Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Lotsa Reviews - Cronicas, Squid & Whale, Dick & Jane, Lost (Part2), Wallace & Gromit, Pride & Prejudice, Jarhead, Curb Enthusiasm, Capote, & Derailed

Well, it's been a while since I posted so I have a lot of movies (and other DVDs) to talk about today. Since the last post I have seen Cronicas, The Squid and the Whale, Fun with Dick and Jane (2005), Lost (Season 1, Bonus Features Disc), Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures , Pride And Prejudice (2005), Jarhead, Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 1), Capote, and Derailed. Gosh that's a lot.

Crónicas (Cordero, 2004)
John Leguizamo is a well-known Miami TV reporter bent on getting the scoop on some child murders in a small, Ecuadorian town. But to what lengths do you go to get the story? Can your conscience handle it?
On the surface, this seems like an interesting movie. But, for me, that's just where it stays, on the surface. Part of the problem is that the writer/director (Cordero) can't decide whose movie it is (reporter or killer). Whose psychological turmoil are we following? With indecision in this area comes dilution of plot, and loss of interest. The acting, however, was really wonderful, but that's not enough to carry a movie. As they preached to us in film school, you can make a bad movie from a good script, but you can never make a good movie from a bad script. Another annoyance is the language issue. This is a Spanish-language film, but the Spanish-language reporter keeps switching to English at odd times and for no apparent reason. Now before you go and tell me that that's how multi-lingual people speak, stop. I happen to know a little bit on this topic. I did a research paper on it in college, many of my closest friends are multi-lingual, and I grew up in a multi-lingual family. I have a feel for it. It's called code-switching, and there are patterns and rules for when it occurs. But it occurs in Cronicas arbitrarily. This results in my distraction, irritation, and a decreasing willingness to give the movie a chance.

The Squid and the Whale (Baumbach, 2005)
An overly intellectual and completely pretentious family falls apart in divorce.
Who speaks like these people? People don't really act this way, do they? Amazingly, this off-beat comedy-drama is actually semi-autobiographical. I wonder which parts are the semi and which are the autobiography. Baumbach's family must be nuts! But then, although not every family is as academic as this one, we're all nuts, so there is a lot of truth underneath it all. But the brilliance of this movie for me is the language. It's a dangerous choice to speak slightly above the heads of most of your audience, but Baumbach uses it to his advantage. He distances the audience with it just enough that we can see the characters more clearly, so that we see the disparity between all of their knowledge and their lack of self-awareness in their actions. We come to understand these characters better than they could ever understand themselves. Although some of them feel superior, they're just as lost and foolish as we are. And there is a wonderful honesty in their portrayal. But I definitely could have done without visual proof that the youngest son has a problem with public masterbation. And yes, I am talking about seeing semen being wiped on various public surfaces. Ugh.

Fun with Dick and Jane (Parisot, 2005)
Jim Carrey is a successful top company exec who loses it all, and who will do anything, save perhaps keeping his dignity, to stay financially afloat.
I am interested to see how relevant the original was in 1977 after seeing how unbelievably relevant this remake is now. Gone are the days when people save responsibly for years, build up equity in that crappy starter home before they move up to bigger, more beautiful ones. At least for a large segment of the population, we become house-poor the minute we get a lucrative career. We spend more than we earn, and it wouldn't take much for many of us to fall completely into financial ruin. And that inevitable job loss that comes when company finances go south, the one that somehow almost everyone I know has faced, threatens everything that you own. Thankfully, coming this face-to-face with a reality that's all too real to me can be handled with copious laughter. Resorting to armed robbery is ludicrous, especially in the hands of Carrey (who is in top form here), but it's just honest and believable enough that there is great comedy in the truth of it all. I laughed till my face hurt.

Lost, Season 1 - Bonus Features Disc
If you're a fan of the show, you should consider renting the Season 1 DVD just to check out some of the bonus features. It's really fascinating to see how such a genius show came together. I love that the writers molded many of the parts around the some of the wonderful characteristics of the actors, instead of forcing the actors to fit some mold that don't suit them. This is a relevant topic for me after watching Derailed last night. Why is it so important to make British actors speak with American accents when it has absolutely zero to do with the story? Anyway, more on that later. Definitely check this out. It illuminates some elements of the show, and it offers a little taste of what you are missing if you are desperately awaiting the DVD release of Season 2 as we are.

Wallace and Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures (Park, 2001)
Three short claymation films (A Grand Day Out, A Close Shave, The Wrong Trousers) by the brilliant, (and Oscar-winning) Nick Park, featuring a hapless inventor and his dog, Wallace and Gromit.
Some of you know that I am largely against the CGI (computer generated imagery) movement, and that well-crafted old-school special effects, and hand-made animations are generally much better in my eyes. So it will be no surprise to you then that I love the warmth and imperfection of the claymation of Wallace and Gromit. I also love the quirkiness of the characters, and the full realization of the world in which they live. But beyond that I have a special affection for them, because they give me a feeling of nostalgia, since I grew up in England. Seeing them is like visiting with a favorite old aunt I haven't seen for donkeys years. People without that connection to England may not have the same feeling of warmth towards these films, but fans of any Nick Park/Aardman animations (Chicken Run, Creature Comforts, Curse of the Were Rabbit) will certainly love them. Also a special treat is the bonus features which gives a whole series of extra-short shorts showing some of the wonderfully flawed inventions of Wallace.

Pride and Prejudice (Wright, 2005)
A classic Jane Austen story about a wild-hearted and quick-witted girl, a rude, uppercrust boy, and the love that develops between them despite their better judgement.
This is from one of my absolute favorite books. It is the only assigned reading I ever finished until perhaps near the very end of my college education. I have seen several screen versions such as Bridget Jones's Diary and even a Bollywood version called, Bride and Prejudice. Oddly enough, I haven't seen the BBC miniseries which is supposed to be the definitive version. But I haven't met a version I didn't like, until now. There are some things I love about Wright's modern aesthetic. It's lyrical and emotional. And I love that the costumes are kept more low-key. But the hand-held camera work to me is just way too modern and is very distracting. But the worst part is that the women are all annoying caracatures (they rant and giggle, fret and swoon) and have very few real emotions. Also, Keira Knightly needs to start to learn the limitations of her own face. Sure she's beautiful, but she has a toothy smile that often looks like a devilish grimace, and the grimace rarely works for what she's doing. I liked her better when she was smiling less and being a bit darker in Domino. But I must say that Donald Sutherland was outstanding in this movie, particularly in his final scene. He definitely hasn't mastered the English accent, but he doesn't force it and his emotions are just so real. Too bad the women couldn't have been portrayed with a bit more of this depth and heart.

Jarhead (Mendes, 2005)
A firsthand account of operation Desert Storm based on the memoirs of a marine, who experienced the madness of it.
I don't like war movies. I don't like the angry, hyper-masculinity of the soldiers. I don't like their blind patriotism. War movies scare and horrify me. And not in the fun, horror-movie kind of way. They don't fill me will respect for the honor and nobility of the soldier's sacrifice. Guess what? It's not always honorable to follow the commands of your superior blindly. Hey, I don't feel honor or sympathy for nazi soldiers, do I? And it is largely through the arms of these individual troops that some of my least favorite people in the world (past and present) are enabled to do what they do. So even though there is some military in my family background, and I grew up on or near military bases, these movies just aren't my thing. This one though, is not so bad. It has been criticized for not taking a stance one way or another on war. However, I feel that it takes more of a stance than the wishy-washy, yet beloved, Saving Private Ryan, which I hated. Jarhead, more than almost any military movie I have seen, shows the darkness of what it means to be at war, especially modern war, and doesn't resort to the glorification of soldiers just for the sake of it. I loved the psycological aspects of it. And if you want to see soldiers at their most terrifying, watch the scene in which a large group of them view Apocolypse Now in a theater. They are all singing along and pumping their fists with excitement as the helicopters fly onto the screen in that memorable moment. They all apparently miss the movie's anti-war message and it instead whips them up into a pre-battle frenzy. I wonder what a similar scene with the Klu Klux Klan watching Birth of a Nation would look like. But a theme that is at the heart of this film is what happens in this movie-theater scene: in all their revelry and excitement, they are cut off and interrupted as the movie up on the screen is about to climax in attack. This seems to be the heart of the modern war as Jarhead describes it: constant frenzy and preparedness, but no climax of mano a mano combat; it's all distant bombs. What happens when you have all this built up aggression and nothing to do with it? Slight madness I think. Now, I am not saying Jarhead has changed my view on war movies. Come on, it was all right, but it wasn't that great. I still don't like them. But this one, as unpleasant as it was to watch, was just barely good enough to squeeze by with a positive review from me.

Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 1 (David, 2000)
A TV show.
I know that's not much of a synopsis, but the hubby and I couldn't get all the way through even the first episode, so you will have to look elsewhere for a more complete review. Why did we hate it so? Well, I know for me it was because I cannot stand to watch ad-libbed dialog. I hate it with a passion. If you do like it, check out the films of Robert Altman, no doubt you will adore them. As for me, if I never have to watch another of Altman's films as long as I live, I will be happy.

Capote (Miller, 2005)
A biographical piece about famous author, Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany's), who decided to break from his usual fare and write a book about a Kansas murder case.
This was really wonderful. Gripping, emotional, and intruiguing. This movie did what Walk the Line couldn't do for me: it made me want to know all about Truman Capote, and read his words that charmed millions of people and filled them with awe with the release of "In Cold Blood" (the book written during the course of this movie.) Philip Seymour Hoffman's oscar was truly deserved for his role as the celebrated writer, and that's not something I often say. The characters are wonderfully complex. Capote and the killer he almost befriended both elicit equal measures of sympathy and disgust. Kudos to first-time screenwriter Dan Futterman (the actor who played the son in The Bird Cage). Having said all that, it didn't knock my socks off in any big way, so I don't think I will be adding it to my list of greatest movies of all time. Still, it's a must see.

Derailed (Håfström, 2005)
Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston, two business people who have an affair, are attacked by conman, LaRoche (Vincent Cassel of Irreversible) and must pay him off to save their families.
This movie was ok. The twist was a surprise, to me at least. But in the end, I didn't care. It's a thriller that has no thrills. I was never nervous, scared, concerned, sad, or anything else. Ah well. And as I mentioned above, what is the point of casting Brits in roles that seem to have no limitations on character and then forcing them to adopt American accents? Brits are typically as bad at American accents as Americans are at British accents (or any others in most cases). Fortunately, Clive Owen did one of the best British-American accent conversions I have ever heard. Unfortunately, his co-star Tom Conti didn't fare quite so well. Why was Cassel allowed to be French, but Brits were forced to be American even though it had nothing to do with their characters? Agh. You know a movie isn't very good if you find yourself pondering accent theory even when the main characters have good accents.

Well, I'm off to visit family in Boise in a couple of days, so I may not post again for a little while. In the meantime, happy viewing!

Back to the full blog...

No comments:


blogger templates 3 columns | Tech Blog