This movie is going to be incredible. This is a fantastic monologue presented as a TED video setting up the premise of the movie. I don’t know how much Guy Pearce is in the movie, but this sets the tone for something amazing.
Here is a CBS story on the changes over time in the way trailers try to sell movies.
Isaac Illuminated from Sean Hollihan on Vimeo.
Sean is the son of one of my college mentors, Tom Hollihan. This is from the Ed Wood Film Festival at USC. The idea is that everything is conceived, shot and produced in 24 hours.
Just found an update on Facebook that Sean’s film won the Ed Wood Festival at USC. Congratulations to Sean and his partner.
We had two great weekends to set up the Academy Awards tonight. We have been going to the Best Picture Showcase since it started back in 2006. Usually I have seen all the movies by that point but as it became apparent that this event was going to be an annual occasion, we started being a little cautious and waited because we knew we had this as a back up. The Academy has upped the number of nominees the last three years, ten for the previous two and nine this year. Before this event I had seen four of the Best Picture Nominees and so I had five new experiences. I am not going to do full reviews on all of them, but I will provide some quick thoughts. For the four I did full reviews on, the poster should provide you a link to that review.
Tree of Life
One of the posters that we won at the Best Picture Showcase in the trivia contests is this lovely image from the movie Tree of Life. Admittedly, the movie is filled with lovely images but it has no storytelling skills and those images are in service of a ponderous pile of pretentious nonsense. Amanda read that of all the text ratings sent in by the ticket holders from the BPS, this one had the lowest rating, Obviously some critics disagree but while I respect the right of others to find meaning where they may, I need to point out that the Emperor is naked.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
This is another movie that appears to have polarized critics. Some have loved it and others have described it as mawkish 9/11 porn. It is certainly different and there are some things about it that I like a lot. Here is a trivia question you could probably win a bet or two on, “Which acting nominee fails to speak a single word in their performance?” Many people will be suckered in, thinking that the silent film “The Artist” is the answer, in fact the correct answer is Max Von Sydow in this film. He is one of the great things about the movie. There is also a wonderfully muted performance by Jeffery Wright in the last part of the film. I had problems with the way the story develops and the concept. There is a slight remedy of some of my objections in the last section where Sandra Bullock’s mother reveals her involvement in what is going on. It is reassuring and also a bit of a cheat. This is the poster that we won in another of the trivia contests during the long day.
The Artist This is the film that has all of the buzz and appears to be the likely winner tonight. It is thoroughly entertaining and deserves to be recognized as an excellent film. I do think that as the years go by it will appear to be a novelty pick rather than a reflection of the best film making this last year. The actors perform virtually without speaking, and they tell the story in a way that movies did a hundred years ago. Some of the techniques are very clever and the dog is one of the best special effects of the year. John Goodman appears in this movie as well as Extremely Loud. There were a couple of performers who appeared in multiple best picture nominees this year. Another character actor that was a favorite of mine since the 1970s, is Ed Lauter. He has a couple of small scenes here and I just like to see that people I have enjoyed for years are still making a contribution and working. The music for this movie is also nominated and it was strong, but I swear I heard the love theme from Vertigo used in the movie and it would be a shame if this film wins on the basis of a misunderstanding of which music was original.
War Horse This was one of the two films that effected me the most
emotionally. I have been a fan of Steven Spielberg since I saw “Duel” as a TV movie of the week way back in the early 1970s. This guy knows how to tell a story. He can make a sprawling event like a world war, into a personal drama that pulls us into the individuals experience. He did it with “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List”. Here he manages to do so with a central character that cannot speak a line of dialogue but manages to break our hearts with his courage and spirit. I hope someday to see the play that this movie is based on, because I have heard it is magnificent. Spielberg is not limited to the stage or horse puppets to tell the story and he makes the most of the settings on the battlefields and farms of Europe. Tom Hiddleston, is another one of those actors in two best picture nominees. Here he is the Captain that takes Joey with him to the Great War, in “Midnight in Paris” he is F. Scott Fitzgerald. Most of the characters who encounter the horse are sympathetic, regardless of the side of the war they are on. It is however obvious that war is casually cruel to animals as it is to people. One character tries to diminish the emotion by saying that after all, he’s a horse not a dog. I’ll bet there are horse people out there who sat up in anger at the thought that their love of an animal was any less valid. I am a sucker for animal stories and this one pulled me in completely. If this were the upset winner tonight, I would be delighted.
Moneyball The great American Pastime is given a modern makeover with technology and desperation. Baseball movies that work, are usually not focused on a single game, that’s not how baseball works for the most part. There are one-hundred and sixty-two games played by each team each season, that is why statistics matter so much in this game. The theme of Moneyball is the courage of your convictions that the way to gain success is by playing the odds rather than swinging for the fences with a player who is really a reach. From a romantic perspective, it is a hard concept to wrap your head around. Baseball fans love stats but they also love a hero, and this movie is about guys being heroes for doing the mundane job they are chosen for. If it all works out they are a success. Brad Pitt joins our list of performers appearing in two nominated pictures for this and for “Tree of Life”. He is personally nominated here and his performance was so natural that I think it was under appreciated. If Aaron Sorkin had not won the screenplay award last year, he would be a lock this year for turning an idea into a screen story. This is based on a book, but it is not a narrative like the movie is. Good job again Mr. Sorkin.
The Help This is the movie that should be the favorite but it suffers from having come out in the summer and the original impact it had on audiences will have faded a bit. This is an empowering story of women, civil rights and dramatic changes for the better in our culture. It is hard to fathom that the world portrayed here was actually part of my lifetime. Most of my students will see it as ancient history so they may not be able to feel the same kind of power from it that I did. This movie is filled with great performances from the women in the story. Viola Davis is probably going to win tonight as Best Actress, she is also in our two nominee Best Picture Club having also appeared in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. Joining her at the victory table tonight will be Best Supporting Actress nominee Octavia Spenser. Jessica Chastain is also a nominee and appears in another Best Picture Nominee, “Tree of Life”, so she and Viola can compare their membership cards when they see each other after the show. Oh, and here is a leading contender for Best Picture that apparently directed itself. Terrance Malick is sitting in the theater tonight with Tate Taylors directors nomination in his pocket. Shame on the Academy for honoring a director who can’t find a story to save his life instead of one who told an incredible story and actually directed people in the movie he was making.
Here at the Best Picture Showcase. A lot of familiar faces from last week. We are missing Anne but the day looks promising. Hugo is up first and it is in 3D.
Loved Hugo even more than the first time.
The Help was again, terrific.
Extremely Loud Incredibly Close was fine but not great. There were some things about it that bugged.
After Dinner, the Artist and Midnight in Paris.
Last weekend was pretty great. There was a good sized crowd but it was not packed. Everybody was having a good time, and we started off with the movie that AMC Voters ranked as the best for the day on their text poll; War Horse. We saw this movie on Christmas day and it was a wonderful way to cap off the holiday. I was moved by the story all over again and in many ways it was more touching and deeply effective than it had been the first time. My appreciation of the movie was increased, and although I have heard criticism of John Williams score being over used and too saccharine, I thought it worked well and was happy to hear it.
Next we saw “Moneyball” which was my first time. I have a hard time believing that I did not see this earlier in the season. Like other movies with baseball at the center but not about the game, it uses our familiarity to tell a different story altogether. It is a lot like one of the two Costner baseball films of the eighties. Family and reconciliation are the themes of “Field of Dreams” and love and ambition are the targets of “Bull Durham”. Both movies feature baseball, but the outcome of the game is not really the point. In “Moneyball” the outcome of the season is the point, and there is one game featured, but that was about it. The story is really concerned with innovation and creativity confronting prejudice and tradition. It was very entertaining, even though most of what happens is talk. Of course if the talk is scripted by Aaron Sorkin, then it should be plenty interesting.
The less I say about “Tree of Life”, the happier I will be. You can see my comments elsewhere on a post earlier this week.
Finally, “The Descendants” manages to be an effective drama with humorous moments. It centers on several complicated situations that the main character must deal with all at once. Every once in a while, I think a family gets challenged by a really tough stretch of time. Years ago I lost my best friend, my Mother, my Father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we bought a house and we had the hardest move you can imagine, all in a period of about nine months. George Clooney’s character faces overwhelming problems and difficult decisions and it is the manner in which he faces those challenges that he end up defining himself as a person. I was much more ambivalent about the movie the first time I saw it. This time it resonated more with me and I could see the quality of work Mr. Clooney was turning in.
Tomorrow, we have “Hugo”, “The Help”, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” , “The Artist” and “Midnight in Paris”. For my previous comments on two of the films you can click on the poster below. I have heard great things about the other three and it looks to be a very pleasant day.
Finished off the long weekend with a little Denzel action. The man can play badass without breaking a sweat and in this movie all he does is kick other peoples asses and brains around. There is a little too much dependance on fistfights and car crashes and shootouts to make this work as the paranoid spy thriller it wants to be. It never rises above the level of action film with pretensions of insight. It looks like it is going to be a buddy spy film for a while and while it does have elements of that, there is not much time devoted to the motives of the two protagonists.
From the late sixties and early seventies on, there have been a thousand spy films with rogue elements of the CIA doing bad things. They must have the stupidest recruiters and the worst internal controls of any bureaucracy in history, at least if you buy any of the premises of these kinds of films. The story here involves a CIA agent that has turned traitor and may be selling secrets that will expose the CIA to international ridicule. The bad guy in the movie can be spotted early on because it is just casting that creates this character. None of this ultimately exonerates Denzel’s agent, but it is supposed to make it more acceptable that he is basically “Wiki-leaks” with a bank account.
Ryan Reynolds does a credible job as a young CIA operative, in a low level, low priority job which suddenly becomes the center of the spy universe. He sells the desire to do the right thing with his puppy dog face, and he handles the action scenes with vigor. He needs to because every time we turn around there is running, fighting, chasing and shooting. There are more survivors of car crashes in this movie than there are on the streets of L.A., I know that for sure. People get shot, stabbed, beat up and they just keep going. You hope the real spies can do all of this stuff because most people can’t make it through the course in an episode of “Wipeout” without a longer breather than any of these guys get. The director relies on a lot of shaky cam work to pump up the action, but there is some good tight choreography as well.
A few years ago I saw a parody of action films where the lead, turns their back and walks away as an explosion goes off right behind them. It has become a cliche in the modern action world. Denzel seems to be making it his own personal cliche to put an extra bullet in the other guy when he is on the ground, and to do it while looking away. Of course the one time he fails to perform the cliche move, there is a negative consequence so in a sense it does set us up for one piece of business. His character is supposed to be an expert at manipulating assets with psychology, but we hardly get any of that. That would have made the relationship with Reynold’s character so much more interesting than we got here. There was enough to sustain the loud gunfights and action sequences but not the story threads.
Sometimes these films rise to a level of excellence that is impressive, but more often they simply compete with one another on body count and action. This is a missed opportunity. It was still a worthy movie, after all it features Denzel doing his thing, but the stone cold facial expression sometimes needs a little more backup. What this movie really did for me was make me want to see some Denzel films where he gets to do more than just his thousand yard stare. I could really go for seeing him work opposite Gene Hackman again. Those two are fantastic in “Crimson Tide”. If you just want a shoot em up, this movie fits the bill, but if you want something a little sweeter from Mr. Washington, maybe go back and check out some other work instead.
In an effort to come down from yesterday’s sugar rush of movies, today we have a little bit of the hair of the dog so to speak. A single movie that no one will remember for good or ill in a few months. There is nothing about it that I found offensive but there was also nothing about it that I found particularly worthwhile either. It has cute guys for the girls, Reese Witherspoon for the guys and a bunch of misused spy craft for everyone else. Some explosions, a couple of smiles, and maybe a laugh or two. If you are looking for a date movie this will do fine, it is entertaining enough but it won’t interrupt the rest of your evening with conversation about the meaning of it all or the film maker’s craft.
The two guys featured are up and comers Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. Pine is the new Captain Kirk in the relaunched Star Trek movies. As far as Amanda is concerned, he is a terrific actor, which translated means, “yummy”. Tom Hardy was in my favorite movie last year, “Warrior” where he is a menacing, hulking presence and does most of his acting with his fists. Both of these guys get to trade on their natural gifts, Pine uses his baby blue eyes, crooked smile and smart guy attitude to woo our female protagonist. Hardy plays it sincere with a natural physicality that I guess would be appealing to the opposite sex, oh, and he has a British accent. The third part of our triangle is Miss Witherspoon, last year seen in Water for Elephants and seemingly a little old for her co-star there. She hasn’t gotten younger but the make up and costume people on this shoot made sure that she would be a desirable woman for the two younger guys (and us old guys also). She does a completely unnecessary booty dance that reminded me of Cameron Diaz in Charlie’s Angels. I guess that should not be a surprise since McG, the director of this film also directed that piece of cotton candy film.
Comparisons to “True Lies” might be in order since the film does feature a spy romance where the profession of espionage agent is being hidden from the romantic partner. Also, a lot of government resources are being used for personal purposes that verge on the brink of creepy stalking. What is missing from this movie that “True Lies” had in abundance is a real action spy movie to immerse the romance in. This movie sets up such a plot line, abandons it for most of the rest of the movie and then revives it in the last ten minutes. The spy stuff never feels serious and there are stupid resolutions to most of the action in that last section. The set ups of the shots felt like out takes from “Fletch” and “Speed”. The shots from those movies that were too tired to be used in their respective stories.
For a modern twist on romance being conflicted by two rivals, the story makes some pretty dated references. My guess is that the dialogue of Reese’s friend will be lost on contemporary audiences. Do any teens and twenties really know who Gloria Steinem is? This movie sets up Pine as a smooth up to the minute player, and he is using Sade as his seduction song and the cute meet with Reese takes place in a video rental store? Those devices would have been funny ten years ago but here they seem lazy. It is just screenwriter shorthand to save from having to develop something original. The dating site jokes were old a decade ago when I saw them in “Must Love Dogs”, why would anyone think this is a fresh take on this kind of story? The idea of Spy vs. Spy is a good one but underdeveloped and used only for the barest of story structure here.
Anyone can see the romantic resolution coming from early on. The bad guy is not menacing enough and is clearly too stupid to be much of a threat, maybe that’s why he disappears from the movie for ninety percent of the time. There are some ridiculous romantic set ups that would be cheesy in any film, but set in a world of international espionage, they stand out as obvious. Attempting to match up to an ex-boyfriend, dating at a carnival, lying about volunteering at a pet shelter, all provide quick jokes but no real humor and never any sympathy for any character. This movie is product, but not even good product like an obvious romantic comedy. It gets a reaction in the most obvious way possible and then moves on to the next set up. There were several times when I noticed story continuity issues, but the film just keeps plugging along. It may be a better evening to go out and see this with a date, than spending time in watching Law and Order or NCIS, but just barely.
I do my best to talk about movies without repeating the storyline and giving out spoilers. Since Tree of Life has no storyline and the movie is spoiled already, I can safely say that the point of the film is to wallow in vague imagery for two plus hours, and then make you want to throw up from the shaky camera work. Vomiting would make you feel better after digesting this unsatisfying exercise in film school philosophizing. Just yesterday I said that the original Ghost Rider was maybe the worst film I’d seen in five years, well we have a new winner and I may not be putting a time limit on it.
More than a decade ago, I was warned away from the Thin Red Line. I’d seen Badlands and Days of Heaven, but a friend told me she would lose any respect for me if I liked the Thin Red Line. Her scorn was never at risk since I had heard enough to stay away to begin with. On the other hand I did enjoy The New World, but I only saw it one time and maybe revisiting it would highlight some warning signs for me. I was hesitant about the movie and I thought Tree of Life was supposed to run almost three hours. When we looked at our Best Picture Showcase Booklet, the run time was listed at 2:19. That did not sound bad. Well, I need to leave instructions for my end of life declaration that this movie be played on my last day on earth, because it will make it seem like I am living an extra ten years. Tree of Life is pretentious, and boring and pointless in so many ways, it is hard to find the words.
Several film sites that I follow and read have praised the movie for it’s innovation and visual storytelling. Anybody who thinks this movie is artistic genius, probably thought that the best part of 2001 was the light show near the end. People stoned on pot, at a lasariem show at Griffith Observatory, would have to drop acid three times to appreciate this. Whispered dialogue used in narrating story points is derided in many films, here it is praised even though the comments have no context, insight, or interesting language to go along with them. The visual spectacle of inner and outer space is beautiful to look at, but after a while it reminds you of a screen saver that you downloaded ten years ago for your computer. The classical music would be better to listen to with your eyes closed. Terrance Malick has created a doodle that lasts for more than two hours and people have been suckered into seeing something deep here.
Brad Pitt is a stern Father who loves his kids, despite the fact that one of them is a borderline head case. The boy does some kid stuff, some strange stuff and some deeply wrong stuff. All of this happens after we get the history of the universe in CGI, watercolor, nature documentary style shots. Oh, this includes the history of dinosaurs, from evolution to destruction by giant meteor. The scenes set in the human world are shot with a steady cam that is not steady at all. The dialogue, such as it is, sounds like ghosts muttering about nothingness. The acting in the movie is not acting at all, since there are no motivations or real human emotions on display. We have snippets of yelling, and deep looks and a lot of walking. Terrance Malick’s main direction to the actors must have been for foot placement and speed. Sean Penn appears to be the young boy all grown up, but all he has is maybe three lines of dialogue and twenty minutes of walking around deserts, modern buildings, and what is supposed to pass for heaven.
Like I said above, many reviews and on-line posts about the movie have described it as polarizing. Our audience was unified by this movie, we all hated it. I’d rather sit through an insurance seminar, followed by a division meeting, and then a Ghost Rider/Donnie Darko double feature, before I subject myself to this. We watched the Descendants after this, and that movie took only ten minutes to wrap up it’s goodby to a doomed character. Tree of Life is so constipated in trying to deal with the death of one character, that when the final goodbye gets said, you’ll wish all the other characters were dead too.