Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Overall, People Have the Wrong Idea About Movies

I don't know when it began, perhaps it's always been this way since I've been conscious enough to acknowledge it, but somewhere along the way we have lost our imagination. Our collective society has become more and more a closed-off society, especially among people my age. We want instant gratification; everything should be within our grasp. I go inside a public bus and find almost 70% of the people inside to be wearing Ipod headphones. Good luck trying to have a conversation with someone downtown or on campus or on the streets... they're all busy on their cellphones, their mp3 players... something is inside their ears. People can't wait to get home to listen to music or talk to their friends or check facebook. Everything must be done now and as soon as possible.

When you get into that kind of mentality, it affects your mentality in other avenues. One such avenue is the movies. I get beside myself sometimes when people dismiss seeing a movie because the subject matter doesn't interest them. It doesn't matter who wrote it, who directed it, or who starred in it. Has it always been that way? Am I like that? Well, occasionally, I am.

But, the reason why I avoid seeing certain films is because I feel the plot is overly familiar, overdone, overused. Sadly, that's the case with the majority of Hollywood films. Other than that though, I'm open to seeing just about every other film, especially if it's been made by people that I like. Even if it's not made by people I like or care about, I will still see it if I hear good things about it. Honestly, what's so wrong about that? People worry about a movie wasting their time, but how often do we waste our time doing other kinds of mindless shit? At least when you see a movie, no matter how dumb it is, by simply processing and formulating an opinion on it, you'd have at least done something with yourself.

Obviously, if you're simply too busy to see a film then that's one thing, but if you have time to see a movie and you consistently choose only a certain type of movie then what are you really doing with your time? You shouldn't choose something just because it's safe and you know you'll like it. Oftentimes, the films in which you have absolutely zero expectations for are the films that affect you the most. When you go into a film knowing little about the subject matter, you're going to leave the film knowing a hell of a lot more than what you did two hours ago.

When I went into the film "JFK," I only knew the base facts about the JFK assassination. Three hours and twenty minutes later and I was completely entrenched within all these conflicting and contrasting details about the assassination. It fascinated and thrilled me and it was a movie about something I'd otherwise may not have much interest in.

So let's fast forward to the present day. "The Social Network" is coming out this Friday. It's written by Aaron Sorkin who is a very esteemed and gifted writer. He's responsible for shows such as The West Wing and Sports Night as well as films such as A Few Good Men and Charlie Wilson's War. "The Social Network" is already being hailed as his greatest work yet which is saying a lot. The film is directed by David Fincher who is the master behind Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The film has 47 fresh reviews on rottentomatoes and zero rotten ones and it has a near perfect score on metacritic. What more could you possibly want from a movie?

So you don't want to see it because it's about the invention of facebook? Why is that such a horrible thing? If Aaron Sorkin is writing about the people who invented post-it notes, I'd see it all the same. But the story behind the creation of facebook and the subsequent lawsuits happen to be very, very fascinating stuff. The best thing about Aaron Sorkin is that he knows how to make people sound interesting. I never really appreciated The West Wing when it actually aired, but I used to catch reruns of it on the Bravo network in college and I loved it. Sorkin knows how to write fascinating, compelling characters and he knows how to make it relate to a bigger overall picture. By the looks of it, that is what he has done with this film, The Social Network.

It's not like Mark Zuckerberg (the inventor of facebook) has been behind the making of the film. In fact, he doesn't even want it to get made. Sure, some or most of the details in this film can be over-dramatizations or fabrications, but nearly all films about real-life subjects are over-dramatizations. When you have the best writer behind the subject, it doesn't matter how fabricated it is as long as the writer isn't just doing it for sensationalistic purposes. I mean, honestly, have you ever read Shakespeare's Julius Cesar?

When I look at movies, I move beyond its subject matter almost right away. I don't care that Darren Aronofsky is making a film about ballet, I care that it's Darren Aronofsky making the film. I don't care much about a man that's invested within the oil business, but I do when it's been written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and played by Daniel Day-Lewis.

Sometimes you have to trust the filmmakers regardless of what you think of the subject matter because, in film and in literature, it's never really about the plot. When you were forced to write papers on books in high school, how much time did you spend on plot? Nearly zero, right? Because you're not supposed to talk about the plot when you talk about a movie or a work of literature, it should encompass maybe a small paragraph in your paper. The rest of your paper should be about the characters, the themes, the motifs... those are the things that make art so interesting and insightful.

You don't want to see a movie because you don't like anybody that's behind the film? Fair enough. But don't avoid a movie just because it's about something you'd otherwise never be interested in. You never know if you're interested in something unless you... learn about it. Yes, that's right. Learning... remember what it was like to learn about things?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

RIP Sally Menke

A very important and perhaps underappreciated part of Quentin Tarantino's filmmaking crew, Sally Menke, has passed away this morning.

Read more here.

The Town review (sorry, I'm late)

Cast: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall
Dir: Ben Affleck
Running time: 123 minutes

Gone Baby Gone
showed the world that Ben Affleck had a cinematic voice, The Town is showing the world that his cinematic voice is here to stay. With The Town, it is clear now that Ben Affleck is one of the hottest up-and-coming directors out there today. An established actor with a rather spotty track record, so far Ben Affleck is two-for-two in his directorial career and The Town is even stronger than his first film.

What more can you expect from Ben Affleck other than another solidly made Boston crime/drama? The Town is more of an actors' showcase than anything else. Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively... many memorable performances throughout this film, but none more memorable than Jeremy Renner's. We'll get to that later...

The plot of The Town is pretty straight-forward. Ben Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a native of Charlestown in Boston. Charlestown is the bank robbery capital of the US and Doug plays a large role in that. He and his band of criminals come up with sound, elaborate schemes on how to rob banks all over the city. They are disciplined, dangerous, and one of them is apparently a really good driver. What follows is three brilliantly shot action sequences: the bank robbery, the car chase, Fenway Park heist and in between is the touching romance that develops between Doug and his former hostage victim, Claire (although she has no idea that he was on the one who held her hostage).

The romance between Claire and Doug is approached surprisingly well and it really gives the movie a lot of depth and heart, especially for a genre film such as this one. There have been a couple of lame films that attempt to approach this genre and are utter failures (Takers, anyone?) and that just goes to show just how far ahead Ben Affleck is compared to other filmmakers. That he has both the acting and directing chops to pull this film off is a testament to the kind of talent he has. The only thing you can ask is... who knew?

Yes, this is one of those types of films you can watch over and over again whether it'd be via rental or on tv. You have the strong performances, you have the great action sequences, and you have the touching romantic scenes. You even have the nearly scene-stealing performance of Blake Lively whose character's backstory is almost as interesting as the rest of the film. But the real shining light in this film is Jeremy Renner.

Jeremy Renner really isn't much. He's not this huge bulky guy, yet he's intimidating as hell. His character in this film is completely fearless and unpredictable that can snap at any minute. Jeremy Renner pulls this character off to perfection and it seems abundantly clear to me that Jeremy Renner is one of the best working actors today.

That being said, this film isn't without its problems. It's a solid genre film, it does everything that it's supposed to be, but it doesn't really go outside its little box. There isn't much to take away from this film which keeps it from being a truly involving film. Also, Jon Hamm's character is too much of a square. Instead of being the ultimate badass like he is in Mad Men, Jon Hamm in The Town is as cool as a high school principal. While he plays his part very well, there really isn't much to him and by the end, you kind of look at him in a negative light. But why? Why is Ben Affleck forcing us to see the cops in this way and yet he and his thugs are looked at in an almost idolized way. The great thing about how Scorsese makes his gangster films is that he never romanticizes his anti-heroes whereas Ben Affleck does. Doug MacRay is very charming and smooth and Claire can't help but be drawn to him in some way. But, ultimately, the man is a very dangerous and violent criminal and the way Affleck romanticizes this character is very head-scratching.

Of course, that doesn't make the film any less than what it is, it's just what keeps The Town from really being a very effective film. Overall though, it's a sound film, it's very well made film, and I definitely recommend it. But don't expect it to be anything more than what it appears to be.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, September 27, 2010

True Grit trailer

The Coens are back in business.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Three films, three reviews (short, medium, long)

The Last Exorcism - A very promising but ultimately ineffective horror film that's centered around a specific subgenre that's kinda been done to death over the past few years. There are couple of things that work in this film, however. The mockumentary aspect of the film definitely keeps it from being too familiar and the lead character is very charismatic and likable so it makes it easier for you to follow him and what he does. The concept is also pretty unique and I like how they go about the story. Ashley Bell, who played Nell, was great as the girl who has the exorcism performed on her. There was something very creepy and unsettling about her even when she appeared perfectly normal. There are some pretty tense moments in the film and the plot unfolds in a pretty clever way. Ultimately, however, they aren't able to pull the whole thing off successfully and the ending kind of ruins the rest of the film. Overall, it doesn't all work, but it's definitely not a mediocre film. Rating: 6/10

Kick-Ass (DVD) - Kick-Ass is one hell of a fun film to watch as it wastes no time getting to what the film is about and the first-person narration makes it easy to get involved with the film. Dave, played by Aaron Johnson, is the definition of the average teenager (or at least that's what the movie is trying to sell you), but unlike other teenagers who aspire to be something extraordinary, Dave actually attempts to be extraordinary. He can't understand why there aren't people out there who try to be superheroes and he decides he has to become one himself. What he doesn't know is that there are people out there attempting to be superheroes and little does he know that he's starting to get in their way. This is when you are introduced to one of the biggest scene stealers in recent memory: Hit Girl, aka Mindy Macready (played by Chloe Moretz). She, along with her father (Nicolas Cage), have been attempting to take down the local crime organization that's been running the city for quite some time now. Of course her father, Damon, is the brains behind the operation, but Hit Girl is definitely the muscle.

There are some excellently filmed and very violent scenes involing Hit Girl that some people may not be to keen on. The idea of a 12-year old girl committing such violent acts towards others (albeit bad guys) can be unsettling to some. And yeah, the whole thing does kinda throw you in for a loop as you realize what it is you are watching. That is where Kick-Ass sort of goes wrong. On one hand, the action scenes involing Hit Girl are brilliant, funny, and fun to watch. On the other hand, it's gimmicky and slightly disturbing. You can go either way on it depending on how you feel about the situation, personally, I was a bit mixed.

However, that never ruins the film for me like it did for Roger Ebert. Although Christopher Mintz-Plasse almost ruins the film for me. He plays the geeky son of the crime boss and his whole character just didn't work for me. You never really understand what his motivations are for wanting to be Kick-Ass's (sort of) villain. Does he want his father's approval? Does he actually like Kick-Ass? Does he want to steal attention from Kick-Ass? And I'm sorry but Mintz-Plasse just doesn't do the character justice. People complain about Michael Cera playing the same character in all his films but Michael Cera manages to make most of those characters work in their own unique and entertaining way. Christopher Mintz-Plasse's character is either not written well enough or he just does a poor job with the character. I can't really tell. Either way, I just wasn't sold on him. Also, I really am getting tired of Mark Strong being the bad guy in almost every film. Mark Strong is also a very one-note actor and all his bad guy roles are the same. He's just no fun and he isn't much fun in this movie either.

Overall though, everyone else did a pretty great job, even Nicolas Cage. And despite all those little problems with the film, like I said, it's still a really fun movie to watch. The climactic action sequences are just so wonderfully inspired and well done that you can forgive the film for its mishaps. A fun movie, but not necessarily a great one. Rating: 7.5/10

Winter's Bone
- Here's a movie that makes absolutely no attempt to try to win you over. From the start, you are introduced to a very dark, cold, and not-so-distant world where people rely on criminal activity in order to get by. This is a very intense drama that doesn't let up, not even at the end. Jennifer Lawrence as Ree is one of the best performances of the year and the rest of the cast does a great job of keeping up with her.

In fact, the performances are so strong that it helps make the rest of the story utterly convincing. Since the movie is pretty thin on plot and the heroine's quest is pretty simple, it relies on its dark and tense mood to get its point across. With the actors' help, it's all pulled off quite amazingly. You really feel like you would find these types of characters in the backwoods of the Ozark Mountains. You would never want to hang out with any of these folks in real life.

Even the real small performances are great. The Army recruiter, Sheriff Baskin, little Arthur... everyone does a fantastic job here and their performances force you to get sucked into the story. By the end, during the film's most intense sequences, you can't help but feel for Ree as she attempts to find out the truth about her missing father.

The film is really just about Ree and her family. Her father is a meth dealer and has his share of run-ins with the law. He's been missing for many weeks now and the police are looking for him so he will show up for his next court date. If he doesn't show, Ree and her family lose the house. So Ree sets out to find her father and has to deal with a full array of terrifying and bleak characters. You're scared for her, you feel bad for her, but you're also in awe of how fearless she is.

Winter's Bone is a serious drama and that, at times, can be a problem. It's dead serious for the whole 100 minutes and everything is so bleak and dark that it can be a bit much at times. The film is powerful, but at times it's almost too dark for its own good. So while the movie does everything well, it tends to tread a very thin line. It gets a bit difficult to stay with the film when it looks and feels so unwelcoming.

The movie begins and ends with leaving you feel cold, but I feel like that's part of why it's so strong. It's a slice of life, a very bleak life. These characters will go on living the way they do and someone like Ree doesn't care if you think little of her and her situation. Winter's Bone shows that even those who live in world that seems so hopeless can be strong and do the right thing even if there's nobody else to guide them and tell them what's right and what's wrong. Ree is one of the most fascinating characters in one of the most fascinating films of the year. Rating: 9/10

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Fighter trailer

The Fighter is coming out on December 10th and a trailer has been released. I had it on my list as one of my most anticipated movies coming out this fall/winter and the trailer confirms why I'm high on this movie. Wahlberg and Bale look awesome and it looks like this could be a crowd-pleasing type film. I'm interested in seeing how David O. Russell handles the fight scenes. This could be a great movie.

Oh by the way, it's my birthday!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

We'll have to wait for 2011 to see Tree of Life

Tree of Life, when it's finally released, will hopefully be the amazing, mind-boggling film that we've been waiting for all this time. Terrence Malick, a man who has only made four films since 1973, gets so much attention for his minimal output because of how masterfully crafted his films are. Without question, when a Malick film comes out, you are guaranteed a visual delight.

But... you're also guaranteed to be waiting forever for his movies to come out. Terrence Malick waits forever to finish his films and Tree of Life doesn't look to be any different. Now, the good news is that Fox Searchlight has bought the film and will be distributing it, but the bad news is that it's not coming out til next year. I've been waiting for this film since last year so this news blows. Sure, I'll see this film regardless of how long I have to wait, but damn, Malick sure loves to tease us. Or, perhaps, he's just a staunch perfectionist.

He's also shooting a romantic drama in Oklahoma right now with a pretty good cast (details on that some other time). Hopefully that movie won't take forever to be released too. Hopefully we can get two Malick films by 2013 (or 2014... I'm giving you four years to have these films released, Mr. Malick).

If you are not familiar with Terrence Malick films, I suggest you go ahead and rent Badlands and Days of Heaven right away. While you're at it, get The Thin Red Line which was in my top 10 of the 1990s list (The New World was like #30 on my 2000s list).

Actually, just see all of his films. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the amazing visual storytelling of one of cinema's greatest masters.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

127 Hours trailer

Hope you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend. I know I did.

Anyway, here's the new trailer for Danny Boyle's 127 Hours. It's coming out in two months and there's a lot of positive buzz for this film. I'm not sure if I dig the approach that the trailer takes, but I'm sure the movie will live up to its promise.