Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: A Prophet (dir. Jacques Audiard)

There are vague spoilers mentioned.

The first half-hour to forty-five minutes of A Prophet are about the most compelling and thrilling minutes I've spent in a movie theater all year. Following the process of initial incarceration, in which we see Malik El Djebena stripped, searched, cataloged, interviewed, dressed, and assigned a cell, Audiard distances himself (and us) from Malik in a way that allows us to experience this process for ourselves. Soon after, Malik is propositioned in the shower, which leads to an offer from prison mob boss C├ęsar Luciani more approximating a command to kill a prisoner that presents a threat to C├ęsar and his gang. If Malik does this, he will receive protection within the prison from the gang; if he doesn't, he will be killed.

More after the jump...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lost in Plot

Man, we're really in the doldrums here, aren't we? I haven't seen a new release movie in two weeks (though some catching-up is in store this weekend), and the past month's worth of releases haven't yielded critical discourse anywhere near the level of Shutter Island or the panoply of Oscar season releases (or simply Oscar season in general). SXSW wrapped, but unless you were there, there's little to discuss on that front (mostly a lot of "I really, really, really want to see that movie").

So, in the interim, I want to take a brief consideration of a topic prompted by television, a format often posited as film when people really like it. More specifically, some thoughts that have cropped up in the last few weeks of watching Lost, a show everyone seems to have an opinion on, even if they're not watching it. Granted, Lost doesn't have the cultural cache it did as the second season got underway, or even the cultural presence its third season finale yielded, but to whatever extent it's possible for narrative television to matter anymore, there seems little doubt that Lost still matters. I just don't think it matters as much as people tend to think it does.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Watch THIS Instantly: Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005)

Netflix Instant Watch is one of the greatest things ever to exist...ever. This is a series looking at some movies that are available through this fine service right now.

First off, sorry for the light posting as of late - I've been relatively jobless for a month and a half, which was a boon for creativity and thought. And then you get to a week like this, where I actually have temporary work, and on one hand, hurray for money, but on the other, no real time to write. So yeah...I'll either be unemployed again quite soon or find a way to work this stuff into my schedule more. Either way, more substantial writing.

But enough about me, let's talk about a truly wonderful movie called Broken Flowers. More after the jump...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Auteurism....In 3-D!!!!!!!

Those exclamation points are meant to indicate the big voice announcer guy. Imagine the "IN SPAAAAACE!!!" voice and that's exactly what I'm going for.

Two delightful bits of...almost news came out this weekend. First, word came that Robert Downey, Jr. is in negotiations to star in Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, a space epic of sorts, but besides the joy those two working together promises, the Deadline article also noted that the film will be shot in 3-D. Then, today, on Ain't it Cool News, I see that "[Jean-Pierre] Jeunet is actually quite anxious to make a 3D film."

Now, I'm not wild about Jeunet's work - recently saw Amelie all the way through for the first time and was quite put off, but when I saw A Very Long Engagement way back in 2004 I was quite taken with it (I was 18 at the time, and still a young cinephile; Lord knows what I'd think of it now). And I'm mixed on Cuaron - love Children of Men, could take or leave Prisoner of Azkaban, hated Great Expectations, and have still yet to see Y Tu Mama Tambien.

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is the same point I've been trying to make every time a 3-D film gets reviewed and inevitably the word "gimmick" comes up - we've yet to see the format really put to test. After all, widescreen was called a gimmick, as was color. I guess I take issue with the idea that 3-D can't be as important a component to cinema. Coraline put it to brilliant use, but I want to see more perspectives, more visions, and whatever my problems with Cuaron and Jeunet, there's no doubt that they're visually-minded directors with vision to spare. I'm excited as all hell that directors like these two are either diving right into it or eager to do so, as I really think we could use it.

Not that I think every film should be made in 3-D, but then again, I wish more films were made in full frame and (especially) black & white, so I have a feeling we may see more bold visions in 3-D whether we like it or not.

Tangentially related question - what was the last great use of full frame? Of monochrome? I guess the latter's a little obvious with The White Ribbon having just came out. But the former...the last I can think of is Van Sant's Elephant, or even Last Days, which I don't remember very specifically.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review: Alice in Wonderland (dir. Tim Burton)

Note: After thorough consideration, I decided to see this in 2-D rather than 3-, as nearly every critic I pay attention to on a regular basis noted that the 3-D version was an unmotivated mess. Aside from missing a few teacups and the occasional hat being thrown at me, I didn't notice any way in which the film would have been improved by it.

In general, I tend to avoid movies I know will be bad. It's natural if you're working without a press pass and, even worse, an extraordinarily limited income. But, things being as they are, I'll find my way to one here or there, whether it be to follow a certain director who just happened upon a stinker, or, more often, to try to keep up on popular discourse. I know for a lot of people the latter is considered a pretty shallow reason, but I've rarely regretted it, even if I come out hating the movie.

And boy did I hate Alice in Wonderland. I went in expecting to, but was pleasantly surprised in the beginning that I really wasn't hating it at all. Sure, it relies on very tired shortcuts to building characters (in a movie taking place before 1940, all free-thinking women hate some sort of undergarment), and the dialogue is consistently hopeless (how many people can scold Alice for thinking about silly things?), but the first act is where really boring blockbusters thrive. Here is where you're taken in by the look of it before it becomes familiar, and I quite admire what Burton and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski did here - in lighting and camera movement, it looks and feels and awful lot like an honest-to-God Disney cartoon, albeit in live action.

The joy of this fades quickly. More after the jump.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Watch THESE Instantly: A Room With a View (James Ivory, 1985) and Body Double (Brian De Palma, 1984)

Netflix Instant Watch is one of the greatest things to ever exist...ever. This is a series looking at some movies that are available through this fine service right now.

On the surface, I realize these two films couldn't seem more different. And truthfully, even beneath the surface, they are. However, I saw them each within a day of each other, had very little to say about each, but wanted to get this week's edition (and I do hope it'll be weekly) of Watch THIS Instantly up regardless. So there.

Well...they do have one thing in common - neither are at all interested in converting the unconverted. If you're not already on board with the respective goals of Ivory and De Palma, you haven't a chance in hell with these films.

More after the jump...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Rail of Yesterday: One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, 1961)

The Rail of Yesterday is an excuse to talk about films of the past.

I'm going to say something that may be considered blasphemous, and Lord knows I couldn't blame you for seeing things that way.

I could really take or leave Billy Wilder. I like a few of his movies well enough, but I don't have a really strong connection to them.

That said, I really loved One, Two, Three, which takes Wilder's frequent protagonist, an overburdened man testing the limits of society's structures for fiscal advancement, and throws him into the fray of Howard Hawks' nonstop comedy in a population made up entirely of Ernst Lubitsch's cartoonish supporting characters, and the result absolutely kicks ass.

Without giving away the twists and turns, the film is about a Coca-Cola executive, C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney), trying to expand the Coca-Cola empire, and trying to advance his own career within that empire, within the West Berlin branch, all the while looking after his boss' daughter. Naturally, with East Berlin right across town, tensions run high between capitalism and communism, with recent German history hanging just within sight. And that's all I'll say about that.

There is, naturally, a personal bend to my response, as I find extreme belief systems, and especially the state of capitalism and communism in the 1960s, really funny. Though the film obviously skews American in its political leanings, there are more than a few digs at Western culture, and practically nonstop jokes about Nazis and communists. Really, what's not to love?

And it just comes like an avalanche, much like His Girl Friday - building and building until, at the final race towards the climax, you'll be laughing at the sheer pace and audacity of it all. I'm really pretty surprised that this doesn't have greater recognition than it does, as it certainly deserves a place alongside Some Like it Hot.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Review: The Ghost Writer (dir. Roman Polanski)

Auteurism strikes again! I'm not 100% certain, but I'm pretty sure this movie can only be enjoyed by people who already like Roman Polanski. Lucky for me, I really like Roman Polanski.

More after the jump...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I Won't Bore You With My Predictions...

Because they're the same as everyone else's. I know by the time the Oscars roll around, everything feels pretty sewn up. Obviously that's not REALLY the case (I'm still curious about the outcome of the screenplay categories, cinematography, foreign language film, and editing, but I guess all that's not as sexy as finding out whether Sandra Bullock will win an Academy Award OMG), but it just sort of contributes to the sort of ho-hum a lot of hardcore cinephiles approach the Oscars with.

But I love the Oscars, I really do. Every year I convince myself it's all a bunch of show and it's too political and in a year I won't really care. And that's true. But come the actual day, I still get excited, because there are always a group of people who I really, really would like to see win. As Ron Swanson said this week, awards are stupid, but it's nice when they go to the right people.

So without making a big thing of it, I'll be rooting this evening for...

The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and A Serious Man for Best Picture
Jeff Bridges, Colin Firth, and Jeremy Renner for Best Actor.
Carey Mulligan for Best Actress
Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor
Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for Best Supporting Actress
Kathryn Bigelow and Quentin Tarantino for Director
Quentin Tarantino and the Coens for Original Screenplay
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Nick Hornby, and the In the Loop crowd for Adapted Screenplay
Christian Berger, Bruno Delbonnel, and Robert Richardson for Cinematography (although truthfully, as long as Avatar doesn't win this, I'll be fine)
Bob Kurawski and Chris Innis (The Hurt Locker) and Sally Menke (Inglourious Basterds) for Best Editing
Fantastic Mr. Fox for Animated Film
The White Ribbon for Foreign Film, but only because I haven't seen the others (but I do really love The White Ribbon)
Avatar for visual effects and both sound categories

Friday, March 5, 2010

Top Five Stereotypical European Films, Featuring a Guest Writer

So I was watching a movie the other day that will not be named because it will be featured in this post, and I was thinking, "If you've never seen a European movie, this is exactly the movie you'd think of when you thought of European movies." This got me thinking to other European movies that seemed, when I first saw them, weirdly familiar, if in an unspecific way.

This isn't a list of the movies that got parodied the most or created the most iconic imagery - so no Seventh Seal or Jules and Jim or La Dolce Vita here - but rather of the movies that would appear to have just followed "How to Make an Artsy Foreign Film" textbook to a T if they hadn't, you know...kind of done it first.

I don't consider myself a huge expert on European cinema, but, you know...I've seen my fair share. Feel free to chime in with your own, but know that I haven't seen nearly everything.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I love all these films.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Life in Anamorphic Widescreen: Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

As much as I am absolutely head-over-heels for going out to the theater, I've almost certainly seen the majority of the movies I've seen on DVD or Blu-Ray in the comfort of my own home. With home theater technology where it is, it's hardly the sacrifice it once was, but I'm slowly coming to terms with the idea that these discs are our cinema. My DVD/Blu-Ray reviews are thus less a standard home theater review, broken into parts analyzing the film itself, the image and audio quality, and the supplements separately, but rather looking at how those elements come together to give us a complete idea of the film in question, and further, of cinema itself.

When I first saw what many posit as Jean-Luc Godard's masterpiece, I had no idea what I was in for. The description offered on the Criterion Collection disc, the best option at the time for seeing this thing, played up the film industry satire element. Obviously that's in the film (far more dispiriting than most satire, I might add), but then out of nowhere you get over a half an hour, trapped inside an apartment, watching the breakdown of a marriage.

This, of course, is what Contempt is REALLY about.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Watch THIS Instantly: The Girl Can't Help It (Frank Tashlin, 1956)

Netflix Instant Watch is one of the greatest things to ever exist...ever. This is a series looking at some movies that are available through this fine service right now. 

With an image like that, how can you NOT click for more after the jump?