up in the air

December 17, 2009

“how much does your life weigh?  imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack.”

george clooney is a man who flies around the country firing people.  that’s his job.  he shows up, tells you you’re fired, then leaves.  he has a philosophy about life that’s centered around backpacks.  how when we fill them with the things we have in this world (house, car, friends, family) it gets heavy and is not worth carrying.  he has a relationship with another frequent flyer who seems to finally be the one who connects with him.  he never sees his home, he never sees his family.  his sister’s getting married, but he’s never met her future husband.  he only spends money on things that get him more miles so he can reach his 10 million mile mark and get his name on the side of a plane.

that seems like a lot of stuff, but the movie actually doesn’t seem to do much in way of plot.  it really is a movie where not a lot happens.  usually i love those kinds of movies.  i’m all about taking your time to develop character and setting and mood.  but this film doesn’t really try to do any of those things.  it throws us into the world of the frequent flyer george clooney, and expects us to bond with him.  when in reality, it’s almost impossible.  the film wants us to buy into a guy who’s main point is that all humans will let you down.  it’s fundamentally flawed.  how can i be interested in a man who isn’t interested in anything….except flying?

there’s so much here that could have been done well.  the idea of him saving up for his 10 million mile mark is great, but completely handled wrong.  i never once got the sense that he actually cared about it or cared about anything.  he just seemed to sit there while life happened around him.  the whole concept of a man coming into town, meeting someone for the first time, then completely changing their life is really interesting.  but the film only really focuses on that idea for a second then decides it’s not worth investigating.  we seem to start different rabbit trails every two minutes in the film.  one of our main characters, a girl we actually can sort of connect with and invest with, ends up leaving about half way through the film and we never see her again.  it just isn’t interested in anything that is interesting, and that’s a problem.

i never once felt emotionally invested in any of the characters (except for anna kendrick’s character a little) and really didn’t care what happened to them.  the whole clooney/farmiga sequence did absolutely nothing for me.  and her end to the film totally doesn’t flow with what we saw just 10 minutes earlier…..

*** spoiler alert ***

she goes with him to his sister’s wedding in upstate wisconsin for a few days, goes with him to his old high school, is clearly emotionally invested in him, then ends up being married and calls clooney an escape?  if she is going to be married then we need to see a little more conflict in her.  she needs to be contemplating who she really loves more.  her husband or george.  it just doesn’t flow well at all.

*** spoilers over ***

the film felt flat and uneven the entire time. at one point during the wedding sequence we get a really pseudo documentary style filmmaking with handy cams, lots of crash zooms, way more personal composition.  i love that style of filmmaking, but it completely took me out of a scene that is really supposed to connect me emotionally with the characters.  the entire film has been shot in a completely neutral static way up to this point, and now we get a really jarring stylistic choice for absolutely no reason.

what worked with juno was that i loved the characters.  i wanted to spend more time with them, learn more about them.  i was sad when they were sad, happy when they were happy.  in this film i just didn’t care one way or the other.  after juno i had really high expectations for mr. reitman, but now i’m going to have to rethink my position on the man.

500 days of summer

December 5, 2009

“people don’t realize this, but loneliness is underrated.”

note: this was sitting in my drafts for sometime for some reason.  sorry.

i can tell that this is a film that will stick with me for a while.  i can tell because there are hundreds of things i love about it.  the actors, the music, the actor’s clothes, the style, the little cartoon bird, leslie nelson.  i had the film on my fall film preview from 08, way before anything was known about the film (so give me a little dap).  i could not wait until this film came out…and then i saw the trailer.  the trailer.  i mean this trailer for this film is probably the greatest trailer i have ever seen.  i’m not just saying that.  i truly believe it.  i felt so much depth behind every shot.  i felt such a sense of joy and elation and the sadness that comes hand and hand with that.  i just couldn’t contain myself when zooey opens the door.  there is just so much to that 5 second shot i couldn’t bear it.

editors note: just watching this trailer again has made me reconsider this as the best film of the year.  the best 90 seconds i’ve had at the theater.

joseph gordon levitt won my heart with 2006’s brick, and he cemented his place in my favorite actors pool with mysterious skin (which i saw after brick).  the man is a chameleon.  he can do it all.  and he is one of the few actors who i will check out just about anything because he is in it.  i was even remotely curious about g.i. joe because of his role.  seriously!  but what an inspired decision to place him in this film.  it just feels like it was written for him.  he has the angst, he has the believability, he has that romantic comedie yet indie feel to him.  he’s wonderful.  i felt for him because i felt like him.  he’s not ryan gossling, he’s not ryan reynolds, he’s not anyone named ryan.  he’s joe.

there was something that felt amiss for me.  maybe it was the fact that i built up so much hype in my head.  i mean there is no way the film could live up to my unreal expectations.  and this was way before all the mainstream hype.  i was just so excited on my on terms, that it might have tainted my experience a little.  some of the editing felt a little uneven, and i was left wondering if there was a master director’s cut of which i was missing (dvd maybe?).

the music was great, the moments of style felt perfectly in line with the rest of the film, and the rest of the cast was evened out really nice.  some moments felt a little to tounge in cheek, but it was such a refreshing look at relationships that i could sit through the entire film.  one moment that particularly stuck out for me was the whole bergmanesque foreign film section.  i was laughing really hard and then feeling weird because no one else was.

this is a film that i’m eagerly anticipating revisiting (hopefully with a longer cut).  i hate hearing people labeling it as a romantic comedy or a revisionist romcom because it’s so much more.  it’s honest, it’s stylized, it’s surreal, and it’s hilarious.  one of the better ones this year.

and jgl is just the man.  that is all.

where the wild things are

November 29, 2009

“i didn’t want to wake you up, but i really wanted to show you something.”

i was talking with some friends about this movie trying to explain how i was wrestling with the film in my head.  this is kind of how it went….
me: i’m still not sure how i feel about the movie
friends: you don’t know how you feel about?  what do you mean?
me: i mean….i don’t know if i love the movie or hate it.
friends: love or hate?
me: yeah.  i feel like this movie is either one of the greatest movies ever made….or absolutely terrible.  and i don’t think it’s a bad film….soo…..
friends: so you loved it?
me:  i don’t know.  where are those cookies at?
  
saying that the film is either one of the greatest movies ever made or terrible may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but i think i’m close in my thinking.
  
what works in this film, works phenomenally.  it has a great sense of nostalgia for me.  i felt like a 10 year old boy again.  just different interactions max would have with the wild things, things that the wild things would say, all of these have happened to me.  one instance that sticks out in my mind is the dirt clod fight.  the wild things and max are having a blast, they’re loving hitting each other with dirt clods.  but slowly people start to get mad at each other.  one of the wild things gets hit in the face and he gets upset and leaves.  the way they handled the escalating tension was so painfully realistic. it felt like many games that i played as a youngin.  it starts out fun, but someone always leaves crying.
 
the main problem i had with the film was i was constantly sorting out what the wild things really are.  are they real, are they fake, do they represent characters from max’s life, are they manifestations of max’s emotions and psyche, is it a mix of all that?  maybe a second viewing would strongly clear things up for me, but i could never get a strong sense of what jonze was trying to say through them.  sometimes i felt it strongly one way, sometimes strongly another.
 
visually the film blew me away.  jonze takes a 2D little children’s book and turns it into something real.  all of the wild things look amazing.  it is such a revelation to see creatures not be cgi, and look amazing.  hopefully hollywood will take notice.  cgi can never look as good as the real thing (hear that avatar?).
 
if you gave 10 different people the resources to make an adaptation of where the wild things are, you’d get 10 completely different films.  completely different.  there’s really no plot to go off of.  not much character interaction.  not a lot of dialogue.  you have max, and you have the wild things.  what spike jonze does though is take the essence of the book, the soul of it, and puts it on film.  he takes the spirit of what sendak was doing, and turns it into one of the most beautiful films of the year.

whip it

October 26, 2009

“yeah, let’s celebrate mediocrity! that’s fantastic!”

whip it is a film i probably would have waited for on dvd had i not received free passes.  and i’m glad i did receive free passes, because i would have not wanted to pay a redbox fee (or risk the late fee from the library) on this film.

something is to be said about predictability in certain films.  romantic comedies, other mainstream comedies, sometimes benefit from predictability.  it’s comforting to know that the story isn’t going to take your for a ride you’re not ready for.  there’s also something to be said about predictability in films that are trying to be “alternative” now.  and it’s not what you want.

the script for this film is probably the worst i’ve heard all year.  every line of dialogue is so contrived and completely forced.  shauna cross wants to be hip, wants you to laugh at her little indie sensibilities, wants you to fall in love with her quirky characters, and it all falls completely flat.  nothing about the script is original, nothing about the script is relatable or funny.  it’s just bad.  it’s trying to be something that it’s not.  just because roller derby isn’t mainstream, doesn’t mean you can just half-heartedly write the script and get away with it.  all of the dialogue just cannot stand on its own.  you take an interaction ellen page has with one of her old friends who’s fallen by the wayside…

friend:  so what are you all like alternative now?

ellen page:  alternative to what?

friend: i don’t know..isn’t that the point of this movie?  to be alternative?

ellen page:  no, i think it’s meant to be extremely derivative to every other indie film and indie music and indie indie indie indie indie indie indie indie indie indie indie indie.  wait, is indie alternative?  then yes, i like indie.  aren’t i cool?

friend: no, not really.

how anyone would option that script….i don’t know.  and i’m not saying that every movie has to be completely original.  i said before that predictability has its place in movies.  just don’t try to pass off predictability as something completely new and fresh and “alternative” and try to make it cool.  that’s when we run into problems.

and the script might not even be the worst part!  let’s put aside my personal disdain for drew berrymore’s acting capabilities.  i tried to give her the benefit of the doubt.  i thought that maybe since she’s practically grown up on film sets, that she might have actually picked something up from directors and dp’s about how to make a film.  but i was wrong (i don’t know if i actually thought that, or just hoped that it might just possibly, somewhat be true).  she has absolutely no idea how to construct a film.  all of the staging was completely awkward, forced, unnatural.  she cannot frame a shot.  i just could not believe how awful her direction was from beginning to end.

wow.  i cannot believe that i’ve written almost the most i’ve written all year about whip it.  that just seems sad.  anyways, one thing i did like about the film, and it was almost a sort of revelation, was kristen wig’s performance.  i hate kristen wig.  she is the same in every single thing she does whether it’s on snl or a movie or whatever.  she just sits there, uncomfortably and sort of mumbles under her breath something completely stupid and incongruous with the rest of the scene.  but in this flim she plays something completely different (or at least after the first 10 minutes we see her) and it’s almost a breath of fresh air.  i didn’t feel my stream of contempt i normally do when she appears on screen.  it was refreshing.

and!  i almost forgot.  the relationship between ellen page’s parents (marcia gay harden and the tall bad guy from home alone) was great!  it was really awesome to see a married couple who love and support one another, who don’t cheat, who don’t fight openly, and love their family.  you might not agree with their stances on things, but you cannot deny that they loved each other and respected marriage.  that was a nice touch that helped me get through the movie.

ok.  that’s it.  i’m done talking about whip it forever.

inglourious basterds

August 25, 2009

“each and every man under my command owes me one hundred nazi scalps… and i want my scalps!”

at moments during the film i was taken in by the beautiful camera movement and composition, at moments i was laughing hysterically, at moments i was scared to death. tarantino weaves a story that basically just rewrites history.  he throws caution to the wind and enjoys it as much as somebody should be allowed to enjoy something.

the basterds are a group of jewish american soilders whose only goal is to find and kill nazis.  they are led by aldo the apache (brad pitt) and because of his native american roots they not only kill the nazis, but leave their bodies dismembered and disemboweled so as to strike fear in their enemies eyes.  and quentin has now qualms showing us some of this action.

the movie has some very serious moments where normal ww2 films would let those moments sit and settle with the viewer.  but not quentin.  anytime the atmosphere gets too serious, he undercuts it with something ridiculous.  whether it’s busting out a gigantic pipe or a little quip from brad pitt or when eli roth comes out of the tunnel and we’re unbelievably scared.  he kills a german with a bat, then acts like an eight year old boy running around his back yard.  quentin doesn’t let the seriousness of any moment ever sit with us too long.

all the praise i’ve read so far has been for christoph waltz who plays colonel hans landa (aka the jew hunter), and i’m afraid i will be no different.  he is phenomenal.  he is unlike any villain i’ve ever seen in film, and i give qt a lot of credit for that as well.  but waltz is the one who materialized the character.  he gave life to one of the most intriguing characters on screen this year and is a lock for “best performance of the year” lists.  at least mine.  but don’t let his performance overshadow brad pitt, because i think he’s just as fun to watch.  he isn’t given as much screen time (which surprised me), but is just living it up on the screen when he’s out there.  he gives one of the more surprising performances of the year.

i never knew what was going to happen next in this film.  i was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and for a two and a half hour long movie it’s pretty painful to be sitting there.  quentin keeps us guessing around every corner, and gives us possibly the most fun we could have in theaters this year.  i did get a little uncomfortable in the scenes where i thought quentin was reveling in the violence a little too much, but in terms of a ratio to the rest of the film, those moments are few and far between.

la grande illusion

August 14, 2009

“i think we can do nothing to stop the march of time.”

synopsis for those who don’t know:  some french pows try to escape from various prisons during ww1.  obviously there is more too it.  and during the film i couldn’t help but think of the things that had inspired it (the count of monte cristo) and the things that took inspiration from this film (stalag 17, the great escape).

renoir does a great job of getting you to think about the way war has changed.  i couldn’t help but think about how officers are treated now.  would an enemy take such good care of you just because you’re an officer from your country?  i’m not sure.  the changing of the guard, the shift from the way things used to be to the way they are now is what this film is about.  but maybe that just doesn’t work as well for me.  maybe it’s because i’ve never known the way things used to be.  maybe i’m so ingrained to the way things are now, that the way things used to be seems foreign.  it’s not that i couldn’t recognize it, but it just didn’t have the same impact on me that it would have had on people of its time.

one thing that amazed me was how close to ww2 this film came out.  some of the foreshadowing of the changes in war are unbelievable.  to see things you know are going to change with ww2 foreshadowed in this film is amazing. and apparently as soon as the nazis occupied france it was one of the first things they siezed.

von stroheim is great as the german pow camp officer.  his interactions with boldieu (pierre fresnay) are great, especially their final scene on boldieu’s death bed.  their friendship, their past, is so tangible in that moment.  you can just feel the history between them, and the cultural history that von stroheim’s character is fighting with.  his inward brokenness is only slightly mirrored by his physical deterioration.

renoir never spells anything out for the viewer, he allows the characters to speak for themselves.  he lets the story unfold at a natural pace, is not afraid to add a little humor, but all the while is conscious of how his camera tells the story and speaks into the characters.  he does a great job of positioning every character and interlacing the multiple story-lines and characters.

6 films for fall

August 12, 2009

“did i know that i just met the most dangerous dark wizard of all time? no.”

to be honest, i hadn’t seen a harry potter film that i liked.  they all just seemed to fall flat and not fully encompass the scope of the books.  this was the first film in the series that i can actually say i enjoyed.  it didn’t necessarily fully encompass the book, but was able to take liberties with certain aspects, add certain aspects, and remove the unnecessary ones.  david yates (the director) was able to place the film in a time that seemed relevant.  i felt the terror that the world has to be experiencing at this time.  dark forces are at work, people are scared, and i’m buying it.

one of my biggest problems so far with the series has been the performance of daniel radcliff.  he always seems to earnest, too much like he’s spot reading, too fake, and too stiff.  in this film however, he seems to find more of a groove.  i wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a great performance, but it’s adequate.  maybe it’s because he doesn’t seem to have a lot of lines, but yates seems to be able to reign him in a little.  on the flip side, there are some truly great performances in this film.  they were able to just sweep me into the magic of it all.

jim broadbent – professor slughorn

broadbent gives one of the surprise performances in the film.  in the book, professor slughorn was a very hot and cold character for me.  sometimes i really liked him, sometimes i thought he was a waste of a page.  but broadbent makes me love him.  broadbent adds something to the character that i think the book was missing.  he adds heart, or humor, or maybe just a face, i don’t know.  whatever it is, he took a character from a book and really built upon it.  he was able to infuse something else that took the performance over the top for me.

michael gambon – professor dumbledore

i’ve never really liked gambon in any of the potter films.  the original dumbledore (richard harris) was made for that role.  that man just brought a level of gravitas that gambon just doesn’t (or didn’t have).  however, in this film, gambon brought it.  he brought it so hard that i was scared for fragile little daniel radcliff.  i thought he might shatter.  maybe it was the source material, but gambon just seemed to take the role to another dimension.  he added a dark side to it.  he made me scared just to look at him….and that’s just fun.

alan rickman – professor snape

rickman’s performance has always been a little one-note for me.  that being said, knowing what is going to happen in the rest of the films now (i finished the final 3 books in the last 6 months or so) seeing the subtext in his performance in this film was phenomenal.  i cannot wait to see what he will do in the final two films (based off one book…which might actually be a great idea).

helena bonham carter – bellatrix lestrange

she just scares the crap out of me.

tom felton – draco malfoy

this was were the money was at.  felton was absolutely great.  he was able to give the dual sides of malfoy so much life in this film.  he is able to give light to all the parts of the character i love.  he’s conflicted, he’s heartbreaking, he’s sad, he’s pitiful, he’s pushed beyond his years, he’s an actor i now am furiously excited to see what he does next.

there is a shot in the film where malfoy has to go out on his mission and he walks down the hallways of hogwarts.  at the same time in the shadows of the corridors we can see fellow wizarding students making out in the hallways.  the contrast of this shot and the beautiful way it was filmed had me almost jumping out of my seat with excitement.

this film left me the most excited to re-watch it of any film i’ve seen this year (including up).  that being said, it’s not my favorite film of the year, and has a lot of problems.  somethings i wanted to see explored at greater length, somethings i felt could be cut a little.  i wish the film could have actually been a couple hours longer.  maybe they should have split the last two books into 4 or 5 films.

up

June 16, 2009

“good afternoon. are you in need of any assistance today, sir?”

one thing i have learned to not do, is doubt pixar.  they are in many ways unstoppable (or from the ones i have seen so far).  they can do no wrong.  i love every single film of theirs i see, and i love it more than the one i saw before.  last year’s wall•e solidified them (and andrew stanton) as one of the biggest forces in movies (not just animation, because let’s face it….they are the kings.  except for maybe miyazaki)  today.

one thing i was not expecting when i went to see up, was how extremely serious it was.  and how quickly i was on the verge of tears in the theater (almost 10 minutes in and i was about to loose control — but i fought off the urge to wail and not make a scene).  i mean the early montage scene in this film of carl and his wife ellie, might be the greatest montage sequence i’ve seen this side of citizen kane.  it was simultaneously hilarious, heartbreaking, and truly moving.  and all without that little thing called dialogue.  and when you’d think that this would just be during the beginning, the film doesn’t stray from really difficult situations all throughout.  we learn that the main character boy of russell’s dad is out of the picture, and not to keen on reentering.  i mean we’re dealing with love, the loss of loved ones, broken families, broken homes, and broken dreams.  it’s unbelievably moving and realistic.  and all in a family film!  it’s awesome!

one thing that struck me as interesting, was how i could see this paralleled with other animated films.  i could see miyazaki’s influence all over this film.  just in the way the characters encounter other supporting role characters who all have their own certain quirks, whether it’s the dog who can talk or the bird who is named kevin but is really a girl.  or in the way they fly through a house greatly reminded me of howl’s moving castle or castle in the sky.  i also just felt like this film held form to classic adventure cartoons.  i felt like i had seen the story (in terms of structure) a bunch of times, but rather than that becoming redundant for me i found extremely nostalgic.  and i think that’s what the film is relying on.  it’s interested in this sort of time period right from the beginning, of recreating something from your childhood.  of becoming a part of your memory and bringing back the joy of what once consumed you.

one thing that i thought could be improved was that the villain in the film could have been a little more drawn out and complex.  it seems odd that at once he’s happy to see the main characters, and then turns into a man bent on murder.  i felt i didn’t understand enough of his motivation, or his motivation wasn’t great enough, for me to really get where he’s coming from or why he would react the way he reacted.  that being said, it wasn’t a huge problem i had and was really able to enjoy the film in spite of it.

one thing i would say to you if you were considering going to see up: do it.  it’s one of the best film of the year by far, and i think you will be pleasantly surprised at how the film deals with complex emotional problems while at the same time being a great action/adventure children’s story.

the brothers bloom

June 13, 2009

“as far as con man stories go…..i think i’ve heard them all.”

an inherent problem i think with con man movies is that now the audience has seen too much.  we know that the guy we were supposed to never expect is the one that did it.  we know all the tricks in the book.  we know that it’s kevin spacey.  we know.

so what makes the first half (the first half or so, i’m not sure where the turning point was) of brothers bloom so great is that it wasn’t about the cons at all.  it was about the characters who just so happened to be great con artists.  and they’re great characters!  i love that adrien brody (bloom)  is a con man of regret, that he feels he’s lived a fake life.  i love that mark ruffalo (stephen) writes cons in a literary sense, that he pulls narrative structure into his cons to bring them to life.  i love that stephen writes bloom as the central figures of all his cons.  i love rinko kikuchi.  and i love that her character’s name is bang bang.

the film starts out with so much gusto.  we are at the beginnings of the brothers bloom career, when they’re kids.  the editing is quick, the camera movements are fast, and the dialogue is witty and snappy.  then were moved right into one of the greatest title sequences i can remember.  the brothers bloom in gigantic letters of lights, exploding with a great swell of music.  this lets us know that we are in for a ride.

rian johnson made one of my favorite movies in recent memory with 2006’s brick.  he was able to infuse a great amount of style, with a wonderfully written script, and meld it with tremendous performances.  and one of the things i loved about brick was that he was able to take a very gritty and serious noir story, set it in high school, make it work, and not shy away from humorous situations.  he has a hard boiled detective story, and is able to inflect humor into it.  and in the brothers bloom he has a humorous film which he tries to inflect some serious moments in…….and it doesn’t work as well.

the film works best when it’s just trying to be a, more or less, lighthearted con man film.  with his patented quick and witty dialogue and quirky characters, the first part of the film is amazing.  i wanted to spend all the time in the world with these characters and go on adventures with them.

and we loose this sense of fun that the film has, as it goes on.  there came a point near the 3/4’s part of the film where i sort of stepped back and said “wait…what happened?”.  i wasn’t confused by what i had seen plot wise, but was confused as to how the film i had loved so much, how the film that had swept me up like nothing up to that point this year had swept me up, how this film could have turned so sharply into something that felt like a chore to sit through.  it just completely lost all of the gusto that it once so magnificently had started with.

so the film is an odd mix.  at times it’s the most fun you’ll have in the theater all year, and at times it’s close to the worst (well maybe not the worst, but it’s certainly not as good as those fun times i spoke about earlier).  rian johnson still excites me enough to go out opening night to see whatever he puts out there, and i hope he continues to infuse his films with as much style and humor as his first two.

oh wow.  i almost forgot.  mark ruffalo, adrian brody, rachel weisz, and rinko kikuchi all absolutely brilliant.  especially ruffalo.  i want to see him more in leading roles.  the man is brilliant.  and i wanted to own every single outfit that ruffalo and brody wore.  every single one.