Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I recently watched J.J. Abrams' reboot of "Star Trek" for the first time on DVD. I had skipped it in theaters, but was well aware of the mainly enthusiastic reviews it received. Recently, Quentin Tarantino named this the best film of the year. Well, let me tell you that watching "Star Trek" was fascinating on some level. You can even say it was educational, so I will attempt to convey to you what I learned.
Monday, December 21, 2009
(WARNING: Some SPOILERS may be discussed about both films, particularly "Up in the Air"!!!)
"The Messenger" co-written and directed by Oren Moverman and "Up in the Air" co-written and directed by Jason Reitman both revolve around characters who are tasked with delivering bad news, whether telling a family member that their husband, son, or daughter died in battle or explaining to someone the job they had for years, possibly decades is now gone. Without a doubt, both films are about the Here and Now attempting to provide insight to two of the issues that occupy our thoughts not only now but for a good part of this decade: Iraq and the economy. Not only that, these two films are also about the importance of connecting with others beyond the tasks that each of the main characters are given in both films.
Admittedly, it is tough to make films like these considering it's impossible to know whether they will resonate years from now. "Up in the Air" is based on a novel from 2001, but is being released during a time when it is more relevant. However, it is clear that certain aspects of the film were meant to comment directly on our current economic situation. "The Messenger", on the other hand, is based on an original screenplay with the intent, as many previous sincere but unsuccessful films commenting on the Iraq War, to present an understanding of the toll the war has taken on the people fighting it.
Now, I am not going to shy away from my personal views when discussing these films. Clearly, both films are attempting to engage the audience with a certain viewpoint, so if I cannot engage myself, it would ignore why I had such different reactions to each film. I have been seeing a lot of "Turn your brain off, it's supposed to be a ride" rationalizations for "Avatar" recently, as if discussing James Cameron's political ideas seriously was forbidden despite from what I have read is their obvious presence in the film. What are movies worth if we do not look a little deeper into what they are saying?
Monday, December 14, 2009
When I finally caught up to "Watchmen" on DVD, it felt like watching a film from a different era. Although the film was released just 9 months ago, one cannot help but recall the non-stop hype for months on end leading up to it. Before James Cameron's "Avatar", it was "Watchmen" that was going to change the way we see movies. In several masturbatory reviews, it was compared to Francis Coppola's "The Godfather" and Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" and even the filmography of Stanley Kubrick.
As per usual, any critic who did not fall in line with the opinion that "Watchmen" was a masterpiece was berated over at Rotten Tomatoes. Even one of the film's screenwriters, David Hayter, wrote an open letter after its opening weekend imploring the masses to see this movie, so that more "challenging" films like this will get made. Needless to say, a lot of this heavy panting over this film left such a bad taste in my mouth that I decided to wait to see it on DVD.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" a few months ago, in anticipation of the film adaptation. As most who have read this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, I considered it both a disturbing and touching novel that uses the backdrop of an post-apocalyptic America to tell the rather simple, straight-forward tale of a man (Played by Viggo Mortensen) and his son (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) attempting to walk towards a destination of perceived safety. Compared to "No Country for Old Men", his previous novel adapted for the screen by Joel and Ethan Coen, I found the novel to be less screen-friendly though, surprisingly, less nihilistic in tone considering the subject matter.
"No Country", as a novel, was written almost in the style of a screenplay. Plus, it used the framework of a genre plot to explore its themes about our changing times. I remember that the Coens had joked that their adaptation of the novel required one of them typing while the other held the spine of the book open. That may be a bit exaggerated, but I read the book after watching that film and was surprised to find every line of dialogue that I felt to be Coen-esque taken straight from McCarthy.
Friday, December 4, 2009
One of my favorite blogs to read about movies, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule (run by Dennis Cozzalio) has provided its latest quiz. I've participated a couple of times before, but this is the first time I am answering the questions on my blog.
1) Second-favorite Coen Brothers movie.
"Fargo". My favorite is "No Country for Old Men".
2) Movie seen only on home format that you would pay to see on the biggest movie screen possible? (Question submitted by Peter Nellhaus)
I have to pass because I believe I've seen my favorite films at least once in the theater. Six months ago, it would have been "The Great Escape", but I took care of that one on Memorial Day. The most obvious answers would be an epic movie like "Gone with the Wind" or "Spartacus", but I don't really care much for most older epic movies unless their titles are "Lawrence of Arabia" or "The Bridge on the River Kwai".
3) Japan or France? (Question submitted by Bob Westal)
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I have seen "Antichrist" and cannot "unsee" it, no matter how much I would like to do so. Nor can I dismiss it, no matter how ridiculous it often is. Almost accepting the fact that I now approach every Lars von Trier film with the knowledge that he will try so very, very hard to piss me off, I worked up the nerve to see this film at home on demand. I certainly did not think I was going to last in a movie theater, knowing full well beforehand of the extreme close-up shots of genital mutilation. The experience was something that still took me days to shake off.
Yes, this film is clearly one of those instances when a director clearly loses his mind and produces something so extreme, it begs for some form of ridicule, as well as praise from some factions calling it a work of genius and even the work of a male feminist. But, yet, there are clearly some interesting (and rather confused) ideas about the nature of man and woman. The film is unapologetically pretentious, while clearly reveling in shock value. Von Trier, for all his cinematic bluster, actually stumbles into something more insightful than thumbing his nose at broad, easy targets, such as he did at the entirety of the United States in "Dogville". I believe he has achieved a fair-minded, but completely misanthropic view of both genders that is in some ways a welcome relief from the works of, say, David Mamet or Neil LaBute, who seemingly have problems creating female characters that do not want to keep the balls of their male main characters sealed in a glass jar.
John Huston's "Wise Blood" is a confused film, much like its central character Hazel Motes (played by Brad Dourif). A film written and produced by Christians (one of the writers co-wrote the snuff film extravaganza "The Passion of the Christ") and directed by a devout atheist, this film demonstrates how important is to the art of film that having answers to life's big questions will never be as interesting as the quest for them. This film goes off the rails in what it attempts to accomplish (a running theme for this review and the next movie I will write about), but remains an almost perfect depiction of how two schools of thought clash with one another can produce self-contradicting and lasting works of art.
"Wise Blood" is based on a book by Flannery O'Connor. The film begins with Hazel Motes returning from an unspecified war. Actually, the film seems to be simultaneously taking place in several decades. From the film's opening scenes, you sense there is something off with the tone, as the town Motes decides to stay in is filled with gothic grotesques that are depicted with equal parts mockery and compassion. It is clear Motes carries a great chip on his shoulder about something, though we cannot place exactly what that is. We only have brief flashbacks to Motes' childhood where we see his grandfather (played by Huston) preaching onstage not unlike a carnival barker.