Saturday, August 30, 2014

Breathless Review

My second viewing of Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard and I reached the same conclusion: this film is just so god damn cool. 

The first time I screened this film I was losing my Godard virginity and I took note of just how confident a film it was, how beautifully it flowed from start to finish, and it wasn't until after that I discovered that this was, in fact, the feature length debut of Godard. My goodness what an assured feature to start off a legendary career.

The style, the score, the dialogue, and the brilliant casting of the leads all bring this snappy and seemingly simple film to life and I just want to live in its world. I want to fly to Paris right now just to walk the streets, the music from Breathless playing as I stroll.

I love the scene inside Patricia's apartment so much. I admire that Godard was willing to spent a good portion of the middle act of his first film in such a quiet and claustrophobic location, a place that seems so safe for a man who is on the run from the law. Sure, on the surface it is just two people talking, but it so effectively takes a break from the city streets that it almost makes us forget the stakes of the story. Almost being the key word because despite their isolation and privacy, on two separate occasions their conversation is overshadowed by the sound of blaring sirens passing by outside, one of my favorite subtle touches of Breathless. On the one hand, it could just be exterior sound through the open windows, nothing that carries any real meaning, but it could also foreshadow that no matter how safe and quiet and happy things seem for Michel and Patricia in that moment, it can't last forever and the crimes of Michel would catch up to them eventually.

Oh, one last thing. Is it humanly possible to watch this film and not get at least a slight crush on Jean Seberg? So beautiful, stealing the frames with ease, a confidence to her that only adds to her appeal. I am not familiar with her work outside of this film, but it is clear she was an amazing talent. What a shame her time on this earth was cut short at the far too young age of 40, but thanks to Breathless her beauty feels immortal and timeless.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Nymphomaniac: Volume I Review

I totally get what von Trier was trying to do here with Nymphomaniac: Volume 1, and I commend him for transcending the simple shock value factor by actually making a meaningful film beyond all the "OMG REAL SEX!" talk that lead up to my finally viewing the film. I am all for pushing the boundaries of cinema with methods meant to elicit a reaction from the audience, as long as those factors are contained within an actual film and an actual narrative, and clearly Lars delivered in that regard.

In fact, the first volume of his Nymphomaniac story is far less sex infused than I expected, as I went into the experience anticipating 86 minutes of artistic pornography and then 30 minutes of character development and plot. Lars von Trier clearly approached the topic of nymphomania with the intention of heading down a similar path as his 2011 film Melancholia, a film about depression and the devastating toll it can take on the person suffering as well as the victims they take down with them, and in that way I found Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 to exceed my expectations.

It's 2014 and sex is constantly at our fingertips, with a few clicks of a mouse you can find exactly what you want to see and who you want to see doing it, so merely presenting actual intercourse doesn't have the appeal it would have, say, 15 years ago when I was a perverted teenager with a one track mind. I had very little interest in a film such as this unless it had substance to back it up, and unfortunately while it tried, I simply could not grab hold of anything thematically with this picture. I just didn't care. I found the stories of sexual encounters to be rather bland and seemingly repetitive, which I guess you could say is the point because very little of this film is actually presented in a sexy fashion, but in the end what matters is that the content portrayed on the screen is capable of  holding my interest and Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 was teetering on the edge of being painfully boring.

The particular sequence that did work for me was the portion involving Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her father as he is losing a battle with cancer. I found the ability to associate her desire for pleasure with the urge to mask the pain of losing someone to be very effective and important for the film's narrative, but in the end that one portion wasn't enough to actually elevate the work to anything I would consider good or even remotely memorable. Well, except for seeing the erect penis of Shia LeBeouf. Unfortunately, that cost me at least a few minutes of sleep last night and will likely be something I have trouble forgetting any time soon.

I admire the craft of Lars von Trier and the fact that this film wasn't merely a compilation of debauchery and "shocking" imagery is enough for me to not completely dismiss the work as a whole, but when so many films are able to shake my core and leave me craving more, Nymphomaniac: Vol 1 didn't even register the slightest rattle and I certainly can take my time before sitting down for part two.


In a World... Review

In a a charming and easy to enjoy indie comedy from writer/director Lake Bell, who also happens to play the lead in the film. I am very impressed with her on all levels here, as the script is clever and mostly compelling, the direction is never flashy but skilled enough to allow the material to shine, and she wrote a strong, likeable lead character that was perfectly suited for her own performance abilities.

The concept of the film is original and interesting enough, and the fact that it is at least in part based on reality helped me connect with it in a more genuine fashion. Don LaFontaine was THE voice over guy, not in this fictional world crafted by Bell but in reality, and the plot of this film revolves around that industry and how different voices would compete to fill the rather large shoes of LaFontaine after he passed away, the man who was known for starting off a film trailer with the phrase "In a world...".

What I liked most about this film also brings up one of my only real gripes with the work ironically, and that is the main theme in play here which is the idea of a woman trying to break through in a profession dominated by men. The theme itself is meaningful and important, and I am sure a female audience could find themselves empowered by the central message, but I much preferred it when that message was delivered in a more subtle fashion (although it really wasn't ever that subtle). At the very end of the film, Bell flat out explains the entire point of the film for the audience, about what it means to be a strong woman and how important it is to carry yourself the right way, and I couldn't help but wonder who was watching this film and actually needed this scene to connect the dots.

Another slight issue here is the entire side story of the sister and her husband, as I am not entirely sure how this managed to be relevant in any sense to the overall point of the film. Perhaps Bell was concerned about focusing on only one character and her career aspirations throughout, but I actually found the world of the voice over and the gender issues in play to be far more interesting than a marriage on the rocks side story. A tighter more minimalist approach for such a compelling premise would have elevated this already solid work even further.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Green Lantern Review

How can you make a film like this, see the finished product and feel proud of it? Is that possible, or do you think even those involved in Green Lantern were embarrassed when they witnessed what all of their hard work created?

For years now I have heard countless people complain about Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern. After finally seeing this film, I don't understand why so much hatred is aimed towards him. Does he deserve any awards for his performance? Absolutely not. Was he the worst aspect of this extremely poor film? Not even close. Literally any actor on the planet could have been cast as the lead in this film and it still would have been terrible. Put this project in far more competent hands with Reynolds still playing Jordan and I'm certain a pretty solid film could have come from it.

Oh, and what the fuck was with the special effects? I felt like I was watching an episode of that shitty show on TNT Falling Skies. I had to google the production budget on this film and somehow 200 million dollars was spent on this turd. How? Where did the money go? Did Tim Robbins demand a 188 million dollar paycheck for this?

I only watched this because my daughter asked if we could, and she left the room after about 25 minutes. Smart kid.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

AVP: Alien vs. Predator Review

Forty five minutes into this film, and the intensity was unbearable. I break into a pretty serious sweat, and my nerves are fried. Where is the creature? It could be hiding behind any nook, any could be waiting for the perfect time to strike. My skin is crawling just typing this because I am reliving the experience all over again. It will be a miracle if I can get any sleep at all tonight. This will haunt me for quite some time.

You know, I am reading that first paragraph again and I just realized it might be a tad misleading. AVP: Alien vs. Predator is a terrible film. I mean holy shit, it is a film about the Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise fighting the Predators from that amazing action film appropriately titled Predator, and yet the final product is absurdly boring. Remember that time when Ripley saved Jonesy? Remember when Carl Weathers' arm went flying off in Predator? Cherish these moments, because nothing even remotely interesting happens during this entire film. Not one thing. I will never discuss this film with someone. What would we talk about? Nothing happens. Way too much time is spent following these bland human characters, none of which are developed in any way so when they die, I thought "oh hey, that guy died" because why would I give a shit to learn his name?

Why waste so much time on poorly written people? Just have the damn aliens fight the damn predators. No one seeing this film needs any semblance of a plot or reason to become emotionally invested, especially when Paul W.S. Anderson is in charge. Alien vs. Predator never had a chance to be a film with any real substance, so just skip it and stop pretending to craft something worthwhile. The opening scene should have been a Predator throwing some sort of weapon at an Xenomorph and then they just sorta kill each other for 90 minutes. At least then I would have given credit to Anderson for knowing how stupid this film was destined to be and thus embracing some non-stop poorly executed action sequences.

I should clarify the way I started this review. Exactly 45 minutes into this film, my wife called for me in the other room because a giant moth was loose, flying recklessly through the air, dive bombing anything in sight. I grabbed a shoe and prepared for battle, and my oh my what a battle it was. Ten epic minutes later and I stood over the corpse of my enemy, laughing at its dumb dead body as I tasted the sweet flavor of victory.

After I walked back into the living room, I glanced at the paused image on the screen and reality set back in. I was about to watch the rest of AVP. Perhaps the moth had seen a moment or two of the film and that was why it went all batshit kamikaze. The moth no longer wanted to live, it could no longer justify inhabiting a world that contained such awful cinema, so it went out in a blaze of glory.

Godspeed, my disgusting recently deceased enemy. You were a worthy opponent and, in the end, you were the winner all along.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Boyhood Review

On October 11th, 2007 at 9:54 PM, a new life came into this world, and I can still vividly remember hearing her cry for the first time, the moment it truly hit me that I had a daughter, the moment when I realized what unconditional love felt like. I had never met this tiny little person, I had never seen her, and obviously I had no clue how beautiful she would become inside and out as the years passed by, yet instantly all I wanted to do was grab her and never let go. She couldn't even open her eyes, yet she was my best friend in the world.

Early on, I wanted time to move quickly for some reason. I couldn't wait for her to stand up and walk across the room to my awaiting arms. I dreamed of having an actual conversation with her, one of meaning and purpose, filled with words that may actual impact her young, developing mind. The smile that would be plastered on my face anytime I pictured her sitting next to me during a film and experiencing the joy that art could bring, I spent far too much time trying to do the math on how long it would be before I could take her to the cinema and watch her expression as the lights dimmed. The future was a time of happiness and excitement and I couldn't wait for it to arrive.

I went into her bedroom and watched her sleep soundly for a few minutes last night after having my life truly enriched by the experience of viewing the film Boyhood, and I teared up when a simple yet profound thought entered my mind: where has the time gone? We recently began planning her 7th birthday, and no matter how hard I try the clock continues to tick away and the calendar flips at the end of each month. Time is relentless.

The admiration I have for Linklater not only attempting such an ambitious project but succeeding beyond my wildest dreams is incalculable, but what I want people to understand is that this isn't some pretty good film that is subject to absurd praise and hyperbole due to an innovative gimmick. A major reason why Boyhood is such an incredible cinematic experience is because we are watching this one boy grow up, we feel like we are a part of something special and personal and even though he was playing the fictional character of Mason, I can't help but feel as if I got to know Ellar Coltrane as a human being in the process. I met him as a bright eyed young boy looking up at the clouds, admiring the wonders of just how huge this world is, and over the course of twelve years I watched him transform, and it both overwhelmed me with happiness and broke my heart all at the same time.

The usage of music in the film will prove to be memorable and inspired, as I felt like I could connect certain songs with the periods of time they fit into and it brought me back to the past when I recall that song playing at a moment in my own life. I found I could relate to all of the dialogue throughout, both the words of a teenager hanging out with friends and also the thoughts and feelings of his parents as they deal with their own issues, their own relationships, their own scars. A performance issue may have popped up here or there with either a young Ellar or his fictional sister Samantha, played by Linklater's own daughter Lorelei, but not only are those very minor flaws to be expected from young, unproven actors, I actually found their imperfections to add to the incredible sense of realism that seeped out of every pore of the film. Not every word is said smoothly in reality, and not every child or teenager delivers thoughts like they were professionally trained in linguistics. These are human beings, flaws and all, and I adored getting to know them for the brief 165 minutes we shared.

I object to anyone who says that nothing happens in this film simply because some absurd, manufactured dramatic twists weren't tossed in the paths of these characters. When I look back at my life, sure I faced some obstacles, some dripping with bullshit even though I was too young and naive to know it like a girl not liking me when I was 14 years old, and some meaningful and impactful on my upbringing like when my epilepsy reared its ugly head and I was bullied at school as a result, but a vast majority of the days I have lived on this earth have been seemingly boring. I wake up, I live my life and rarely does anything eventful occur, and then I go to sleep and prepare to do it all over again. That's life, and it is a wondrous, beautiful thing. The chance to exist, the opportunity to love, the stumbles we experience along the way and the elation of true success and seeing the pride on the faces around us, all of these things are far more interesting than an action packed shootout or a choreographed sing a long at a school dance. Our lives and the people that fill them, the sunny days spent talking with my mother or the moments in which I felt like a disappointment, a failure, those are real, and I felt every possible thing Linklater intended to convey with this brilliant, powerful film.

Boyhood has a flow to it like poetry, a work so perfectly paced that I could have kept watching for hours more and never gotten tired of it. Sometimes the pacing of reality feels off, like these seven years spent with my amazing daughter have gone far too fast and I want to use all my strength to slow down time and appreciate each day with her at the age she is now. Unfortunately, it just isn't possible, and days will continue to begin and end, weeks will fly by and seasons will come and go. All I can do is be there, with her, and let life take its course, reveling in the beautiful days to come and holding on to those memories as the moments that were formerly reality fade into oblivion. The journey of young Mason is such an astonishing treasure, a life affirming historical moment in cinema that both works as joyous entertainment and also a reminder to never take the ones you love for granted.

I keep reminding myself not to succumb to hyperbole I would later regret, but I can't help what I am about to say because right now, in this moment I believe it: Boyhood is one of the greatest films I have ever seen.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Panic Room Review

It has been a while since the last time I laid eyes on Panic Room, and as a Fincher enthusiast I have always deemed it an effective yet lesser piece of his filmography. While this remains true, it is more a compliment to the rest of his work than an insult to this film, because Panic Room is a stylish and flat out entertaining exercise in the importance of utilizing setting and cinematography to build tension.

On the surface, Panic Room really is nothing special, a home invasion film that plays by some predictable rules like using a child to tug at the heartstrings and raise the stakes, a film that features flat and uninspired archetype villain characters, starting with the professional who wants to complete the mission yet somewhere down inside he still has a soul. Next is the young hot head, the reckless part of the team team that fights any and every urge to feel compassion because of the potential financial windfall waiting for them, and then finally we have the quiet wild card who seems the most composed yet eventually proves to be the maniac of the bunch.

In the hands of a different filmmaker, Panic Room may have been an easily ignored, after-thought of a film, but Fincher manages to elevate the work with some delicious camera work as we swoop from room to room, floor to floor of this majestic home. The cold and dour cinematography sets the mood for the film along with the appropriate stormy weather taking place outside. Thanks to the man in charge and the excellent team surrounding him, along with great casting to fill these otherwise uninteresting characters, Panic Room does so much right that I can ignore all the ways it falls short. This was probably my fifth viewing of the film and yet my pulse was racing  during certain scenes, as if I was in danger myself despite already knowing how it all plays out.

With a film like The Social Network (in my opinion, his true masterpiece), Fincher was able to add his style to an incredible, smart script by Sorkin, along with the stunning score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and it resulted in a completed work that I deem to be flawless. While Panic Room isn't flawless, the talent involved elevates it above its flaws, and I find the film to be immensely enjoyable.


Blood Simple Review

Finally, FRIGGIN' FINALLY I got around to witnessing the first film from the minds of Joel and Ethan Coen and my goodness what a confident debut it was. Blood Simple is a masterful noir that plays like it was made by a filmmaker at the top of his craft, a crime thriller that both feels soothing in its calm pacing yet is also unnerving for the very same reason.

I have long admired the Coens ability to make a brief film feel as if it was bursting at the seams with detail and meaningful dialogue. I had seen Fargo multiple times before I realized that it checked in at under 100 minutes and it seemed like a typo, an impossibility. So many incredible characters, so many memorable moments, so much brilliant dialogue and it all felt like it had plenty of time to breathe, a perfect almost poetic flow to the narrative that it balanced the rather thin line that exists between rushed and bloated.

What now amazes me is that my eyes have been opened to the fact that they have had this artful, remarkable skill since the very beginning. Blood Simple is painted with a magical cinematic brush, one that somehow crafts a near masterpiece on its very first try yet you know even better things are yet to come. I can't imagine how excited I would have been had Blood Simple been the way I was introduced to the Coen brothers, not knowing was was yet to come from their brilliant minds. Films like Fargo, No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis, all worthy of full marks in my eyes.

I have always considered myself a massive fan of the Coen films, yet that claim had always felt a tad disingenuous because I still had a few gaping holes in their filmography that needed to be filled. Cross one off the list and color me so, so impressed.

Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink remain...


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Last year, I fell in love with Pacific Rim and my exact reasons why were difficult to put into words. The joy I felt from the experience was reminiscent of how I felt when I was in awe of a film as a child, a tiny version of me staring up at the majestic screen as if there was nothing else in the world that mattered. Some may watch a film like Pacific Rim and deem it too silly to take seriously, and I can appreciate that and respect their opinions, but the magic that washed over me during those two hours cannot be overstated. It was the most blissful big screen experience since I was able to go see the Star Wars trilogy when it was re-released in the late 90's.

You might be wondering, why is this turd still talking about Pacific Rim

That magic I felt just a year ago came flooding back earlier today when I got a chance to witness Guardians of the Galaxy on an IMAX screen. Fuck I love this film.

My first ever perfect score for a film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so obviously I don't even need to say the obvious, but I will anyways: despite totally friggin' loving The Avengers and The Winter Soldier, this is the best thus far. Guardians of the Galaxy managed to balance the many laugh out loud moments with some genuinely tender sequences and thrilling action set pieces. Oh, and holy balls what a gorgeous film to look at. I was mesmerized multiple times, where I was grinning like a fool just admiring the incredibly detailed frames. 

I mean, shit, I had tears in my eyes during the first five minutes, and those tears came back on a couple other occasions later in the film as well. I didn't anticipate this from the wacky trailers and television spots. I expected the laughs, but the tears? Nope, didn't plan on those visiting, but I am not ashamed. I was so excited to actually be moved by a film featuring a talking tree and raccoon. 

Speaking of those characters, color me impressed at the amazing way they were developed without dragging out the narrative with flashbacks or back story overkill. The amazing script by writer/director James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman knew exactly how to make the audience deeply care for the pain each character felt because of past tragedies without wasting too much time shedding light on exactly how those events played out. Even Groot, a talking tree who only says "I am Groot" throughout managed to be remarkably charismatic and lovable. It certainly isn't easy to pull off what Gunn did with these mostly unknown characters and make them totally accessible to any person of any age, but the craft of this entire work is quite the achievement.

For all these reasons, along with an outrageously fantastic selection of music throughout, Guardians of the Galaxy is without question the most fun I have had with a film thus far in 2014. I already have plans to go back with a buddy and see it on Tuesday, and I'm pathetically excited just thinking about it.