Thursday Oct 27, 2011
Thursday Oct 27, 2011
Thursday Oct 27, 2011
“I’m going to hit you.”
- Scott (Robert Forester)
“This is Hawaii. Some of the most powerful people here look like bums and stuntmen.”
- Matt King (George Clooney)
Alexander Payne is a bit of a badass. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of his work you have to admit that this is a man who can take amazing actors and bring some defining performances out of them.
He did it with Nicholson in “About Schmidt,” he did it with Paul Giamatti in “Sideways,” and now he does it with George Clooney in “The Descendants.” They may not be flashy performances full of “actor-y” moments, but they are solid, real, and believable human beings that he is able to bring to the screen. I know he does it with brilliant actors, but he does it with fairly well known actors and makes you forget what you know, or think you know, about them.
In “The Descendants,” George Clooney plays Matt King, a happily married father of two who makes a good living as a lawyer. Oh, and he is also the head of a trust that owns an enormous amount of completely undeveloped land in Hawaii. We meet him just after his wife falls into a coma after a boating accident, a coma she will never come out of. He is tasked with helping his daughters deal with the impending death of their mother, informing her friends and family that she doesn’t have long to live, oh and deciding the fate of the massive quantity of land that supplies his family with their fortune.
He has a lot on his plate.
Brief aside. Has there ever been an actor with a better “silly serious” face than Clooney? Think about it. He is crazy good looking, but he can do this think where he looks completely concerned, focused, and absolutely ridiculous. It’s kind of cool.
Anyway... back to the review.
First off, this movie gets comic relief right! That is such a rarity these days. You are dealing with some serious, depressing subject matter, but you never feel weighed down by it. Actually, for as serious as the goings on are, this is a hysterically funny movie.
Second, it looks stunning. Hawaii is a ridiculously beautiful place and I am stunned that more movies aren’t filmed there. I mean, yeah there are a lot of movies that are set in Hawaii, but how many of them don’t involve surfing? The quiet, stunning beauty of the movie really provides an amazing backdrop for this story.
The performances are fantastic. Like I said before, Payne is great at getting performances out of actors. To give you an idea, he made Matthew Lillard absolutely compelling as an adult! Honestly, has he played an adult before? I don’t think he has.
Shailene Woodley is incredible as the conflicted, delinquent older daughter. She allows you to feel for this confused young girl who really loves and wants to protect her father, and feels betrayed by here dying mother. Her heartbreak and anger are so real that you can’t help siding with her, even when she’s being a bit of a bitch.
The other performances are outstanding as well. Nick Krause, who plays Sid, is absolutely amazing. This character should have annoyed the absolute hell out of me, but somehow it didn’t. Krause brings a complexity to his character that was refreshing. I'm hoping to see more of this kid in the future. Rob Huebel (of “Children’s Hospital”) steals damned near every scene he’s in, and Robert Forester creates an amazingly sympathetic bastard as Clooney’s grieving father in law.
The direction is… well its Alexander Payne. He has never been afraid to look closely at the relationships that define us (friendships, loves, families) and show characters that really don’t have what they need in them. I mean they have friends, lovers, and families but they always seem to be apart from them. He shows the walls that people build around themselves out of fear and insecurity and how those walls become such a big part of who they are that they aren’t even aware they are behind a wall anymore.
This film is no different. Matt’s life isn’t what he wants it to be. He is distant from his wife, separated from his oldest daughter, completely baffled by his youngest daughter, and a member of a family so big and so peripheral to him that he has a “Cousin six.” This is a man who has everything, a great family and a huge fortune, buy who is so wrapped up in his own head that he can’t for a moment really enjoy it. You get to feel for the man, see him grow, see him find a path and hope that he stays on it. Because in the end, all the future ever gives us is hope.
Payne makes movies about dysfunction, loss, and broken people who have to go somewhere else to reassess their priorities so they can come back home whole. I have been a fan of his since “Election,” and I always think he has done all he can to impress me, I am always wrong. “The Descendants” is a fantastically written, brilliantly directed, flawlessly acted film that is quite possibly Payne’s best. And that is saying quite a lot.
Wednesday Oct 26, 2011
Wednesday Oct 26, 2011
Wednesday Oct 26, 2011
George Burns was right: show biz is a horrible bitch goddess. -Bart Simpson
“I won’t talk. I won’t say a word.”
George Valentin- Opening Line of “The Artist”
What do you love about movie? Not what movies do you love, but what is it about film itself that you love?
For me it’s the wonder of it. I still remember the excitement I felt when I was a little kid, when going to the theatre to see a movie was like going on vacation. It was a special trip that you made with mom or dad when they wanted to do something special for you. There was this excitement because everything was so big. Not just the screen, but the room, the popcorn, the sodas, all of it seemed larger than everything else in your life.
Even as I got older and movies became more commonplace that feeling still hung on. Hell, even when I was a theatre manager and ran the projector, seeing completely behind the screen it just added to the spectacle.
But as you get older it becomes more and more difficult to hold on to that feeling. You know what is going on behind the curtain, and it’s not pretty. It goes from being a special treat you enjoy with your family to a business. You are aware that your inflated ticked price is paying for some over budgeted, heavy effect, light story, over tested product. Now instead of being a wonderful experience that takes you away from the world for a little bit you are aware, even if just slightly in the back of your mind, that you are signing someone’s multi million dollar paycheck.
Remember what it felt like when you were a kid? Do you remember that rush of pure joy that came from even the most disposable of entertainment? When was the last time you had it?
I can specifically remember two movies that gave me that feeling recently. “Son of Rambow,” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Agree or disagree, these are movies that provoked that sense of spontaneous joy in me. I treasure those movies because I will never forget how they made me feel like a 7 year old seeing “Legend of the Lone Ranger,” and being so swept away by it that I failed to realize how awful it was.
That is the feeling I am looking for when I enter a theatre now. Not for a movie that makes me ignore its awfulness, but one that is so incredibly moving, so infectious in its joy, and so captivating in it’s energy that I leave feeling like a giddy child.
“The Artist” has given me another film to add to this list.
First and most importantly, this is a silent, black and white film. If the idea of a silent, black and white film is immediately repellent to you, please navigate away from this page. No offense, but if that will keep you away then perhaps you need to find another place to spend your time.
This is one of the best films I have seen in years. Full stop. No qualifications, no categorizations.
It is the story of George Valentin, the king of the silent action films. He is the king of the film world. He and his dog (who steals every scene he is in, and proves categorically why dogs are better than cats) can get any picture made and whatever picture they make together is sure to be a hit. But then… sound.
From the beginning film was meant to be a sound medium. But the technological limitations prevented decent recording and playback. When the tech caught up the industry was shaken to its core. Many of the stars of silent film were either unable or unwilling to make the leap (many of them being “foreigners” with heavy accents didn’t help).
Well, George Valentin finds himself in just that position. His world is silent and he sees “talkies” as a passing fad, a novelty that will fade once people grow tired of it. We kind of know how this plays out.
As George falls we see the rise of Peppy Miller, a young woman first noticed when she literally fell out of line and into Velentin’s arms at a premier. He helped her get her first job, and in doing so unwittingly played party to his own downfall.
Peppy was of the new breed of movie star (which itself was a new breed of celebrity), one who spoke.
We follow their disparate, intertwining lives over the course of a few years.
Enough about the plot. This is really a movie about sticking by your convictions no matter what the cost, but also about the cost of sticking by your convictions.
This film is absolutely expert in all regards. The musical choices, the writing (title cards as well as plot), the supporting performances (John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Uggie, Dash, and Dude who share the role of Jack the dog), the brilliant casting of the lead characters, who incidentally give amazing performances as well, (Jean Dujardin, Valentin, is French, and Berenice Bejo, Peppy Miller, is Argentinean. The casting itself is a wink to film historians who know the impact sound had on non-American actors), and the choice use of sound in two scenes, are all absolutely perfect.
I honestly could write about this movie for another hour. It is wildly inventive, gutsy, and thoroughly entertaining. This is a movie made for people like me who love movies and who are constantly looking for something to remind us of what we love about them. Even if the idea of a silent, black and white film doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then you need it more than someone who thinks it sounds great. I had almost forgotten about the joy of film, the pure love I had when I was a kid when the lights would go down and my pulse would star to race. This movie helped me remember. I know it sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth. I literally cheered at the end of it, and that is saying a lot. So go and see “The Artist” and fall in love with movies again.
Tuesday Oct 25, 2011
Tuesday Oct 25, 2011
Tuesday Oct 25, 2011
I love artistic competition movies. I mean, I absolutely love that shit.
If you don’t know what I mean by “artistic competition” movie it’s a simple concept. Any time you have a person facing off in a competition involving a strictly subjectively viewed artistic endeavor… well that, my friends, is an artistic competition movie. There is a simple beauty in their absurdity and the totally subjective nature of any perceived victory. It's basically a "we won... 'cause!" situation. I can think of nothing more American.
So if you’ve ever sat through the experience of someone getting served, or roll bouncing, or break dancing, or even, in one of the greatest films ever made, rapping (“Rappin’” was an 80’s film staring Mario Van Peebles as a man known as “Rappin’ Hood” who used his rapping powers to… I’m not sure what he did with them, but I think it involved a business developer. And that fool got owned. Oh!!! And he had a friend who punctuated his raps [rappings?] with a fucking bullwhip! You should have stopped reading by this point and gone to Neflix instant to watch this shit. I’ll wait… you see, totally worth the time, wasn’t it?) than you have enjoyed an artistic competition movie.
The thing is, they are by their very nature fucking absurd. Some kids break dancing to save the abandoned warehouse they hang out in (preventing the greedy land developer from providing jobs and commerce for their distressed area) makes perfect sense when you are a preteen/teen, but once you hit voting age they become a bit… silly.
Now, there have been attempts at this in the past. Things like “Dance Movie” unfortunately come to mind. And tragically these hunks of shit have added a preemptive stench to the very idea of this type of parody.
So, who better to effectively parody the genre than the masters of smart, absurd comedy The Upright Citizens Brigade?
I submit, nobody.
Matt Besser (Founding member of the UCB, Adar on the Comedy Central show they did, he was in Walk Hard, as well as showing up in damned near everything that is funny) directs this film version of the UCB stage show “Freak Dance.”
I was leery of this at first. Even though I am a huge UCB fan as well as a big fan of Besser (his album “Can I Help You, Dumbass?” is utter genius) what passes for parody film these days is so depressing and just insultingly unfunny that I am predisposed to avoidance. But I sucked it up and went.
Damn, am I glad I did.
“Freak Dance” is absurdist comedy at it’s best. It exists at the spot in the universe where every artistic competition movie ever made collided with “The Warriors.” This is a world where dancers are poor street people, dancing is frowned upon in polite society, and “the marijuana” is the scourge of the streets.
The story follows Cocolonia, a rich girl desperate to break away from the repression her mother (Amy Pohler doing what she does best) and dance. She runs into a scrappy dance crew run by Funky Bunch. From there the plot is fairly formula, but that’s the point.
The headquarters of the crew is at risk of being shut down for lack of a second means of egress, and they are forced into a dance competition in order to raise the money to help.
What sets “Freak Dance” apart from the trash pile of contemporary film parodies is the respect paid to the audience. Yes, there are references a plenty, but you don’t have to get that this bit is from “Flashdance” or that bit is from “Warriors” or this other bit is from “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” in order to enjoy it. Catching the references helps, but even if you don’t you will still find something to laugh at.
How awful is it that we live in a world where getting to say, “This comedy is funny,” is a novelty? Honestly, it’s God damned awful. We have such a steady diet of over explained, dumbed down, lazy, obvious humor that something this fresh, original, and genuinely funny is… well it’s a relief.
Find this film. I don’t care how, just fucking find it. Watch it, laugh your ass off, and tell your friends. It’s about time we went out of our way to support good comedy.
In addition to “Freak Dance” this screening also included the short film “Playing Doctor,” a PSA parody directed by Willie Rockerfeller which boldly asks the question “are doctors really… doctors?” It’s about the dangers of people impersonating physicians.
This is one of the best short films I have seen in years. It is absolutely hysterical and contains one of my favorite lines ever (“Your vagina is all… bugaboo.”). You need to find this one quick. It is brilliant.
Monday Oct 24, 2011
Monday Oct 24, 2011
Monday Oct 24, 2011
Jim here, A quick welcome to anyone new to the site. If you got a card at AFF you got it from me. Thanks for not just throwing it away. Hope you enjoy my stream of consciousness reviewing. For this years AFF I am doing things a bit differently. Instead of doing everything the day of I have decided to spread it out a little bit and write about the movies and the panels whenever I feel like writing about them. That is the beauty of running the site, I can do that. So... without further
6 Month Rule
w/d Blayne Weaver
Starring: Blayne Weaver, Martin Starr, Natalie Morales, Dave Foley, John Michael Higgins
I am going to be honest with you here. I was a little leery going into this film. Sure, it looked interesting, but I have reservations any time I see something that could be termed a romantic comedy. While the description I read didn’t scream rom-com, there was a definite whisper in what I read.
But, after reading the comments from the show’s technical savior Matt (formerly “My Jewish Friend Matt,” who has fully earned his new title after resurrecting our Kubrick show) I decided it would be a film worth seeing.
…and I was right.
“6Month Rule,” is the story of Tyler, a talented photographer who has sold out for easy money. Tyler is the kind of guy who thinks he has the cheat code for life. He has a set of rules for how to maneuver without any hindrance to his freedom and independence. He believes that there is no woman out there that a man cannot completely get over within six months, and why would he want a long term relationship when he could be free and clear and experiencing the exciting newness of a conquest in half a year.
Then he meets Sophie and she complicates things. Now, at this point you’re asking, “How is this not a romantic comedy?” Well, first off, throw out any and all notions of “romantic comedy.” Yes, there are some hallmarks here, but they are handled in such a fresh, real, and original way as to completely remove the label. This is a film about detachment, friendship, love, the pursuit of happiness, and mostly fear and how that fear can cause us to miss the happiness.
Tyler isn’t some hard-core player who can score any chick any time. He is a confident guy who does well with women. He is a man at that odd age where he is no longer a college student in a world of disposable relationships, but is not quite a settle down and get married guy. He is a younger version of Hugh Grant in “About a Boy,” but with a slightly less predatory sensibility.
This choice, this not making him the guy who can get any girl, is what makes this movie work. If nothing else Tyler is relatable. Everyone has a friend like this and if you don’t, it’s because you are/were like this. He has an easier time with women than most, and all he wants is to not be tied down. Had he been played the other way, he would have been irredeemable from the beginning and the movie would have died on the starting block.
He is not a completely likeable character; in fact there are times when you are completely justified in wanting to smack him. But he is not malicious about it. His longest romantic relationship, a brilliant storyline involving Vanessa Branch (who is amazing), shows that he is just a fairly self centered guy who cannot appreciate what is happening in front of him.
What I found most refreshing about this film is that Weaver, your writer/director/star/ didn’t write one good part for himself and then populate the rest of the movie with people who make him shine by comparison. Every character is well thought out, well written, well acted, and, most importantly, has a definite purpose in the world of the film.
I am going to start with what I loved most about this movie. Sophie, played brilliantly by Natalie Morales (White Collar, Parks and Rec [editorial note: Tom Haverford should be kicked in the stomach until he vomits blood for messing up his relationship with her), is an actual well written female character! Anyone who listens to the show knows that I fucking hate how most female characters are written. They are either a manic pixie dream girl, a shrieking harpy, or some vapid pretty face that our hero wants simply because she is hot. First off, yes Natalie is hot, but she also looks like an actual, real woman. You know the kind I’m talking about, you’ve fallen in love with one at some point in your life and were too scared to talk to her or you did and ended up being her good friend. She has an approachable beauty that makes her even more unapproachable, if that makes any sense.
Now, if she were just hot that would be one thing, but she is also a very down to earth, fun, funny, and interesting person. She isn’t quirky (Film Thugs Translation: annoying), or aloof (Film Thugs Translation: narcissistic). She’s real. You believe Tyler would fall in love with her because you kind of fall in love with her. The best part, she is just as flawed as Tyler, only in a different way. She isn't some idealized version of the perfect woman. Her flaws just happen to make her perfect for him.
Speaking of love, I must pull an aside here and say that this film features what may be the best “falling in love” sequence I’ve ever seen. It’s a single location montage that covers a few days and it is probably the most relateable scene of it’s type I’ve ever watched. Who hasn’t had this happen? You meet, you go out, you hit it off, you have one night that bleeds into the next day which bleeds into the next night and morning and you find yourself hooked. It is the best part of any relationship and is conveyed with such conviction that it moves you through the rest of the film. It is so powerful that when we reach the inevitable heartbreak (I’m not spoiling anything, you know it’s coming, but not due to predictability of story, but because it is the only place these characters can end up) it is all the more devastating.
The love story is fantastic, but it is by no means the central point of the film. For that we go to the friendship.
Martin Starr is Alan, Tyler’s best friend, is just out of a three-year engagement and is struggling to move on. Tyler is determined to help him learn the value of his six month rule. However, Alan sees how dysfunctional this is and resists. He is the voice of morality. He wants connection and stability and cannot understand why Tyler is so set against it. Even though Tyler is determined to help Alan you know that the teacher/student roles should be reversed.
Add in Dave Foley giving one of his best, if not his absolute best, performances, and John Michael Higgins killing like he always does,as well as Patrick J. Adams (who is a bad ass on "Suits") in an absolute scene stealing performance and honestly, how could you resist?
“6 Month Rule” is a refreshing look at a familiar genre. Like “Swingers” it focuses on the relationships that really matter in life and shows how difficult moving on and growing up can be. It’s about the need to connect and the need some people have to sabotage themselves out of fear of what both failure and success could mean.
Sunday Oct 23, 2011
Sunday Oct 23, 2011
Sunday Oct 23, 2011
Day 3 Long, busy day. Saw Michael Arndt give his Toy Story 3 presentation, saw John Lassiter, saw a panel by show runners. Met comedian Fred Stoller. Ran into an old high school friend, saw a short and a feature, and walked past James Franco at the Driscol bar. Details forthcoming. Day 4 Saw Arndt's presentation on endings again. Even on second viewing it was the highlight of my weekend. I also saw... American Teacher Six Month Rule Both were outstanding. I have decided to write my reviews starting tomorrow and to review them in the order that I feel like reviewing them. So that will be fun. Details and awesome show forthcoming.