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.

jules and jim

June 11, 2009

“if i’d known she might still come, i’d have waited til midnight.”

welcome back.  the problem i have sometimes is when i sit down to actually watch a film, it feels more like work or schoolwork than it does a thing that i love to do.  i never thought that i’d reach this problem, but i think it’s especially prevalent with films like this.  films that i haven’t necessarily viewed for school, but fall under categories or time frames which i have studied.  and the french new wave is something that they don’t pass over in film school.

one of the best things about this film was just to see how heavily it influenced some of my favorite filmmakers today.  i can see a lot of what wes anderson does taken right out from jules and jim.  the rapid pans across to someone sitting in a chair, the use of the city’s architecture, i felt like i was watching wes anderson’s creation.  and i could’ve sworn that rian johnson does the subtitle to the spoken word just as it’s done in this film in the brother’s bloom (though i’m not positive).  and come to think of it, the opening of the brothers bloom sort of montage of them as kids is very similar to the opening of this film.  to see a film of such great influence was fun in and of itself.

and for the first half or so i was really with this film.  really with the characters, really with their sort of adventures, really with the relationship of jim and jules.  it made sense to me that these men were best friends.  they loved to discuss shakespeare and go to the theater and talk about art and poetry, they make a trip to an adriatic island just to see a sculpture (and they have the same white suit made).  i wanted to be friends with these guys.

but when the character of catherine enters, or more accurately, when jules and catherine marry and start to have problems, is when i start to have problems with the film.  maybe it’s just the way my mind works, maybe it’s my own beliefs or what have you.  but i cannot for the life of me understand why the characters do the things they do in the last hour or so of the movie.  seeing them flip flop on whether or not they love somebody, holding people at arms length, cheating on their spouse with their spouses best friend.  a lot of it really infuriated me and a lot of it is not something that i call “inspired” or would consider truffaut’s best.  maybe it’s just me, but i kept wondering why the characters were doing what they were doing, and could not get past their “stupid actions” (that quote is from me.).

i did however, find a lot to like about the look of the film.  i was taken aback by how in your face truffaut seemed to be about his camera movement.  he was all of the place in terms of movement, angles, and especially editing.  there were jump cuts galore in the film, and it really gave it an interesting feel.  i love that he was unafraid to buck the traditional system (as all new wavers were i suppose) and just through in cuts and movements where he wanted to.  that being said, i was fairly underwhelmed by the film.

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if there is anyone that still reads this blog, i am sorry (for many things).  i will make more of an effort to keep it updated.

goodbye solo

May 6, 2009

“blowing rock is the only place in the world where the snow goes upside down.”

i saw this a while ago at the cleveland international film festival, and am just now getting around to writing about it.  i’ve had a very mixed reaction to this film sitting in my head for a while, so it’s taken some time to sort out my thoughts.

what was really cool about the screening was that ramin bahrani was in attendance, and introduced the film then afterwards had a q&a session.  i saw two films at the ciff and both of them had the filmmaker in attendance.  i got spoiled.  the next time i went to the movie theater i was expecting paul rudd to come out and take my questions.

the two leads, souleymane sy savane and red west, are both really good.  savane maybe a little more than west.  west is at his best when he’s sitting quietly and you can just stare at his face and how the years have shaped him.  savane is just the kind of guy you want to know and hang out with because he’s a constant validater.  he never puts you down and is always building you up.

i was hoping going in that i would come out having seen one of, if not the, best film of 2009.  but what i came out with was a film that despite some great performances, sort of falls flat.  bahrani is a part of this neo neo-realism movement involving filmmakers kelly riechardt, lance hammer, and ryan fleck (check out an awesome article on it in the ny times).  and in this neo neo-realism the directors don’t want to give too much away about their characters.  they want you as the viewer to piece together past histories and experiences and whatnot.  but this is where i felt the film really lacked.  it spent too much time dwelling in minutia when we needed more about these characters.  you have two really compelling characters and for most of the movie it feels like they’re just sitting there.  we want to know more about red west’s past and about solo’s life.  we want to be more involved with them as people, because the way it is now we are left feeling sort of cold and indifferent to them (not entirely but we’re not won over either).  the biggest mistake bahrani makes is not involving us enough, not giving us enough information, on these characters we desperately want to know better.

another problem i had with the film is the ending.  now you probably haven’t seen the film yet so i don’t want to spoil it for you, but i still want to talk about it.  so i’m giving you a spoiler warning.  continue to read after the second set of dotted lines if you don’t want to know…

spoilers.

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what really bothered me about the ending is this misconstrued sense that this is friendship.  that if your friend wants to kill himself you just are going to have to let him do it because that’s what a true friend would do.  that’s bogus.  a true friend would not leave their friends in these dire straights.  the film thinks it’s demonstrating selfless love when really it’s just re-iterating selfish love.  for once i would like to see a film that actually captures selfless love.  and i know that bahrani didn’t want a typical hollywood ending, but to end it the way it does amidst this cloud of righteousness is wrong.  you can end the film with red west killing himself, but solo cannot be happy about it and you cannot say that it’s selfless love.

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spoilers over.

bahrani is still a filmmaker i expect great things from.  chop shop was one of my favorites from last year, and even if this film fell short overall, there is enough to like in it (and enough to see that he’s not taking steps backwards) that i still can’t wait to see what he does next.

a fistful of dollars

May 6, 2009

“you shoot to kill, you better hit the heart. your own words, ramone.”

one of the most interesting things about 4films is getting to see these “legendary performers” when they were in their prime.  i would hear about jack nicholson being a great actor, but i would only have a few good men or anger management to go off of.  or with clint eastwood, just his grumbling mumbling drawl in million dollar baby(man that film (and his performance) was awful).  but to see nicholson in chinatownor eastwood in this…..it makes me appreciate them as actors so much more.  and eastwood is great here.  really really great.

i can finally understand this perception of eastwood as a badass.  i mean he straight up is here.  his delivery of lines might be what took me most by surprised.  there was a slight growl, but it was restrained and understated.  he never goes over the top.  he was a lot of fun in this movie, and what i was shocked to see was the subtle ways he added humor to the film.  i wasn’t expecting to laugh going in, but there were more than a few moments where i was el-oh-el-ing.

the western as a whole is a genre i’m pretty naive about.  and i’m not sure why; i love every one that i’ve seen.  but this one is right up near the top so far as the best western i’ve seen.

i have a friend who said that growing up her dad would always play the soundtrack from ennio morricone all the time in the mornings.  blasting it on vinyl.  i can see now why he would do that.  the score is one of the greatest ever composed.  and perfect at setting the mood of the desolate landscapes that leone captures perfectly.

i was a little confused at times as to who was who, and what was really going on.  but the film was so much fun from the beginning that i was ok to just be along for the ride.  and cannot wait to check out the other two in the series.

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imdb credits kurosawa’s yojimbo as the source material for the film…can anyone confirm this?  i’ve seen less kurosawa than i’ve seen westerns (only 1 kurosawa film to be exact…and it didn’t leave me wanting to see more sadly).

4 films for may

April 17, 2009

we’re getting back into it.  i hope.   will have one class in may, but it’s just one.  this summer it looks like we might be doing a hitchcock film series with some friends, so there will be plenty of write-ups on those.  back to the madness…

week of may 4:

a fistful of dollars by sergio leone

this (or one of the clint/leone westerns) was on the other day and it occurred to me that i have never seen this all the way through.  i’ve been screened clips in film school, i’ve watched parts on tv, but never watched it in it’s entirety.  i’ve loved what i’ve seen so far.

week of may 11:

jules and jim by francois truffaut

after a recent filmspotting review of this film, it confirmed my suspicion that i need to see this movie.

week of may 18:

streetcar named desire by elia kazan

marlon brando and elia kazan.  they worked in on the waterfront, i’m pretty sure they’ll work in this one.

week of may 25:

the apartment by billy wilder

the leads are weak.  what?  oh.  that’s a different jack lemmon movie?  dang.  oh well, it’s too late to chage it.

directing the weekend

April 10, 2009

sorry there hasn’t been anything on here in a while.  right now is crunch time.  we’re going out tomorrow morning for the first day of my shoot for my (as of now untitled) film.  a lot of stuff has gone down, and having easter weekend to do it has not been the best.  i’ve had actors interested but unable to commit, i’ve had to find a trailer home completely furnished in cleveland, i’ve rewritten the script numerous times, i’ve ordered the film, we’re doing it.  a lot of thanks to my upm/ad on the film jim tews.  check him out.  he does comedy.

we’re shooting most of the day tomorrow, most of the day sunday, and hopefully that’s it.  it’ll be short guerrilla style filmmaking.  jump in the car, jump out, shoot something, jump back in.  tomorrow in the trailer will be the only real lighting setup of the weekend.  hopefully after all the madness (after this week i’m dp’ing jim’s film, and upm/ad’ing someone elses) i can get back to watching films.  i haven’t watched something not for school in a while.  i did watch old joy again today, but that was more for inspiration for this weekend.  check it out, it’s great.

i’ve got these guys doing the score.

i’m excited and nervous.  it’s an odd combonation.  this will be my first foray into color film, though i’ve shot a lot on 16mm black & white reversal.  this just feels a little more professional.

revolutionary road

March 4, 2009

“so now i’m crazy because i don’t love you, right? is that the point?”

it’s not a film that i eagerly went in anticipating.  and not one that i thought i was going to come out of actually enjoying.  but sometimes i think you watch a film at the right moment in your life and it just makes sense, or speaks to you in a certain way it wouldn’t at a different time.  i can relate that closely to my experience with the mike nichols film closer.  a film that i think is very much in the same vein as this one.  people in relationships, doing horrible things and saying horrible things to their partners in those relationships.  i think i just watched that film at the right moment and found something enjoyable out of it.  i’m not sure if i went back and watched it again that i’d have the same reaction.  and i think the same thing goes for revolutionary road.

this idea of not settling for the suburbs, that kate and leo have, is something i think everyone can semi-relate to.  i’ve often had those dreams of grandeur, the urge to move to paris, not wanting to become complacent with the life i have.  but the big difference between my dreams and theirs is that mine are actually definable.  kate and leo (a.k.a april and frank wheeler) have dreams, but they’re not sure what they are.  they just no that something is amiss.  april is not happy with the idea of being a mother.  frank is unhappy that he doesn’t know his wife as well as he thought.  and soon they realize that they rushed into something before truly understanding the other.

i think mendes is commenting on the current state of marriage in the u.s with the film.  frank and april married a person they really didn’t know and that’s a problem that  plagues our society today.  people don’t quite understand the concept of marriage, and brush it off as something light and not to be taken seriously.  when in reality the commitment is more than they can handle.  i like the way mendes plays with the audience’s preconceptions of how marital squabble happens as well.  we learn that frank can be perfectly happy with his life, but it’s his wife that is the one who wasn’t ready for marriage and wants out.  it seems like films often want to throw men under the bus when it comes to marriage.  and to be fair, frank is not the best husband, but i like how mendes plays with that idea.

the film gets a little repetitive with their arguments, which may be how life really works but doesn’t make for a compelling film.  i was really just hoping every scene that michael shannon would show up again.  the man has quickly become one of my favorite actors working today, and had a fantastic 2008.  his turn in shotgun stories was one of my top 2 leading roles last year, and his academy award nomination for this film is justified.  he’s fantastic.  so unsettling.  i expect to see some huge things from him coming up, and can only hope that he remains dedicated to picking quality films to work on.  someone give this man some more leading roles!

i was surprised that i could like a sam mendes film (although i do have fond memories of road to perdition), and i was surprised that this film made it into my 15 or so favorite films of the year.

“i never wash my pants. i like to keep the night on them”

i was looking back through my previous post on my anticipated films of fall 2008, and realized that there’s 2 on the list that i could have seen but haven’t (this one, and wendy and lucy but that doesn’t open in c-town for another month.  ah to live in a big market.)  so i thought i’d watch this tonight and do a quick little write-up.

i had almost completely forgotten that this film had even been released.  it really got no pub, and with the indie darling michael cera attached, i was sure that it was going to be a bigger hit than it was.  and too be honest, i have never been a huge michael cera fan.  he was ok in superbad and juno, and i was never a fan of arrested development (i think it was mostly because of david cross.  i cannot stand that man and if he is on the screen i just instinctively turn it off).  but michael cera truly won me over in this film.  he was able to be hilarious and completely charming while at the same time a complete idiot, and i bought every second of it.  to me, it was his most sincere performance he’s turned in.  and i’d much rather see him continue to chose roles along these lines instead of these ones.

the music is for the most part good-to-ok.  nothing that really took me by surprise or had me wanting to rush out and buy the soundtrack, and for a film that’s based largely around music i think that’s saying something.  i love films that are staged in a “all happens in one night!” way.  there’s something about the pacing of a 90 minute film that really feels like you’ve spent the entire night with the characters on the screen.

some of the screenplay felt pretty clunky to me, and got a little too sentimental for me in parts.  and the multiple scenes of little cameos by semi-famous people got pretty distracting.  they show up for two lines (or sometimes none) and really slow the film down and take it out of any sort of context i had placed it in by that point. but cera really saves a lot of scenes with his charisma.  he is why you should check this film out, and why it’s enjoyable.

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student filmmaking update – i’ve pretty much finished writing my script, and monday will be looking to do some location scouting.  the basic premise of the film is a young man travels across the country (or northeast ohio) to find his father, who abandoned him when he was 5, to tell him that his mother has died (or his wife.  i’m not sure how the syntax of that sentence works).  so yeah.  if you’re interested in reading the script and giving me some feedback let me know and i’ll email it to you.

2008 round-up

February 22, 2009

comparing this year to the past 3 years, i have to say that i am fairly underwhelmed by the quantity (and quality) of great films this year. especially all the films getting the praise (slumdog millionaire, frost/nixon, milk). i liked all those films, but found them for the most part to be fairly pedestrian.  there were however some films that i really liked.  so let’s talk about those.

be kind rewind – for my money, one of the most underrated films of the year.  what gondry does is make a movie about loving movies.  and it’s not cynical.  there’s no irony.  it’s just about the pure unadulterated joy of creating art, of embracing life, of remaking robocop.  i’m an unapologetic jack black fan, and his earnestness is what makes the humor in the film.  to stand there with utter conviction believing that you’re singing the ghostbuster’s theme song the right way, when you’re completely butchering it.  but that naivety (and i almsot hate to call it that) is what fills the characters of the film.  they believe that through the power of art, of creation, of film, that they can save their business.  what they find is that it not only saves their business, but gives more purpose and meaning to their lives.

ballast – a film that most people have not seen, or even heard of (i always hate when people say, you’ve probably never even heard of this film because i always thought that sounded very pompous and elitist.  you’ve probably never heard of this film — but i have and let me tell you why it’s better than everything you have heard of.  i didn’t mean it that way).  i believe it was independently distributed so it made it’s way around independent theaters, and actually played at our art museum.  it’s the story of a boy, his mom, and his uncle, living and coping with the suicide of their father/husband/twin brother.  it’s slow, it’s subtle, it’s got very little dialogue, it’s intense, it’s heartbreaking, it’s gorgeous, it’s amazing.  if you don’t like films that really take their time in setting up the story and use a slow methodical pace throughout, then i wouldn’t tell you to rush out and see it.  but that’s something that i really love in movies.  and for my money it’s the best film of 2008.

man on wire – you might have already heard a lot of praise for this documentary about philippe petit’s crossing between the two world trade center towers on nothing but a small wire, but i just have to give it some love.  i found it hard to imagine how they would fill the 90 minutes with material that wasn’t just about the event at the world trade center.  but the film builds so much suspense to that moment, using gorgeous black & white recreations, lots of philippe’s homemade film (which looks like it was professionally shot), and the standard interviews.  but because philippe is so enigmatic the standard sit-down interview becomes exciting.  seeing him walk across the massive space between the two towers is one of the most thrilling experiences i had all year.  it literally took my breath away to see some of the shots.  philippe is one of the most interesting characters of the year, and watching him cross the wire is one of the most suspenseful moments i have ever witnessed.  and the crazy bastard went back and forth eight times!

shotgun stories – the next two films have already been featured on 4films, but they’re just so good we have to do them again.  shotgun stories was jeff nichols directorial debut, and features a slew of great performances from the cast, but most notably that of michael shannon.  the man got an oscar nom for his turn in revolutionary road, and is now getting some pub.  but do yourself a favor and quickly go see this film (if you haven’t already) so when people say “wow. did you see michael shannon in revolutionary road?” you can be like “yeah.  i also saw him in a starring role in a much better film.  have you seen that?  face!”.

4films earlier write-up on shotgun stories


chop shop – if i had to pick a director whom i most looking forward to seeing his next project from this group it might be ramin bahrani the director of chop shop.  while watching the film i could just see his potential coming through every shot and every moment.  i knew i was watching the budding of a great filmmaker (coincidentally his next film goodbye solo looks horribly generic).  chop shop is challenging, deliberately paced, subtly directed and acted, and a beautiful meditation on life, our dreams and aspirations, and the crap that gets in the way.  and alejandro polanco gives one of the most honest and heartfelt performances of the year (probably only second to the man a few inches down on the screen).

4films earlier write-up on chop shop

the wrestler – ah mickey.  you’ve heard all the praise for his performance already, but if you needed to hear it some more — mickey rourke is amazing.  absolutely perfect.  so perfect that his performance has to go down as one of the greatest on-screen performances ever.  and i have this feeling that the more you watch it the better it gets (i have only seen it once so it’s just a hunch).  arronfosky trades in his hyper active visual style for more or less a documentary style.  the screenplay is more or less good-to-better than good, but mickey is really where the movie is at.  he makes it, he brings it, he delivers.

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i’ve just now realized how much work is going to have to be put in school (mostly the short film that i’m directing this semester – if you want to finance some of it hit me up with an email :) ).  so i’m not sure if i’ll be around the blog too much for a while.  keep checking in reguarly (if you’re still here at all) and i’ll do my best to put something up (maybe updates on the film i’m working on? no?).