Friday, January 11, 2008

Movies Galore

While my "expertise" is more inclined towards music than film, I've seen too many movies recently not to discuss them briefly in some form. In addition, reviewing movies isn't super difficult. Everyone has a opinion, and no one really likes when people get way too technical, so hopefully I'll spare the few ultra-technicalities that I rudimentarily know. This is quite long, soooo.....good luck and enjoy

Michael Clayton
Who doesn't love George Clooney on some level? If I wanted to be different I could say he's over-rated and has questionable taste in scripts. But, for my limited knowledge he's pretty excellent 90% of the time. Michael Clayton tells the story of a "fixer" at one of the largest corporate law firms in NYC. He's the right-hand man of the co-founders and is thrown into a situation where he has to find out why a co-founder seemingly goes crazy and disrupts a multi-million dollar deal. This movie is slow at certain times, but generally kept me entertained. It never really gives a great description of what a "fixer" does, but just that Clooney's character is tired of doing it, so it must be a kinda crappy job to have for a long time. Upon reflection, there were numorous scenes that I questioned the point of after the film ended that would have cut out probably 5-15min. of the film. I guess they were for character development, but I don't think I would have noticed had they been dropped. Overall, it was just alright, but the last ~15 minutes is when you get the real payoff, and Clayton pulls through as the hero you know and want him to be.

American Gangster
Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe should make for an excellent film. After all that's why they're cast together; so they can play off each other's magic. This is really only partially the case. This is a long movie that has surprisingly good pacing. I knew that this flick had been stuck in "development hell" (turnaround) for quite some time. Different casts and directors came and went until Ridley Scott scooped it up to push through and get the film made about Frank Lucas' 1970s drug empire. It also had god knows how many re-writes to the script which shows through on screen. There are scenes and characters that are really superficial and serve virtually no purpose. The other (kinda) infuriating thing is that Washington and Crowe are only in ~4 scenes together. They probably only were on the set at the same time for ~1-2weeks...maybe. This is terribly unfortunate because they actually have pretty good chemistry together, especially in their interrogation scene near the end of the film. This somehow turned out to be a pretty good movie after all the crap that it went through just to get made.

Dan In Real Life
I had been warned or overheard this movie with Steve Carell wasn't good at all. There were a couple people that mention that it was passable, but let's just say I didn't have high expectations for something that also had Dane Cook in a supporting role. Essentially Carell's character - the aforementioned Dan - is in town for the Christmas holidays. He goes out to get the paper, and runs into a lovely woman, Marie, played by Juliette Binoche and they end up talking for quite some time and Dan is smitten. Of course the only problem is that Marie is the new girlfriend of Dan's brother Mitch, played by Dan Cook. It's almost the same plot beats as The Family Stone from a couple years ago, but personally I thought this movie pulled off the themes much better and clearer. Overall, I enjoyed it much more than I expected and it wasn't terrible. In other words, it is what it is.

The Kite Runner
I have to admit I never read this NYT best-selling novel. I know it was on the best-seller list for year(s) and universally loved. I honestly can't say the same about the movie. It was barely 'alright'. It's only ~120 minutes and I was checking to see how much was left less than halfway through. I knew the plot beforehand, so I thought I knew how the movie would unfold. I was wrong. Not in a good way. It seemingly took forever to get to the point or have any forward momentum. I knew Amir had to go back into Taliban occupied Afghanistan and rescue his best friend's son after assimilating in the U.S. The story is heartwarming, but the movie is pretty dreadfully slow. The acting is decent, and the scenery is enjoyable. There is just something lacking, and it's more proof how difficult it is to translate a great book onto the screen, and to do it justice.

Into the Wild
This is another marathon of a movie, but very rewarding. I delayed seeing this in the theater because I wasn't in the mood to feel depressed. I knew the story of Christopher McCandless and how he graduated from Emory and ventured into the wilderness only to be found dead in the Alaskan wilderness. I wasn't in the mood to subject myself to that type of story. Luckily, I was able to watch a screening copy of the film in the comfort of wherever I chose to do so. I suppose it would be grand to see the great landscapes in this film, but it still made for good viewing. The acting and directing are tip-top and Emile Hirsch shrugs of his teeney-bopper suit to actually act (although he can go back to not acting in the upcoming Speed Racer). This is a movie that does a great job of taking you on a journey, and making you feel how Chris is trying to escape from all the shit that teens and young adults usually see in the world. Except most just accept it, and do little more than say "fuck the system." It's a fulfilling movie that really comes together at its conclusion and leaves you satisfied.

No Country for Old Men
This movie has had more hype and critical acclaim than LeBron James on steroids coming out of high school. That is a little bit of a mixed metaphor, but pretty much everyone is flat-out in love with this movie. It is no doubt a great piece of film making. Joel and Ethan Coen are clearly working near the top of their game (and usually do). Their storytelling is superb. The acting is pretty great. They are able to create an enormous amount of tension through the use of silence, which is quite commendable. Everyone that sees the movie has to discuss the last ~20-30min. of the movie. Knowing this before watching the movie I was prepared to hate it or love it, although I didn't know what I was supposed to be looking for. It turns out, I was left kinda indifferent. I was able to rationalize the decisions, and was only partially perturbed. Although, it was more of an artistic choice than bad writing, which they have every right to impose. See the movie and be scared of Javier Bardem. Those are the rules.

There Will Be Blood
I fucking loved this movie (excuse that outburst). I rarely get super excited enough to say something like that, but this movie is great. Daniel Day-Lewis' name is already etched onto the Academy Award for Best Actor, and I don't think anyone can really argue, including his fellow actors. He completely embodies his character Daniel Plainview. The Paul Thomas Anderson script is exceptional as he fictionalizes oil prospecting at the turn of the century with help from Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!. I had read that this was another movie that was years in the making and wouldn't have gotten made if Day-Lewis has turned it down, that's how integral he was to the film. It clearly shows, as he is in 98% of the scenes. He owns this movie. While this is another ~150min movie that doesn't seem too long. It is a journey that deals with greed, spirituality, family, and how business got done (and probably is still done today to some extent). Despite the title, there are only a couple deaths in the film and they aren't exceptionally bloody. I highly recommend seeing this movie.

Sweeney Todd
This movie on the other hand lives up to its R-rating. Jesus, this movie is bloody violent. I've seen it twice in the theaters and have to say it definitely dragged the second time. Arguably one of Stephen Sondheim's greatest musicals (my personal favorite is A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum) the singing is executed with fair success by Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and even Sacha Baron Cohen. It's kinda like you get what you pay for. They aren't terrible, but they're not going to get cast to sing every night on Broadway either. Let me stress again, this is a violent and bloody movie. Deserving of it's R-rating. Yet, somehow (this may sound odd) the color of the blood is kinda beautiful in the hands of Tim Burton. It's pretty exaggerated in most cases which gives it more of a fantasy feeling and lessens the act of murder, in a manner of speaking. If nothing else, the movie is visually stunning, with some scenes that contrast the dark themes perfectly.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
If this film doesn't win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, surely the next one on this list will. Here is wonderful summary of this French film: "Elle France editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who, in 1995 at the age of 43, suffered a stroke that paralyzed his entire body, except his left eye. Using that eye to blink out his memoir, Bauby eloquently described the aspects of his interior world, from the psychological torment of being trapped inside his body to his imagined stories from lands he'd only visited in his mind." Probably the greatest thing about this movie is the cinematography. From the beginning to the end, the camera work makes you feel Bauby's torment, struggle, and heartbreak. Although, at first it makes you a little dizzy, that's the point. He just came out of a coma from having a random and massive stroke. You're not supposed to be ready to run a marathon. The storytelling is also fabulous, and the acting is quite great.

La Vie en Rose
As great a story as this film portrays it suffers from one of my pet peeves; incessantly jumping back and forth through time. Edith Piaf's life was tragically short for a woman with such tremendous talent. With a mother as an alcoholic street singer, and father a circus performer it was no wonder her life was typically dramatic and difficult. After she was discovered on a street corner at the age of 20 by a club owner, he is murdered shortly thereafter. With grit and determination she had incredible highs and crushing lows complicated by alcohol and depression. The final scene is absolutely breathtaking, if you have the patience and emotional wherewithal.

The true "indie" darling. Written by newly discovered screenwriter Diablo Cody, this movie is slowly taking over the country it seems. While I admit to loving it like everyone else, I've been intrigued by a couple of the dissenting opinions I've read. Namely, one opinion piece that struggles with the idea of why Jason Bateman's character is villainized. The author takes the position, that he has every right to be upset after his wife essentially puts him into the corner of their house. While maybe he should have been more upfront about not wanting a baby at that point, he has been belittled to the point he finally snaps and wants to be free again to be himself. Anyway, I thought it was an interesting view (read it here). The script does many things well, and it's deftly acted by the entire cast. Ellen Page is pretty fantastic, and Michael Cera plays his typical awkward-endearing teen as well as he always does. It's not really groundbreaking except that it presents a new screenwriting voice that is pretty unique and will be heard from again soon and it is going to break the domestic box office record previously held by last years darling Little Miss Sunshine.

Wow. Simply and utterly. Wow. This instantly became a favorite of mine, and still don't know how I missed seeing it multiple times in the theater. This is really and indie movie. Made for about $175k and with a worldwide gross of $15 Million this movie has touched a number of people all over the world. The story of a Guy who lives and works in his father's vacuum repair shop and Girl who sells flowers and cleans houses to support her mom and 2 year old daughter and how they come to meet and make an album together in the span of about a week. The Guy (played by Glen Hansard of The Frames) plays music on Dublin's trendy Grafton Street and is met by the Girl later in the evening when he's playing an original song and they strike up a friendship. She longs for a piano but cannot afford one or fit one reasonably in her apartment. They bond after playing a song ("Falling Slowly") together in a music shop. They reveal their personal lives to each other and open a budding romance of their own. Truly great, considering there are no "real" actors in the film, and all outdoor scenes were shot long-lensed without permits.

If you have read down this far...Holy shit...and thank you. I know this isn't from this year's crop of best films but it was last year, and I finally got around to seeing it and really enjoyed it. Penelope Cruz steals the show and definitely deserved the nomination she received. While the ending just kinda sits there, the rest of the film does a wonderful job of playing with the idea of Raimunda's (Cruz's character) mother being alive or dead. A well done movie that it ultimately quite touching.

Finally. Phew. Last one. Brad Bird is a (largely) unheralded genius. Being a roll with The Iron Giant, and The Incredibles. This movie is another great achievement in cartoon storytelling. It's a rather grown-up story with great animation. Which is probably why it has been enjoyed by both parents (adults) and kids. I thought it was cute and exceptionally voiced by Patton Oswalt who is really entertaining as the voice of Remy the Rat Chef who helps young Linguini make his way in a famous French restaurant kitchen.