Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Great Stone Face.

I haven't posted in about two weeks and meant to catch up on things this weekend but I've been feeling under the weather lately. So to make up for lost time I was going to do a number of posts involving a couple movies each and without wasting much time lets get right to tonight's Buster Keaton double feature.

Buster Keaton, after Charles Chaplin, is possibly the most recognized name in silent film. Since both were well known as comedic filmmakers of their time the two draw a lot of comparisons. If pressed I'd lean more towards Chaplin personally just because the nature of his films always displayed their emotional elements somewhat stronger than Keaton's. However, Buster Keaton was still a visual marvel, a daring and superb stuntman, and of course quite funny. Recently I watched two of his films Our Hospitality (1923) and Sherlock Jr. (1924).

In Our Hospitality Keaton plays a young man unwittingly trapped in the center of an age old family feud while simultaneously falling for a young girl from the family attempting to send him six feet underground. The story is simple and charming, and is really just there to set up a number of visual gags and an unbelievable chase sequence towards the end that even involves a tumble off a waterfall. I found at times that some of the stunts towards the end of the film looked so dangerous that half the time I was more concerned with Keaton's well being than finding humor in the situation.

Our Hospitality may be one of my least favorite of the few Keaton films I've seen but it's still a great picture. Keaton plays his usual dope character as solidly as ever and it's hard not to love the fool. It really says a lot about Keaton himself, his outlook, and his brand of humor. The way the movie, for the most part, revolves around making him look like a fool, but how his hero is always able to persevere and overcome the obstacles. How foolish we all must look, bumbling through our lives, but there is a heart to it, and a smile, and an optimism to overcome and that is what makes me think of Buster Keaton and why I love him and his work.

Also, how low Our Hospitality ranks for me must say a lot for some of Keaton's other work, particulary The General (1926) and Sherlock Jr. While Our Hospitality is hilarious and charming, Sherlock Jr. is just outright brilliant. There are even a sequence or two where I'm still puzzled just how Keaton pulled things off especially considering the thing was made around 90 years ago.

Sherlock Jr. opens with Keaton working at a movie theater, running the projector and cleaning the place up. His character is shown to be smitten with a young lady who also has another suitor who frames him for the theft of a watch from the household. The story again is nothing to really dwell on, later is where the real magic of the film begins.

Keaton's character is also obsessed with learning to be a detective and falls asleep during the showing of film about a young detective and imagines himself projected into the movie. The film shows this quite literally with one of the movie's most memorable moments in which it shows Keaton standing up and walking right into the frame of the picture. The movie within the movie then begins to change locations with seamless editing as Keaton falls around from set to set.

This movie is Keaton at his very best and closes things off with an exciting motorcycle sequence with Keaton riding on the handlebars oblivious to the fact that no one is apparently steering the thing any longer. About every action sequence looks amazing even by today's standards. Plus, it is well known that this is the movie in which Keaton fractured his neck and didn't learn about the injury until a considerable time later. Also, the way the movie explores the film within a film fascinates me because of what it says about the way we as an audience can enjoy movies as a much needed form of escape. The way his character desires to be this other character is something we've all probably done at one point or another.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Since Valentine's Day is just several days around the corner I thought it would be a great time to display a little love for a film (in this case a pair of films) about the subject of love. I like a lot of romantic movies whether they're new or old, in English or a foreign language, as long as they appear genuine and attack that elusive and mysterious subject fearlessly and with a longing to understand its depth and enchantments on every individual gripped by its irrational throes.

There are a lot of romantic movies I would be happy to discuss like Roman Holiday (1953), City Lights (1931), In the Mood for Love (2001) and many others, but what I want to talk about tonight are Richard Linklater's two complimentary films, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). The reason I've chosen these two is because they're not entirely unknown, they have a small passionate following, but I still can't help but feel they're under-appreciated films.

Before Sunrise's set-up is simple. A young American is traveling on a train through Europe and the night before his flight back to The United States he by chance meets a young French woman and decides to throw caution to the wind and ask her if she would spend his remaining night wandering around Vienna before he has to head home. She thankfully says yes and thus one of the best romances in cinema begins.

In the movie the two only exchange first names but the things they discover in the few hours of each other's company is much more personal and meaningful. They exchange broad questions about family, life, and love. I don't think their philosophical inquiries are to be taken too seriously but they paint a picture of two young people with big questions about the adult lives of which they are about to embark rather than solid answers to the way the universe works. The two films use these along with their observational opinions and personal stories from when they were kids to not only connect the characters to one another but with the audience watching as well, they develop the characters as fully rounded human beings and makes it impossible to think of them as merely fictional characters on celluloid.

I was originally going to have an individual post for each film but after the first time I saw both movies long ago it's always been hard to think of one without the other, they compliment each other perfectly. In Sunrise the two are young, naive, and a little awkward. One of the best moments of the movie that displays this is where the two of them are listening to an album at a record store. Enclosed in a small room they don't a speak word to each other and continue playfully glancing at one another and then quickly looking away before the other glances up. The scene is pretty much how most young couples start out. Each glance is just like the little dating tight-walk tricks people play during budding relationships. Not to give too much attention, but to show interest while not coming on too strong and while looking away they still feel the other's eyes.

Sunset is different. These two have grown almost a decade and the perfect line to describe them is spoken by Jesse when he says "I'm older and my problems are deeper but I'm more equiped to handle them." They're not fledgling adults anymore and while they're stronger people overall the problems they have cut deeper and more emotionally into their lives which we see displayed in the last thirty minutes of the film while they bare their souls to each other. This is why I personally prefer Sunset out of the two, because while the first is whimsical and endearing the second is so emotionally rich and Hawke and Delpy display their hurt and longing without fault. The ending brings heartbreak and jubilation to their story with such force that I want to watch the two films immediately after it ends, and what better way to describe love than as a serious of instances that make one feel heartbreak and jubilation?

Another thing that strikes me about Sunset is the way the movie primarily takes place in real time, we don't lose moments of their time together cutting to a new scene like in Sunrise which touches upon the idea of memory and "the moment." When Before Sunrise ends, before the credits, we see a series of images reprising all the places they spent together with the hint of their presence lingering, capturing the power of memory and that night they spent together, how it never really dies as long as we're here to remember it. Sunset however opens with a series of shots, not of where they have been, but where they will soon pass by. The movie captures the moments they spend together much more thoroughly, like what Jesse quotes earlier in the movie "Life is in the doing rather than getting what you want." It's about how the future is an extension of the present. We should make the most out of the present and we should make the most out of the moments we spend with those we care about. Because like that one night they first have in Vienna, a moment can stretch on indefinitely prolonged in our memory, and the sun may rise and set countless times, but those moments will still last.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

King for a Night.

For a filmmaker with such a large body of work as Martin Scorsese a few underrated gems are sure to be overlooked and overshadowed by some of their more popular work. Beyond his crime movies like Mean Streets (1973), Goodfellas (1991) , and The Departed (2006) and such concrete classics like Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) a few great films are undeservedly pushed to the back, quite notably his comedies like the hilarious Kafkaesque After Hours (1985) and one of my absolute favorites from Scorsese, which I'll be discussing here, The King of Comedy (1983).

Anyone who thinks Robert De Niro lacks a range of roles needs to watch his work prior to Goodfellas. Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Hi, Mom! (1970), Brazil (1985), and The King of Comedy all show some great versatility from the seasoned actor. I would also say that his turn in The King of Comedy is one of his best.

De Niro is Rupert Pupkin, an aspiring comic with grand fantasies of jumping right up to the comedic big leagues through his desire for a spot on a Johnny Carson-like late night show hosted by Jerry Langford (Played by comic legend Jerry Lewis). Pupkin himself is naive, delusional, and ultimately pathetic in his attempts to corner the famous Langford. While at first seemingly determined it's shown that Pupkin is instead just oblivious to the reality of his surroundings and situations while he's stuck in his own fantasies of fame. There are several great scenes where the movie plays out some of Pupkin's fantasies which involve buddying up with his idol Jerry Langford and often consist of praise and admiration showered upon him from the comic great. De Niro plays Pupkin seamlessly. He constructs a performance with subtly and care. As the character slips further into his own delusions his mannerisms never seem forced or over the top which shape the character into a realistic portrayal of a person governed by the visions in their own head.

After the inevitable failure with his simple attempts to jump into the good graces of television entertainment Pupkin, with the help of a crazed fan of Langford's played by Sandra Bernhard, kidnaps Langford in an all or nothing attempt to force his way onto the late night airwaves. Scorsese uses the ending result as a big satirical kick in the ass to the entertainment industry and it's a shame that the director hasn't made many more warped, yet intelligent comedies like The King of Comedy (Thankfully, as I mentioned earlier, After Hours is a great one from Scorsese as well).

Though to categorize the movie simply as a comedy is somewhat unjust. It's funny for certain, and a great satire of the industry, but it's also a great exploration of a mind distorted by their own version of reality, the one in their head. Though not as dark as De Niro's turn in Taxi Driver, it's perhaps just as interesting. It is also the type of main character we rarely see in some of our best and most popular movies. Pupkin isn't a hero, commendable, or rarely even that likable up until he delivers his "Schmuck for a lifetime" line, which after all the crazed plans he has throughout the film rings surprisingly insightful. But in some way, in an almost sad way, Pupkin feels all too relatable. His fantasies feel like an extension of the illusions and day dreams most every individual must at some point in their life fantasize about, just most of us are able to keep our feet firmly grounded in reality which perhaps in it's own way is a blessing and a curse.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The United States of Zombieland.

I recently watched Zombieland (2009) again since seeing it during its theatrical run and thought I should do a little write-up for it since the DVD and Bluray release was just a few days ago.

Zombieland is one of two high profile movies from 2009 that star unlikely leading man Jesse Eisenberg. I've been a fan of his since The Squid and the Whale (2005) so even though I'm surprised to see him heading two reasonably big features I'm glad to see him get the chance. I'm also pretty certain that there is going to be some backlash from people who think Michael Cera has a monopoly on the socially awkward outcast kind of character but these sort of things happen.

In Zombieland Eisenberg is Columbus (Characters in the movie don't give their real names but places, be they destinations or hometowns) one of the few remaining survivors of a zombie infested America who lives by a list of (often times humorous) zombie survival rules like the double-tap and wearing your seat belt. The movie nonchalantly explains that the zombies came about from variations of Mad Cow disease and doesn't feel the need to go further into detail, nor do I think it should, it's a movie about enjoying the time with the characters rather than wasting it on exposition that lacks any kind of emotional or character personality understanding.

Speaking of characters, let me get to the rest of them. Columbus first meets Tallahassee, a rough, slightly unhinged man with a personal vendetta for the zombies that plague the land and yet he's also strangely enough the most childlike and lovable guy in the flick. The two work like a classic Odd Couple routine and compliment each other's eccentricities very well which leads to some fine comedic moments. Along the way they cross paths with Wichita and Little Rock, a pair of girl con artists who dupe them several times before the group of them naturally become travel companions.

Zombieland is one of the most pleasant surprises I've seen from 2009. It opens up with clever excerpts from Columbus' survival list with visual accompaniment and from the beginning it's not only very funny but also engaging. One of my favorite things about the humor is the movie's use of pop culture. Pop culture references and jokes can often times bog down a decent or even good comedy, immediately dating them and making them feel inauthentic. In Zombieland however, the use of pop culture is quite fitting. These people have just witnessed the death of modern day society which essentially means the death of popular culture so every little reference feels more a part of themselves that should be preserved rather than a joke about some recent movie star or popular band.

I did find a few opportunities for improvement like how the female characters feel underwritten in comparison to the males and that the girls also seem to go against character in the last act and turn from the most intelligent of the group to making perhaps the dumbest decisions but they're minor problems in respect to the entire movie. So in conclusion, I find Zombieland to be a thoroughly amusing comedy and one of the bigger unpredicted breakout hits from 2009.

Also, if anyone is wondering now that I've done four of these, eventually I will most likely watch something that I don't actually like, but just to get things straightened out I'm a selective viewer at the moment. Most of what I watch are things I anticipate enjoying and unless anyone has suggestions or I'm paid to go see other things this trend will likely continue.

What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?

It's only been about a week and I'm already running behind. I'm going to try to avoid skipping over a few things I've seen recently but I can't make any promises. This next movie is something that's considered one of the defining movies of the sixties and Dustin Hoffman's career so I would feel guilty if I avoided talking about it.

Finally, I recently watched The Graduate (1967) which is probably the main "classic" film that I've gotten the most shocked replies when it's came to light that I had yet to see it up until last week. Also, this is most likely the defining movie of Dustin Hoffman's career and that would be considering the likes of Midnight Cowboys (1969), Rain Man (1988), All the President's Men (1976), and Straw Dogs (1971).

**Caution: I may give away the ending**

Like the film's title would have us believe, Dustin Hoffman is Benjamin, a recent college graduate preparing to leave the limbo of pseudo responsibility of assisted college life and venture out into the world of adulthood. Though the movie is made of many layers, one could most likely write a lengthy essay about Ben's initial fear and crash course in sexuality from an older woman, I want to focus on one of the most evident areas of the film, the way our desires and free will clash with our inevitable responsibilities and control in adult life as well as the unlikelihood of getting what we want out of life and in some cases even knowing what we want out of life.

From the beginning of the film Ben is awkward, indecisive, passive, and submissive while those around him (his parents and their friends) discuss their plans for his future. He may show signs of being uncomfortable with their control in his life, but he waits until the very end to defy authority, and when he finally does we are left with the realization that perhaps he is uncertain of what he truly wants in the end. He accomplishes his goal, he steals Elaine away from her marriage but we're uncertain if that is truly what he desires in the end. This movie, like many stories told in cinema and literature, revolves around a woman, well in this case two.

Ben's relationship with Mrs. Robinson is his first step into adult life and it begins with him being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. He begins on being instructed about what he desires and how to get it. Later he meets Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine, and after defying Mrs. Robinson's wishes takes the girl out. He believes he has fallen in love with Elaine and ultimately decides he must fight for what he wants, her hand in marriage.

The final shot of the film is one of the most interesting, we see Ben's immediate joy turn to indecisiveness and we're left pondering what will become of the two after the credits roll, if Ben really has changed all that much since the beginning of the film, and how this relates to our own lives, decisions, desires, and aspirations. I am glad to discover that The Graduate's praise is well deserved as is it's status as a classic of the late sixties, not something to be missed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oscar Nominations.

It's the first year of the Oscars' ten Best Picture nominees and it's not nearly as interesting as I would have hoped. First up...

Best Picture:

The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up In The Air

I'm pretty disappointed that the Oscars decided to abandon their love for Eastwood this year considering the nominations for The Blind Side and District 9, or at least hoping A Single Man, Crazy Heart, or The Messenger would slip in there but life is full of disappointment. My prediction is that Avatar or Up in the Air are most likely to take it and out of the two I'd very much like it to be Up in the Air, though like I said earlier, life is full of disappointment. Also, The Hurt Locker is starting to build some late press so that could help come Oscar night as well. I am very happy to finally see a Pixar movie get a well deserved Best Picture nomination even though I thought Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox were better animated features. Up is still a wonderful movie and I was just happy to see so may strong animated movies from last year.

Best Director:

James Cameron (Avatar)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Lee Daniels (Precious)
Jason Reitman (Up In The Air)

It's pretty much between Cameron and Tarantino. Or rather it's pretty much Cameron as the favorite and the only one with a chance of taking that away is Tarantino. And if they decide to give Best Picture to Up in the Air then I doubt Tarantino has any chance. Though what I said about The Hurt Locker in Best Picture also applies to Bigelow.

Best Actor:

Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
George Clooney (Up In The Air)
Colin Firth (A Single Man)
Morgan Freeman (Invictus)
Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

Bridges is the favorite and the man to beat. Really can't think of anyone else nominated who is that much of a contender. Though who knows, The Oscars like throwing a surprise here and there and Clooney, Firth, or Freeman would all make plausible upsets.

Best Actress:

Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
Helen Mirren (The Last Station)
Carey Mulligan (An Education)
Gabourey Sidibe (Precious)
Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)

Pretty disappointing selection if you ask me. Well from a speculative stand point. Mirren and Streep are great and generally get nominated when they're in any movie, though that is usually because they're always great when they're in any movie but I can't see either of them taking it. Mulligan, who probably should be the favorite is most likely too early on the scene and hasn't gotten enough attention as of yet and I can't see it going to Sidibe mainly because Mo'Nique seems to be such a lock for supporting actress. It'll most likely be Sandra Bullock.

Best Supporting Actor:

Matt Damon (Invictus)
Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)
Christopher Plummer (The Last Station)
Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)
Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

Waltz, I really can't see anything beyond an act of god taking away his Oscar.

Best Supporting Actress:

Penelope Cruz (Nine)
Vera Farmiga (Up In The Air)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart)
Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air)
Mo'Nique (Precious)

Like I said earlier, Mo'Nique is pretty much a lock for supporting, though again the acting categories are the place that the Oscars like to switch it up and Farmiga and Gyllenhaal are well liked enough that it could be possible, though I doubt very likely.

Adapted Screenplay:

Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell (District 9)
Nick Hornby (An Education)
Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell, Jesse Armstrong, Ian Martin, Tony Roche (In The Loop)
Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious)
Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner (Up In The Air)

Precious or Up in the Air. Most likely be Up in the Air but it could probably go either way, the other three should be thankful to be nominated.

Original Screenplay:

Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)
Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman (The Messenger)
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (A Serious Man)
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Thomas McCarthy (Up)

I'm betting it'll be Tarantino. The Hurt Lock and A Serious Man are contenders, though I doubt A Serious Man is walking home with any awards this year (even though it's still my favorite movie from 09).

Animated Feature

Fantastic Mr Fox
The Princess And The Frog
The Secret Of Kells

It's got to be Up. I know I prefer Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox but the only one of these movies that has a chance against Up at the Oscars is The Princess and the Frog.

Best Foreign Language Film

El Secreto de Sus Ojos
The Milk Of Sorror
A Prophet
The White Ribbon

Okay, now we're getting into the area of the awards where I'm a little less certain. I'd go with the White Ribbon since Haneke is the only one I'm very familiar with and it did win at Cannes last year.

Art Direction:

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Sherlock Holmes
The Young Victoria

It'll probably be Avatar.


Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon

Hmm. This is a tough one. For most of the technical awards I want to say Avatar just because it has such a monopoly on the hype surrounding technical acclaim this year but The Hurt Lock and Inglourious Basterds could still be possibilities. I can't see Potter and White Ribbon having a chance though.

Costume Design:

Bright Star
Coco Before Chanel
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
The Young Victoria

Again, I'm not that certain. I love Bright Star and I would hope it wins but I'm saying it'll most likely go to Nine or maybe even Coco Before Chanel.

Documentary Feature:

Burma VJ
The Cove
Food, Inc
The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg And The Pentagon Papers
Which Way Home

Really have no idea. The only one I'm familiar with is Food, Inc. so I'll just close my eyes and point at my computer screen...Burma VJ.

Documentary Short:

China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears Of Sichuan Province
The Last Campaign Of Governor Booth Gardner
The Last Truck: Closing Of A GM Plant
Music By Prudence
Rabbit a la Berlin

I know even less about these so I'll go with the one about China.


District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

It'll probably be Avatar again though what I said earlier still applies to Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker here as well.


Il Divo
Star Trek
The Young Victoria

Star Trek? Overall a pretty disappointing category.

Original Score:

James Horner (Avatar)
Alexandre Desplat (Fantastic Mr Fox)
Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders (The Hurt Locker)
Hans Zimmer (Sherlock Holmes)
Michael Giacchino (Up)

Hopefully Giacchino. Well honestly, I would prefer Desplat from the nominees but that isn't happening and the absence of Karen O's music for Where the Wild Things Are is also disappointing.

Original Song:

'Almost There' (The Princess And The Frog)
'Down In New Orleans' (The Princess And The Frog)
'Loin de Paname' (Paris 36)
'Take It All' (Nine)
'The Weary Kind' (Crazy Heart)

The Weary Kind most likely, unless Take it All or Down in New Orleans steal it.

Sound Editing:

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek

Again, Avatar is most likely the favorite and blah blah blah Inglorious Basterds and The Hurt Locker...

Sound Mixing

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

I am most likely going to start sounding like a broken record.

Visual Effects:

District 9
Star Trek

Avatar, obviously.

Animated Short:

French Roast
Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
The Lady And The Reaper
A Matter Of Loaf And Death

Not sure. A Matter of Loaf and Death? Go Aardman Studios!

Live Action Short:

The Door
Instead Of Abracadabra
Miracle Fish
The New Tenants

No idea. For the hell of it I'll say Miracle Fish.