Monday, February 28, 2011

Not My Oscar Thoughts

Adrienne has some Last Minute Oscar Thoughts.

I have some thoughts on Piranha 3-D and Birth of a Nation (which I saw last night). And The New World, eventually. But no time for that. For now, I'll post vicariously through my thoughtful friend.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I put this in my NWI queue because of Brandon's review. Fortunately enough time passed that I forgot what it was about, so I was pleasantly surprised when a fairly typical story about a man who falls in love with a prostitute turned into something completely different. It's difficult to talk about the plot without giving away spoilers that really make the film what it is.
Suffice to say that it starts out as one movie, and then about 45 minutes in, something unexpected happens that changes completely the course of the film. I will agree with Brandon that the scene in which something unexpected happens is done in a completely unremarkable and utterly heartbreaking way. It gives me chills to think of her hand sliding on top of his for just a moment, then sliding back down again, and all the while he is unaware until after the moment passes.
Our protagonist goes back to his grandfather's farm after the botched bank robbery, not knowing that his grandfather's neighbor happens to be the police officer that is effectively responsible for botching it. Before too long, the robbery itself becomes incidental, and you find yourself less often wondering what happened to the money as you get involved in the characters' circumstances.
I don't actually think of this as a hopeful film. Alex gives up revenge of one sort, not necessarily because he forgives, but because it almost seems pointless to do so. Who would feed the cows? Besides this, he has enacted revenge of a completely different sort, as it seems evident that his child is resting in the womb of another man's wife. Which revenge is worse, really?
There is one relationship that does get some redemption--Alex and his grandfather soften towards each other to the point of developing a grudging respect for one another. There's a good chance that if the law doesn't catch up with him, Alex will be taking over his grandfather's farm, and living out his penance by chopping wood and taking care of livestock until they have to carry him out.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Oscar Nominated Shorts, Plus: Weekend Movies

Speaking of short films, I went to a screening of the 2010 Oscar-nominated animated short films on Sunday with Adrienne and the fam. Here's a brief rundown.


Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage--a Madagascar travelogue short on story but rich in animation. Several different styles, in fact, with unbelievably smooth transitions among them.

Let’s Pollute--a "public service" short that is a cross between government education films of the fifties and sixties and Looney-Tunes satire. Cute and funny, but it's not going to win.

The Gruffalo--a well-animated with great pacing and a couple star-studded voice actors (John Hurt, Helena Bonham Carter) children's book adaptation. About a mouse that outwits his predators.

The Lost Thing--also an adaptation of a children's book of the same name by Shaun Tan. My favorite of the bunch. A boy finds a strange creature--a lost thing--that looks like a octopus in a tea kettle, and helps it to find its place. The city in which the story takes place is very dystopian, which adds to the emotion of the piece.

Day & Night--you all saw this when you watched Toy Story 3. The cleverest of the bunch, but not as much substance as some of the others.

Honorable Mentions:

URS--a man tries to offer a new life for his mother, but she doesn't want it.

The Cow That Wanted to Be a Hamburger--by Bill Plympton, it is pretty much what the title says it is. The music is used creatively to double as dialogue in some places.

To more fully answer your question, Ben, I don't watch a lot of short films. Most of what I've been exposed to has been animation, and that largely because Adrienne is a fan and insists on watching animated shorts from time to time when we get together to watch movies. She has excellent taste, too, I must say.

I used to frequent Atom films when it was the only game in town, but I haven't been back there in awhile. I loved especially the Star Wars short film contest they had every year. I don't know if they still do that (they do; I looked), but there was some good stuff in that batch ( I still have a few VHS tapes of shorts films from Atomfilms I bought in 2000 or so.

Now for movies I watched over the weekend...

El Mariachi (1992, Rodriguez): It's interesting how when you find out this film like this (i.e. independent and entertaining) was made for $7k, suddenly it becomes a much better film. It's not that it's bad, but it looks every bit the low budget film that it is. That said, it excels on a couple of fronts. It knows what it is--an action/chase movie and clocks in at 80 minutes or so. No action film needs to be much longer than this, unless it's got some pretty  frickin' amazing special effects. Rodriguez also keeps dialogue down to a minimum, something that Hollywood lately seems to have a hard time doing. Everybody has to say his piece these days, from long-winded introductions to book-length bad guy soliloquies. El Mariachi gets right to the point and doesn't waste any space doing it.
There's a neat special feature that involves Rodriguez describing how he made his film on the cheap, but it's only ten minutes long. I could listen to the man talk about his process for at least three times as long as that. This film is an inspiration to any aspiring filmmaker and should be required viewing (see also: Ellie Parker starring Naomi Watts).

Kick Ass (2010, Vaughn): I thought this was comparable to the comic, which I read first. The rocket pack was a bit much, but the music and the great editing kept me in the flick nonetheless. I know exactly what this is, and where it's trying to get me, but I don't mind. At it's heart, it's about one kid trying to make a difference and willing to get himself into a load of shit because of it, and I appreciate that.
I didn't think the little-girl swearing was all that bad, relatively speaking. She didn't have nearly as foul a mouth as the kid in Role Models (that's two movies that Mintz-Plasse has starred in with potty-mouthed little kids now. Is he trying to typecast himself?) and it was very much a comic-book movie, rooted securely in a fantasy world. No self-respecting 11-year-old is going to be influenced by Hit Girl's behavior in the least.
Interesting factoid: two of the tracks from the score appeared elsewhere in slightly different forms. The music for the scene where Big Daddy was busting up the lumber mill appeared in 28 Days Later and the scene where Hit Girl was rescuing Kick Ass and her father was heard first in Sunshine (another Danny Boyle film). It was great movie music that I didn't mind hearing again (and ended up downloading to my iPod).

Book of Eli (2010, Hughes bros.): Up until the end, this was an entertaining par-for-the-course post-apolcalyptic film to me. But I was absolutely fascinated with the unabashed religious message from a couple of guys who are not known for being particularly Christian in their approach (From Hell, anyone?). Does that make it a better movie? I'm not sure, but it certainly makes it more memorable. It got me thinking about all kinds of things: would Christians like this movie despite its extreme violence? Is the Christian message a genuine one, or a plot device set up to appeal to Bible belt America (my cynical side is leaning towards this option)? How plausible is it that society would be prone to burning all the Bibles, and how likely is it that the only one that survived would be that obvious (a huge cross on the front)? How realistic is it that a seeing man could learn braille (I've heard it's extremely difficult for seeing folks to master), and that a man could manage to memorize the whole thing, even in thirty years?
Having learned a bit about the process of conserving scripture through scribes in the Middle Ages, I couldn't help but smirk at the thought of all the ammunition the critics in the movie's future would have with that version, considering all their arguments about it now: "You're telling me that ONE DUDE copied it down because ANOTHER DUDE said he memorized it? And this is your supposed Word of God? Hey, give me a few weeks. I'll write you a Bible, too."
All that said, it was visually very appealing, what with the grey-brown filter over everything. The old couple in the house provided some welcome comic relief and the fight scenes were pretty awesome. It could have been a lot more gruesome than it was. I appreciated the restraint.

Helvetica (2007, Hustwit): I had no idea SO many corporations use the font. And I had no idea Arial was reviled by anybody! I love that font! It's amazing the insight into culture so many little aspects of culture contain. Our thoughts and feelings and ideas get transmitted almost unknowingly through so many of the things we do, that all one has to do is pay attention just a little, and a wealth of information about us comes tumbling out. Also, the soundtrack kicks butt and adds some spice to a movie that admittedly has some slow spots. It's all electronica, pretty much--an interesting choice for a movie about a font created in the fifties (but is still relevant today??)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Everything is Against Me

Last night I finished reading True Grit by Charles Portis. What an excellent book! I can't say that it changes my opinion of either film immensely, because both attempt valiantly to be faithful to the text. I will say that the Coen brothers' version is a much better adaptation, however. They are careful with more details and create a mood more similar to the one Portis creates. The Oscar nomination is well-deserved.

So what are we missing by just watching the film? A few things... Like the article John posted mentions, Mattie is telling the story as an older adult, so there are a number of asides where she comments on politics and religion, or simply states her very matter-of-fact opinions on various topics. We also get to see more of Mattie the accountant in a couple of scenes axed from both screenplays: one where she helps Rooster with some vouchers the first time she goes to his house, and another where she signs a bunch of stolen bank notes for Lucky Ned Pepper. The transcript for the trial in which Mattie first sees Rooster is longer, and when they are waiting for Ned's gang to arrive at the shack by the river, we learn more of Rooster's backstory. It was a lot of fun to have things like that fleshed out.

Conversely, the original adds the scene at the beginning, where Mattie interacts with her father, and the scene at the end where Mattie invites Rooster to her family plot. The Coen brothers, meanwhile, added the gross-out tongue scene between LaBoef and Rooster, as well as the lisp that LaBoef carries for the rest of the film. As always, a director must put his unique stamp on a project, and the Coen brothers, for all their loyalty to the novel, couldn't resist the temptation to make the film uniquely theirs.

It is interesting to see how Mattie's initial motivation for wanting to kill Chaney is revenge, but as the story wears on and the experience wears on Mattie, I think more and more she just wants to get the whole thing over and get back to her normal life. Except that she can't, once it's over, because the experience has permanently changed her, not just physically but emotionally and mentally. I think it does underscore John's point about revenge, nevertheless. It was revenge that drove her to join Rooster and LaBoef in the first place, and even if her motivations had shifted some, she started a machine in motion that she couldn't stop once it got going.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Movie Dump (Drum Roll, Part 3)

It's ridiculous that I keep thinking I'm going to catch you all up on the movies I saw in that long post drought of December (and then the others I've watched since then that I haven't written about). But I have this obsessive need for closure about it, so I'm going to try to list them all with short commentary where I deem necessary. My hope is also that someone will see a film in there that they've seen and are interested in discussing further. If not, it will just be a point of curiosity (either the films I've seen, or my persistence in trying to list them ALL on the blog).

Again, this is why Flixster is useful to me in helping me to keep track of what I've seen. I used to write them all in my planner, but I don't use a planner now since I've gotten my iPod.

The list starts some two months ago, but is not in any strict chronological order, since sometimes I forget to put stuff into Flixster until later. I'll put an exclamation point by the ones I've seen before and an asterisk by the ones I saw on NWI (I didn't check again to see if they're still available, however). 

She* (Nesher, 1982) Post-apocalyptic weirdness. I was half asleep and don't remember much.

Cashback* (Ellis, 2006) Decent indie short-film-turned-to-feature about making something of your life.

Dance Flick* (Wayans, 2009) These movies are terrible, yet I can't seem to stop watching them.

The Breaks* (Meza, 1999) An Irish boy in the 'hood. Sucked.

Hound of the Baskervilles* (Morrissey, 1978) Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Spike Milligan. Very Python-esque. Very funny.

How Much Do You Love Me? [Combien tu m'aimes?]* (Blier, 2005) Nice acting by Belucci. A drama that becomes a comedy. Strange but compelling.

HP:Deathly Hallows, Part One (Yates, 2010) What you'd expect from the franchise, but with the addition of wonderful waiting-in-the-highlands scenes.

Better Than Chocolate* (Wheeler, 1999) Well-done indie film. Taught me that transgendered folks are even more marginalized and discriminated against than homosexuals.

Freezer Burn* (Hood, 2007) Another entertaining indie film. Good acting by the leads, but not so much anyone else. Great premise--a man goes into deep freeze to wait for a high school girl he has a crush on to catch up to him in age.

Thankskilling* (Downey, 2009) It's about a demon-possessed, murderous turkey. Does it matter whether or not it's any good? (it's not)

Hot Tub Time Machine (Pink, 2010) Awesome premise, disappointing follow-through. Oh so disappointing.

Antichrist* (von Trier, 2009) Incredibly beautiful cinematography. Incredibly effective (and spare) use of gore. Depressing as hell.

Stone of Destiny* (Smith, 2008) Fun, feel good all-ages film about some college kids trying to steal Scotland's Stone of Destiny.

Funny Farm (!)* (Hill, 1988) I've seen this 3 or 4 times and love it every time. Classic Chevy Chase, but nicely understated.

Mrs. Doubtfire (!) (Columbus, 1993) Robin Williams before he started saying Yes to every crappy comedy that came across his desk.

Everybody's All American (!)* (Hackford, 1988) It's a little long and a little overly sentimental, but it's genuinely heartfelt.

Gallipoli* (Weir, 1981) Excellent film, but I can't get over Weir's cavalier disregard for historical accuracy.

The Dark Crystal (!) (Henson, Oz, 1982) Visually stunning. Unbelievable puppetry. Holds up amazingly well after all these years. Just don't watch it if you're sleepy.

Best Worst Movie (Stephenson, 2009) Documentary about the making of Troll 2. Funny and entertaining. I kind of wished I'd watched Troll 2 first, though.

Troll 2 (Fragasso, 1990) Supposedly the "best worst" movie ever made. I think I need to watch it again without having the  documentary in my head. There were advantages to watching the documentary first, but the film lost some of its impact because of it. Made in 1990, but plays like it was made in the early eighties.

The Girlfriend Experience* (Soderbergh, 2009) Soderbergh writes a film about a call girl, starring a porn actress, with relatively little nudity and a surprisingly emotional ending.

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (!)* (Burton, 1985) My son didn't like this. I was so disappointed. I guess he had to be there.

Love Me If You Dare [Jeux d'enfants]* (Samuell, 2003) Samuell boldly follows an idea to its grave (literally). A couple of friends/lovers who ride the edge of psychopathy as they try to one-up each other in a series of dares that lasts for decades. Bitter-tasting and original.

Frozen* (Green, 2010) College students trapped on a chair lift at a lodge in New England that closes on the weekend at the height of the ski season. Whaaaat? Still, I absolutely loved this movie. And, there are wolves.

The Canyon* (Harrah, 2009) A couple gets lost and injured in the Grand Canyon. It's really good until the director screws over the audience at the very end.

True Grit (Hathaway, 1969) See earlier posts.

True Grit (Coens, 2010) See earlier posts.

Innerspace (!)* Ridiculous comedy, but I like the concept as much as I did when I was a kid.

True Stories* (Byrne, 1986) Highly recommended quirky musical.

Pom Poko (Takahata, 1994) Studio Ghibli anime about raccoons who use their scrotums as parachutes. Kinda preachy, but cute and funny.

The Secret of Kells* (Moore, Twomey, 2009) Otherworldly animation more than makes up for a simple plot.

Cube 2* (Sekula, 2002) Don't waste your time.

Cube Zero* (Barbarash, 2004) Better than the second, not as good as the first.

Shiver [Eskalofrio]* (Ortiz, 2008) Surprisingly good thing-in-the-woods film. The cowardly sun-sensitive protagonist is a fun twist.

The King's Speech (Hooper, 2010) See earlier post.

The Babysitters* (Ross, 2007) Uneven but promising indie film about high-schoolers who start a prostitution ring. Thoughtful and not as smarmy as it could have been or was accused of being.

Cold Storage* (Elwood, 2006) The girl's dead within the first twenty minutes, so, really, where's the suspense?

Dead of Winter/Lost Signal* (McNamara, 2007) If your friends spike your drink with LSD without your knowledge, and then let you leave the house, they're not your friends.

Nature's Grave/Long Weekend* (Blanks, 2008) I just found out this was a remake of a film from the seventies. It got a lot of bad reviews, but I loved it. I loved the arguing couple, I loved the wandering dead manatee, I loved that they left the tent flap open ALL THE TIME and never seemed to have any problem with bugs or snakes in the tent. I bet I won't like it as much if I see the original. I'm a sucker for a fun concept and will be remarkably forgiving if its execution is even remotely entertaining.

Wilderness Survival for Girls* (Despres, Roberts, 2004) It's a shame these three actresses haven't made it big. Their performances really make this film. The plot is a little twisty and turny, but not overly so. It's all the "You don't like me" and "She's a bitch" and "You should have heard what she said to me about you" that really won me over. I think that this is how high school girls really talk to each other, and I loved every minute of it.

Revolver (Ritchie, 2005) I had no idea what this movie was about. Jason Statham is conning himself but he doesn't know it? What the hell? Madonna did not do a single good thing for this poor director.

1776 (Hunt, 1972) Very long musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It's better than it sounds, but plan for an intermission.

The Last Detail (Ashby, 1973) Impressively competent comedy/drama about a couple of sailors taking another one to the brig, and giving him a good time along the way. Nicholson is his usual angry, brash self, but shows glimpses of compassion and empathy. Randy Quaid's performance is excellent (nominated for an Oscar, he was).

Funny People (Apatow, 2009) Adam Sandler has some good moments in this film, but Rogen really shines. And Jonah Hill and Schwartzman are funny as hell. The uncut version is a little too long, though, and the film loses its punch a bit. As if a two-hour comedy isn't pushing it enough, throw another half hour in there and see where your audience is at the end.

The New World (Malick, 2005) Powerful visually and aurally. Kilcher is amazing. I plan to write more about this in another post.

Whew! It doesn't seem like so many when you're watching them one at a time...

Monday, February 7, 2011

What Am I Gonna Doooooo?

I just discovered that FYE in Victor has lost its lease and "everything must go." Just a few days ago, the Blockbuster down the road from my house also lost its lease and "everything must go." This is something of a hell scenario for me. If Record Archive has even a 3-for-$10 sale this week, I think my head will explode.