November 2010

Tangled: A Sweet Peek Into Fairytales of Yore

We took our five-year-old to see Tangled over the holiday weekend, and we were pleasantly surprised at how lovely it was. The film was largely able to take a classic fairy tale and provide it with a little bit of modern sex roles. While it still featured the kidnapped princess waiting on her prince—or, in this case, thief—it provided a better explanation as to why she didn’t escape on her own for so many years—and then the rest of the film was mostly based on her repeatedly saving him instead. Rapunzel is artistic, brave, and a loyal daughter who ultimately beats villains with three tools: her wits, her hair, and her frying pan (which becomes a favorite weapon of everyone in the village by the end of the film).

Frida

 

I love Frida. If you haven’t seen Frida, you must see it. My three words to describe Frida….captivating, emotional, and painful. The film Frida is based on a true story of Frida played by Selma Hayek, portraying the famous Mexican painter’s life. Frida Kahlo de Rivera was a self-taught painter with many of her artworks depicting pain, suffering, and passion. With 143 paintings, Frida painted her own realities and real life stories onto amazing portraits. An accident in her teenage years caused Frida to not walk again and as a result, she stayed in bed hand drawing portraits.

Countdown to Zero and Other Overblown Worries

If Lucy Walker’s documentary Countdown to Zero hasn’t been slagged off as liberal tripe, just you wait. It’s not that the film sets forth a stated objective and works to prove it – Michael Moore’s feeling put upon as we speak. And while Countdown does sport a huge number of relatively surprising interviews with various heads of state as well as what might be some of the last footage of Robert Strange McNamara, it all seems a bit over the top.

There don’t seem to be untruths flying at viewers left and right. But at a certain point not too long after the feature begins – much like the Al Gore narrated An Inconvenient Truth – it viewers should be able to get the point relatively easily without sitting around for the next hour and change.

Of course, cobbling together enough file footage to supplement a documentary of this nature is impressive all on its own. Where Walker and company were able to obtain so many pieces of film detailing the destruction levied on society by various attacks over time is laudable. But in working with such a broad and in-depth topic spanning at least the last seven decades, the fact that there’s some narration tossed in here and there doesn’t do the film any good.

The funny thing about watching Countdown or any other politically charged documentary is that during and after viewing, it’s pretty easy to prance around like an expert on the topic one just spent an hour learning about. What Walker’s film does well is to avoid lobbing bland facts viewers are going to be able to arm themselves with for future conversation.

Green Hornet? Humor With No Sting.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way ...

TRAILER REVIEW

This is a trailer review. Haven't seen the movie. The movie could be okay. The trailer is so-so hokey, like a funny thing happened on the way to make a movie based on a comics character, the writers stopped to do stand-up skits. Well, may not quite that, but a lot of hokey jokes made it into the trailer..

The comics don't mean funny books. The comic book movie doesn't mean funny book movie. Humor is always appreciated. Jokey humor is hokey humor.

The Devil Wears Prada

I love this film. It’s a very fun, chick-flick type of fashion-in-the-Big-Apple movie. If you love high-end fashion and adventure, this is the film to see! Based on a best-selling novel by Lauren Weisbeger, Oscar-nominated actress Meryl Streep who plays Miranda Priesley as an aggressive fashion editor hires a country girl, Andrea Sachs to be an assistant for her high-end fashion magazine firm played by Anne Hathaway. Out of millions of hopeful job applicants, Andrea Sachs was the luckiest new assistant to capture the most glamorous jobs in New York City.

Black Moon: There's a Talking Unicorn

In a perfect world an emcee named Buckshot was sitting around during the early nineties, flipping through local New York stations late at night. Bored – and assumed stoned – he settles in on some weird war scenes through which a pretty blond haired girl runs, attempting to avoid contact with folks toting guns and wearing extraordinarily creepy gas masks.

Buckshot watches the rest of the film, in part to find out the name and who directed it, but also because he’s been engaged by all the weird imagery, the taking animals and the occasional bare breast.

Of course, that didn’t happen. And Buckshot may well have never heard of Louis Malle or his 1975 film Black Moon. I, though, enjoy pretending that the above took place and we have a French filmmaker, in part, to thank for Enta da Stage.

Whatever the circumstances behind Buckshot taking that name, it most likely had very little today with the future (?) depicted in Malle’s film.

Viewers arrive while a car speeds towards some doomed possum, or whatever animal that is. The image of roadkill coming so early on in the feature, though, should hint at the bizarre turns that are soon set to grace the screen.

Driving the aforementioned car, Lily (Cathryn Harrison) is off to find a place of solitude. Or at least a place she feels relatively safe. And after ditching her car, she wonders onto a cloistered bit of ideal property where doors are open, there’s food on the stove and enough milk to drink all day long.

"The Darwin Awards"

 

In 2006, writer and director Finn Taylor brought us The Darwin Awards, a black comedy based on the popular website of the same name, which recognizes those members of the human race who, through a lack of brain cells and abundance of alcohol levels, improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it, usually in creative and embarrassing ways. A tribute to those famous last words, "Hey guys, hold my beer and check this out."

Suburban Girl

This film is a movie must-see. Suburban Girl is based on a romantic comedy movie starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alec Baldwin. It’s a very sweet, playful film about a book editor named Brett Eisenberg who is desperately working hard for a New York book firm company and happens to meet a book publishing mogul eyeing for her attention. The book publishing mogul’s name is Archie Knox, who is a lot older then Brett by just a few decades her senior. He could literally be her father’s age. Brett first meets Archie at a book signing event with her friend. Astonished by Brett’s beauty, Archie Knox comes over to Brett during the book signing and engages in some short casual conversation before briefly asking her out for a drink.

Do NOT Confuse "Meet the Feebles" with "The Muppet Show"

Peter Jackson’s “Meet the Feebles” attracted me at the local video store because I have secret thing for muppets---especially Gonzo---and because I like strange and twisted movies sometimes. When I was getting the rental, the clerk asked me if I’d ever seen the movie and tried to warn me that it was truthfully bizarre. I told him that I could handle it and walked out with the movie in hand. 

 

 

Jonathan Ames is on All Screens

It’s still relatively easy to get through life without running into appropriated works by author and columnist Jonathan Ames. Of course, the literary world has had the guy on their hands for something like twenty years. But between Bored To Death entertaining premium cable subscribers over the last two years and the 2010 theatrical release of The Extra Man, it appears that Ames is poised to wind up becoming something like the next David Sedaris. And while that second guy is pretty boring at this point – or was he always? – Ames’ self deprecation seems capacious of crossing over to wider audience, one beyond well read, liberals. I’ve heard conversations prompted by day laborers in which that HBO series gets figured as entertainment. Sedaris can’t lay claim to anything like that.

So, while we wait for Ames’ inevitable fall from graces – or maybe that’s occurred as well seeing as television isn’t exactly a vaunted medium – The Extra Man creates a world not dissimilar in tone from Bored to Death, but inhabited by even more bizarre characters.

As the feature begins, viewers watch Louis (Paul Dano) ruin his teaching career in order to try on a bra. He’s caught in the act – in a pretty public space – and promptly dismissed.

Moving to New York without a job doesn’t seem like the most logical thing to do, but that’s where viewers are taken and where we spend the duration of the film as Louis lands a cheap apartment with the over-read Henry (Kevin Kline ). Before pushing through the rest of this, these two fictional folks come close to mirroring the relationship struck between Jason Schwartzman John Hodgman on Bored to Death. That might just be chalked up to consistency, though.

Contamination by Association: Movies That Changed Songs Forever

Ever since the invention of the talkie, movies have been using pop music to augment their stories and elevate their most memorable scenes. Some are iconic, like the use of Simon and Garfunkel's folk hits to lend a sense of thoughtful melancholy to The Graduate, others are fittingly quirky, like director Wes Anderson's decision to use Portuguese acoustic covers of David Bowie hits in the background of The Life Aquatic. Every now and then, a movie uses a familiar song in such a chilling, unexpected way that it changes the song forever. Whether by irony or outright weirdness, the following three songs will never be able to escape their cultural associations with the odd movies that gave them a second life.

Down and Out in Beverly Hills as American

Perhaps as entertaining as Down and Out in Beverly Hills itself, is the fact that Paul Mazursky directed the thing. That guys name probably doesn’t ring out with meaning for too many folks, but if you’re a Curb Your Enthusiasm fan, it’s pretty amusing.

Released in 1989, though, Down and Out sought to appropriate the story of a French film called Boudu, Saved from Drowning which was something like fifty five years old at the time. Ostensibly, the narratives run parallel, but given the fact that Hollywood and the hanger business serve as the back drop for the update, the whole things comes off differently.

Nic Nolte, who portrays a bum that attempts to drown himself in, some rich guy’s pool turns in a performance just short of unhinged, but endearing enough not to despise the character. And that’s basically, the crux of the entire feature.

Man (and woman) are comprised of conflicting things. So, while Nolte’s character comes off as a sad-sack slacker in iconic fashion, the worldly sensibilities he eventually exhibits makes the film come off as some sort of social commentary.

Contrasted with the Nolte bum character is Richard Dreyfus’ bland business man. He’s been able to make a killing selling hangers to national and even foreign companies giving off a sense of accomplishment that only exists in Los Angeles. But at the same time, it’s clear that Drefus’ character isn’t to satisfied with the life he’s come to inhabit.

His son’s a nascent filmmaker, endlessly pointing the lens of a camera at the man while his daughter refuses to eat too much of anything, has gone off to college only to return as a snooty pretendo intellectual and apparently has poor taste in men.

Last Exit to Brooklyn: Whores and Gay Junkies...and Fine Literature

Let’s all begin by repeating, “A movie can’t be like a book, it’s a movie.”

That may well be the most important thing folks writing on film should know. If that concept isn’t held dear, there’s about to be a tremendous mess on everyone’s hands. And it’s no one’s fault apart from our damnable public school system. What do teachers do when there’s a book no one wants to read? They show the film in tandem and ask kids to compare the two. Thing is, a movie doesn’t do the same thing as a book and vice versa.

Non-Linear Story Telling: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

“The War starts at midnight.”

That phrase ostensibly opens and closes the two and a half hour feature that is The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.  Today, the Powell and Pressberger feature isn’t all that widely disseminated. Nor was it overwhelmingly appreciated upon its initial release in 1943, England only, and then 1945 in the States.

The film received a bevy of unauthorized cuts and edits, going so far as to wrench an entire hour from the feature’s run time. In hindsight, though, it becomes easy to figure this film almost as enticing a departure from mainstream cinema as Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Dinner for Schmucks: Another Foreign Remake

While it’s insanely bizarre to have watched Steve Carell go from Daily Show correspondent to television star to feature film commodity, he has been able to distil a very specific kind of character and fit that guy into any number of roles. The thing is, while the character’s Carell portrays are endlessly creepy, each is equally endearing and sweet, probably accounting for the frequency with which he’s cast in work.

Regardless of the guy’s career and the fact that he’s a recognizable and marketable franchise at this point, Dinner for Schmucks continues on with American’s decade old decision to appropriate as many foreign products as possible, make ‘em uniquely our own and make a few million dollars along the way.

René Clair Can Do Anything

Working in creative fields finds one surrounded by vacuous, sallowed eyed cretins angling at some sort of all encompassing grandeur. For the most part they don’t receive what’s sought. On occasions that creative fervor is rewarded by widespread acclaim, though, it’s pretty easy to understand the outcome as some sort of pandering – how else does one endear a work to a wide, wide audience?

Those granted general acclaim and who retain a modicum of artistic credence, though, seem to be capable of working in more than one mode. Gone are times, for the most part, when a painter only paints or a novelist only writes fiction. In filmic terms, then, a director needs to possess the ability to supersede genre and craft works that touch on any and all approaches to film. That doesn’t mean releasing comedy and subsequently releasing a drama – although, that’s part of it. But being capacious of rendering film in a narrative form while also containing talent pointed enough to work in more verbose terms – the avant garde, if you will – seems like the hallmark of an insurmountable talent.

René Clair doesn’t often receive the same sort of acclaim that the French New Wave folks get – an no, it’s not even necessarily deserved. But what Clair was able to do over his career, apart from influence the following generation of Frenchie film bugs, was to move from the outreaches of the vanguard and slowly work his way into more traditional narrative films.

Oldboy: Blood, Guts and Incest

Wow.

There’s a pretty good reason as to why Oldboy was one of the most viewed South Korean flicks of all time. It’s not quite an effort that seeks to include all modes of filmmaking, but at the same time, there’s a great many different angles being exposed here. The plot’s all linear, with a few flashbacks tossed in to flesh out the story, but for the most part, viewers are barreling forward along with the film’s main character Oh Dae-su attempting to figure out what in God’s name is going on and why it all seems so bizarrely fabricated.

As a disclaimer, there’re probably a number of adult types who won’t go in for either the sporadic gushing forth of blood or the surprising twist towards the end – and it is properly surprising even if that’s a rarity in these times.

When this whole thing begins, viewers find ourselves trapped inside a dimly lit, kind of skuzzy looking apartment, being held captive alone with Dae-su. Things don’t look too promising, but since there’s probably some allegory at work connecting forced captivity and being a part of humanity, it’s alright.

Reality becomes forever distorted through a series of gassings, forcing a slumber upon the main character in an attempt to break his will – we find out the reason for all of this much, much later. Eventually, though, our hero widdles his way through a wall and he’s off to a creepy freedom.

Accosted by a bum and handed a cell phone as well as a wallet full of money – S. Korean money, for whatever reason, just looks like checks – Dae-su heads off to get something to eat, brining him in touch with a girl whose company he’s in for the remainder of the film. Again, much later, viewers find out why.

Howl or How I Learned to Rely on Cartoons Instead of Script Writing

Everyone’s first inclination, upon completing a viewing of Howl, a film detailing Allen Ginsberg’s trial regarding a poem, should be to pan this thing out of hand. While there should always be some sort of basis to ground criticism in, the Beats would probably just go for a gut feeling. My gut wanted to leave before the film was even over.

Let’s skirt some basics of critique for a moment and settle on the fact that a great deal of Howl is simply James Franco, who portrays Ginsberg pretty calmly and succinctly even attempting to ape the man’s cadences while speaking, reading a poem with cartoons for visuals. And while the cartoons here interspersed with a live action film in an interview mode, flashback or courtroom, the feature’s barely an hour and twenty minutes long. That alone isn’t grounds for dismissal, but considering Howl ostensibly moves beyond the trial and attempts to chronicle Ginsberg’s adult life, it seems there may have been a few things left out.

It’s actually difficult figuring if we should object to the brevity with which Ginsberg’s life is treated or if the cartoon schtick is so awful and warrants our disdain. Maybe both. But with such a vivacious, American figure, it shouldn’t have been difficult to bolster the story a bit.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead and Tom Stoppard Should Be Pissed

Yeah, this is tangentially tied to Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, which dates back to the sixties. So, a few guys working up some indie feature five decades later might automatically put people off. Of course, there’s still the possibility that Are Undead surpasses its source material and breaks meta-ground.

Nah.

The good things about this feature are basically the most troublesome aspects of it as well. Are Undead is self assured in its status as an well informed, intelligent picture. But just like people who are of that opinion regarding themselves, the film comes off as a series of smug vignettes lauding each actor’s physical beauty and assumed acting talents.

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