Sunday, November 23, 2008
Favorite to Least Favorite Movie from 2008 (from the little I've seen) (more subjective)
2. Tropic Thunder
4. Snow Angels
5. Burn After Reading
6. Pineapple Express
7. The Duchess
8. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
9. Role Models
10. The Dark Knight
11. Zach and Miri Make a Porno
12. Kung Fu Panda
15. The Ruins
16. Iron Man
17. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
18. Speed Racer
19. Quantum of Solace
20. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
22. Smart People
23. Run, Fatboy, Run
Greatest to Worst Film from 2008 (from the little I've seen) (more objective)
3. Snow Angels
4. The Duchess
5. The Dark Knight
6. Tropic Thunder
7. Burn After Reading
8. Iron Man
9. Kung Fu Panda
10. Pineapple Express
11. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
13. Zack and Miri Make a Porno
14. Role Models
15. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
17. The Ruins
18. Speed Racer
19. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
20. Quantum of Solace
22. Smart People
23. Run Fatboy Run
Top 15 Performances of 2008 So Far (from the little I’ve seen)
1. Sean Penn – Harvey Milk - Milk
2. Sam Rockwell – Glenn Merchand - Snow Angels
3. Ralph Fiennes – The Duke of Devonshire – The Duchess
4. Keira Knightley – The Duchess of Devonshire – The Duchess
5. Josh Brolin – Dan White – Milk
6. Heath Ledger – The Joker – The Dark Knight
7. Robert Downey Jr. – Kirk Lazarus – Tropic Thunder
8. Emile Hirsch – Cleve Jones - Milk
9. Michael Anagrano – Arthur Parkinson - Snow Angels
10. James Franco – Saul - Pineapple Express
11. Jess Weixler – Dawn O’Keefe – Teeth
12. Kate Beckinsale – Annie Merchand – Snow Angels
13. Aaron Eckhart – Harvey Dent – The Dark Knight
14. Frances McDormand –Linda Litzke - Burn After Reading
15. George Clooney – Harry Pfarrer – Burn After Reading
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Disclaimer: These are not reviews I write and revise and make better. I seriously just type my thoughts and post them. I don't want people to think I actually think these are well written. Eventually I would like to work on making actually good reviews but for now writing out all of my thoughts is enough for me.
Review: "The Duchess"
I was not expecting a lot out of “The Duchess”. This was something I went into moderately interested in but expecting an OK movie laden with the clichés of the period film. What I got was a film that went way beyond my expectations and showed me a sincere and heartbreaking portrait of a woman who endures so much, lives through it and cannot break out of any of the situations she gets into because of the status of women in the 1700’s and let’s be honest, far beyond that point. This film succeeds in the way it does primarily due to the two lead performances by Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes.
“The Duchess” tells the extraordinary story of the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish. She is married off to the Duke played by Ralph Fiennes. She is excited about the marriage because she is naïve and idealistic about what marriage is in her mind. To the Duke the marriage is a business arrangement made so the Duke can produce a male heir. Nothing more. The Duke is unrelentingly cold to her throughout the movie. He has sex with her when he wants to and is not caring towards her vulnerability. What is refreshing about this portrayal is that the film does not view the Duke as this pure evil being. He basically is pure evil and the film does not try to really lend him any sympathy. However the film has the perspective of the customs of the time so The Duke’s actions are all acceptable, not because the film thinks they are but because it is looking at things through the perspective of the 1700’s. Georgiana talks to her mother about it and she sees it as a minor inconvenience a woman has to deal with. Women just had to deal with it. The Duke has sex with whomever he wants and Georgiana as well. She has difficulty producing a male heir and The Duke becomes more frustrated with her. At the same time, she is becoming a fashion icon, an activist for women’s rights and the Whig party. She makes a best friend, Bess who she cherishes as the one person she has to herself. Bess ends up living with Georgiana and the Duke because her husband will not let her see her children. Georgiana discovers that Bess and the Duke are having an affair. Bess feels awful about it but says it is the only way she can see her kids. So The Duke and Bess and Georgiana live in the house together and she has to deal with it because she has no say. She finally says she will give them her blessing if The Duke agrees to acknowledge the feelings she has for Charles Grey. He freaks out because he cannot believe she has the gall to suggest she has any right to propose a deal. He says she has not been living up to her duties as a wife; to be loyal and to produce a male heir. He then rapes her and ta-da!! A male heir. How nice. She eventually carries on an affair with Charles Grey which The Duke finds out about and tells her if she does not come back she will never see her kids again. At first she does not go but she cannot give up her children and she has to go back. She has a daughter by Charles Grey which The Duke makes her give up. The film ends with Georgiana getting to be with her kids but to be stuck in a loveless marriage with a husband who she hates, has raped her, uses her for sex, makes her give up her child, etc, while his mistress is her best friend who also lives in the house. This arrangement continued until her death at the age of 48.
I never take films that are meant to be based on fact to be true in any way. Yes the film is historically accurate (although it barely touches on her drinking and gambling problem and never goes into her drug use) so the events are true but obviously we really do not know what these people were like and if these were the feelings of the parties involved. So I never take that into consideration and I just try to see the film as if it were a fictional story. However outside of the fact that we do not know the feelings of the people involved, just looking at these concrete events is astounding. This woman had such courage.
There are so many aspects of the film that are handled so well. The perspective it takes on things is one. The film presents Georgiana’s situation not as a particularly out of the ordinary one (outside of the Bess situation) but as a situation that was just the way things were at the time and the difference is that this woman was famous, important and went through a hell of a lot. I will refer to the scenes when Georgiana talks with her mother about sex. Even she does not wonder why she has to put up with a man having sex with her when he pleases but because he is so distant towards her and because he is rough. Her mother, as I said passes it off as it is something we have to deal with and eventually you learn to live with it. An inconvenience is what it is. The mother is not meant to be an evil character either. She is a loving mother who lives in the 1700’s and has a completely different perspective on things. What this nonchalant “oh it’s just a part of life” attitude does for the viewer is really point out how little say women had at the time to the point where the women do not on a regular basis understand really how wrong it is.
What this adds up to is a reason I respect the film so much is because it does not have characters that are written in a way where the mindset of the characters is not modern to such a large extent which is so often the case with period films. These characters function as people in the 1700’s who see things in the way they were then or at least as much as I’ve seen a film be able to do this. This is a huge success in my opinion and something most period films cannot accomplish to the degree this one did.
I really felt Georgiana’s plight and the inescapability of her situation. The film really puts you in her place and lets you see how stuck she was and you feel that. You feel the frustration and the anger and the helplessness of it. This is due to Keira Knightley’s performance. I figured people were talking about it because it was her but she gives by far her best performance here. It is an astoundingly mature and impressive performance that I honestly did not think she was capable of. Several scenes are of note. One is when the Duke first has sex with her. She perfectly captures the vulnerability, confusion and objectification of her situation as he cuts off her clothes, stares at her, tells her to go over to the bed and then has rough, cold, distant sex with her as she is a deer in headlights and in pain. It is one of the great scenes of the year and one of the best acted scenes I’ve seen this year. Another scene is when she has to give her child away. I know that the Best Actress category is jam packed this year. We have Meryl Streep, Melissa Leo, Kristen Scott Thomas, Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet, Sally Hawkins, Angelina Jolie, Kate Beckinsale (for Nothing But the Truth and not Snow Angels unfortunately) and Cate Blanchett. “The Duchess” did not get good enough reviews to get Knightley in the Best Actress category and if this were a semi empty year she would get it but there are 6 performances here that are apparently ridiculously strong. No matter the competition I’d like her to get in. I think she deserves it and I’ll be whole heartedly disappointed if she is not recognized in some way for her work here as I was truly truly moved by it.
Luckily Ralph Fiennes has a slightly larger chance of getting recognized with a nomination of Best Supporting Actor as The Duke of Devonshire. His portrayal of The Duke is actually what elevates this film into being much more notable. He could have been portrayed as a straight up villain. While he has no redeeming acts in the film, he is not portrayed as a one-note villain but as one that has a lot going on inside of his head. He is someone who does not really enjoy doing the things he does but he does them anyways without hesitation. Yet he cares about Georgiana in a very strange and subtle way; in a way that is barely noticeable and barely there but does exist even if it is small. The Duke is sad and alone despite having both Georgiana and Bess. He connects more to his dogs than with everyone else. Fiennes’ performance is remarkable, another one that I hope is not forgotten for a nomination come Oscar time. The scenes involving just Fiennes and Knightley are ripe for character analysis, easily some of the best scenes I’ve seen in a movie this year. These are two remarkable performances.
The rest of the cast is great too. I always get excited to see Charlotte Rampling who can do no wrong. Hayley Atwell pulls off a tough role, as the traitor to Georgiana but we still have to sympathize with her. Dominic Cooper was Ok as Grey. He definitely was not bad but if I had to pick a weak link it would be him. Again, it is not that he is bad; I just do not think he has a lot of presence on screen.
The music which at first I felt was typical period piece music, by the end had become enough of a theme where I became slightly nostalgic for it and could easily associate it with the movie in a good way. By the end it really became part of the film for me. The costumes are incredible. Georgiana was a fashion icon of sorts in the day so the costumes she wears are suitably delightful and impressive to see.
The movie was perfectly paced, nothing went on for too long and the film moved spent the right amount of time on everything. More time could have been spent on Georgiana and Grey but that would have taken away from her and the Duke which is where the real focus ought to have been and rightfully it was. A slight complaint.
In conclusion I went in expecting little from this a typical period piece film which is the way some people saw it. What elevated this into a special category was the refreshing change of the film and characters having the perspective of the 1700’s and not modern times. This is rarely done and made the situations more horrific because of the characters and how they function within them as members of England in the 1700’s. None of the characters are one dimensional; each has a point of view and/or layers that contain some manner of death. The performances of Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes make this movie. Knightley puts us through what she goes through and has the ability to let us know what she is thinking at any moment without saying anything. She gives a performance of maturity and depth that officially allows me to take her ery seriously as an actress. Ralph Fiennes is remarkable as well giving a performance that elevates the film into a special status but not playing him as a one note villain but as someone full of layers and depth that are hinted at in such a way that even though his acts are pure evil and we are given no real reason to sympathize with him at all, calling him the bad guy seems wrong. This is not an easy feat. I went into this expecting little. I feel the reviews for the film do not reflect how good the film really is. This took me by surprise and “The Duchess” is a very moving and extremely well done film, showing me something in the period film that I have not seen for a long time.
“Role Models” is a film I had no interest in seeing when I saw the trailer. I did not think it looked bad, it just looked like there were many other ways I would want to spend an hour and a half. It looked like such a throwaway movie. Something nobody would remember 2 weeks after it comes out. Then the reviews started to come in. They were good; really quite good. I was shocked. Then I remembered David Wain was writing and directing. Then I remembered I hated "The Ten". Then I remembered "The State" and "Stella". Should I give this a try? When the good notices came in I thought maybe I should give this a chance. I won’t go to the theater but I do want to eventually see it. Then I found a copy of it online. Was it a good copy? Yes I was very satisfied with it and this is the story of how I came to see “Role Models”.
“Role Models” surprised me. I don’t actually think I have anything bad to say about it. It is one of those movies that really go beyond the expectations that come with it. The plot is familiar, completely conventional and clichéd as well as predictable. Besides all of that, the film manages to work on a refreshing high quality level for what it is trying to be. “Role Models” manages to be refreshing through a plot and concept that on the surface seems the very opposite of refreshing. Despite all of this I found myself laughing consistently throughout the film and actually not wanting it to end.
The writing for the film is spot on with David Wain getting help from Paul Rudd among others. The cast is what makes this film. Paul Rudd is someone who I will never tire of. I think he contains an endless amount of funny within him. We have seen him play character similar to Danny before. He’s pessimistic, cynical and hates everything. He does this so well though and his hokey character transformation seems pretty genuine within the constructs of the movie.
Seann William Scott is someone who I normally do not enjoy in movies. It’s nothing against the guy personally (in real life all I hear is how genuinely kind and full of life he is; and he’s extremely smart) but as an actor I’ve never enjoyed the types of roles he takes. I find that Stifler is the embodiment of guys I hate and I find it frightening that so many guys worship this character. So he was another reason I was not keen on seeing this. Although he plays the same type of character (sex-crazed life lover) Wheeler is actually relatively different in that he is a decent human being and not made up of various parts of obnoxious. I did not find the parts with him to slag at all. I actually enjoyed him in this and am happy to see him have something successful again.
The two kids in the movie were just as important to the film and just as enjoyable. Christopher Mintz-Plasse fits right in and proves he can do something besides McLovin. I don't think he has a huge career ahead of him only because I do not think there are many options for a guy like him to move around in within the different types of characters but I do think he'll be around for a little while. He is so good in this. Bobb’e J. Thompson as the other kid is downright hilarious at parts. Jane Lynch is a goddess of comedy as she manages to steal every single scene she is in; literally every one.
I still have a lot to learn about how to specifically pick out what it good and bad about a movie so I do not really know what to say about the movie. The pacing was pitch-perfect. I was never bored, everything moved along perfectly. It is one of those movies where you wish you could go back and remember all of the funny parts because there were so many of them. This is a movie I want to watch again when it comes out on DVD and possibly own. “Role Models” is not an important film by any means; but it is damn entertaining and an extremely refreshing and very very very funny surprise.
P.S – I liked it more than “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”. And I actually subjectively like it more than “The Dark Knight”. This is blasphemous I know. “The Dark Knight” is obviously a better film, it is my number 3 for greatest of the year. But it is my number 9 for favorites. But if I had to pick which one I just plain liked more, it would be this one. Sorry everyone.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
"Quantum of Solace" is the follow up to "Casino Royale" and the second in the new James Bond franchise. I must state immediately that I have never been James Bond person. I’ve seen "Dr. No" and I liked it but I would not want to watch 20 of these movies by any means and I never liked the feel I got from clips of various other Bond films. Daniel Craig is one of my favorite working actors today. In the top 10. When I heard he was going to be playing James Bond I became very excited because a. I saw it immediately and b. I trust the roles he chooses and I know he would not have signed on unless he was happy with what they were doing with the franchise. Then "Casino Royale" came out and I was blown away. It is hard for me to be really impressed with action scenes because they always cut out the action in a way that makes us feel like we are seeing events that in fact are being completely cut around and I can spot these lazy gimmicks a mile away. "Casino Royale" did not have this. It had genuinely exciting actions scenes, a strong female character who actually had a purpose and a really great characterization of James Bond played with cynicism, conviction and surprising amounts of darkness and depth by Craig.
So I was excited for “Quantum of Solace” but unfortunately I am a bit disappointed. It is not that I did not like it. It was OK. I wasn’t seething with hatred during it. But it was forgettable. Martin Campbell maybe should have stayed with the franchise because I feel that Marc Foster was out of his realm. Campbell directed a couple of my least favorite movies and frankly I am perplexed as to how he pulled "Casino Royale" off. Marc Forster, while a well respected director could not handle the action scenes in this movie. He is one of those directors who think that quick cuts solve everything and can feign excitement. That might be true for some people but I felt that the potential that these scenes had were squandered with a ridiculous amount of shots, more than I’ve seen any scene in recent memory. This technique can work, it is rare but it happens but here it does not. The action scenes have great concepts to them, great choreography and impressive skills by Craig, who you can clearly see is doing most of the stunt work. But the shooting of it was jarring, confusing, annoying and frankly a bit ridiculous at times. Particularly the climax of the film and the car chase at the beginning. The scene where Bond chases Slate was a lot of fun but all the more frustrating because of the potential it carried with it as an action scene. The scene at the opera was interesting. Even though I still felt their were too many shots to the point where I got a headache, using the opera as the score during the scene made it creative. The motorcycle onto the boat is notable as well. So in terms of the action, they are written well with the stunt work and choreography being clearly very admirable but I felt that the way it was shot but most importantly edited together made a great deal of the work that went into these scenes useless and ineffective.
I do really like the fact that the film basically continues right after "Casino Royale" ends. But I also have a problem with this. It makes the film sort of unnecessary. It wraps up some stuff from "Casino Royale" and presents its own little story within that but continuing so shortly after makes the film feel very disposable.
I do have some good things to say. I was interested throughout. I thought the cast was great. I liked how Camille did not have the typical job of a Bond girl. Jeffrey Wright can literally be in 15 minutes of a movie and manage to be a standout, he always is and he’s fantastic to watch even though he barely does anything. Bond and M’s relationship is the most interesting to me and the film had a decent amount about them. I don’t need to say how much Judi Dench rules. Gemma Arterton, while only having a small part, stood out to me. She has a 60's British feel to her and I find refreshing, simultaneously nostalgic and full of life. The real standout though is Mathieu Amalric who I’ll just watch in anything at this point. He’s becoming a quick favorite of mine and between this and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, he is starting to gain a fraction of the fame he has in France. I liked that he was just a guy with no special talents and yet was still intimidating. And those eyes, boy those eyes are fantastic. He conveyed an slight air of pathetic as well. My favorite part of the film is after the bodyguard falls off the roof and Greene asks “Is he one of ours?” “No” “Then he shouldn’t be looking at me”. So good. And of course Craig is very good as he continues to redefine the character of James Bond.
So overall great work by the cast, Forster had some great ideas and subtle inclusions into the Bond franchise and I was interested enough in the film. However I feel that Forster could not handle the action scenes, that the story was not strong enough, the film had a bit of a stale energy about it and overall felt sort of unnecessary and honestly forgettable. By no means awful but not what I was hoping for despite some nice elements. I am glad I saw it though.
On that note I must once again express my disgust at the impending remake of Oldboy. How the fuck does anyone in this country have the nerve to remake a film that won the fucking Grand Jury Prize at Cannes film festival no less than 5 years ago. Uggggh.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I did not know much about this film going into it. Only that is was made in 1937, was classified as a melodrama, starred Barbara Stanwyck and features a mother-daughter relationship. "Stells Dallas" is a heartbreaking portrait of a mother who slowly comes to realize the negative effects her behavior has on her daughter’s life and sacrifices her happiness so her daughter can have the life she wants her to have. I did not expect to really be very effected by it but I found myself crying at the end. This is mainly because of Barbara Stanwyck’s performance, a performance that few others have topped in my opinion. She was a very complex character, one that did not fit the standard mold that a female protagonist character had at that time within the studio system. She was frustrating, annoying, sympathetic, unlucky but she was also loving and devoted to her child. She was not a fun character to watch because she got on my nerves many times; but this made her real and layered. It makes the film stand out among the many others that have either a good protagonist or an evil protagonist. To have one that falls in between in such a way is impressive. I also enjoy the fact that this features such a well developed female character. They are rare in films and Stanwyck was lucky to have an opportunity to portray one. They don’t come around often. Females usually fulfill their necessary place in films and it usually does not often go farther than that, especially in the 30’s. This is why “Stella Dallas” was a refreshing film to see; because of its complex and flawed female protagonist.
“Stella Dallas” fits well into the melodrama genre concerning the theme of fate. Stella while makes several bad decisions, she is also the victim of bad timing on a number of occasions. Most of these involve her friend Ed who is constantly drunk and an overall embarrassment of a person. Stella relates to him and generally enjoys his company even though he is probably not the best influence on her. When they are seen out together in public making a ruckus, Laurel’s teacher sees them and as a consequence of this, nobody goes to Laurel’s birthday party. In a gut wrenching scene, Stella is invited by Mr. Dallas to go and spend Christmas with him in New York but when he sees a drunken Ed stumble out of the room he takes back his invitation. The theme of fate is present in “Stella Dallas” and it is one of the ways in which the film is a melodrama.
This was the second King Vidor film I have watched for this class and I notice a major difference in the camera work in both films. “The Crowd” showcased an innovative style of experimentation and a self awareness of the camera. “Stella Dallas” follows the Classical Hollywood Cinema style of filmmaking present during “Stella Dallas” release. This means that the camera in invisible and seamless, only employing rational camera techniques instead of experimenting with the camera in ways that made the audience aware of the camera’s presence. Vidor does a lot with the invisible technique though, using it to capture the best and most effective performance possible from Stanwyck. The shot of Stella listening to the girls on the train and the last shot of the film in particular use movement in a rational way to capture the emotion of Stella.
I could say a lot more about “Stella Dallas”. It was a film I thoroughly enjoyed even though it completely drained me emotionally. I was completely taken in by it and thought the story was moving and effective in a way that did not delve into corny or overly sentimental territory. Finally, Barbara Stanwyck’s performance is incredible and in my opinion is not in any way dated.
Monday, November 17, 2008
So apparently this is what Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's new "Alice in Wonderland" is going to look like. I cannot tell if this is a picture of him or if it is a drawing. I'd say drawing but Tim Burton's concept drawings do not look like this.
I actually like this picture. I'm intrigued by it. But I'm more interested in how he is going to play it.
My thoughts on the new "Alice in Wonderland" are as follows. I'm very excited and very interested in this project but I think it's a little too obvious. For years people have been saying Tim Burton would make a great "Alice in Wonderland" and while they are prbably right, this whole thing just seems to be a bit obvious and typical of him. I'd like to see him go out of his comfort zone a bit more soon. Also I already anticipate the Hot Topic crowd jumping on all sorts of merchandise involving the movie which I'm sure will become annoying quite quickly. But I love this cast so far. Several genius choices in the mix, particularly Michael Sheen as the Cheshire Cat.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
This brief scene in “Vertigo” comes near the end, just before the climax at the mission, as Scottie drives Judy to the place where Madeline “killed herself” earlier in the film. The scene starts out with an establishing shot showing the road that Scottie and Judy are driving through. Then there is a medium shot of them in the car with the camera placed in front. The framing of the shot shows Scottie and Judy cramped into the space of the frame, putting emphasis on the fact that Judy has no way out of this situation and has no choice in going wherever he takes her. An aspect of the mise-en-scene should be noted here concerning Judy’s outfit. Her plain black dress allows all of the attention concerning her outfit to go to the necklace that she is wearing. This is an important prop because it is Carlotta Valdes’ necklace, the object that proved to Scottie in the scene preceding this one that Judy was also Madeline. Through the mise-en-scene of the scene, Judy wears clothing that puts appropriate visual emphasis on the necklace that is so important to the narrative of the film.
After a couple of dialogue exchanges between the two, we see a point of view shot showing what Judy sees ahead as Scottie drives. There is a medium shot following it showing her reaction to the previous point of view shot. The next shot follows the same pattern as the previous two shots; a point of view shot and Judy’s reaction to it. This time the point of view shot shows the sky from Judy’s perspective. It is her realization following the point of view shots that prompt her to ask where Scottie is going. The scene then cuts to a close up of him as he looks over and smiles at her showing his satisfaction at knowing that for once he is in charge of what is going on. As he speaks, the scene cuts to a close up of Judy as she looks over and we see a profile view of Scottie though another point of view shot of what Judy sees as she looks over at him. The last shot of the scene shows Judy’s reaction to what Scottie says, a reaction of fear and dread and from there the scene ends as it dissolves into the next scene.
The amount of explicit narrative information we get from this scene is little. The dialogue is, for the most part, intentionally stiff and empty. Scottie and Judy’s exchanges only provide tension and not information. The only explicit information the audience gets in this scene is that Scottie has to do one more thing to be free of the past. Even though Scottie does not say where he is driving to, Hitchcock expects the audience to know by the end of the scene through many inferences and parallels to a previous scene in the film. The scene earlier in the film when Scottie is driving Madeline to the mission can be and is meant to be directly paralleled with the scene being discussed in this essay. The establishing shot in the first scene matches exactly with this later scene (except it is a different time of day). Hitchcock would expect the audience to recognize this shot from the earlier scene and to understand where Scottie is driving to even though it is not explicitly stated. The point of view shots during the first driving scene with Scottie and Madeline are also exactly the same as the ones with Scottie and Judy. Both scenes show narrative depth through the point of view shots from Judy’s perspective. The first point of view shot is when Judy looks at the road in front of them and the second is when she looks up at the sky; the same shots from the earlier scene. Her reactions as they drive with these two point of view shots track Judy’s gradual realization as to where they are going through our understanding that she is seeing precisely what she saw during their first trip.
The main difference between these two scenes is where narrative range is important. Madeline/Judy is the focus of both of these scenes. The first scene of Madeline and Scottie driving to the mission takes place when the film has restricted narrative. The audience only knows what Scottie knows and we only see events from his perspective, excluding a few minor exceptions. Despite the restricted narrative to Scottie at this point in the film, this first scene uses narrative depth in the car with Madeline by showing it from her perspective by using point of view .We see images from Madeline’s point of view and we see her reactions to them but we do not know what she is thinking at all. This is because the restricted narration prevents us from understanding her perspective even though the audience sees it this way. The reason that this scene is shown from Madeline’s perspective is so it can be directly paralleled to the scene when Scottie drives Judy later in the film.
By the time the scene involving Scottie driving Judy to the mission for the second time occurs, the film has changed its narrative restrictions. By this point in the film, the audience knows the basics of Judy’s side of the story and the narrative has become essentially unrestricted. Earlier in the film there is a game changing scene when the narrative switches from restricted to unrestricted. This is when Judy writes the letter to Scottie that she never sends. This is when the audience learns about the plot to set Scottie up, that Judy was Madeline and that Judy did actually fall in love with Scottie. The audience discovers this before Scottie does which changes our role in watching the film completely through the now unrestricted narrative. The audience goes from learning information when Scottie does within the restricted narration, to waiting to see when he learns what we already know within the unrestricted narration. While keeping the secret until the end of the film may have been more shocking, learning about Judy’s situation at that point of the film gives her a perspective and shows the unique suffering of both characters, giving everything much more emotional intensity.
This brief scene in Vertigo in which Scottie drives Judy to the mission is a scene that shows the way Hitchcock plays with narrative range. The film has unrestricted narrative after the scene when Judy writes the letter. For this driving scene, Hitchcock adds a layer of restricted narrative that involves the audience’s lack of knowledge of Scottie’s intentions. The previously established roles of the audience having information as Scottie receives it and the restricted narrative of Judy have been reversed for this scene. The narrative is unrestricted in the sense that we now have Judy’s perspective of events. The scene is restricted however in one important aspect. Although the audience can infer that Scottie is driving to the mission, neither Judy nor the audience knows what his plans are once they arrive there. By switching the ways in which the film was restricted and unrestricted for the majority of it, Hitchcock gets the most suspense out of the scene by keeping information from the audience and further allying us with Judy. This brings the scene further suspense and forces the audience to identify with Judy on a level that we had not before.
Now that we know the effect that the restricted narrative has on this scene, we can look at how the unrestricted narrative of the latter part of the film serves the scene. When Scottie drives Judy to the mission, he knows that Judy was Madeline. He still does not know the specifics but he has figured out the basic plot against him. If we were still learning information as he does, we would know that Madeline is Judy but nothing more. Seeing this scene from Judy’s perspective provides much more tension because even though she figures out where Scottie is driving to, she and the audience do not know what he has planned when they arrive. The narrative depth of the scene is what allows the audience to see Judy’s realization as to where Scottie is taking her. The two point of view shots let the audience into Judy’s mind by showing us what she sees. Using narrative depth for the scene through her perspective allows the film to convey important information without explicitly saying anything. Seeing this scene from Judy’s perspective also puts us into her situations; her tensions transfer to the audience and her anxiousness drives the emotional tone of the scene. This forces the audience to relate to Judy and to feel what she is feeling.
The scene in “Vertigo” when Scottie drives Judy to the mission says a lot about the form of the film as a whole and also within the specific scene. Although there is little explicit information in the scene, Hitchcock uses a parallel scene earlier in the film and narrative depth through the point of view shots involving Judy to convey her realization as to where Scottie is driving. While the narrative depth is important to the scene, the narrative range is important to the overall film. The switch to an unrestricted narrative towards the end of Vertigo is essential to the overall film because it gives Judy a voice and a character instead of her being a mystery to figure out as she is in most of the narrative. During this brief scene though, Hitchcock adds a layer of restricted narrative by not letting the audience in on what Scottie plans on doing once they arrive at the mission. This allows for a significantly greater amount of tension during the scene which would have been much less effective if the audience knew what Scottie was planning to do. Between the combination of the unrestricted narrative of Judy, the brief restricted narrative of Scottie and the narrative depth of the scene showing Judy’s perspective through her point of view shots, this forces the audience to relate to Judy by having them feel a sense of what she is going through and to increase the tension of the scene. By using this brief scene in “Vertigo”, this essay aimed to show how fundamentally narrative range and depth effect both the film itself and how largely the audience’s experience is effected by the use of narrative range and depth.
A lot of this has to do with the way the part is written. Robert Downey Jr's character satirizes Method actors, actors taking themselves too seriously and the very present racial stereotyping still existent in film. Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen (not Ethan Coen) created these intentions within the script. But Downey Jr. brought it to life in a way that exemplifies the points that the writers are trying to make with his character. It also works on another level because Robert Downey Jr. is essentially making fun of himself. He basically is a Method actor (he stayed in character during the shoot). On top of it all, let's not forget that he is playing an actor playing an actor playing a character. The actor he plays is Australian Method Actor Kirk Lazarus. Someone whose Method acting techniques have prevented him from knowing who Kirk really is. He has to play this as well. When Alpa Chino (genius) and Speedman point out to him the absurdities of what he is doing, a hint, a slight hint of Kirk shows through. It's barely visible, the camera does not point it out but it is there. And on top of all of this he has to be funny. And holy shit he is funny. It goes without saying that he steals this movie. His speech, his facial expressions, his mannerisms are all spot on and his line deliveries are some of the best I've seen in years.
So in a year where Heath Ledger will undoubtedly win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (even though I'm already rooting for Downey, but I obviously won't be upset when Heath gets it) can it really hurt to just nominate Robert Downey Jr.? If his performance is not enough to do it can't his comeback push him into a nomination? In a year when his performance in Tropic Thunder can garner some of the best performance reviews of any this year, I don't think it is asking much for him to get in. The notices and praise he has recieved has been equal to any performance this year.
Between the universal acclaim for the performance, the positive critical reception of the film, his comeback, how impossible of a performance it is to pull off, how many layers the performance has to work on and it being the funniest performance of the year, how is this not a lock? I agree that a comedic performance is hard to nominate. Not many should be. There are so many comedic performances that I think are hilarious that should never in a million years be nominated for an Oscar. But this one should. Some people seem to think Tropic Thunder is just one of those movies. It may come off that way. Although it's not perfect people seem to forget that the reviews it got were better than the vast majority of films that came out this year. Peopel who understand the film industry get what the film is doing with that and the other levels that it works on beyond the basic comedic level. "Tropic Thunder" does something more unique than most comedies. And Robert Downey Jr.'s performance is a big part of that. Therefore, just nominate him. The Oscars are a joke anyways so at least nominate something that deserves it and shows you are going out on a limb to recognize unconventional performances.
Here's a link that can explain this better than I can.http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Editorial-Robert-Downey-Jr-Deserves-An-Oscar-For-Tropic-Thunder-9797.html
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Ridley Scott is going to be directing a movie version of the game Monopoly. What does this mean?
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Hopefully. So far I have been impressed with this year for a couple of different reasons. While it looks like there were a lot of releases that I had no interest in, the good films from this section of the year have been of higher quality of those in recent years during the January-September period. Although the year got off to a very slow start, this summer has been very very strong offering lots of different types of films. There was something for everyone and more films were surprise critical successes than there were disappointments. May was a rough month. It brought Indiana Jones and Speed Racer, two highly anticipated films that failed. “Speed Racer” failed with fans and critics while Indiana Jones made tons of money and left the majority of critics pleased but left fans pissed off. I actually enjoyed both of these movies but can understand where people are coming from with their complaints. Admittedly “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is annoying when compared to the earlier installments, even Temple of Doom, but on its own I had a fun time despite it having some truly lame moments. Nevertheless once summer kicked off, it did not stop until the end of August.
An area that makes 2008 a great year so far is the comedies. When I love comedies, I love them, but it takes a lot for me to enjoy one. The genre is played out, it's nobody's fault but it just is, like many other genres. It happens. These past few years though have been quite impressive when you look at the best that comedy films have to offer. While much of it still looks to me like it’s the regular mundane comedy, the Apatow clan and others have consistently brought their A game to the table. “Pineapple Express”, while a bit long, impressed me immensely with its combination of stoner comedy and 70’s trashy action flick. Having an art house director make this movie gave the film a certain edge that another director would not have brought to the table and further proved the awesomeness of David Gordon Green. It also boasted a career changing performance from James Franco showing us that yes indeed he can act, (Freaks and Geeks was not a fluke)and not just act but steal the show, finally shedding the blandness of his Spider Man role and his numerous bad film choices mostly because of Hollywood trying to pin him into the heartthrob status.
Before Pineapple though we were given “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, a film that I happen to enjoy more than “Knocked Up” and “40 Year Old Virgin” (although “Superbad” still holds the top Apatow related film spot for me). Jason Segel shows he is a cut above the rest by writing and starring in a film that changes the roles of men and women in romantic comedies and spinning it into his own innovative and refreshing story. This film had me laughing so hard I was crying and also crying because I was touched.
And finally we were given Tropic Thunder, a satirical film that I found to be veering dangerously close towards genius. I normally do not get excited when I see Ben Stiller's name. I get a bit annoyed. I don't hate him; I am just not very into him. Then he writes (along with Justin Theroux, who I adore and Etan Cohen, not to be mistaken for Ethan Coen) and directs and stars in this movie and blows my mind. Tropic Thunder for me worked on more levels than any movie I've seen this year. It managed to balance out all forms of comedy, to be hilarious in all the aspects of comedy that it portrays, even the kinds I do not normally like. It is smart about how it presents itself and finally the film is ultimately a satire and one of the best I've ever seen. Stiller's satirical skills and knowledge of the Hollywood system he grew up in, match up perfectly here. He's not afraid to make fun of himself; nobody gets off the hook here. He is over the top and simultaneously subtle about it, I don’t understand how he does it. He cleverly delves into the absurdity of Hollywood, fully understanding that he is also a part of that system. Very few things in the film do not work for me. I've had some sort of minute criticism about every movie this year and most movies in general. This does not necessarily make me enjoy the movie any less but as long as I’m pointing out the aspects I liked…and anyways I've seen very few movies that get it all right. Robert Downey Jr. lives up to the hype built around this performance and knocks it out of the park. What he has to do and balance is so hard yet he makes it look so effortless. People need to understand how disastrous this would have been is anyone else had done it. The great thing about “Tropic Thunder” is that it feels like a film that I'll discover something new every time I see it because it held up completely in my second viewing of it and I saw so many things I did not see the first time. It works about 90% of the time I'd say and for a film that is taking as many risks as this one did that's a pretty damn good percentage.
And of course we have “Burn After Reading”, a comedy by the Coen Brothers that hits the target. It's extremely strange and pointless but that's the point. I've gone on too long about other movies so I won't drivel on about this one but trust me. It’s good. It defies conventions, it’s structured differently, it has a refreshing vibe about it and has great performances. So needless to say comedy or at least the best of it has been absurdly strong.
Action seems to be making new leaps this year as well, proving a summer blockbuster can dominate at the box office and also be a film that accomplishes as much as films that are not blockbusters. “The Dark Knight” certainly proved that a blockbuster has the power to surprise everyone in its construction and intricate execution. Seeing it left me thinking and appreciating how impossible it must have been to put a film like this together, script wise. How do you make all the elements work cohesively together they way they did here? That's what happens when you have someone like Christopher Nolan directing and writing (with his brother) a film like this and you have a cast like the one in this film, especially obviously Ledger as The Joker turning in a truly frightening iconic performance that managed to live up to a year and a half of hype. I love how mature the film is and I love the way it addresses the thematic issues in an intelligent way that is not dumbed down for the audience. I admit though I'm a bit put off by the status the film has gotten. There is absolutely no way that this film is the 4th greatest of all time according to imdb voters. It probably shouldn't be in the top 250 at all and if it is it should be at the bottom. It's annoying how quick people are to completely ignore 100 years of film for one admittedly fantastic one. One that yes, in its best moments left me astounded at what it was doing. But it's becoming the film that everyone proclaims is the best ever and that is frankly an absurd statement. Yes, it’s remarkable but is it that much of a masterpiece? I'd have to say it isn't. Not far from being a masterpiece but ultimately I can’t call it that because I do think the film has a few flaws, some minor and some larger.
In fact I've seen two films just this year that I feel are a little more accomplished than “The Dark Knight” and they are “Wall-E” and “Snow Angels”. “Wall-E” would be in my list of masterpieces. It showed a subtlety that I rarely see. In “Wall-E” I saw Andrew Stanton taking a chance and putting his trust in children and adults to pay attention and use visual storytelling and sparse dialogue to communicate its story. I saw many reviews of “Wall-E” that compared the films poetry to that of Chaplin’s and I see it completely. While “Finding Nemo” is still my favorite of the Pixar films, “Wall-E” is their best, showing us a piece of art ranking in the top tier of originality. It made me see what movies were capable of. “There Will Be Blood” was the last film that did that. “Snow Angels” is interesting because it did not get amazing reviews. It got very good reviews but not stellar ones. However the people, who love this movie, seriously love it. I am one of those people. It takes a type of film that’s become a sort of cliché at this point, loosely connected stories about a group of people and delivers in a way that truly moved me, that had more truth in it than I was actually comfortable with and again boasted performances that blew my mind.
“Snow Angels” has the best ensemble acting of any film I’ve seen this year and one of the best period. There’s a lot I haven’t seen but I be amazed if I saw better ensemble acting in any of the movies I haven’t seen in 2008. “Burn After Reading” is a moderately close second. Sam Rockwell gives the best performance of this year so far. It’s sad that the film is going under the radar completely because I found his work here to be painful and uncompromising and with more depth than I can say. Kate Beckinsale, an actress I normally don’t enjoy very much is a revelation here. And Michael Anagrano, a young actor who I’ve seen around for years and is finally given the opportunity, character and directing to shine. He gives the most authentic portrayal of being a teenager I’ve seen in recent years, even topping Michael Cera’s best work in my personal opinion. (I’m not hating on Cera by the way, he’s one of my favorites) I can see how people think it’s just one of those movies that try to have its point be “this is the way life is” and that’s it. However I see so much being said about life in a superbly executed way that I found this movie to be completely authentic. The only critical thing I can say about it is that yes at times it came off as trying too hard to be what it was but David Gordon Green is starting to become my favorite young director and what he’s accomplished is unique and profound for me. It's a pretty disturbing and not fun but well worth it. Although his first film “George Washington” is still a lot better if that’s possible.
So anyways, I could go into “Teeth” and “Kung Fu Panda”, two movies that went under the radar despite being fantastic. Or I could go into “The Ruins” which took typical horror fare and elevated it into not great by any means but definitely a cut above most horror movies these days. Or I could go into the fact that while I thought “Iron Man” was very good excelling in many areas, I still don’t seem to be obsessed with it the way some people are. Or I could talk about how well “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” was a technical achievement for the ages, well worth seeing multiple times for the visuals alone, I still can’t get into the Hellboy series nearly as much as I wished I was, despite enjoying it a trillion times more than the first Hellboy an overrated film in my opinion. Or I could talk about my flat out disappointment about “Redbelt”, Mamet’s latest film and “Run Fatboy Run”, something I wasn’t expecting to be any good anyways. Or I could talk about how everyone seems to have forgotten about “Cloverfield”, a film I enjoyed quite a bit despite annoying lead characters, even though the film’s influence is still being seen with recent releases like “Quarantine” and George A. Romero’s “Diary of the Dead”. But I won’t go into any of that. Instead I’ll finally just show you my three lists and hopefully have many more films to add before the year is up.
Favorite to Least Favorite Movie in 2008
1. Tropic Thunder
2. Snow Angels
3. Burn After Reading
5. Pineapple Express
6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
7. The Dark Knight
8. Kung Fu Panda
9. Zack and Miri Make a Porno
12. The Ruins
13. Iron Man
14. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
15. Speed Racer
16. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
18. Smart People
19. Run, Fatboy, Run
Greatest to Worst Movie from 2008
2. Snow Angels
3. The Dark Knight
4. Tropic Thunder
5. Burn After Reading
6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
7. Pineapple Express
8. Kung Fu Panda
9. Iron Man
11. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
13. Zack and Miri Make a Porno
14. The Ruins
15. Speed Racer
16. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
18. Smart People
19. Run Fatboy Run
Top 15 Performances of 2008 So Far (from the little I’ve seen)
1. Sam Rockwell – Glenn Merchand - Snow Angels
2. Robert Downey Jr. – Kirk Lazarus – Tropic Thunder
3. Heath Ledger – The Joker – The Dark Knight
4. Michael Anagrano – Arthur Parkinson - Snow Angels
5. James Franco – Saul - Pineapple Express
6. Jess Weixler – Dawn O’Keefe – Teeth
7. Kate Beckinsale – Annie Merchand – Snow Angels
8. Aaron Eckhart – Harvey Dent – The Dark Knight
9. Frances McDormand –Linda Litzke - Burn After Reading
10. George Clooney – Harry Pfarrer – Burn After Reading
11. Gary Oldman – James Gordon – The Dark Knight
12. Brad Pitt – Chad – Burn After Reading
13. Jason Segel – Forgetting Sarah Marshall
14. Gwyneth Paltrow – Pepper Potts – Iron Man
15. J.K Simmons – CIA Superior – Burn After Reading
Top 30 Movies to See in Fall 2008
1. Burn After Reading (seen)
3. Revolutionary Road
4. The Class
5. Let the Right One In
6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
9. A Christmas Tale
10. Rachel Getting Married
11. City of Ember
12. Synecdoche, New York
13. The Wrestler
14. Waltz with Bashir
15. Slumdog Millionaire
16. I’ve Loved You So Long
18. The Duchess
19. Madagascar 2
20. The Reader
22. Quantum of Solace
23. The Day the Earth Stood Still
24. Fear(s) of the Dark
25. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (seen)
26. Lakeview Terrace
27. A Secret
29. Ashes of Time Redux
The Brothers Bloom
The Boy in the Stryped Pajamas
The Tale of Desperaux
Body of Lies