way it transforms itself, especially toward the end, makes it all worthwhile. If you are a fan of Gervais, you especially need to see it. It's a fitting beginning to what I hope is a long film career.

Being a fan of Westerns, I went to see this without knowing really anything about it. And I'm glad I did. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen have such great report, that without it the film would absolutely fail. I could have done without Renee Zellwegger's character, for the most part, though some of her silliness provided great material for Ed and Viggo. Jeremy Irons is great, and I'm always glad to see him.

There were critics who thought it intriguing and critics who found it unbearable. I find myself in both camps. The initial premise is really interesting and it is intially really engaging, but I was glad when it ended. Some of the scenes of savageness and brutality that humankind supposedly descends into when confronted with a global outbreak of blindness were a little hard to bear, and the ending seems very false after all that comes before it. An interesting exercise for director Meirelles, but little more than that.

If you know me, you know I like politics as I like getting my lip stuck under a man hole cover. So I was surprised at myself for wanting to see this. The good thing about it, and I know other critics have said this, is that it is relatively free of overt bias. It's fairly balanced, but in the end, not that interesting. We don't really learn anything we didn't know before. I think that his life and presidency are something we won't truly be able to judge until several years down the road. So this film will not be as influential as it could have been.

The Duchess
Extremely conventional, but that doesn't make it bad. There are always going to be films retreading the same dirt as previous films. There are always going to be movies about women being oppressed by a patriarchal society. This filmi in particular covers some of the same ground as the superior Marie Antoinette two years ago. That said, it's capable enough, especially in the nuanced and detailed performance by Ralph Fiennes. Keira Knightley does what she can, but this isn't her best material. For some reason, this film just feels out of place this year. Don't look for any attention come awards time.

Check back later for Part II!


I must apologize for the lack of posts since, oh, September. School has been incredibly busy this semester. While I have still seen many movies, I have not had the time to write lengthy reviews. But one of my whole points with this project was to break my reviewing mold. So what you're going to get in the next couple of posts are some short paragrpah length reviews of movies I saw this semester. I'll try to cover them all, going down a list that I keep. I'm going to do my best to stay current throughout the next couple of months, as this is Oscar season and I want to have my say in it all. I absolutely love Oscar season. The Oscar race is more important to me than the presidential race ever was. And let it be said that until I see something better, I'm rooting for The Dark Knight all the way.