Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cleaning up on some 2010 movies: Somewhere and Another Year

Ok, technically, I am on a hiatus from reviewing new films but screw it, that shouldn't mean I'm on a hiatus altogether... even though that's what I had just said before. My site, my rules!

I came out of my hiatus because I wanted to wrap up on some of the 2010 movies that I didn't get to see until just recently. The two I'm going to talk about today are Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere" and Mike Leigh's "Another Year."


Somewhere stars Stephen Dorff as a famous action star who is beginning to feel the emptiness of his rock star-type life. What propels him to this epiphany is his daughter, Cleo, who goes to stay with him for a prolonged period of time because her mother "needs a break" from here (Dorff's character Johnny Marco is separated from Cleo's mother). What follows is a really innocent, simple, playful bonding between father and daughter in a mood that is not too dissimilar from Lost in Translation although this time, Sofia Coppola has stripped down the story even further. There are scenes where Johnny Marco is just smoking, driving his car in circles, watching pole dancers, having his face molded and there's barely any dialogue. The film kind of takes you out of the comfort zone of getting to know characters via dialogue and instead you're forced to know them just by their banal daily routines. In this case, what Coppola wants you to take away from all this is just how empty Johnny Marco's life is as he slowly and gradually comes to realize it himself. It's a ballsy approach. In a way, Sofia succeeds in what she's trying to do, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily fun or interesting to watch. Watching a boring person do boring things is, quite frankly, boring. And even though I wouldn't exactly call Somewhere a boring movie, it certainly tries your patience. On the other hand, you have to applaud Sofia Coppola because she is absolutely 100% in control of her craft in this film. It looks beautiful and it's a good mood piece. I suppose the right time to watch this film is when you're just relaxing, it's late at night, you got nothing to do... you don't really feel like watching something with a lot of action so you put on this little movie. Ultimately, however, the film just doesn't really say anything particularly interesting or different about its main subject. The film just kind of exists in the most minimalist way possible. Whereas Lost in Translation has characters that are very relatable and actually has something to say about the way we communicate in a world that is foreign to us, Somewhere merely just says "being a movie star is kinda lonely sometimes." Elle Fanning, by the way, gives a really good performance here, Stephen Dorff does exactly what he's told to do. You get the sense that Dorff would probably prefer to be in these types of artful films (need we forget that he once played a cross-dresser in I Shot Andy Warhol), I hope he gets more chances like this one. As it stands though, it's not a particularly memorable performance, just a fairly adequate one. Rating: 6.5/10

Another Year

There's something about Mike Leigh's films. Even when I think I'm probably not going to get hooked, he hooks me in anyway. Naked, Secrets & Lies, Happy-Go-Lucky... they are films that just sort of go on in their own, unassuming direction and you just sort of watch along with it. But, at some point, you always wind up getting sucked into the world that these characters live in. The experience of watching Another Year is nowhere near different. The film follows an elder married couple Tom and Gerri (played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) who, over the course of four seasons, hold parties, invite guests over, etc... and while their lives remain affable and positive, the same cannot be said about some of their friends and family. Another Year is sort of remarkable in how it revolves around this happy, benign couple and yet it is probably the most heartbreaking film Mike Leigh has made up to this point (which is saying a lot). Part of what makes this film so heart-breaking is the powerhouse performance by Lesley Manville who plays Mary, Gerri's friend. She commands the screen everytime she pops up and as annoying, bombastic, and drunkenly she is, by the end of the film you cannot help but feel such sadness for her character who is doomed to live a drunken, lonely life. As Mike Leigh's career continues to grow, so does the legend of how he makes his films. If you don't know by now, Mike Leigh does not start off with a screenplay. Instead, he just has a broad outline and through long, intensive rehearsals with his actors, he begins to find the story and starts to run with it. It often depends on how the actor/actress plays the character before he finds out exactly where they're going to go with them. What is so amazing about this approach, in the case of Another Year, is that you literally are spending the first hour of the film getting to know Tom, Gerri, their son Joe, along with their friends. Even though it becomes clear almost instantly that Mary is a rather sad and lonely character, it doesn't truly affect you until about halfway through the film as you see her gradually descending into deeper depression. She is just someone who desperately wants to make a connection with someone and the only people she has left by the end are her benign, kind friends, Tom and Gerri. There is a deep, profound sadness that runs through Another Year, but the film is also a wonderful little slice of life, which is what you expect out of a Mike Leigh film. What often gets lost in discussing Leigh's work is just how skilled he is, technically, in crafting his films. Honestly, I feel like his films just keep getting better in the craftsmanship department. In this age, though, it's refreshing to see somewhere work with character and story so carefully and so perfectly. Another Year is one of the 2010's best films. Rating: 9.5/10

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Hiatus

Hello, one person who reads this blog.

Kenoncinema will be going on a hiatus for about a month. Truth is, I've been a very busy man, and haven't been able to go to the movies because of it. I'll be moving to New York City in the middle of July which will only make less time for this blog.

A lot has been going on in the world of cinema and unfortunately I haven't had time to talk about it. My favorite directors are back in the swing of things: Paul Thomas Anderson with "The Master" and Quentin Tarantino with "Django Unchained." Both films are eying a late 2012 release which already means 2012 should go down in history as a kickass year in cinema. This year? Not so much. But we do have some interesting films from Soderbergh, Reitman, Cronenberg, Scorsese, Spielberg, as well as a few others. When I come back, I will be covering these films more as more info should be coming from them in the next few weeks.

When I come back, I plan on letting you know what I thought about X-Men First Class, Horrible Bosses, Tree of Life, the final Harry Potter film, Captain America, Cowboys & Aliens, Crazy Stupid Love, and many other summer films. I think I'm just gonna do film review after film review when I come back before I'm finally caught up.

And when I come back, as I touched upon before, I'll be living in New York City which means I'll have more opportunities to see films on limited release and that would otherwise take months before they finally reach my nearest multiplex. So, expect a busier blog when I come back as I'll be closer to the action.

Until then, enjoy your summer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Midnight in Paris: A Delightful Little Comedy

Midnight in Paris, this year's new Woody Allen movie (who churns one out every year with no end in sight), is a very charming, albeit slight, comedy starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. They play an engaged couple, Gil and Inez, who go on a nice trip to Paris, France with Inez's parents. During the trip, Inez bumps into an old friend named Paul (Michael Sheen), the pretentious know-it-all who impresses Inez with his endless knowledge, much to Gil's annoyance.

But luckily for Gil, he is about to have quite an adventure for himself in Paris. Gil is a hack Hollywood screenwriter looking to make the next Great American Novel and he's about to find a whole lot of inspiration during his trip in Paris. I'd hate to give away what the big reveal is, but if you are a fan of 1920s literature, prepare yourself. This movie is for you.

Granted, Woody Allen's film is not for everyone but what I like about the film is how he does not care about pleasing everybody with this film. This film is basically one large inside joke with all fans of literature and those on the outside may not find much to admire about this film. Still, I think this is a very charming film all around and it's one of the better ones of the late Woody Allen period. I wouldn't quite put it up there with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which I adore, but this film has the type of charm that's quite similar to Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo. Purple Rose, however, is not as slight and, to me, is pure cinematic bliss. Midnight in Paris is not without its problems, but its biggest strength is actually Owen Wilson.

Owen Wilson does a great job with the "Woody" character. He's not the neurotic New York intellectual, he's much more of an optimistic; someone who is willing to go along for the ride. It's the perfect combination of Owen Wilson and Woody Allen, as if Owen Wilson was actually meant to deliver Woody Allen's lines all along. It's kinda weird, really, but it's true. Owen Wilson has not been better than this. His performance is complemented by a great supporting cast which includes Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Kurt Fuller, Carla Bruni, and the scene-stealing Alison Pill who couldn't be any more different in this film than her character in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Woody Allen has been really hit or miss as of late so the knee-jerk reaction to a good film of his is to praise the hell out of it. But this isn't perfect Allen, not even near-perfect. It's still a really good film and the perfect film to watch this summer when you want to take a break from all the dumb Summer blockbusters (some of which can be fun, I'm not a hater). Just don't think you can check your brain at the door before you see the film, it's a thinking man's (or woman's) comedy, a very fun one.

Rating: 7.5

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Super 8: Like a Really Fun Rollercoaster Ride

Super 8 is so classically made that you can almost count the seconds to the moment where the scare will happen. So many times in the movie, you're waiting, waiting, waiting, then BAM! The alien comes and does its damage. It's not unlike being on a rollercoaster: part of the fun is waiting for the drop to come. You know when it's going to come, but that doesn't make it any less thrilling and fun to experience.

With Super 8, JJ Abrams stops being merely a skilled director of movie franchises. He really sort of comes into his own here albeit while relying on the godfather of summer blockbusters, Steven Spielberg. The Spielberg influence is so strong in this film, but Super 8 is definitely its own film. When it's not trying to scare you, it's making you laugh. In fact, if you take out the alien, you have a pretty funny film about adolescence. Personally, I found just about all of the kids to be likable in their own way although I've already heard people complain one kid here and another one there, but really, the kids really made the movie for me. They at least display much more range than Kyle Chandler who plays the father to the main character of the movie, Joe Lamb (played by Joel Courtney).

The film centers around a group of kids, lead by Charles, the aspiring filmmaker who wants to make a good zombie movie and is obsessed with improving the production value. What was refreshing about all this was that the kids are all pretty smart and they're enjoyable to watch, not unlike the kids in ET. Joe Lamb is best friends with Charles who is skilled with applying zombie makeup to the young actors. Charles gets Alice Dainard (played by Elle Fanning) to be the lead actress of the film who immediately becomes the object of affection for Joe. Alice and Joe then begin to develop a bond between each other and they become the emotional center of the film.

The film also features the classic Spielbergian father/son conflict between Joe and his father Jackson. Jackson, a police officer, is now the only parental figure of Joe's life and struggles to take care of his son while attempting to be an effective police officer as well. The both of them are also grief-stricken over the recent, unfortunate passing of Joe's mother/Jackson's wife. Their relationship is clearly JJ Abrams attempting to channel Spielberg in the best way he can and even though you can see the evolution of their relationship coming from a mile away, for the nature of this film, it works.

And that is the case with the majority of the film. Unless you did not grow up watching classic Spielberg (Jaws, Close Encounters, ET), then you pretty much know what to expect from Super 8. But let's face it, do people make movies like this anymore? Do people even try to make an original movie featuring classic sci-fi elements in a summer blockbuster/family film? There have been quite a few great blockbuster films over the last decade, but the '80s were the best time for family/summer blockbuster films and Super 8 is one of the few films I can think of that actually succeeds while copying that formula.

I sort of struggled coming up with the right rating for this film, but for now the rating I give for this film feels about right. Overall, I would give this film an 8 out of 10, but considering just how absent these types of films have been from the last 10-15 summers, I must go a little higher than that. You must see this film. You will have fun and so will everyone you know.