Thursday, December 30, 2010

Time Waster x 1000

Just discovered this little gem of a website, Flickchart, and I think my life as I know it may be over.  Okay, I'm being dramatic, but I just started playing around with it and it's pretty fun.

Part of me hates turning the arts into trying to find some kind of scientific formula, but when you think about it we do that all of the time with our Netflix ratings (which are SCARY accurate about what I will like), and rating a movie a certain amount of stars (or grade letter, or number out of ten, etc.).  So I will accept this website I suppose.

Just wanted to make everyone aware of it and give you a little time waster.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Film Friday: Volume I

As I was discussing in my previous post, I love Twitter and the vast amount of information it provides me.  It’s like having your own newspaper, catered exactly to your needs.  You get updates on the things you want updates on, and aren’t cluttered with things that you couldn’t care less about.  I get updated hourly on things going on with movies, sports, politics, etc, and links to websites and other blogs that I might be interested in.   Besides the occasional sex-bot that tries to get me to follow them and “check out their pics,” Twitter is pretty great. 

One of the things I like about Twitter is “Follow Friday”, where people who you follow on Twitter will recommend a few other people for you to follow.   So, in the spirit of Twitter, I’m starting a “Film Friday” column that I will (try to) run every Friday, where I will briefly recommend two movies to watch and one to NOT watch.  The format will go like this: the first movie will be a new-ish film (as in this year or last year) that I recommend.  The second movie will be an older (as in older than 2 years ago) that you either may have not heard about or just something that I personally want to champion.  The last movie will be a movie that I do NOT recommend.  A lot of these will be recent movies that I hope to steer you away from but there could be some older ones as well.  So each week when you come to read the column it will look like this:

            1.  Good new movie.
            2.  Good older movie.
            3.  BAD movie. 

So here’s my first entry for “Film Friday”:

"The Fighter" (2010)

Put this one in the category of total surprises for me.  Mark Wahlberg stars as boxer Irish “Mickey” Ward, and the film looks at a brief period of his boxing career in the early 90’s.  It isn’t really a typical Disney-style feel good underdog story, but rather, it is a character study with the boxing as more of a backdrop and the glue that holds the plot together. 

The movie is an actors’ showcase.  By now most people have at least heard about the turn that Christian Bale makes as Mickey’s brother, Dickey (I guess that family took a page out of Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s book), who is a crack-addict, former boxing star and Mickey’s trainer.  He knocks the performance out of the park.  Melissa Leo also makes quite the impression as the controlling matriarch of the family.  The chemistry of those two characters is outstanding and it really captures the family dynamic.  Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams hold up their end of the bargain, although they are outshined in almost every scene by one of the other two I mentioned.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the brief performances by all of the seven sisters.  Just see the film and you will agree with me on that.  The movie is in theatres now, so go check it out.   7.5/10. 


"You Can Count on Me" (2000)

I’ve wanted to write about this one for quite awhile now.  Family dramas always get a little extra boost from me just on default, but this one is done quite well.  Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo star as siblings who lost their parents when they were children.  Linney’s character is a single mom who stays around the town her and her brother grew up in and works at a bank to provide for her son.  Ruffalo’s character is the antithesis—a wayward pothead who dreads the thought of residing in the town they grew up in.  His poor choices bring him to stay with his sister and her son for a few days as they work out their personal lives and their relationship with each other. 

As in The Fighter, the greatness of the movie has much to do with the acting and the chemistry between the leads.  Even Rory Culkin (in his screen debut) gives a wonderful performance that would take most dramatic actors to task.  The emotional connection that the characters create with each other and the audience is outstanding—it’s one of those movies where, on the surface, you don’t relate to the characters’ situations at all, yet for some reason you feel that it is about you.  If a movie can make you feel that way, you know that something special occurred.  8.5/10

"The Lovely Bones" (2009)

It’s too bad that the director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy couldn’t pull this one off.  This was one of the most disappointing movies I’ve seen in awhile as far as potential vs. actual.  I haven’t read the book, but anyone who has will tell you it is an amazing piece of literature.  The movie was disjointed and failed to successfully take what was in the book and adapt it appropriately. 

The acting was mostly bad.  Stanley Tucci gives the only decent performance as the creepy child molester/killer, but even he was a little bit of a caricature and over the top at some points.  As always with Peter Jackson’s movies, there are some cool visual elements (for the scenes in “Heaven”) matched with decent music, but even both of those are misguided and serve little purpose to the narrative.  It’s like Jackson just said “let’s make this cool globe-looking thing roll down a mountain and splash in a lake!” but no one ever thought to ask him why.

This one is a huge misfire that I do not recommend.  4/10.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blogoversary/Season's Greetings


I’ll admit, my lack of posting in the last two months is depressing.  Quite depressing.  Being bogged down in schoolwork is most of the reason, but that’s really no kind of excuse that I wish to invoke.  In fact, the reason this blog got started almost exactly one year ago was as a deliberate distraction from exam preparation.  I wanted to remind myself that even though school was hell, there were still things in life that I found joy in and could get excited about.  This semester, rather than seeking to be energized from a productive distraction while studying, I mainly just felt suicidal.  Kidding! (Kind of.)  

But don’t worry—I still very much enjoy writing on here.  So much so that the other reason that I haven’t been posting as much is because I’ve been considering some changes/enhancements to the blog after running it throughout the last year.  It will be nothing serious, but here are a few changes you can expect in the near future:

1.  A new weekly Friday column that I will be rolling out this week called “Film Friday.”  I’m pretty excited about this, and I’ll explain more when I unveil it. 

2.  Film news/rumors/awards season chat: Most of my entries as of now consist of 1,000-word prose on random topics that I just feel like writing about in that moment.  And I will keep doing that for sure.  However, posting news will be a way that I can update the site more than once every week or two—I hope with this that I will be posting on here at least twice a week, if not more, and that it will be a place that you can check several times a week for my thoughts on random things going on. 

3.  Twitter handle.  You can now follow me @adamswindow on Twitter!!!! Woohoo!!! I joined the 21st century!!! No but seriously, I love twitter and spend unjustifiable amounts of time on it.  The only problem is that I never tweet.  Mostly because I prefer to communicate with my friends over facebook.  But this is a way that I can tweet new columns when they are up, tweet when I’m watching movies, post random news, etc.  In fact, my personal twitter account could very well just go away and vanish into thin air. 

So those are just three ideas that I’m currently working with, although there are others that I’m tossing around.  If you have any other ideas you would like to share about how to improve the site, feel free to let me know. 

In other news, Happy Holidays everyone.  I hope everyone gets to catch up on some holiday films during their time off from work/school (What’s that?  You spend time with family during the holidays and don’t watch ridiculous amounts of movies?  Weird.) There’s been some GREAT stuff coming out lately in theatres, and I’ve hardly been able to keep up.  I plan on writing about a few of them really soon.  I also hope to catch a few of my favorite Christmas films over the next few days.  What are my favorite Christmas films, you ask?  I think this calls for a top-5 list!

1.  Home Alone
2.  A Muppet Christmas Carol
3.  White Christmas
4.  A Christmas Story
5.  A Charlie Brown Christmas
937.  Jingle All The Way

That’s all I’ve got for today, but remember to check back Friday for my new weekly column and to follow me on twitter @adamswindow.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10 More For 2010: Part II

Continuing last weeks post, here are numbers 5 through 1 in my most anticipated for the rest of 2010...



#5: The King’s Speech

Trailer Here.

Check out this plot synopsis:

“Tells the story of the man who became King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II. After his brother abdicates, George ('Bertie') reluctantly assumes the throne. Plagued by a dreaded stutter and considered unfit to be king, Bertie engages the help of an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Through a set of unexpected techniques, and as a result of an unlikely friendship, Bertie is able to find his voice and boldly lead the country through war.” (From IMDb)

Sounds like it should be some sort of boring BBC Miniseries, right?  Well, a few things: first, it has been getting rave reviews everywhere it has played so far.  As in, it is a frontrunner in the Best Picture race, Colin Firth is a lock for a nomination (if not a win); that type of talk/buzz is surrounding it.  Second of all, this was directed by Tom Hooper, and after seeing The Damned United this summer, I will watch anything he makes (FWIW, he also made the John Adams miniseries on HBO a couple years back).  So yeah, pretty excited about this one even though it doesn’t seem like anything that would ordinarily be right up my alley. 

#4:  Blue Valentine

Trailer Here.

An acting match made in heaven
Okay, now we’re moving from “excited about these movies because I’ve read about how good they are and I like the directors/actors involved” territory into “really excited about these movies because there is something particularly compelling to me personally about either a person involved in making it and/or the subject matter” territory.    Blue Valentine fits that description perfectly.  For one thing, it stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, who, if pressed, I might say are the best under-30 actor/actress that we have out there right now, (although they won’t be 30 anymore when the film releases) and if you scoff at that statement then go watch Half Nelson and Lars and the Real Girl for Gosling and Wendy & Lucy for Williams, then come back to me.  For another thing, I’m really into the whole melodramatic quirky romance genre (i.e. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Lost in Translation).  To boot, the directorial-style demonstrated in the trailer just seems pretty awesome and fitting. 

#3:  Somewhere

Trailer Here.

Speaking of Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola, the director of that film, returns to us in 2010 with this one here.  That one dealt with odd and unexpected things that can happen in our romantic lives, while this one seems to deal with unexpected things that can happen in our familial lives.  I really appreciate the way Sofia Coppola directs—the slow moving, focused, contemplative tendencies with her camerawork are very emotional and personal.  She is also great at bringing out the best in her actors, and by all accounts has resurrected Stephen Dorff’s career with his lead performance in this film. 

#2:  Black Swan

Trailer Here.

I am a total fanboy of Darren Aronovsky.  I am continually lambasted by some of my friends for my adoration of The Fountain, which I believe to be a misunderstood masterpiece.  The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream are also great films (even though you couldn’t pay me enough to watch the latter one a second time).  So of course I am excited about this thriller with Natalie Portman as the star.  Like all of his other films, obsession seems to play an important role thematically, and the dark nature of the material will fit perfectly with his style, perhaps even more so than with The Wrestler.  Also, Clint Mansell is doing the musical score, and if you’ve ever heard his work you know what a plus that is for the film.  (By the way, is that not the coolest movie poster you've ever seen? Check out some other cool ones for this movie here.)  



#1:  The Way Back

Trailer Here.

Weighing in as the champ in my most-anticipated list is this film that wasn’t even on my radar until a little over a month ago.  Peter Weir, director of Master & Commander, The Truman Show, Dead Poet Society and Witness makes his filmmaking return here after a seven-year hiatus.  Let me be the first to admit that the trailer was a little underwhelming.  However, I personally love the way Peter Weir tells stories in his movies.  Unlike numbers 2 and 3 on my list, whose directors rely heavily on style to tell their stories, Weir manages to get his message across simply through strong narrative and characterization.  Accordingly, the true story he is telling here seems very compelling, and the cast is superb.  Anyone who has seen Master & Commander knows that Weir is painstakingly detailed when it comes to authenticity of his sets, his locations, costumes, accents, etc. and this film looks to be no different.  It was announced last week that this film will be released in late December for a qualifying run in this year’s Oscar race.  Yay. 

Post your most anticipated movie in the comments below!!

Honorable Mentions that you should be looking out for:
Conviction
Rabbit Hole
Love and Other Drugs
Tangled
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part I
Hereafter
How Do You Know?
Made in Dagenham
Biutiful

Thursday, October 14, 2010

10 More For 2010

After having seen The Social Network, which as I stated last week, is my favorite movie so far this year, I thought I would make a list for my most anticipated films for the rest of the year and tell you why you should be anticipating them, too.  This blog isn’t really bloggie (bloggy?) enough sometimes, so I’m glad to offer something here other than my boring 1200-word reviews.   I’ll separate this into two parts and then toss in some honorable mentions at the end as well.  Also, if you’re reading this, then I demand that you COMMENT afterwards and tell me your most anticipated movie.  C'mon, I don't ask for much.  Heaven forbid we get an actual discussion going. 

#10:  Inside Job

Trailer Here.  (Random tip, sometimes I have to refresh my screen to get trailers to play on IMDb). 

Coming in at #10 on my list is this documentary that covers the global financial crisis (you know, that one we’re still in the middle of).  While I don’t expect this to be 100% “fair and balanced” (although it probably would qualify as that under certain networks’ apparent definitions of the phrase), I have heard that it is very informative and gives you a really great overview of how everything went down, literally.  Additionally, it is supposedly very well made. 

#9:  Another Year

Trailer Here.

This would be higher on my list, as it’s by an A-list director (Mike Leigh) with a great cast and has been dominating the festival circuit, except for the fact that the subject matter looks a little depressing.  I’m sort of inherently against movies with zero redeeming value, which seems like it could be the case here, but the combination of director + cast + scriptwriter should be good enough to give it a shot. 

 
#8:  TRON Legacy

Trailer Here

First of all, yes, I’m serious.  For some reason I have been ridiculously excited about this film ever since I saw the trailer back in the summer.  I don’t expect it to be a tour-de-force of acting or any sort of moving screenplay or plot, but the visual effects are stunning and unique, and looks like it will be a real dazzler in IMAX 3D.  Second of all, the music was scored by Daft Punk....I mean, how can this be anything short of awesome? 

#7:  127 Hours

Trailer Here.

Coming off of his success with Slumdog Millionaire, director Danny Boyle is sticking with Oscar-bait here.  James Franco stars in this true story as the Dude Who Cut His Own Arm Off when he got it stuck under a rock (oh, did I spoil it for you?).  I was a huge fan of Into The Wild, so if this has a similar naturalistic vibe to it, then I will like it.  I’m not quite ready for any solid Oscar predictions yet, but you can bet I will point back to this post in January when this movie is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, because it will be. 

#6:  True Grit

Trailer Here.
The Dude wearing an eye patch has no chance of failure.

The Coen Brothers? Check.  Jeff Bridges wearing an eye patch?  Check.  Matt Damon?  Check.  Western?  Check.  Remake of a John Wayne Movie?  Check. 

Okay, I’m in.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Social Network (2010)


The proverbial bar for the year has been set. 

The Social Network is the best (new) movie I’ve seen in over two years.  Period. 

And before you read this, here’s the honest truth about this entry—I had originally planned out one of my “How to Make a Movie” posts and I was going to explore the three best aspects of the movie from a filmmaking standpoint.  But then I couldn’t come up with the three best aspects, because there are at least seven or eight that would have to be mentioned in a post like that. 

I mean, for starters, I would have discussed the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, which starts from the very beginning firing bullets of genius dialogue, and you better keep up or get out of the way.   At the same time, it’s never imposing and the great dialogue fits perfectly within the flow of the plot development.  At least a third of the movie takes place inside a conference room during depositions.  Boring, right?  Wrong.  These are some of the most memorable scenes of the film.  Aaron Sorkin will undoubtedly have a room full of awards come March for his work on this script. 

And then I would have talked about the acting.  Jesse Eisenberg gives a career performance; and while I think he’s normally a good actor, many times I feel like he’s just playing Jesse Eisenberg, which is definitely NOT the case here.  He was totally immersed in the character of Mark Zuckerberg.  He was funny in a jerk-ish sort of way, and definitely captured the “idiot-savant” feel that he was going for—a mal-adjusted genius, sure of his intellect but not of himself.  The supporting cast is outstanding.  Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and particularly Armie Hammer (who played the entertaining Winklevoss twins), all held up their end of the bargain. 

(By the way, Justin Timberlake has officially solidified himself as the most talented entertainer in the world.  There, I said it.  Dude is a multi-platinum recording artist both in a group and as a solo act, he can put on an amazingly electric concert, he’s in the conversation for one of the best SNL guest-hosts ever, he can dance, and now, he has proven that he can act, and will rack up some awards nominations for sure, and possibly an Oscar nom.  For those keeping track at home, that’s (1) Singer (2) Recording Artist (3) Dancer (4) Comedian (5) Serious Dramatic Actor.  Oh, and by the way, he’s only 29.  Case closed.  He will probably run for office some day, and God help me, I’d vote for him.)

Ahem. 

And let’s not forget who directed this piece of work, the man himself, David Fincher.  This is a huge comeback for him IMO after Benjamin Button, which obviously a lot of people liked, but to me was a very technically well-produced movie that had about as much soul as a side salad from Wendy’s.  Here, he combines his brand of gritty, technically flawless production with Sorkin’s script and character development.  He’s definitely less present than in some of his films like Fight Club, but he does get a few chances to flash his brilliance—one scene in particular where the Winklevoss twins are at a rowing tournament (where they foreshadowingly place 2nd) is a little treat for Fincher fans who appreciate his pizzazz. 

I would also definitely have to mention the film's trailer, which I believe is a lost art in Hollywood.  This is absolutely one of my favorite trailers of all time.  Radiohead's "Creep" as sung by a children's choir in the background, the random facebook profiles displayed that seem weirdly ominous given the music, and then the tension builds more and more as the storyboard is revealed.  "Creep" is the perfect song to represent this movie and the character of Mark Zuckerberg, and in general it is representative of the facebook generation.  I obviously wouldn't even be mentioning the trailer if it hadn't been so pitch-perfect and amazing.  

And then I’d probably end by saying something about the zeitgeist of the whole thing.  It wonderfully captures the spirit of the times we live in.  I mean, I was in college when facebook was created, and I can tell you that the insanely fast way that facebook caught on like wildfire and was spread was accurately depicted in this movie.  Moreover, the characters were all representative of the millennial generation—the way the company started without much organization, Zuckerberg forcing students to take shots of liquor while writing code in order to “try out” for facebook, all of the males’ distorted viewpoints about women—it was all very “true,” for lack of a better word.  The wifey and I were commenting on how many twenty-somethings were in our theater with us on the opening night of the movie.  It was a good 80% of the people there.  The movie will play to older crowds, because of the great dialogue and the somewhat indicting nature of the film towards millennials, and it will play to the younger teens who are just now getting into facebook, but I can’t help but feeling that my generation will particularly “get” this film. 

But the thing I can’t help but mentioning is just what a well-rounded film this is.  People I normally chat about movies with often point out to me that it’s difficult for me to really enjoy films if they are not well-rounded.  Take Inception, for instance, a thoroughly enjoyable blockbuster that lacked character-development and above-average dialogue.  Was it a great piece of filmmaking?  Yes.  Was it a great piece of well-rounded filmmaking?  No.  And films in the latter category will always appeal way more to me, which is exactly why The Social Network is at the top of my list right now for 2010, and I will not be surprised if it remains there until the end. 

In my next couple of posts I’ll discuss some of my most-anticipated films for the rest of 2010, and why you should be anticipating them too.  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Conversation (1974)

So, I guess last week’s post was the official bringing in of the fall film season.  As I stated then, I started out with a bang on Easy A and The Town.  The fall season is typically when many of the awards contenders will make their commercial releases, after premiering at festivals such as Telluride, Toronto, and Venice, which have all taken place within the last month or so.  I am very excited about some of the projects coming out this fall, and expect it to be a great year for movies.

Soon enough I plan on writing up a post on some of my most anticipated for the rest of the year, but for now I wanted to slip in a review of a little film called The Conversation before I get rolling too heavily on the fall film madness. 

I am sad to say that I wasn’t even aware of this film’s existence until about 2 years ago.  It was directed by this guy—you may have heard of him—Francis Ford Coppola?  Yeah, him.  The guy known for making The Godfather films, as well as Apocalypse Now, some of the most celebrated films of all time, yet in the few weeks since I’ve seen The Conversation, it is becoming harder for me to think that it isn’t his best film. 

It stars Gene Hackman as a surveillance guru who’s kind of a loner, and it becomes clearer and clearer as the film gets going that he has some skeletons in his closet that will affect many of his choices the further he goes along.

The direction is breathtaking—forgive me for being trite, but Coppola has quite the eye.  The first scene of the film (which takes place in San Francisco) is a bird’s eye view of Union Square (see picture on left).  We are watching and listening to different groups of people—wondering who we are supposed to be watching.  As Coppola zooms in, we hear “the conversation” going on between a couple—which forms the basis of the entire plot—and then learn that Hackman’s character is bugging them, listening to their every word. 

As he painstakingly plays their conversation over and over throughout the film, intending to solve the mystery, I became increasingly nervous and worried—the conversation, which at first seemed so innocent—starts to become sinister.  A haunting little song—“when the red red robin goes bob-bob-bobbin along”—is used several times, masterfully, as a device to keep the audience on edge. 

Incredible Opening Shot by Coppola
And then there’s the way in which Hackman’s character deals with all of this.  His guilt from whatever past-life we don’t know about seeps its way into the story, so much so that at some points we aren’t sure if what is happening is real or a projection of that guilt.  This is supplemented by his paranoia of the people he is working for, and the combination of these two themes makes for an incredibly intense film.

This film is definitely high-concept art compared to the other three ‘70’s Coppola films that I mentioned above (by the way, has anyone ever made 4 better movies within 7 years?).  But The Conversation seems so personal, so real and warm compared to the chilliness of The Godfather films, for instance.  The style is deliberate but very fitting for the themes portrayed.  An overall fantastic film.  9/10. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Double Feature

 I don’t say this enough, but I married into a wonderful family.  Both of my wife’s parents are amazing cooks (the #1 test of a good family), they always take my side on everything (even when I’m wrong), and my father-in-law and I like mostly all of the same sports teams (even though he’s a sport’s bigamist, claiming he likes both OU and UT). 

But nowhere did I realize how much I would fit in with my then future in-laws more than in December of ’05.  Clelyn and I went and saw a movie with her dad while visiting Little Rock for the holidays, and afterwards we were leaving to go hang out with some friends.  As we were walking out of the movie theatre and towards the exit, her dad careened towards and into another theater. 
Homer & I both love popcorn
& double features

Me: “What’s he doing?”

Clelyn: “Oh, he’s just doing a double-feature.” 

Me: “Whoa.” 

The next morning at breakfast he told us that he saw not a double-feature, or a triple-feature, but a quadruple-and-a-half-feature.  10 straight hours of film accompanied by a refillable large popcorn and coke. 

Now this is a family that I knew I had to be a part of. 

Anyway, in the spirit of the Chapin family, we try and catch a double-feature every once in a while.  On Saturday we saw Easy A followed by The Town.  Easy A is probably my favorite teen comedy since Superbad, but it’s a completely different type of comedy.  As far as comparisons go, it’s much more along the lines of Clueless and Mean Girls—satire on the politics of high school social life.  Emma Stone is hilarious and has more than enough chops to carry the film, but it doesn’t hurt that Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci play her parents, and all-but steal every scene they are in.  You can bet this film will be a big hit and have lasting impact. 

The Town is the type of movie that makes me wish I didn’t ever talk about movies with other people, or constantly read about/analyze film on the web.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was a really solid film.  But everyone I talk to thinks it’s the best crime movie since _________________ (insert whatever hyperbolic comparison you wish, ranging anywhere from The Departed to Mystic River to Pulp Fiction).  And others have already handed it the Best Picture envelope.  Anyway, the point is that it is a really high-quality heist film that is well-directed by Ben Affleck (in his second effort), and features an incredible ensemble cast (highlighted by the amazingly evil Jeremy Renner), but that’s ALL it is—a good, solid heist film.  I’d venture to say that it’s not even as good as Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck’s directorial debut), which had at its center quite a bit more substance than The Town—it was morally and ethically ambiguous in a way that The Town wasn’t (not that it didn’t try), and moreover, it did a better job at representing all the different layers of Boston society.  Having said all of that, The Town is definitely an entertaining flick worth seeing, and I really wish my enjoyment of it hadn’t been curbed by people freaking out about how amazing it is; but I guess that’s really my own fault.

All in all, great Saturday at the movies.

(Note: this blog post in no way condones theft of any kind.  Any person seeing more than one movie in a row should obviously pay for both tickets, even if that person was gouged up the rear by popcorn and/or coke by paying upwards of 5,000% of its value.)  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Basic Instinct (1992)

Robocop.

Starship Troopers. 

Total Recall. 

Showgirls. 

Hollow Man....and

Basic Instinct. 

Well, hello there Ms. Stone.
What do all of these fine American films have in common?  No...it’s not my current Netflix queue.  They were all directed by one of my new favorite people in the film industry, Paul Verhoeven.  I want to meet this man.  I want to know his mind.  His twisted, beautiful mind.  What else do all of these films (except Hollow Man) have in common?  The best way I can describe it is that they are all “infamous” films.  They’re not bad films per se, and they’re definitely not good films either.  But I get the feeling that Mr. Verhoeven isn’t seeking to make “good” films.  Rather, he is seeking to make something provocative.  Whether the shock value comes from warped sci-fi action as in Starship Troopers & Totall Recall, or sexually in Showgirls & Basic Instinct, Verhoeven wants us to see something that we have not seen before.  They are all well-known films, but not because they are good. 

So, with a vague awareness of Paul Verhoeven’s films as well as the film itself, I recently sat down on a Saturday morning with my cup of coffee, my wife and dog, and...Basic Instinct.  And what a pleasant Saturday morning it was. 

As far as plot outlines go, if you haven’t seen it, all you really need to know is that it’s about a cop (Michael Douglass) is in charge of the investigation of a murder, in which the prime suspect is a beautiful young woman (Sharon Stone).

Basic Instinct may literally be the most unintentionally funny film I have ever seen. The pure sincerity of Michael Douglass and Sharon Stone as they speak some of the cheesiest lines in film history.  The brash confidence of Ms. Stone as she unclothes herself over and over, no matter who may be watching.  The various murder scenes playing out like some sort of 70’s teen-slasher homage.  The whole thing is just one entertaining romp after another.  My wife and I were laughing through the entire thing. 

And speaking of homage, the movie is largely a deranged homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, one of my personal favorite films.  Both movies take place in San Francisco, involve murder investigations, and follow the leading men as they trail their respective femme fatales down the rabbit hole of seduction and desire.  The ironic thing is that the film with no gratuitous sex, graphic nudity, and provocative violence and language (Vertigo) accomplishes exactly the reaction that Verhoeven sought to invoke with those things in Instinct.  The payoff in Vertigo is so huge because of what it doesn’t show, whereas the payoff in Instinct is comparatively tiny because of what it had already shown, if that makes sense. 

Verhoeven is quoted as saying that he wanted this to be the first mainstream film ever released that had full frontal male nudity.  Well, fortunately for me, this didn’t actually come to pass.  But he did manage to make something that is provocative as all get-out and incredibly fun because of how serious it takes itself. 

Oh, and then, there’s the infamous “leg-crossing scene” (see above).      

(Note: please, try your hardest not to judge me for watching this film)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Weekend Recap


So over the last couple of weeks the wifey and I have been discussing the possibility of getting rid of our cable.  It’s not the cost as much as the fact that between our laptops and the TV, the last two hours of every week night inevitably turn us into zombies, and by 10:30 we are communicating solely through a series of grunts until we lay comatose in bed.  So on Thursday I finally called AT&T Uverse, our cable provider, to cancel.  The conversation went something like this:

Mad Men dominated the Emmy's and my weekend.
Me: We’re gonna have to cancel our cable.  I just don’t think we can afford it anymore.  

AT&T Guy: I think we can upgrade you from the U100 to the U200 for the same price as you are paying now.

Me: Well, it’s just too much right now, I don’t think more channels would help the cost.

AT&T Guy: Well, we can also knock 30 bucks off of your monthly payment. 

Me: Yeah, that would help, I just don’t know if 30 bucks would be enough right now.

AT&T Guy: Well, I want to do everything I can to get you more for your money.  How about, in addition to what I already mentioned, I include an HBO/Movie package as well? 

Me: Hmm.  Yeah, that sounds pretty good but I just wish we could do something more about the cost. 

AT&T Guy: Well I can’t do anything more about the cost—how about I throw in a sports package and free HD for the next six months also?

Me: Hmm.  Yeah that would help, I just don’t know though...I think I’m still gonna have to cancel.

AT&T Guy: (thinks for a little bit)...Well sir, I want to do everything I can to help, so how about I wipe out all of your monthly charges for the next month. 

Me: You’ve got yourself a deal. 

So basically, we will remain zombies for the time being, except now that we have HBO, NFL Network, TCM, IFC, Sundance, and Cinemax, we will be like super zombies.  Not just undead, but double-undead.  Needless to say, my weekend in film turned out to be great—Funny People, The Informant!, (500) Days of Summer, Monster’s Ball, XMen Origins: Wolverine, Basic Instinct (more on this later), and The Hangover were all part of my weekend with HBO.  Add on top of that The Kids Are Alright, which I saw Thursday night at River Oaks, and a great Sunday evening involving Mad Men and the Emmy’s, and you can guess just how often my butt deviated from my couch.  In a related story, for any of my gambling friends, the over/under for how much longer my marriage lasts is 9 months. 

Look for a glowing (and I mean GLOWING) review of Basic Instinct coming soon. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

How To Make a Movie, Volume II

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Atticus Finch definitely taught me a thing or two.
A few weeks ago I started my new favorite running series on my blog, “How to Make a Movie.”  Once again, I must stipulate that I’ve never made a movie, which would be enough to stop most people from instructing others.  However, I’m only sure of about nine things on this earth, and one of those nine things is that To Kill a Mockingbird is a nearly flawless film.  Thus, I don’t think it is too much of a stretch for filmmakers to take a cue from it on how to make a movie. 

The other night I took my wife out on a date (!), and in a lame attempt to be romantic, I asked her this question: If you could choose any ONE work of art (i.e. painting, sculpture, movie, song, book, poem, stage-production, TV show, anything that could remotely be considered art) that most embodies something about who you are or connects with you more than any other work of art, what would it be?  Her answer was the book “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte.  But this post isn’t about her answer.  As I was asking myself the same question, literally the first thing that flashed across my mind was To Kill a Mockingbird.  Perhaps the reason for this is that it connects with me on multiple levels. I first watched it when I was around the age of five, and since then, I have probably seen it somewhere in the vicinity of fifty times.   What’s great is that the narrative is told from the perspective of Scout (the six year-old tomboy), and so even though there are important issues covered, it is told in a way that even small children can understand.  As I grew older, Scout’s older brother, Jem, became the character I connected with.  I had a secret treasure chest in my room, just like Jem, and I’m pretty sure I pretended several times over the years that a certain neighbor on my street was Boo Radley.  Obviously, growing into adulthood, and especially beginning law school, Atticus Finch became the character I looked up to; an inspiring yet soft-spoken, understated yet powerful man who embodies everything good in this world—specifically, defending a black man accused of rape in the 1930’s in Alabama—and goes about this business as if it’s just another Tuesday morning.

So specifically, out of about 537 things that To Kill a Mockingbird could teach someone about making a movie, three seem to stand out to me:

Step 1: Use the Camera Lens to Your Advantage

            Or, in other words, enhance the story through your medium.  Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most celebrated American novels ever written.  Most directors could have just told the story in the book without doing anything fancy and the movie would have turned out pretty well.  However, director Robert Mulligan used the camera to his advantage.  The story is told in the novel from Scout’s perspective, and he never lets us forget it.  Most of what we see in the film is through her eyes.  We are just as scared of the Radley household as Scout and Jem are, because that is the way they see it.  The scenes in the courtroom , even though they feature Atticus, constantly show the children and their reaction to everything.  Additionally, there is one great scene at the end in which an altercation takes place between Boo Radley and Bob Ewell with Scout present, only we can’t see them, because Scout is stuck inside a ham costume and can’t see them.  Many directors would have taken the easy route with this film, and focused it more on Atticus and the trial, but Mulligan delivered something substantially more meaningful because of his willingness to take a risk and enhance the story through his lens. 

Step 2: Be Relevant

One of the reasons To Kill a Mockingbird was successful was that it was made during the Civil Rights Movement.  Obviously the racial implications of the story are relevant, but one thing I like is that it doesn’t necessarily hit you over the head with an overly moral or holier-than-thou approach.  Rather, the story tackles the tough issues with a childlike wonder that is not found often in cinema.  Yes, there are a few Atticuses in the world, people who will do the right thing in any circumstance; and yes, there are a few Bob Ewells in the world, people who are simply filled with hate and intolerance and nothing else.  But most of us in this world are Scouts—people who are seeking to do the right thing but don’t always know the best approach; we clumsily find our way through our various prejudices on our quest to find understanding and empathy in this world, and we should surround ourselves with Atticuses and Jems on that quest.  The great thing about this theme is that it is an enduring one—what was relevant in the 60’s to racism has now turned into other issues—yet the same lessons still apply. 

Step 3: Be Emotionally Engaging

            A step that may seem difficult but this movie makes it look easy.  A lynch mob seeking to kill Tom Robinson in his cell turns around after Scout speaks to Mr. Cunningham and says that she’s friends with his son at school.  After unsuccessfully defending a black man in trial, a whole balcony of African-Americans honor Atticus by standing up as he passes through under them.  When Scout finally meets Boo Radley, she immediately realizes that not only is she not scared of him, but that he has loved her for her entire life. 

...and of course I could go on and on.  This is a dearly beloved film and book that I doubt I need to sell many of you on.  When I think about what movies should resemble, this is one of the first films that comes to mind.  I think about how it’s not just important to do the right thing, but to go through the process that teaches you to do the right thing.  I think about how things that we don’t understand seem scary until we look them in the eye.  I think about love—familial love, love in friendships, love in community, and love of mockingbirds—who “don't do anything but make music for us to enjoy...they don't eat people's gardens, don't nest in the corncrib, they don't do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Inception, Part II: The Bad, and then some more Good


In part I below, I set out to discuss the good aspects of Inception, but then realized that I only discussed one good aspect of it and failed to hit on some of the finer points that warrant praise.  So after I discuss what I didn’t like, I’ll compliment sandwich the film, ending on some good notes. 

I’m not sure whether or not this was intentional, but the only character in the film that had more than one dimension was Dom Cobb, the main character (although it’s arguable that Mal, his wife, had more than one dimension, we only really see one side of her since she is a projection of Dom’s subconscious).  All of the other characters seem to fill the screen like some sort of Hollywood paint-by-numbers: the sidekick who questions the main character’s ability to not let his personal life get in the way, the young protégé who asks all the questions, and of course, the token foreigner in charge of the mystic sedatives.  This would have been fine if we actually got to explore their characters a little further, but as it stands they end up being no more than set props to help play out the narrative. 

A lot of reviews are raving about Hanz Zimmer’s score, and yes, it is really good.  However, another problem I have is not with the score itself, but how it is used.  As in The Dark Knight, Nolan doesn’t take a break from the score for the entire third act of the film, slowly building its crescendo throughout, so that by the end all we get are 20 minutes worth of thunderous trombones.  Like I said, the score is good but I’m not really sure why it had to be used in this way. 

As with many movies, there is a personal aspect to the equation, and I will fully admit that 10% of any of my problems with this film can be attributed to that.

See, if I had to come up with a top-5 list for reasons I got into film, Chris Nolan’s Memento would unquestionably be on the list.  I remember thinking the first time I watched that film at age 16 how original and new it seemed to me; and that if movies like that could be made, then the possibilities for artistry in the film medium were endless. 

To me, his success with The Dark Knight and now Inception can be likened to a band that you liked before any of your friends knew about them—maybe their first album was raw, but the music was personal to you because of the band’s relative anonymity.  Once the band got popular, produced a polished-studio album, and had their hits played all over the radio, you still enjoyed the music but it was a totally different experience.  The romance was somehow sucked out of it.  Well, it’s difficult for me to not feel this way about Nolan.  I obviously enjoy his recent films, but part of me wishes that at some point he’d trade in a Hollywood blockbuster in for a scaled back character-driven piece—that he’d summon his inner Hitchcock instead of his inner Spielberg.  Maybe it’s the film-snob in me, but I believe that’s where his A+ talents lie.  Surely he’s got something as good as Memento up his sleeve, right?  I guess the good news is that either way, he’s made seven films now and there’s not a dud in the bunch, so even if he sticks with the Hollywood-esque grandiose films, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to see a great film with him at the helm.

Some more good that I didn’t hit on: the acting is superb (although I wish Ken Wantanabe would learn to speak English a bit better).  I wouldn’t call this a career performance for Leo, but he definitely carries the film effortlessly.  Joseph Gordon Levitt gives us a side that we haven’t seen of him yet in his role, and I’m very excited to see where his career will go after the success of this and 500 Days of Summer.  I also really enjoyed Tom Hardy in his role, as well as Cillian Murphy as the “target” of the Inception.  Given that the characters weren’t extremely well-written, I was impressed.  As I said earlier, the score was great and added the necessary tension.  The aesthetics of the film were obviously amazing: production design, cinematography, costumes and even make-up were all really well-done.  Nolan tends to work with the same people over and over in these areas (including actors) and it is clear that they have become a well-oiled machine. 

Full disclosure: I have no idea how to end this post.  This and my last posts are unequivocally the most difficult and frustrating posts I’ve worked on since starting up this blog.  There are so many elements and angles to explore, and there is simply no coherent way that I can put it together.  I suck.  The magnitude of Inception is almost too much for even a real film critic to get a handle on, much less mainstream audiences and wannabe bloggers. 

And maybe that, above anything, should tell you all you really need to know about 2010’s Inception. 


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Inception, Part I: The Good

A few weeks ago I wrote a (very) tongue-in-cheek post about how I wanted to become the biggest Inception fanboy of all time.  Now, after seeing the zealous response of the critics and masses to the film, spending some time on IMDb forums, and being a firsthand witness to the complete euphoria of every (repeat: every) 19-year old male computer-geek in Cupertino, CA at the midnight IMAX premiere of the film, I realize there is just no humanly way that would have been possible for me, even if I was dead serious in that endeavor.  The hype for this film, both pre and post-release, has to rival just about any original (i.e., not Twilight or Harry Potter) film ever, including last winter’s AVATAR

In that post, I was being serious when I stated that we, as movie-goers, deserve to be wowed every once in a while—that for every 50 Leap Year’s, Sex and the City 2’s, Marmaduke’s, and Saw #7’s that we belabor through, there is at least one Gladiator, The Departed, or The Dark Knight that we can hang our hat on—a blockbuster that entertains, thrills, and invokes a sense of wonder, and (gulp) is  well-made.   And on that note, the summer of 2010 was kind enough to give us Inception, which succeeds mightily on that front. 

In part I here, I’ll discuss the good.  I give the film a solid 8/10, though I’m open to bumping that up on a second watch. The magnitude of the story is too much to digest in the first viewing, even for the smartest people (i.e., not me).  I will not attempt to delineate any of the logistics involved with the film in this post, but for a great analysis of the different layers of the dreams, rules associated with the dream-world and such, check out my buddy Taylor’s IMDb post.  Anyway, Christopher Nolan goes back to an old stand-by theme used in some of his earlier work (Memento & The Prestige (and Following for the most fervent of Nolan snobs)): Reality vs. Perception.  Obviously, Nolan conveys this motif through the various layers of dream scenarios in this film, and plays with the characters and audience in this epic ping-pong match between what is real and what is not, up until the very end.  Dom Cobb’s entire existence revolves around straddling this line, as he manipulates the dreams of others in order to influence their reality.  Unfortunately for him, the ability to do this to others enables him to manipulate himself, and make no mistake: that is what the film is about—to what degree has Dom Cobb manipulated his own reality? 

The fact that a summer movie can give us something that big to chew on gives me hope for mankind.  The fact that it can be done in such an entertaining, cerebral, action-packed, well written, logistically genius and mind-bending film that is 2 ½ hours long is nothing short of spectacular.  Is Christopher Nolan the next Hitchcock or Kubrick?  Maybe not…yet.  But did he give me everything I could possibly want in a summer blockbuster?  Yes, yes, and yes. 

See Part II for the Bad, and then some more Good.  

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Brief, Humorous Word on Art: Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)

“Are we art?  Is art art?”

These are the musing questions of one Lisa Turtle of Saved by the Bell as she tries to woo the new student at school; a young stud who also happens to be quite the brainiac and egotistical art-snob, much to Lisa and the gang’s dismay.   As such, Lisa transforms her Beverly Hills teen-fashionista image into something she believes he would appreciate, and strikes up a phony conversation on these pretenses in order to reel him in.  Her scheme works; but as 90’s-teen sitcoms would have it, she soon realizes how stuck up said young stud is for not liking or appreciating the “real” Lisa. 

As is my pattern, when contemplating life’s greatest mysteries over a cigar at 1:00 in the morning, it always comes back to Saved by the Bell.

Today I caught a magnificent documentary, Exit Through The Gift Shop, at the Lumiere Theatre in San Francisco while on vacation (yep, had to throw that in there).  It is an original in so many ways that I’m not even sure where to begin.  It is the first documentary-heist I have ever heard of: basically, the film’s subject, Banksy—a famous British street artist (see: graffiti) turns his own documentary back around on the filmmaker—a wannabe street artist with a camera; and the end result is a humorous, satirical contemplation about what art is, how our society interprets art, and what makes one an artist. 

I know many of my readers don’t have many documentaries saved on their netflix queue, or typically seek them out on their Friday-night Redbox visits.  Nor do I.  But let me make myself clear: if you appreciate art, or appreciate making fun of people who take art too seriously, or appreciate irony in general, or would enjoy watching someone make a complete idiot out of themselves for 90 minutes, then you should not miss this film.  I wrote in my earlier post this week (in bragging fashion) that I would not be interested in spending 2+ hours on a post since I am vacationing in California at the moment.   Well, seeing this movie made me reconsider that obtuse statement. 

In today’s web-based society, we are all artists.  We live in a meritocracy.  Post a funny facebook status, you’ll get several “likes” and comments.  Tweet something funny on twitter, you’ll get many followers and retweets that will likely go global.  Post a video of yourself doing something ridiculous on Youtube, and you’re an instant celebrity, and, (looking at myself here) start a movie blog and advertise it to your friends, and you’ll get a few hundred hits.  We are all “artists” and the world is our judge.  But are we really making art?  That is the question that this movie answers, with a resounding “Maybe, maybe not, but it is what it freakin’ is,” as the film’s subject rips off a few ideas, gets the right promotions from the right people, puts on a massive exhibit and sells millions of dollars worth of “art” to the general public that has no idea how badly they just got duped. 

Is art art?  Maybe Saved by the Bell was on to something...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

16 For the Road: The Past Two Weeks in Movies

I don’t usually make lazy posts like this, but a) I’m in friggin’ Half Moon Bay, CA, and it truly does not interest me in the least to spend two hours on a post right now, and b) I’ve seen so many movies over the past two weeks that it would be extremely difficult to whittle it down to one thing to discuss.  But I did want to remind everyone of what a freak I am, knocking out 16 films over 12 days or so while I was a bachelor.  Man I really lived it up, didn’t I?  Here's a general rundown for you:

Becket (1964): 8/10.  Peter O’Toole + Richard Burton = Incredibly well-acted film.

Metropolis (1927)8.5/10.  Heralded as a classic, this silent film by German director Fritz Lang is eerie and beautiful, and is deservedly credited for heavily influencing the sci-fi genre. 

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009): 7.5/10.  This Argentinean crime drama won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards this year.  It was a very entertaining movie but Un Prophete (2009) was much better. 

Toy Story 3 (2010): 8.5/10.  I really hope everyone’s seen this by now.  Pixar continues its streak of greatness. 

The Searchers (1956): 6/10.  My mom will kill me for this, but I really didn’t think this movie is all it’s cracked up to be.  In 2007 AFI ranked it as #12 all-time…don’t really see it.  The story is entertaining but John Wayne is playing John Wayne as he always does, and the acting in general is unbelievably wooden. 

Seraphine (2009): 8.5/10.  This French film went completely under the radar for me last year.  It’s the story of the French artist by the same name who was discovered by her master while she was his house-maid in WWI-era France.  The lead performance is spectacular and the direction and photography are mesmerizing. 

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009): 6/10.  Weird as always with director Terry Gilliam.  Heath Ledger gives a worthy last performance. 

Edge of Darkness (2010): 5/10.  Mel Gibson’s latest film had a lot of potential but was forgettable and formulaic. 

Winter’s Bone (2010): 9/10.  I already gave it my glowing review here (post below).  Best movie I have seen so far this year, narrowly edging Toy Story 3. 

Tetro (2009): 5.5/10.  Francis Ford Coppola (director of “The Godfather”, et al.) made his comeback with this film in 2009 about long-lost brothers who reunite in Argentina.  Once again, this film had tons of potential but the acting and script were so awkward and clunky at points that it was almost embarrassing.  Sad to waste what otherwise was a visually beautiful and well-shot film. 

The Piano (1993): 7.5/10.  Really beautiful film that I’ve somehow missed until now.  The musical score is stunning and probably makes my top-5 all time scores.  Didn’t really like Holly Hunter in the lead role, otherwise this would probably be higher than a 7.5/10.

The Damned United (2009): 8/10.  THIS is what sports movies should aspire to be like.  It follows soccer manager Brian Clough of British team Leeds United in the 1970’s-80’s.  Extremely entertaining and Michael Sheen gives a very compelling lead performance. 

Seven Pounds (2008): 7/10.  This seemed to be a love/hate movie for a lot of people.  I didn’t love it or hate it but I think I enjoyed it more than most.  Will Smith is hard to resist. 

Invictus (2009): 6/10.  Juxtaposing The Damned United (above) in the sports-film category is this underwhelming Clint Eastwood-directed film about Nelson Mandella and the South Africa national Rugby team.  Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman give *decent* performances and make it better than it otherwise would have been, but the film is basically just a big pile of mush. 

Michael Clayton (2007): 9/10.  This is my 4th time to watch this…it gets better and better every time.  One of my favorites of 2007 which was a strong year for film. 

Zombieland (2009): 7.5/10.  One of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while (2nd time to see it for me).  The Bill Murray cameo is just classic.