Archive for October, 2007
In celebration of this, the greatest of holidays, let’s talk about horror. I’ve been curling up in my very few minutes of spare time reading Stephen King’s “Skeleton Crew,” primarily “The Mist”. King has his flaws, to be sure, but when he’s on, ooooh boy is he head and shoulders above everyone else. I’ve been a fan of his since I was 12, but I haven’t read a lot of his stuff, mostly because there’s just SO MUCH. He’s arguably the most prolific writer working. And this is considering he’s semi-retired now. And considering his biggest flaw is that he over-writes.
Which leads me to my favorite Stephen King adaptation, and my favorite horror movie, The Shining. It’s so deliciously freaky and unnerving, I never stop getting scared from it.
What are some of your favorite scary movies?
It starts off strong, but slowly begins to deteriorate due to a) highly implausible choices and acts in the film’s second half, and b) exceeding repetitiveness.
There are good points: this is probably Steve Carrel’s best performance yet, and he’s easy to sympathize with. Messiah vet Sondre Lerche performs the soundtrack (and even performs on screen during the credits), and his work is suitably lovely. Dane Cook isn’t entirely wretched, and Juliette Binoche is equally lovely and frustrating as the woman Dan wants but can’t have.
But it all adds up to naught in the end, which is a shame. There’s little worse than a movie with a great first half and a bad second. It’s like watching a magician promise to show you a great trick, and then running away before he does it.
If you had told me, or anyone, two years ago that Ben Affleck would make one of the best movies of the year, I would’ve laughed. Even a year ago, after his brilliant, Oscar-worthy work in Hollywoodland, I would have been a little skeptical. But needless to say, as the film’s amazing 92% on Rotten Tomatoes indicates, Affleck has done just that with Gone Baby Gone.
I’m skeptical about the film’s chances of being shown at Parmer: it’s language is incredibly profane, with several uses of words even I’m not comfortable saying (and if you know me, you know that’s quite the statement, I’m ashamed to admit). Also, there’s some violent content, but mostly the subject matter (which includes child abduction, rape, murder, etc..) is simply nauseating. It’s not gratuituous at all, but it’s incredibly disturbing and upsetting.
The film’s biggest strength is it’s casting-notably the use of real Bostonians as extras, these are people we rarely see in American movies. The lead cast is just as strong, notably Casey Affleck, who owns the whole show as the young, scrawny but incredibly brave and moral detective searching for an abdcuted child. It’s a performance miles different from his Robert Ford in my last post, and it’s just as good. In the space of a month, Casey Affleck has gone from reliable supporting player to one of the flat out best actors of his generation and I can only hope he’ll continue on the path he’s started out on.
Big brother Ben proves a surprisingly confident director. There are flaws to be sure, notable the fact that the film feels like it’s ending several times, including one puzzling moment about 45 minutes into the film. But that said, Affleck pretty much erases all the mockery he brought upon himself for J-Lo, Gigli and Daredevil with his work here. I’d love to see more directing from Affleck, who I think could just get better and better.
If you’re made of tough stuff, I urge you to check out Gone Baby Gone. It opened this Friday, and trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
My fall break consisted of relaxing, and doing what I love: going to the movies, and preparing for Lost Films spring schedule. I crashed with the wonderful Devin Thomas at Messiahâ€™s Philly campus, and saw five movies over the course of four days. This may sound like a lot, but Iâ€™m disappointed I didnâ€™t get to squeeze in two more: Michael Clayton, which has been getting some real solid notices as of late, and For The Bible Tells Me So, a documentary dealing with homosexuality in the church. I hope to see both at some point at least.
So where to start? How bout the very beginning?
Across the Universe (2.5 out of 4)
I love, love, love Julie Taymor. Sheâ€™s one of our most creative directors working (someone give her a Harry Potter movie already), and her theatre output (sheâ€™s responsible for the beloved Lion King on Broadway) is just as stunning as her film output, which until now consisted of the insane Titus and the less successful but still fascinating Frida. Anyone whoâ€™s seen either film will never forget several scenes from either; the opening of Titus, the bus crash in Frida, and so on. There are of such a striking originality that is so often lacking in so many movies today.
Across the Universe, easily Taymorâ€™s most accesible (and entertaining) film is also perhaps her most problematic. The reasons I love Taymor are all here: the musical number â€śHappiness is a Warm Gunâ€ť is just one of several numbers that are amongst the best musical numbers ever put to film. The acting is uniformly great; Taymor never gets the credit for getting such sterling performances out of her actors because of her creative eye, and thatâ€™s a shame. Indeed, the film is a technical marvel, with lovely cinematography, brave directing and lots of gutsy creative decisions. Itâ€™s easy to screw up all the songs we know so well from The Beatles, and Taymor avoids this almost entirely.
The problem with the film maybe lies with her love and respect for The Beatles-the movie is about an hour too long, bogged down with songs that, albeit wonderfully performed and directed, just donâ€™t add anything to the story. Take for instance a twenty minute chunk of the movie, beginning with Bono singing â€śI Am The Walrusâ€ť and ending with Eddie Izzard as â€śMr. Kiteâ€ť. This is perhaps the most prolonged piece of craziness in the film, understandably, as the characters are drugged up and those are two of the most famous druggie Beatlesâ€™ songs. But the entire twenty minute sequence could be cut and no one would notice, and the film would be a faster, more satisfying experience. By the time the film gets to itâ€™s (very satisfying) conclusion, it does earn the genuine emotion one will feel, but only just. Had the film shed some numbers, and been a little less repetitive, I think it would be not just Taymorâ€™s best movie, but also, easily one of the best movies of the year. As it stands now, perhaps I just expected too much from Taymor, Iâ€™m sure most of you will love it and for good reason. I just think Taymor should have taken a page from The Beatles moptop days: keep it short and sweet.
Lust, Caution (2.5 out of 4)
Academy Award Winner Ang Lee returns from his Brokeback Mountain masterpiece with Lust, Caution, his notoriously NC-17 movie. Now, donâ€™t you fret, you wonâ€™t be seeing Mr. Leeâ€™s film at Lost Films in the spring; weâ€™re not allowed to show NC-17 movies at Parmer. But to love film and ignore Ang Lee due to a rating is just sad. Heâ€™s one of the best filmmakers alive, and if he wanted the NC-17 rating, I have to believe he wanted it for artistic reasons. After all, this is the man who directed Sense and Sensibility after all.
So how is Lust, Caution? Itâ€™s long. Too long. Thereâ€™s a half hour stretch at the end of the second act that is almost literally the same three scenes over, and over, and over, and over again. Lee has always been a filmmaker whoâ€™s enjoyed overly-long movies, but this was the first that I felt got almost deathly repetitive. At around 150 minutes, Leeâ€™s movie nearly collapses before the all important third act. That it doesnâ€™t is testament to Leeâ€™s brilliant directing; his camera almost never rests, always moving, creating a genuine sense of unease and desperation. Also on Leeâ€™s side are, by far, two of the best performances of the year. Tang Leiâ€™s debut performance is astonishing, and she deserves the Best Actress Academy Award now. The always reliable Tony Leung is fantastic here, masking so much pain, desire and madness with just his eyes giving him away. Sex scenes aside, they are both astonishingly brave performances, and they elevate the film from being just fair, to being pretty darn good.
But not great. Itâ€™s too long, too repetitive, and itâ€™s hard to even now why Leiâ€™s character is even doing what sheâ€™s doing. Is it just because her friends are? Thatâ€™s all good and well to a point, but surely that doesnâ€™t go so far as to explain the near-psychological torment she is forced to endure?
I suppose I must talk about the sex scenes: yeah, theyâ€™re graphic, and they too are repetitive, but in this writerâ€™s opinion they are not gratuituous. Leungâ€™s character is so bottled up and so broken down that, at first, he practically rapes Lei. But through their sex scenes we meet a different man, one becoming increasingly more alive and loving. This begins to break down on Lei, who begins to feel the same for him. Their relationship is certainly a strange one, and obviously a doomed one, but thatâ€™s what Ang Lee does so well. Though covered in flaws, â€śLust, Cautionâ€ť is near perfect on the relationship front, and we should expect no less from Ang Lee.
If I had to rank Leeâ€™s films, Iâ€™d do them as follows:
1. Brokeback Mountain
2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
3. Sense and Sensibility
4. Lust, Caution
6. The Ice Storm
7. Ride with the Devil
8. Eat Drink Man Woman
Into The Wild (3 and a half out of 4)
While watching the start of Into The Wild, I must admit I was not a big fan of Sean Pennâ€™s directing. I felt it was erratic and cluttered, and if he had just kept it more simple it would have been so much more powerful. But as the story continued, I think Penn really found his voice, or maybe he didnâ€™t and the film just took me on this stunning adventure.
I never read the famous book the film is based on, but if the film really portrayâ€™s Chrisâ€™s life accurrately, than all I can say is wow. Itâ€™s quite a story and is equal parts exhiliarating and terrifying. In this way, it reminded me a little of Werner Herzogâ€™s wonderful Grizzly Man, although I would argue that Chris was a lot less mentally imbalanced than Timothy Treadwell.
The movie belongs 100% to Emile Hirsch, who probably could have a real good shot at an Oscar nomination for this performance. Heâ€™s fantastic, and totally inhabits his character. It would be easy to see Chris as some kind of hippie-hero, sticking it to materialism and the man. It would be just as easy to see Chris as a selfish brat, who never made contact with his family during his two year journey, and never even told them he was going anywhere. Hirsch manages to illicite both of these responses, and many, many more, which is no easy feat.
It helps that heâ€™s surrounded by a phenomenal cast: William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Jena Malone, Kristin Stewart, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn and more. The real scene stealer however is Hal Holbrook. You have to wait two hour for him to appear, but he has a scene that reduced almost the entire Ritz Theatre to tears.
Also of note has to be Eddie Veder of Pearl Jamâ€™s songs. Iâ€™m usually not so into songs in movies, but these original numbers suit the film perfectly, and almost act like another character in the movie. B-Side favorite Kaki King lends her guitar skills to the soundtrack, further cementing her status as one of the most exciting guitar talents around right now.
Everyone I talk to already seems to know how the movie ends, and I wonâ€™t ruin it for you, but needless to say it does pack quite the emotional wallop. Itâ€™s a big turning point for Sean Penn, I feel. Heâ€™s no longer just a great actor; heâ€™s slowly but surely evolving into a very distinct and powerful writer/director.
The Darjeeling Limited (four out of four)
After the mixed bag that was The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (a film I like more than most it seems), Wes Anderson returns with perhaps his most mature film to date with the India-based The Darjeeling Limited. At a brisk 90 minutes, the film may be the most overall solid of any of the Anderson entries. It features all of his trademarks quirks – the slow motion, the incredible soundtrack, the centered composition – but he also stretches himself in new and exciting ways. Most of the action takes place on the train, and it forces the film to rely heavily on the screenplay and the acting. Both of which luckily come up aces.
The screenplay is tight and focused, and the dynamic between the three brothers is a blast to behold. The film starts off fun and enjoyable, but a turning point in the second act plunges the film into some emotional darkness. Instead of throwing the film off balance, it strengthens the film, turning it into something more than a fun diversion about family.
The acting is fantastic as well. Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman are always great when working with Anderson (Schwartzman is particularly great in the Hotel Chevaliar short that can be found on iTunes for free), but the real star of the film is Adrien Brody, who finally as another great role after his Oscar winning turn in The Pianist. Brody is in many ways the heart and soul of the film, and there may not be an actor working with a more expressive face than Brody, and itâ€™s great to see him try (and nail) his hand at comedy for a change. Indeed, the chemsitry between the three brothers is believable and extremely moving. A flashback sequence between the brothers is particularly powerful, both emotionally and comedically. Itâ€™s scenes like that that Anderson has become such a master of.
It may be the most assurred directorial effort of Andersonâ€™s career. Scene after scene is beautifully composed and the cameraâ€™s movements feel less indulgent than in his past work. Iâ€™ve read some complaints that the film plays more like a series of short films than anything, and I must disagree emphatically. Itâ€™s a road trip movie, with different stops along the way, but each stop makes a change in the brothers, and thereâ€™s a definite arc at work in the men. By the filmâ€™s end (and perhaps an overly symbollic scene), itâ€™s not exactly clear what will happen next, but we certainly get the sense that these characters weâ€™ve come to love so much will be more prepared for it than the were when the film started.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (five out of four)
Now THIS is a movie. Andrew Dominik knocks his sophmore effort clean out of the park with this, not just the finest western since Unforgiven (it may be better), but itâ€™s an all-out classic, and a masterpiece. After seeing it, I told my roommates itâ€™s the best (new) movie Iâ€™ve seen since 2004, and now almost a week later my opinion hasnâ€™t changed at all.
Unlike the other films Iâ€™ve complained about because of their length, Jesse James uses itâ€™s length perfectly, establishing a mood that is equally haunting and heartbreaking. Itâ€™s not an easy trick to pull off, but Dominik does so with astonishing skill, helped in no small part by the great cinematographer Roger Deakins. This is probably the pinnacle in Deakins great filmography, and is one of the most flat-out stunning films to look at Iâ€™ve ever seen. A train-robbery at the start of the film is so stunningly shot, with billows of smoke being pierced by the legendary figure of Jesse James, it literally took my breath away. Also breath-taking is Nick Cave and Warren Ellisâ€™s magnificent score; itâ€™s the best Iâ€™ve heard all year, and is another classic entry into Caveâ€™s still young film score library.
Brad Pitt gives his best performance as Jesse James, but even his wonderful work is upstaged by Casey Affleck. Perhaps a little too old to play 19 year old Robert Ford, Affleck none-the-less worms his way under your skin. You wonâ€™t know whether to root for him, sympathize with him or want him to die a horrible death. Itâ€™s the best performance Iâ€™ve seen all year, and this seems to be Affleckâ€™s big break out year; he was the best thing in Oceanâ€™s 13, and heâ€™s already been getting great notices for his performance in Gone, Baby, Gone.
If I had to make a complaint, itâ€™s that two of my favorite actresses, Mary Louise Parker and Zooey Deschanel, are completely and utterly wasted here. Parker is given next to nothing to do, and Deschanel only shows up in the last 15 minutes of the film. Both are their normal, brilliant selves, and thatâ€™s exactly why it wouldâ€™ve been nice to see them a little more.
The film is narrated with lovely prose taken directly from the source novel. We already know Jamesâ€™s fate from the title, and the narrator doesnâ€™t skimp on any of the details, even well before weâ€™ve seen them happen on screen. This story is a classic American story, both in itâ€™s actual events, and itâ€™s look at our desire for fame and applause, and what weâ€™re willing to sacrifice to get it. At one point, when talking about the murder of James, Ford simply says â€śI expected applauseâ€ť. Itâ€™s a devastating line, and will tear your emotions in too many ways to even mention.
To me, everything about this movie is perfect. We only get a movie like this once every couple of years I think. From the opening scene to the crushing freeze-frame finale, Jesse James nails every note it tries to hit.
Fall break was not long enough; I think we can all agree on that. Fortunately, I managed (in between homework and eating Maryland crabs) to partake of some media goodness:
Movie: We Are Marshall
Iâ€™m a sucker for underdog sports movies: Remember the Titans, Invincible, and yes, Facing the Giants. That said, We Are Marshall is less about football than it is about tragedy, triumph, honor, and letting go. Based on the true story of the Marshall University plane crash in 1970, the film depicts the aftermath of the devastating loss that shattered the town of Huntington, West Virginia. Matthew McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, the ever so slightly eccentric yet charismatic head coach who comes to Marshall to help the town begin to pick up the fragments of their former lives. Matthew Fox backs him up as assistant coach Red Dawson, the only returning coach for the 1971 season. The dialogue is pure and honest, punctuated with mirthful moments that will leave you laughing even as your cheeks are still wet. Cinematographically savvy, the two hours moves at the perfect pace with class and without irrelevance. Sprinkled with footage and photos from the original team, We Are Marshall is an absolute gem.
Watch it: on a big screen with people you love, comfy pillows, lots of popcorn, and peanut M&Ms.
Book: Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
If I flirted shamelessly with The Kite Runner, then I am a love slave to A Thousand Splendid Suns. Like Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a raw and gritty story tied together with poignant writing. Suns follows the lives of two Afghani women, Laila and Mariam, whose lives inevitably become intertwined amongst the political and economic violence engulfing their world. Set almost entirely in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and civil war, neither woman escapes the atrocities unscathed. Hosseini has, once again, created a masterful work that sets meaningful characters again the backdrop of Afghanistanâ€™s history. A Thousand Splendid Suns is, quite simply, a beautiful and heartrending story. Happy ending? Not quite, but it resounds and stays with you, which I think is more important. My friend Wikipedia has informed me that Columbia Pictures has acquired movie rights, so I personally will be waiting impatiently for the next few years.
Read it: In the early morning before anyone is awake, with the sun shining into the room, sitting on a leather easy chair with a fleece blanket and hot chocolate.
Music: These Friends of Mine by Rosie Thomas
What is there to say about this? This is my â€śItâ€ť cd for the fall. Rosie’s fourth album is a sort of collaboration with Denison Witmer and Sufjan Stevens, and for a few seconds on â€śWhy Waste More Time?â€ť we get to hear a little bit of their witty banter. Accompanied by an absolutely darling jacket with whimsical drawings to match the tone of the album, These Friends of Mine need(s) to be in your cd player/laptop/ipod. Self described as inspired by springtime in New York City, it’s my humble opinion that this can and should go anywhere at anytime. Thomas’ (actually, I think I want to call her Rosie) voice has that ethereal quality that few can achieve, and it is sweetly complimented by the harmonies of Stevens and Witmer. Though my personal favorite is â€śKite Songâ€ť (in which Rosie wistfully asks, “Tie me to the end of a kite / So I can go on, I can go on with my life”), her cover of â€śThe One I Loveâ€ť should replace the original everywhere.
Listen to it: At dusk/night time when you’re driving alone in your car thinking.
Next Wednesday @ 10 pm in the Union when sheâ€™s here for B-sides!!! (Iâ€™m SO excited!)
Strength, Honor, & Love,
I wish we could have put Matt’s full review on the menu holders this week, but it just wouldn’t fit. It’s so great though, I just had to put the whole thing here. Enjoy…
TRANSFORMERS (PG-13; 144 min.)
â€śOk, that one part where theyâ€™re fighting on the highway and the one Transformer is on the skates and just before he takes out that bus you see his reflection in the bus and you just think… theyâ€™re not even computer-animated. THEYâ€™RE REAL ROBOTS.â€ť
– a unidentified young man residing in Witmer Hall.
That quote is the kind of quote that you should take seriously in regards to Transformers: The Movie. The best reviews for Transformers donâ€™t come from the Rolling Stoneâ€™s and The New York Timesâ€™s with their well-structured paragraphs, participles, and 5 dollar words like â€śparadigm shiftâ€ť. Look to the media snobs when you want to know what film best encapsulates Americaâ€™s turmoil with the Middle East or historical war drama serving as a metaphor for Americaâ€™s turmoil with the Middle East. For Transformers, you ask the guy pumping your gas, you ask the brother-in-law who flunked out of tech-school, you ask the little sister who has no less than 900,000 Myspace friends. Theyâ€™ll give you the facts. The best reviews for Transformers come in run-on sentences – the kind with adjectives that begat adjectives that begat superlative adjectives. Thatâ€™s because this movie is the cinematic equivalent of the best run-on sentence youâ€™ve NEVER read.
Transformers defines all that is America. In one fell, two-and-a-half hour swoop you will get equal shares of action, drama, romance, and product placement. Imagine the old tall tales prospectors used to tell of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill but with corporate sponsors. This is a movie that knows exactly what it is, and never pretends to be anything more. Yes, the robots do throw tanks around like toys. Yes, the tanks then become bigger, sassier robots and throw the fore-mentioned robots around like toys. Yes, Shia Lebeouf will sautĂ© you with charm. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus, and his name is Michael Bay. Legend has it that Transformersâ€™ director Michael Bay is actually a 200 year-old Uncle Sam who cheated death by making a deal with the devil (Jerry Bruckheimer) who replaced his heart with a case of Rockstar Energy Drink and enslaved him to making over-the-top action movies with pro-American themes in exchange for immortality. The more popular belief is that Uncle Sam was never a real person, and Michael Bay is really just this big jerk who worked his way up from Got Milk? and Levis commercials to become really good at blowing things up.
If you think my use of sarcasm and hyperbole are in some way trying to deter you from seeing this movie, I will hurt you. Transformers made me feel like I was 8 years old again which is a feeling I have not known since I was 10 years old. Each of the 150 times those cars, trucks, and other vehicles went anthropomorphic and stood in the harsh sunlight – I felt sparks inside my heart and my brain which had not yet been awakened. I think maybe I was going through my own transformation… to manhood. This homecoming weekend – itâ€™s not an option of you seeing Transformers – itâ€™s how many times youâ€™re seeing it, and this is after you buy it on Tuesday and watch it a dozen times before itâ€™s screened in Parmer. I don’t know if Transformers is a particularly great movie, but it makes me feel closer to God.
So now that Iâ€™ve given my own run-on sentence, I will leave you with a haiku that came to me in a dream.
More than meets the eyes
Michael Bay raises his fists
Robots in disguise
Peter Berg’s “Friday Night Lights,” both the movie and the subsequent TV show he developed (which I’m watching right now as I write this, it’s so great), must count as two of the most surprising movie/shows in recent memory. They should suck, or be yet another entry into the ESPN-movie that’s more sport then anything. But instead, Berg shows his care for the REAL people and their all too REAL lives, and that’s what resonates so much more than touchdowns and field goals.
“The Kingdom” is similar, and it’s another great film from the young and increasingly talented Berg. The central mystery of the film (who was responsibe for an attack on a US base in Saudi Arabia) isn’t really that interesting or involving, and it’s the film’s sole downfall. Everything else though is great – these are real people working for the FBI, working for the Saudi government, working for the terrorists, and that’s what shines through the film the most. Acting is strong on all fronts; this is the most I’ve liked Jamie Foxx, who usually agitates me. Jennifer Garner and Chris Cooper are there usual dependable selves, but the true surprise is Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman. His character starts off as the comic relief, but as the film progresses he turns on his drama skills and impresses more then anyone else.
The last 30 minutes of the film count as some of the most intense action you’ll see all year. The person sitting beside me literally hyperventilated, and I can see why – it’s wall-to-wall craziness, with cars exploding, rocket launchers, snipers, Jennifer Garner being literally hurled against a wall several times, and more.
Like “A Mighty Heart” this week at Lost Films, one of the joys of “The Kingdom” is seeing people of different cultures and faiths working together for the one common purpose. It’s just one of the things that make “The Kingdom” a surprisingly great movie. By the time it’s chilling ending comes around, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me.