Like: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

August 14, 2010

For those of you who have not read the Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley, do yourself a favor and run (don’t walk) to your nearest store to purchase them. All read up? Okay good.

What you may have noticed in reading is that the books are surprisingly good. Not just fun, or funny, or inventive, but outright good. They’re about maturity in a decidedly immature zeitgeist; one largely dependent on style, imagery, and desperate attempts to stay young and (ir)relevant. It’s about our fleeting fascination with posture and accepting the kinds of difficult gray areas below the surface. Stuff like  personal, financial, and emotional responsibilities. In other words, heavy stuff but in a perfectly digestible context. In that regard, I think the books are transcendent.

What’s hilarious about that proclamation is that the Scott Pilgrim property gets a ton of crap from people who think it’s nothing but crappy “hipster stuff.” The irony of that is that Scott Pilgrim is essentially a careful annihilation of hipsterism.  Scott Pilgrim is not a hipster, honestly he lacks the kind of self-awareness needed to pull that off. Scott Pilgrim’s issues are deeply basic: love, insecurity, money, responsibility. He’s way more Homer Simpson than someone who’s too cool for school. Even more revealing is that the most obvious hipsters in the books are actually the bad guys. The evil ex boyfriends run the gamut of fame obsessed narcissism, pretentious dietary snobbery, militant life choices, and most of all, simply “looking cool.”  Even one of the bad guys has a horde of “evil hipster chicks.” It’s actually kind of obvious what O’Malley is going for here.

It’s not just about the outright rejection either. One of the reasons Scott Pilgrim is mistaken for being nothing more than hipster stuff is that the main characters largely wrestle with their own desires to be cool (and regardless of form, jock, rock star, hipster, etc. being cool is one of the universal goals of the immature). “Do we rock or do we suck?” is a question repeated through the series. And naturally the answered learned is that it doesn’t matter. Life amounts to everything below the surface. Besides, to lambaste hipsterism you need to outright engage it. Sure, people can toss their snarky hand grenades from afar, but they’re doing so simply as a reaction to the surface details… and thus they are essentially engaging in the same kind of surface evaluation that they decry hipsters for doing in the first place. How’s that for irony?

Okay, enough semantics. Now let’s talk about the movie.

Edgar Wright was the perfect person to handle the film. SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ are both modern classics. He’s so adept at propulsive filmmaking and genre bending. SCOTT PILGRIM continues to the trend and even manages to push the envelope in terms of story construction. Inventive transitions abound and not in a distracting way, but designed for story telling and establishing tone. The action is surprisingly well articulated. Each fight feels unique. The references (save for one or two) are not distracting in any sense whatsoever. He’s created a wholly valid world here. But what makes Edgar Wright actually good is not just the quality of work and references (something that sets him apart from contemporary filmmakers like, I dunno, McG? or something?) but how he balances them with a nicely observed emotional moments and arcs. It’s top-flight filmmaking, genre-intensive or not.

Part of Wright’s ability to weave resonance into a stylistic narrative is his seemingly innate ability to extract perfectly observed performances from all parties involved. This is an ensemble cast in the truest sense. We have our two leads of course, but the supporting figures are so richly weaved into tapestry and plot of the film that it simply would not work if anyone did not carry their respective scenes. This is largely because Wright slightly skews the of tone the books in favor of making the supporting cast be the driving force of the narrative. Seriously they are all fantastic. In order of my favorites:

Wallace Wells – Keiran Culkin balances the art of caring and supporting a friend and giving them a right proper kick in the ass (and often doing both at the same time). His deadpan lines just slay.

T0dd – Brandon Routh rocks the self entitled asshole rockstar and holier than thou lifestyle with such a nice sense of focus: meaning he goes broad, but it doesn’t feel broad. His bravado has a casualness. Tricky stuff. I loved it.

Stephen Stills – Stills always felt a little flat in the comic (or at least I wasn’t sure how to read him) and Mark Webber really makes him shine in the movie.

Knives Chau – Her story was really focused on in the movie (well, that makes more sense given the original ending) but I was originally worried that she would come off as pure slapstick (like she does in the trailers) but nope, Ellen Wong perfectly captures the shyness and soft-spoken 17  year insecurities beautifully.

Kim Pine – Alison Pill’s a force of sarcastic nature.

Lucas Lee – Chris Evans does go cartoonishly broad and STILL slays.

Stacy Pilgrim – Anna Kendrick nails a role I essentially forgot about. Her comic timing is just effortless isn’t it?

Comeau- The guy who plays the guy who knows everyone and he has to convey his character entirely in, like, three well-delivered lines. He nails it and propels even one of the better meta jokes in the movie.

And then there’s the leads. As Ramona Flowers Mary Elizabeth Winstead gets the opportunity to play something other than “pretty girl.” (Seriously, in Death Proof she is just objectification objectified… which was on purpose and all but you don’t get to show range). And she’s acquits herself admirably. It’s alluring without trying to be. Sarcastic without being cold. Distancing while not shutting off. Bitchiness without being a Bitch. Like I said, most of these performances are about balancing the way we we act in real life with the raging obtuse qualities of the characters and narrative. And Winstead knows who Ramona is and how to convey her. Bravo.

And lastly there’s Michael Cera himself. He was my biggest worry going in. Not because I don’t love Cera (I do) but because I wasn’t sure what he could do with the Scott Pilgrim character. Scott is unlike most of Cera’s other characters. He wears his heart on his sleeve, talks before he thinks, voices all insecurities aloud, and is constantly unaware of his situation (instead of being painfully aware).  I’ve always wanted to see Cera show his range and hoped nothing but the best for him… but this was beloved Scott Pilgrim. People just freaking love this character (as they should, he’s sort of like a young Homer Simpson)… The stakes just seemed too high… But Cera freaking did it. He’s really does figure a way to make Scott Pilgrim work with his style and timing. He’s hilarious. Sometimes he goes subdued, sometimes he goes exasperated, but it’s always measured  while still being organic.

I obviously really like this movie.

Which is funny because walking out of it I wasn’t as enthused. I thought about how if I had my druthers I would want a lot more of the “down time” parts of the books. I wished there were some more details of how Scott was poor and siphoned off others and always needed money. I would want to see him learning about getting jobs (“It’s like a job system?) but I recognize the inherent problems of their inclusion. There is a narrative to uphold here and I was amazed how coherent it all felt. It’s part of the propulsion and maybe Scott getting a job is fittingly on the cutting room.

The more and more I thought about it the more I realized that I really loved it.

Edgar Wright.

One of the best filmmakers around.

Bryan Lee O’Malley.

One of the best comic book writers around.

Here’s to a rousing success. They’ve made something really progressive.

And to think I was once worried.



July 17, 2010

First a non spoiler review:

INCEPTION may be one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Now, this is just a first reaction mind you, but I saw the midnight show last night and I felt this way the second I walked out of the theater.  I was on an emotional and intellectual high… It has continued all day long.

Important things to know:  I am not a “Nolan Guy.” I very much like THE DARK KNIGHT and found it to be entertaining and interesting. I only like a few parts of BATMAN BEGINS. I thought MEMENTO was rather clever, but not too much else. I thought INSOMNIA was a step backward from there. My favorite Nolan film is actually THE PRESTIGE because it’s a straightforward puzzle that relied on laying actually clues in the groundwork rather than being an nonsensical stupid “twist movie.” I hate the nonsensical twist (unlike the logical twist, which is a wonderful thing when done right) and thankfully Nolan seems to hate the nonsensical twist as well. For this alone I will always appreciate Nolan in some way. But while I embrace the intellectual puzzle-building nature of his work I think he too often slides into unemotional arcs and formalism over content.

So please understand, this is the opinion of someone who is not predisposed to gush.

INCEPTION satisfies on all levels.

First off, it is an enthralling heist film. I honestly cannot remember a movie where I was on the edge of my seat so long let alone the entire last hour and 45 minutes. The tension is immense and every time you think it has to let up, it manages to go deeper down the rabbit hole.  One of the things I loved about the film is that it’s actually pretty straight forward. Everything is perfectly explained so you’re rarely wondering “what’s going on.” (The key is just not to miss anything. If you don’t know what’s going on, you missed something and it’s your fault. I realize this sounds really esoteric, but the entire film takes its time to set up it’s layers and be deliberate… so really there’s no excuse). In this regard, from pure entertainment standpoint, it is one of the best popcorn movies I’ve ever seen.

But it’s not just a popcorn movie is it? Secondly, INCEPTION is incredibly satisfying on an intellectual level and not just in the typical Nolan puzzle sense. There’s honest to god thematics going on here. Ones that aren’t hammered over and over again like THE PRESTIGE and its issues of control, but ones that run the gamut: love, marriage, death, father issues, propagation, and the nature of reality. The film is about the rich textures psychoanalysis. These themes are not window dressing either but somehow the driving force of the film.

You see, INCEPTION manages to use psychoanalysis as actual plot points. How a character feels, their catharsis, their arcs, their emotional states… these are god damn macguffins folks. It’s sounds like it would be obtuse, but it’s so seemless and not clunky. It’s dramatic, emotional, real, and damn suspenseful. I honestly cannot believe that a movie managed to achieve all this.

In a way, Nolan has finally managed to “go emotional.” He has turned the soft-hearted and tender emotions of repression into the engine for one of his brilliant narratives. I said that he always has problems with formalism over content, but what if the formalism is the content? The action of  INCEPTION not only reinforces the arc, it is an arc.

The performances are stellar across the board. Dicaprio delivers his best work to date. I very much like his performance in THE DEPARTED, but that role is mostly a sort of one-dimensional projection of paranoia, angst, and affectation. His role in INCEPTION, meanwhile, is the most rounded and interesting one we’ve gotten from Nolan yet. His character motives are so emotional and what at first seems slightly one note, is revealed to be so textured and beautiful. I couldn’t believe it. Much of this is due to the enchanting and haunting work of Marion Cotiallard who provides such weight and organic tone. She is the absolute crux of his arc. But against her, Dicaprio toes the line between focused and unhinged so beautifully. He really the perfect carrion for the film’s lead character.

The rest of the cast isn’t given the same showcase, but Nolan does a wonderful job of giving them little moments, glimpses even to reveal their characters and motivations.  Joseph Gordon Levitt is fantastic; one of the smoothest badasses we’ve seen on screen in a while. Have we forgotten about making characters like this? Badasses that aren’t “bad” in any sense, but smooth operators who astound us. I’m hoping this film elevates his profile out of the indie scene because he has the potential to be amazing. Especially, because he easily delivers in one of the most thrilling scenes I have ever seen. Ellen Page provides a real emotional anchor for the film by grounding Dicaprio’s character and operating as the audience surrogate in the film’s first half.  Tom Hardy, fresh of his tour de force in BRONSON, gets to shine as the most vivacious and theatrical character of the group (but of course, this is Nolan so never, ever does it even approach anything camp or unrealistic feeling). At this point it seems like I’m just trying to name everyone in the film, but I have to mention Cillian Murphy who does a somewhat thankless job so beautifully. Really, his emotional work and inner turmoil is the engine of the entire film; meaning without his performance, the film doesn’t work. And of course Michael Caine lends his perfect skills of being fatherly Michael Caine.

There have been three times where I have sat down and watched something and realized “In my entire life, I will never ever be able to do something anywhere near as good as this.” It’s depressing in a small way, but largely you’re awed by the work you’ve witnessed.

The first time for me was ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. In someways it feels like the off-beat comedic version of this same film and that Gondry-Kauffman cinematic marriage was the best film of that decade.  The second time for me was THE WIRE, whose depth and novelistic tapestry was the perfect amalgamation of profoundity, characterization, and plotting.

The third time was INCEPTION. The film is a big budget brilliant idea, perfectly executed. I am literally in awe of it.

INCEPTION is a flat out masterpiece.

And now….

Point by Point Spoiler Review:

-The hotel hallway fight scene…. Unreal. My biggest bone to pick with Nolan is he often films his action poorly (his best being the joker’s chase of the armored car). But this was absolutely hands down one of the best filmed action scenes I have ever seen. Nevermind the fact that he has merely pulled back the camera, but the movement is fluid and well-defined, not to mention that the action itself completely totally jaw dropping.

-How badass was Joseph Gordon Levitt in that hotel scene? Just unreal. So freaking good. I can’t stop gushing about it.

-Cillian Murphy’s arc and the moment of “inception” was so spectacularly well done. They way they built the layers falls exactly in line with what we know about psychoanalysis. And it managed to be emotional in a way that I never thought Nolan could be (he certainly had to dress it up though didn’t he?) Brilliant. Goddamn brilliant.

-The entire Marion Cotillard relationship was haunting and the end reveal was so surprisingly cathartic. It’s the kind of reveal that doesn’t make you go “huh!? What!?” but instead makes you go “YES! THAT MAKES PERFECT SENSE!” and helps explain the motivations of the movie. Just brilliant.

-Some people see the ending moment as a mind-fuck and tease. I strongly do not agree. On one hand the fact that the fact that the spinning wheel even falters a bit is indication that it is very much real so we can give up on feeling like “none of it mattered it was all fake!” And more importantly it doesn’t matter, Nolan’s deliberate choice to cut is not a tease or a forced withholding, but a brilliant way of telling us to embrace the ambiguity (and not in that shitty didactic LOST way either). And what’s more it’s a brilliant little wink. Want to know why that last layer is “not” real?

Nolan’s acknowledging that INCEPTION isn’t really because it’s a damn movie.

A little meta, but how is that not perfect?

Like, Best of the Decade (Movies): Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and a host of others)

December 30, 2009

Best Movies of the Decade

The Revolutionaries

-In short, they have everything you could want from a movie: Flawless, Emotional, Deep, Cerebral, Visceral, Original, and genuine Advancements for Cinema. By being “advancements for cinema,” they stake their claim on being starkly influential.

  1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Forget me not… Gondry proves an alchemist by making the most heartfelt and organic feeling movie from the most cerebrally entrenched/interesting screenwriter of our era. It takes the most universal movie concept there is, love, and not only gets to the proverbial heart of the subject, but goes to David-Foster-Wallace-ian lengths to answer the age old question of why we ultimately need it. For any bit of art to be truly great in this world it needs to be at once emotional and congruently intellectual. There’s a phrase that’s appropriate that Chuck Klosterman once said of something else entirely, but I feel it completely applies: “[It] allows my mind to remain progressive, and my heart to stay reactionary. And this is all I want from everything. All the Time. Always.”
  2. Where The Wild Things Are – (original review) There is an admittance of being desperately unsure with this. It is a very recent release, which makes it tough, but even sitting in the theater, there was an immediate and profound connection for me. Some merely called it evasive, but I find it’s stunningly complex take on the last moments of our childhood to be genuine and tangible… though yes, it was a very recent release… Call it a projection.
  3. Mulholland Drive David Lynch makes the best possible David Lynch movie. Someone at work accused me of liking this because “I like pretending I get things that make no sense.” Besides being an inane comment, the thing I love about MD is that it does make perfect sense. Sure Lynch himself is as ambiguous and un-didactic as it gets, but there is most definitely some finely crafted thematic and plot schemes occurring on every level of the film. And, in the most important quality of a Lynch film, there is a litany of interesting details to the every scene. (Lost Highway and Inland Empire desperately lacked this quality, and it’s the reason they both stumble for me.)

The Miracle Movies:

-Much like the stuff above, only low-budget independent films which only lacked the form originality of the work above. These are flawless little films about big concepts and big emotions, yet their direct filmmaking style still serves as the perfect vehicle for their brilliant, observational themes.

4. Once – (original reaction) A subtle, emotional masterpiece. Most movies about “how we connect to people” are nothing but a forced convention, but this is as organic and honest as it gets. And there may not be a better film about the creation of music.
5. Y Tu Mama Tambien – The best film about sexuality I’ve ever seen (take that Last Tango in Paris!). But really it’s about learning how the sexuality of youth is so radically different from the sexuality of adults. It also solidified Cuaron as one of my favorite directors.

The Flawless films

-Brilliantly constructed films, possibly a little cerebral or genre-y, or maybe possibly guilty of not “saying enough” (though most often do)… Best way of putting it, these films simply could not be made any better than they were (hence you will see the word perfect a lot in these descriptions).

6. Children of Men –Of all the films on this list, this gets the most “It’s good and all, but I don’t know why it is so high.” Well, it is an amazing film on first viewing. It has a visceral edge throughout and its lauded cinematography completely blew the doors off the concept about how we (should) film action. The long shots were for anything but show. Instead, they created a mass of unbreakable tension. Yet even though everyone raved about how well made it is, but somehow it gets dismissed as being all about surface. To boot, it’s probably the best “revealing the story/movie/themes through small details” film I’ve ever seen… What we will be, is only who we are.
7. The Wrestler – (original review) A perfectly observed film. And it could not have succeeded if it did not both absolutely love its subject AND be unflinchingly critical in its depiction. All the accolades for the film seemed to be directed to Mickey Rourke (and he was certainly amazing) but the completely immersive nature of this film was solidified by a drive to be as accurate and true to life as possible: the old nes game, the sad signing shows, the authentic dialogue… it just shows provides another great example in a row of a film that revels in telling its story through the little details. And most surprisingly of all, it was made by Darren Aronofsky; the great hyper-formalist surprised the hell out of me and managed to make a lovable docu-drama that actually felt lived in.
8. No Country For Old Men – Let’s get this out of the way now, Every. Single. Thing. About this movie is perfect. The Coens walk in and show up just about every action movie of the decade by constructing the film with the most concentrated, yet intense filmmaking style imaginable (without once stepping over the line into overkill). It’s a modern master class in tension. Couple that with an incredibly poignant and cerebral last act and you have one of them there great movies.
9. Let The Right One In – (original review) A perfect amalgamation of the horror/art film (with all moments walking the tightrope and never dipping too far in either direction). Someone on CHUD wrote: “I’ve never before seen an ending that so completely satisfied my mind on an artistic level AND my gut on a gore level. Perfect.”
10. The Lives of Others – I dread building this one up for people. For two-some-odd hours it moves along with a nice slow burn and an invisibly brilliant performance… but someone who was previously told how amazing the movie was would hardly realize why… And then the movie comes its close with such a soft, poetic, and wholly earned gesture, firmly cemented in a devastatingly beautiful final line. And with that, it becomes a part of you.
11. Capturing the Friedmans – Probably best documentary I’ve ever seen? I’m not sure. It’s just so fascinating at every step, and you truly realize the more you actually learn, the less you actually know. The theme is really the great singular theme of the documentary, and helps illuminate who they all strive for the great lie of “objectivity.” It may be an impossibility, but it should always be the goal. Hence, the medium in its purest form.
12. Pan’s Labryinth – GdT makes the movie everyone hoped he had in him.
13. Inglourious Basterds – (original review) QT does what he hadn’t done since Pulp Fiction, which is not only perfectly reflect and embrace a genre he’s reveling in (and something he nails down every time no matter what), but also manages to transcend the genre by making something sneakily interesting. I think he’s got a lot more to say than people think, and this one has a lot to say about violence, how we respond to violence, history, and the sweeping power of cinema. Brilliantly meta stuff and entertaining as hell.

The Adventurous Films:

-Flawed, brave, interesting little punks of movies who are just so good at their one central aims, that you ignore the imperfection and I adore them anyway.

14. Tarnation – A no budget miracle movie that’s kind of a documentary, but just sort of the weirdest cinema experience I’ve ever had. The less said the better. Find it somewhere. See it. Be changed.
15. The New World – A long, rambling and hauntingly beautiful movie that’s pure storytelling through cinematography. God I love Malick.
16. There Will Be Blood – This one people don’t understand why I ranked it so low. I’m not really sure other than I simply like the movies listed above better. I love PTA, but the man writes from his gut and when you allow your gut to overrule your head you tap into some weirdly brilliant stuff. But it’s still stuff that doesn’t feel fully formed to me (even if certain moments are obviously intellectually constructed). Plus it’s a case of a performance AS a movie. It’s also a meditation piece on a said subject (greed) and as such, I don’t know. I need more viewing. Still. This is where it rests for now… It also briefly spawned a catchphrase for whatever that’s worth. I can’t remember the last time a low-budget, awesomely-weird art film spawned an addition to the lexicon of the basket ball court [drains 3 pointer] I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!
17. Towelhead – Criminally overlooked. Ball came out of his superb work on 6 feet under with a brave as brave can be movie. Sure it lacks the genuine gut laughs of American Beauty, but you usually can’t laugh during Towelhead because you’re too busy being horrified and upset. It blends this absurd intensity with a sense of dark satire to make an entirely worthwhile and under-represented commentary about the sexualization of young girls. No one talks about the mixed messages we send young girls and then we have no idea why 13 year olds are putting naked pictures of themselves on the internet. Perhaps if Towelhead actually entered the national dialogue we’d be able to talk about this, but you know, whatever.
18. Thumbsucker – It sort of misses the “wow” factor and got written off as a rip-off of many of the films it seemed like, but this was an amazingly well-made film that approaches a largely symbolic story in a completely organic way. I seemly loved it. Especially Vincent D’Nofrio’s wonderful little bit as the confused dad.
19. The Ballad of Jack and Rose – The best film with the strangest, messiest, most amateurish-seeming opening act possible. But eventually it starts to sing and embodies some truly difficult-to-explore concepts, specifically the dangers of moral relativity. You think you’re beyond the point of “learning lessons” at this point of your life as we are so sensitive to didacticism, but in all honesty this taught me something I try hold onto every day. Just a great movie.
20. Little Children – And here Todd Field made a nature documentary about humans. It’s most admirable feat is that managed to dramatically under-use Jennifer Connelly and I didn’t even care. It also gave us back Jackie Earle Haley, so we owe it that.
21. A History of Violence – Cronenberg’s hyper reality (even bordering on silly) is just a masterwork of balancing tone. A lot of that is due to the distinctly Lynchian overtones, but Cronenberg taps into some really great stuff here. And yes, it has some amazing bits of cinematic violence. Bonus points for 1) Ed Harris 2) someone having the courage to show a marriage with an active sex life.

The Entertainments

22-25. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – Self explanatory? My dad summed it up best upon finishing the third in his simple, slightly pedestrian, and achingly true sentiment: “it’s been a wonderful adventure.” And given what was at stake before they came out, they could easily be considered miracle movies too. Not a lot of people talk about it now (they will when the Hobbit comes out in a few years) but for 3 years filmgoers around the world got swept up in a beautifully delivered epic that whisked us to middle earth. It represented everything that big budget cinema entertainment should be.
26, 27. Anchorman/Knocked Up – The best insane and best character-based comedy of the decade respectively. Best respective lines: “milk was a bad choice” / “… my shit looks like a god damn stuffed animal”
28. The Bourne Supremacy – The perfect pure action movie. Intelligent without being indulgent and energy from start to finish. Not to mention the best car chase since bullet.
29. Ocean’s 11 – Because it’s the most delightful and charming 2 hours ever, that’s why! The sequels couldn’t succeed cause the cat was already out of the bag, but my word was this is a wonderfully made caper.
31-33. X2/Iron Man/Spider-Man 2 – Best comic book movies, all for different reasons.

The Honorable Mentions:

An Affair of Love – best film I totally thought was this decade, but wasn’t (1999). It’s really obscure but totally would have been one of those miracle movies above. We’re talking top 6. Just a beautiful film about sexuality-as-a-barrier and missed opportunities.

The Piano Teacher – best crazy-as-shit/film-schooly-type art movie. It’s nothing but thematics through and through, but also disturbing, unnerving, you name it.
United 93 – a movie that proved you could make a non-exploitative film about a recent tragedy. Just an absolutely gut-wrenching approach.

Wall-E – (original review) Best Pixar movie. Though Wall-E is waaaaay more flawed than Up, but because of it’s spectacular first act, litany of great sequences, and its overall sense of ambition, it gets the number one spot. And yeah, every Pixar movie this decade gets an honorable mention.
Brokeback Mountain – There’s bland prestige movies, and then there’s prestige movies worth the actual hooplah. This is one of them.

Talk to Her – There might not be a better film about empathy.

Me and You and Everyone We Know – A beautiful, strange, and divergent art-ish film that reflects her great fiction. Can’t wait for more from Miranda July.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – Am I the only one who likes this movie better than Oldboy? Probably. Oldboy had all the audacity for sure, but it’s a surreal movie that’s all headgames and style to me. Mr. Vengeance was just interesting, but it’s off-kilter realism made it about forty times as heartbreaking as the other films in the trilogy.
The Door in the Floor – That great movie no one saw or completely forgot about. Plus it had one of those great endings that wasn’t a plot/twist thing, but instead just a simple thematic character reveal. Bloody brilliant.
Lost in Translation – A legitimate, popular voice in feminist filmmaking, what the hell? (people debate this feminist tag, but to me it’s evident). Incredible use of sound and audio texture to boot… maybe this should be on the real list… hmmm.
The Pianist – the holocaust movie that Polanski had been secretly making for his entire career. Seriously. Go back and watch The Tenant and think about this film and the holocaust while doing so… it provides a whole different lens.

The Man Who Wasn’t There – the forgotten great Coen movie. This reminds me that I haven’t seen it in awhile. This one needs a popular revival.

Audition – My introduction to Miike. Yikes… too bad he hasn’t made anything else as good as this (imho).

The Dark Knight – (original review) I like this one more and more the more I watch it. First off, at its heart it’s really just a chase movie. And that’s gravy. But there’s just a litany of great choices/one hell of a performance to anchor that. People seem to be going nuts over the plot holes lately, but I don’t really care. I mostly worry about how a lot of people mistake it for the best comic book movie simply because it’s the most serious. To quote the villain “why so serious?” Mr. Nolan? Oh yeah. People love that you do.

Blade 2 – Favorite piece of trash.

Like: Midnight Movies

July 30, 2009

I see a LOT of midnight movies. It’s a little much probably for someone my age. Yes I’m still relatively young, but I work and it’s hard as shit to see a midnight movie and go to work the the next day. But I still do all the time. Any time there’s a movie I like coming out? Midnight thursday. I’m there. And I see a lot of movies. Sometimes once or twice a week. And I always prefer the midnight movie.

A few reasons why:

1. The best audiences. People who want to see/enjoy the movie as much as you and

2. You get to enjoy doing other things on the weekend. Like going outside… or seeing another movie.

3. It’s easy to find parking.

4. You don’t have to listen to someone say how much they liked/hated the movie and slant your opinion. Instead, you get to be that person! Hooray. (This of course assumes non-critical influence. Though I’m at the point where I know where/who to go to for critical influence and just how much to read of a given review to know if I’m going to see something. I’m pretty much at the point where I won’t watch the trailer of anything I really want to see. As trailers usually ruin the movie).

5. You get to drink lots of soda.

6. You’re effectively turning a movie into an “event.”

7. The Arclight (the best theater of all time) ALWAYS has midnight movies of pretty  much anything being released. Awesome.

8. I can’t think of other reasons.

… But it’s mostly the great audiences.

NOTE: there’s also apparently a pretty good band called “Midnight Movies” who a  bunch of people like. I’ve never listened to them but I like the name.

Like: MOON

June 19, 2009

This is a film that is best if you know absolutely nothing about it before going in. Just walk in and enjoy. Or at least observe.

It isn’t that MOON is especially cryptic, or twisty, but it is certainly best experienced as the character experiences it (especially cause they apparently give away WAYYYY too much in the trailer, which I thankfully didn’t see beforehand).

There’s a bunch of little things I want to talk about, but I will resist. Save to say Sam Rockwell gives what is perhaps his best performance. It could easily be something that comes off showy, but he resists and keeps it nuanced, yet perfectly tangible. This comment would make more sense if I could explain more. But he’s just absolutely incredible and shows tremendous range within the character.

And it’s a real sci-fi film to boot. The science. The philosophy. It’s real great stuff. Effects are starting to get to the point where they can be done seamlessly on the indie level. (A great little Spanish movie “Timecrimes” was released a few years ago. That was also great). Plus the thing is directed by Duncan Jones, a first timer who also happens to be David Bowie’s son. Which is also rather cool.

So basically. If you’re in the mood for something good and rather different. Check out MOON. Just don’t check out the trailer or anything else.

Like: Tetro

June 18, 2009

I saw Francis Ford Coppola’s new movie “TETRO” this past weekend. And I loved it.

It was an odd career trajectory. The guy was one of the greatest filmmakers alive, went a little nuts, made some decent but ultimately kind of middling movies (the rainmaker?!?), and then stopped really making movies all together. Sure he produced some crap in that interim, but he also produced his daughter’s movies, all of which happen to be rather good in varying degrees. And FFC finally came back to the director’s chair a few years ago  with Youth Without Youth: A strange, cryptic, sometimes inaccessible, “film schooly”-type movie that I found interesting. There’s no particular flaw with the movie, on a thematic level it makes perfect sense and provokes or entertains a great deal of ideas, but there’s a big distance between the audience and the film. Which speaks to how well it performed.

In many ways, TETRO is the complete opposite. It was an stunningly raw movie. Sure it was polished with achingly beautiful black and white cinematography.  But rather than cerebral concepts being the focus, instead it’s about family, brotherhood, fatherhood, and the nature of human relationships, love and cruelty. This is big bombastic stuff, and it’s all exposed through a very European sensibilty. Bertulucci, Fellini and Antonioni is all over this film. Especially Bertolucci. Hell you could have told me Bertolucci made it and I would have believed you. There is also another big influence of the recent Neuvo Wave (which perhaps informs the argentine setting and the casting of Maribel Verdu). The writer-actor-director Vincent Gallo plays the titualar charcter with, to use a key phrase again, a raw acting skill set. He lacks nuance, but makes up for it with a singular, focused presence. His low key, urbane accented speech could come across as “bad” to some, but I found it rather refreshing. Playing his girlfriend, Verdu is the absolute best part of the film,then again her role is that of a consilidator and she’s insatiably likable so it is hard not to love the performance.

But most people will be talking about Alden Ehrenreich. He’s a newcomer. Discovered by Speilberg. He looks a LOT like a young Leonardo Dicaprio (see picture on top left). And thankfully he’s great in this. He’s all useful innocence and mitigated charm, and subtle angst, and hopefullness and all that stuff that makes characters like these my favorite kind of main characters (coming of age stories I guess would be the designation).

And sure, TETRO is not perfect. There’s a lot of unfocused strings near the end, and a little heavy handedness in the finale, but all that is meaningless. In some ways it has to end the way it does, but more importantly the film is just a joy. If you like great movies with an heir of worldiness and some challenging form, definitely go see it.

And if that doesn’t convince you you get to see Maribel Verdu’s boobs.

Don’t Like: AWAY WE GO… only in the sense that it could have been absolutely amazing were it not for the fact that 35% of the movie sucks donkey balls

June 4, 2009

So I have this weird love/hate thing with Sam Mendes. When I was, like,16 and thought I knew things I thought American Beauty was a deep and profoundly awesome movie. Instead it turns out it’s just a reasonably fun and well executed satire with some genuinely hilarious moments, not to mention a masters class in cinematography by Conrad Hall. Not too shabby. Road To Perdition was also pretty as heck too but extremely lacking in the interest-in-character department and a few other ingredients you absolutely need to make a movie effective. Jarhead was actually pretty underrated as far as black as night gulf war movies go. The lackluster reaction was mostly a product of how it was sold. The movie was more Mash than Three Kings. And I hated Revolutionary Road with a passion often reserved for zealots. So why is this all relevant?

Cause you took your stab at the “quirky indie comedy” with AWAY WE GO.

First off I hate pretty much every “quirky indie comedy” that comes out now because the vast majority are ripoffs that confuse tone with plotting and make a mockery of human interest.

And because of all of the aforemention Mendes/indie comedy-ness I went into AWAY WE GO with very low expectations. The truth is I have no idea what I’m going to get from Sam Mendes which is surprisingly weird considering he always throws some combination of satire and formalism at you. It just always comes out to different kinds of quality. And AWAY WE GO could be a brilliant movie. It really could.

I thought it would be from the magnificent start, but I have never seen a movie go on to alternate between exceptional scenes and utter garbarge so freely  and divisively as I have here. Complete night and day in terms of quality scene to scene; really, it’s THAT much of a dichotomy. A Brilliant scene, then a scene so offensive to my sensibilities as a guy with a brain in my head that I wanted to storm out of the theater, then once again followed by a brilliant scene. It’s bi-polar quality.

To explain it, there’s no way to get around outright description so here’s a kind of summation.

Warning here be spoilers.

-the movie is about prospective parents visiting friends and family around the country to see where they want to live. The parents are John Krasinski (jim from the office) and SNL comedienne Maya Rudolph.

-Cold Open and beginning: Stunningly good. I thought we had a masterpiece on our hands I was so impressed. I was practically swooning at the reserved grace.

-Then we meet his parents: more of the same garbage Mendes keeps trotting out in many of his movies: Cartoonishly selfish parents who have no resemblance to real people, and if those people are indeed real, they are so exaggerated as to appear utterly insincere on screen. This would be less of a problem if the movie was straight satire, something like Stepbrothers, but Mendes just spent the first 10 minutes of the movie establishing wonderfully nuanced real characters in John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, why take a shit on that by making them interact with spastic solipsistic jerks for parents? It’s ridiculous and more importantly undermines the emotional resonance of your film.

-John and Maya go on their own again after this visit and this becomes a running theme of interspersed moments between the various people they visit. And all of these scenes just between John and Maya’s scenes are sweet, funny, touching, and real. Great stuff. James L. Brooksish at times. That’s a high compliment.

-The first official visit (after the parents) is to Alison Janney and Jim Gaffigan who play an obscene, disparaging mother and a disassociated drunken father. Yup. We the audience members get more experiments in totally unrealistic characters who are supposedly funny but just saying juvenilely horrible things for no other reason than to try and be funny, rendering the whole thing inane. That’s what these scenes are… completely inane. Not an ounce of redeeming laughter or value to be found. The audience was stacked with people poised to like this movie and it only elicited a few chuckles. Just fucking garbage. Which sucks cause I love Gaffigan. But he’s utterly wasted. So angry!

-The 2nd visit is to Maya’s sister and it’s nice and reserved with some good touch on John’s character (being a boob man etc). Not the best the movie has to offer but it gives some nice insight.

-The 3rd visit is to Maggie Gylleennhhaallalalal and some dude and they are equally cartoony new age hippy types. Hey guess what guys? Hippies can be dumb and self involved and pretentious! Bet you didn’t know that. Once again, our two main characters enter make-believe-land where we’re supposed to think interactions like this actually happen. I almost walked out of the movie I swear. Look, this is not to say you can’t do these scenes and make the same kind of points. It’s just that the way the scenes are in the movie come across as so over to top and ludicrous you simply can’t believe they are happening in the same fucking movie. You just can’t. It gets so outrageous that you have to have John K duplicate the audiences reaction and tell the stupid hippy jerks off. And that’s never ever a good sign.

-After this, thankfully the movie starts settling down. The sequential visits (Paul Schnieder! The guy who played Ted in 6ft! The other girl from heavenly creatures!) are all much, much more palatable cause Mendes suddenly seemed to realize he took all this time to make a movie about rounded interesting main characters, so he should probably include some others as well. It really hits its stride and comes off wonderfully during the entire last half.

-It eventually all swells into this wonderful ending with John and Maya talking to one another. It’s one of those perfect movie crescendos where you can see how its finishing and you’re ready to forgive the movie for all misgivings…

… and then it went on for another couple of pretty needless scenes. Don’t you fucking hate that? A movie has a perfect ending then it just tacks on some extra bullshit. I’m not talking about the kind of stuff where people complained about No Country. That’s banal. I’m talking needless from even an intellectual or thematic standpoint. The Stuff-I-Like-Girl agreed with me and said the ending was like “a limp dick.” Perfect description.

So anyways, other good things:

-John Krasinksi: So I said your character was secretly a dick on The Office and I had this vague suspicion that you weren’t that great an actor… but damn dude. You were just incredible. Balancing this great sense of optimism, fear, and humor, you just fucking nailed it. Even better for your prospects, I never saw one second of Jim in the performance. A+

-Maya Rudolph: everyone was interested how you’d do. And you were solid. Well done.

-Alexi Murdoch: the guy who did the music. Sure you want to be Nick Drake. That’s okay cause Nick Drake is amazing. Good songs and used well throughout.

So lastly I say directly to Sam: Why the fuck did you have to make some of those visits outright satires? It destroyed the movie. Absolutely destroyed it. If you’re going to have a movie be about real people dealing with real life, you can’t include characters so singularly outrageous I should expect to see them in an Adam McKay movie. That’s not how it works. You could have had a master piece here, but those three bad choices on what direction to take in those initial visits… damn… just freaking poor form. And I could have forgiven all if you stuck the landing.

I’m going to be bitter about this one for a bit.