Friday, January 30, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Reactions to the SAGS:
- The TV Categories are a jokeas they always are because with acting from "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica" (a show that many magazines and newspapers have stepped out to say carries the best acting on television today which I agree with) not being represented it is simply not a fair competition. That being said, I was happy to see Hugh Laurie get awarded not because he deserves it, although he is insanely good on the episodes I have seen but because he gives the best speeches. I was happy to see "Mad Men" win even though I have not seen the show because I fully intend on watching it.
-The E! interviews with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were the most awkward and I mean the most awkward preshow interviews to an award show I have ever seen. Juliana was rambling, asking the weirdest questions, she was clearly nervous and Angelina and Brad could not give a shit about being up there. Angelina was giving very half hearted responses in some cases simply staring at Juliana. In the meantime Brad refused to answer a question and just thought the whole thing was ridiculous. Talk about awkward.
-Kate Winslet winning for Supporting Actress, while exciting, does not help us any with understanding the Best Supporting Actress race at the Oscars because she is not in the category. Personally I want it to go to Viola Davis. Then where does that leave the Best Actress race? Meryl vs. Kate? Meryl won last night giving a truly fantastic speech in which she rightfully praised the work of actresses this year. Streep very much leans towards feminist thinking and I love her for that. Apparently everyone has forgotten about Anne Hathaway though which is the performance that I want to win (with Winslet as a very close second).
-Gary Oldman went up to accept Heath's award this time which was very moving. I have massive amounts of love for Gary Oldman.
-Sean Penn winning the SAG last night to me solidifies his spot as Best Actor at the Oscars. I do not mind much because Penn was just ridiculously remarkable as Harvey Milk. Even though I would like Rourke to win, if he was going to lose, I cannot think of a more deserving performance than Penn's. His speech was interesting. I think he had clear things to say that sort of got muddled in the immediacy of the moment. Looking back on it, he praised everyone's work very sincerely, he insulted TV commentators who want to pit Penn against Rourke in this race and create anomosity where there is none (they are good friends). While I think Sean Penn's acting is virtually unbeatable today I hav never been a fan of his from what I have seen of him as a person, like at all. That being said, his speech was very geniune and appreciative and of the moment.
-Ok so Best Ensemble goes to "Slumdog Millionaire" even though "Milk" by far by far by far by far had the better ensemble. If not "Milk" than "Doubt" deserved it. Seriously, you do not get better ensemble acting than "Milk". It just does not happen. "Doubt" is a freaking powerhouse of
acting. The SAG treated Best Ensemble as Best Picture and that is not the way it should work. This film is now unfortunately unstoppable. Last night proved it. Again I really liked the film, even loved so many parts of it. But the sweep that it is doing everywhere it goes is so annoying. And it will not stop.
Ok that is all for now. Oh I forgot this adorable and amazing quote from James Franco at the preshow:
The interviewer asks is it harder to be in love with Sean Penn or to be high onscreen?
Franco: "I...I don't know. In life I am in love with Sean Penn and I stopped smoking weed so..."
Also even though it is related to TV this is an article questioning "Battlestar Galactica's" relavance in an Obama world. I love that this article exists. Because what other shows demand that this question be asked in relation to political events of the now?
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Oh Lords this was awful. I knew this going in obviously but truly truly this was horrific. I could see what M. Night was trying to do and I appreciate the ambition but overall I think he thought making a B movie would be easier than it actually is and overstepped his boundaries. Not to mention the fact that since he seems to think he is the second coming of cinema I feel it is safe to say that he strived for something a little out of his reach or talents. Mark Wahlberg provides us with perhaps the scariest part of the film: his performance. It is amplifies by the way that the director films him using close ups with straight on, slightly low angle shots that amplify his performance and its badness and makes it seem so much worse than it is even though it is already laughably bad. The same goes for Zooey Deschanel who flat out sucks in this. Everything about this is bad. There are at least 10 times when you say to yourself “this is for real?” That is a bad sign.
This was decent. I liked the time and effort put into it and I appreciated the R rating and the guts that the filmmakers had to actually make an action film with violence instead of skirting around the issue by making their films PG-13 even though just as much killing is occurring, just without the blood. I hated the narration though. I mean hated it. It was trying way too hard for a “Fight Club” feel and failed miserably. Since the film begins with constant narration I could not stand the beginning chunk of the film. It does not help that James McAvoy tried way too hard in his narration. Generally I thought his character was annoying but I liked that they went for a different type of male lead. I wish Thomas Kretschmann was in more of this though as he was severely underused. Severely. But in general I thought Angelina Jolie stuck out in her role despite not having much to do, she carried a presence felt in her scenes even if she had little dialogue. I also thought there was an overuse of tenchniques and that in general the film thought it was a little cooler than it actually was. That being said, it was a cool movie. I liked the action scenes, I liked the thought that went into it and the time in developing the story and all of the stuff with the characters’ training. But it felt like it tried too hard sometimes and relied too heavily on trying to be visually innovative that it fell a bit short.
“Be Kind Rewind” (2008)
While I see the problems people have with this and have a difficult time being able to look past them as well I did enjoy this. I have never believed that Gondry’s films take place in this reality so that feeling of everything being a bit off and as a consequence implausible felt OK to me. Not great as I feel that his other films have captured that off feeling more successfully but it still excused a lot of the implausibilities within the plot that other people complained about. I thought everyone was good, particularly Melonie Diaz, I just felt like there were no really defined characters. Everyone felt undeveloped and all over the place. But nevertheless Michel Gondry has a brilliant mind and his visions while not always successful are still trying out ideas that are indeed unique and refreshing to me.
“The Edge of Heaven” (Auf der anderen Seite)
This was so good. This is sort of like “Babel” only successful instead of never really coming together in a way that felt right. This is a beautiful film filled with interesting characters and great performances all around. The way it weaves in and out of the stories is seamless and the way it quickly establishes the characters as people you want to see more of despite their flaws and characters who feel unique and specific very quickly instead of just being rehashes of the same kinds of characters we are used to seeing. These felt like people and I loved that. Great great film.
“Rachel Getting Married”
I do not even know what to say about this. I felt like I was a guest at this wedding. Demme lets you soak up the atmosphere by having us listen to bits of all of the speeches and go through the ceremony. He cares so much about the characters but is determined to give us the bigger picture and open the film up. The characters and dialogue felt real. They are flawed people, people you do not always like, sometimes never do. Some things are explained others are not. Progress is made between some of the relationships but even then very little. This is a brilliant film, a better and more original work, more raw and more telling film about humans than any of the films being projected as the 5 Best Picture nominees (although Milk does something just as important with its film). You may think it is a film about another dysfunctional family but what this film does is go so far beyond what you expect and delivers a one of a kind experience that Demme infuses with his love for music through the casting of the lead singer of TV on the Radio as Rachel’s fiancee and Robyn Hitchcock as guest at the wedding. Anne Hathaway took my breath away with her fearless performance. It is astonishing what she does here. I went in expecting something really good but nothing near the performance I saw. Rosemarie DeWitt is just as good here as she never makes herself the good sister; she is flawed as well and she shows it. Bill Irwin as the father is remarkable and Debra Winger packs one hell of a punch in her big scene as well as speaking unsaid volumes with her face in the end. This is absolutely essential viewing for the films of 2008.
“The Life Before Her Eyes”
This film was too ambitious. It was pretentious and was trying too hard to be something else when its real potential lied in the possibility of telling a moving story about survivors’ guilt but in the films quest to be different it forgoes all of that build up and ends up crushing it all with a twist ending. The Uma Thurman scenes make no sense and add up to nothing. There is a reason for this which is explained at the end but I feel there was potential here even with the ending but it was not executed in a way that worked. So those scenes feel like a waste. Then with Evan Rachel Wood’s scenes they are definitely more interesting but still feel unfocused. The only scene that made an impact was the scene in which the shooting took place which effected me heavily. However they shove it down our throats by using it about 6 times so they could not even do that right. I think the twist could have been very effective if the script had been given an entire reworking somehow. Everyone was very good it was nice to see Uma Thurman doing something serious and Evan Rachel Wood was great as well. Eva Amurri was the real standout in the film though containing the most presence and being the character with the most life and livability.
“Wendy and Lucy” (2008)
Beautiful simple film with a remarkable lead performance by Michelle Williams. I cannot write anymore so I have to end it there. Ugh
I also saw “The Simpsons Movie” which was pretty fantastic, consistently funny and much better than I expected, “The Student of Prague” (1913) and probably something else but I have no idea what.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) Grade: A- This was my first Mike Leigh film and I absolutely loved it. I understand that this is a much more positive film than his other works. The unique way Leigh prepares to shoot his films is absolutely fascinating. While I wanted to strangle Poppy many times she is one of the most artfully crafted characters of the year. Sally Hawkins gives a performance of unmatchable realism and gives the best female performance of the year that I have seen. I love how there is little plot, yet I was completely interested the entire time. It does not adhere to the typical mechanisms of scripting again due to Leigh’s techniques. It is like getting a peek into a real person’s life and seeing how they function in different situations. Eddie Marsan is also incredible as Scott the driving instructor. This should be in the Best Picture race. But of course it isn’t.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008): Grade B. A worthy new effort from Woody Allen. Slight, but definitely worthwhile. The film looks incredibly beautiful as a sort of love letter to Barcelona. The omniscient “Magnolia” like narration is one of my favorite devices in film. Like “Little Children” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” it is like reading a novel but with visuals presented to you. It may save the actors from getting their own characterization across at times but it saves time and actually does give a much fuller understanding of the story and characters in a short amount of time even if it is a short of shortcut. Rebecca Hall proves why she is one of my favorite actresses. Javier Bardem is really good as is Scarlett Johansson. Penelope Cruz should not be sweeping all of these awards for Supporting Actress but she is absolutely terrific bringing the film to a new level when she enters it. I like how essentially nothing changes by the end and nobody have learned anything and pretty much ends up where they started. It is a refreshing change from the characters learning something and their lives changing in the film.
Gran Torino (2008): Grade: B The character of Walt Kowalski made this film. And the score. I really very much enjoyed all of it actually. I do not know how great of a film it is except that I was affected by it. The Hmong boy was horrible, essentially ruining the dramatics of any scene he was in. The Hmong girl was better, still not great but I just really liked her despite not being all that natural. I also really liked the priest. Clint Eastwood is fantastic here, creating a full character that I became attached to. While I do not know how successful the film is I did really enjoy it so I do not really know the criticisms.
Passengers (2008): Grade: D. Ugh this was just awful. The last 10 minutes were good and Anne Hathaway did a great job with it but the rest of this movie despite appreciating the director’s ambitions is just a mess. It has no idea what it is doing for the entire run; I actually had no idea what I was watching despite the illusion of an actual story. Terrible.
The Reader (2008): Grade: A- I have no idea what the lukewarm love for this movie is about. I thought it was excellent on virtually every level. Yes it is very clearly an Oscar movie from the Weinstein’s but other than that obvious push from the beginning this film brought up tough questions without any easy answers. It presented complex characters and provided an interesting and refreshing take on the post WWII Germany. It brings up the question of how does the younger generation after WWII function knowing that their elders participated in genocide, not knowing who did what and having to carry the weight of all of the anger from others on their shoulder despite not actually being a part of the genocide. This is very interesting stuff that is addressed in very subtle ways. Kate Winslet knocks this one out of the park as Hanna Schmitz. This is not a supporting performance but a lead one and one that should be the lead category. It is a stronger performance than hers in Revolutionary Road. While both contain equal amounts of subtlety and extremes, Hanna is a more complicated character and one that I felt that I got to know more despite actually learning less about her. David Kross also impressed me so much here. He learned English for the role and really matched up with Winslet in the intense scenes. Ralph Fiennes tops off his great year with a third terrific performance. The film looks beautiful, is paced fantastically and should be getting more love this Oscar season because I feel that it is a better film than 3 of the frontrunners for Best Picture.
Hamlet 2 (2008) Grade: C – The film itself is a mess, despite some gems within the dialogue and story. Elizabeth Shue felt out of place, Catherine Keener and David Arquette felt completely misguided and the kids have no motive for their participation in this play at all let alone their enthusiasm for it. But Amy Poehler is fantastic, as is the child critic. The real reason to see this though is Steve Coogan who just goes completely over the top with his performance in the best way possible. It is maniacally inspired. Worth seeing for him and that honestly the entire film was enjoyable because he was in every scene. As a film though, it is all over the place.
Flight of the Red Balloon (2008) Grade: C+. While this is beautifully made and I always love seeing Juliette Binoche, personally this was not for me. Everything involving the red balloon was entrancing and I liked the point of its presence in the film but the rest just was not interesting enough for me. I do not think this is a bad film at all, quite the contrary; it just is not to my taste.
Non 2008 Films:
Grey Gardens (1975) (Documentary) Grade: A
Could I have liked this more? Unlikely. I do not even know what to say about it except that the eccentric story and seclusion of Little Edie and Big Edie on Grey Gardens is a glimpse into 2 very interesting lives, one unregretful and the other full of regrets. As opposed to trying to hide the fact that the conversations are natural, there is an interesting twist here. While the conversations are entirely authentic, the Maylses brothers do not hide the fact that these conversations that bring up the past arise because the brothers are there as they each try to talk to the Maysles brothers about their lives within real life and not through specific interviews or questions being asked because this is cinema verite style which is my favorite form of documentary.
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) Grade: B+. I would not have liked this if I was younger when I saw it. Today when I am more admirable of atmosphere in a way than some stories and even character development, this film was absolutely delightful. Virtually no plot, the jokes are subtle and not as catastrophic as the back of the DVD suggests but it is a masterpiece; easily one of the greatest films I have ever seen. Jacques Tati is a genius. His film is a take on the dull routine of French vacationing and the need to inject youth and freedom into it as the vacationers desperately try to keep everything in perfect order. The little dialogue there is, is all very low in volume, a purposeful move by Tati. It sucks you into its framing and shot composition; it is a stunning film.
The Thin Blue Line (1988) (Doc) Grade: A- Oh God did I get into this one. Absolutely fascinating documentary that helped get a man released from jail from a life time sentence. The way that this case was handled is mind blowingly horrific; as terrifying as any horror film. I cannot explain how horribly this case was handles and Morris’ acute and meticulous construction of the course of events really puts into perspective how and where everything went wrong. Also, Mrs. Miller in this film, in maybe about 10 minutes of it, is the most terrifying woman ever to be seen in a documentary. The woman is a fucking nut job. A nut job. Oh and David Harris is pure evil.
Gimme Shelter (1970) (Doc) Grade: A- I learned that I never would have gone to Altamont if given a chance. That said, this movie ruled and I do not even know what else to say about it except that it ruled and I am getting tired of typing.
Harlan County U.S.A (1976) (Doc) Grade: B. Interesting and heartbreaking account of the year long coal miner strike in Kentucky. I loved the inclusion of the woman’s actions during the strike. I loved the music. I also loved how it depicts so well how hard it is for so many people to get basic things included into their jobs and how unwilling the companies are to give them anything that they justifiably ask for. This is a never ending circle that these people go through. Also Pete Boyle is a nut job as well.
The Fallen Idol (1948) Grade: A. I need to own this. This was one of the best movies I have seen in years. I liked it better than The Third Man. The deep focus was incredible. The little boy is the cutest little British boy I have ever seen. Everything about it was just perfect. I do not have one complaint about this movie. I could watch it over and over and over again. Brilliant.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Saturday, January 3, 2009
"The Wrestler" (2008)
Well, after finally recovering from “The Wrestler” I am ready to review it I guess even though I just watched it I should let it sit with me but I sort of just want to get the review out of the way. While the story of “The Wrestler” is somewhat formulaic, the way it is told is not and what comes out is a film that really impressed me on virtually every level to the point where I now have it as my second greatest film of the year. It cuts deep. It really does, it is not an easy film to watch.
As I said before, this is a sort of familiar story. A has-been cannot seem to get his life in order and every attempt made to establish a connection with someone ends up putting him worse off than he was before. After watching the film I am convinced that Randy the Ram is real. I never once felt like I was watching a performance; it all felt like a documentary. The only love he has from anyone is the crowd cheering and his fans when he wrestles. Outside of wrestling he really has nobody and nothing going for him; so he needs his wrestling to survive. His body suffers so much abuse for the cheering but he puts himself in deliberate pain as long as it means he still has a crowd cheering. He attempts to have a relationship with Cassidy/Pam, a stripper played by Marisa Tomei who also uses her body for a living and also puts herself through a lot of pain to survive. The difference between the two is that she does not like what she does and prefers her Pam persona to her Cassidy persona. Randy on the other hand always corrects people to call him Randy even though his real name is Robin. He prefers the persona, she prefers her reality. She is drawn to Randy but she has a rule that involves no relationships with a customer. She is so adamant about it because she is desperate to keep her outside life and her job life separate no matter what the cost. They cannot mix. So she is torn. We also have Randy’s attempts to patch up his relationship with his daughter Stephanie played by Evan Rachel Wood.
There are other things that happen that I will not say. Randy’s attempt to live a life without wrestling because of something that happens is heartbreaking to watch collapse. It is hard to see someone who is willing to put themselves through so much just to feel loved by a crowd because they have nobody else. This is all done with such dimension and precision that made me feel so let into a character in a way that is rarely seen. I know that a lot of this parallels Mickey Rourke’s life and I cannot deny that this adds a layer of meaning to the film on top of everything but honestly the performance and film go very far beyond the whole Mickey Rourke comeback role thing. This is an incredible performance. Period. By the end you feel as if you completely know him and you feel so hard and so much for this flawed individual. I was left a sobbing mess by the end of the film and again this is with very little music involved. I know I always mention when something if effective without music but that is because so often we are manipulated by film score, great as it is, and I find it to be extremely commendable when a film can make me feel something profound without injecting that enhancer of emotions into the final product (don’t get me wrong though, I absolutely love love love film score). I do not really care who wins Best Actor out of the two front runners for the nomination and win. They are both absolutely incredible remarkable performances, but if I had to pick the winner…I would probably give it to Rourke.
While I know that Billy Walsh from “Entourage” is based off of Aronofsky and that frightens me to my core, I cannot deny the greatness of his film directing despite the apparent enormity of his ego (whatever, most directors have them). His hand held work, his confident and more mature storytelling ability has emerged. As great and unique as “Requiem for a Dream” is, I think this is the slightly better work. He slowly guides us through the boredom of Randy’s life outside of the ring. He lets us feel the pathetic nature of his relationship with Stephanie and Cassidy to a degree. He shows us Randy’s loneliness and his inability to function without wrestling. He does a really impressive job of letting us see Randy’s hope and enthusiasm for things when he thinks things can work out even without the wrestling. Randy’s choice near the end is predictable yes, but it is because Aronofsky has the guts to let Randy’s actions become predictable that makes his character all the more heartbreaking. He shows us the thought process and the methodical breakdown of Randy’s attempt at a life so even though we know where it is going this actually makes it harder to watch. Its predictability is emphasized by Aronofsky and the script, therefore actually makes the film stronger and even more powerful.
Marisa Tomei does so much with the role of Cassidy. This is her second year in a row giving a great performance in a supporting role in a film that requires her to be nude for a large percentage of the time. Whatever though because her body is absolutely stunning. She brings a lot to a role that could have been very one note if done by somebody incapable but she fits right in and became a character I really cared about. Evan Rachel Wood is great as well and even though I am not the biggest fan of hers I cannot deny she does a great job in her scenes which are some of the most moving in the film.
The score by Aronofsky regular Clint Mansell is perfect in its tone and its frequency in the film, not being in much of it at all but being there at exactly the right time. Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Wrestler” at the end of the film really ties everything up nicely and I am rooting for it for Best Song even though I have heard nothing else yet.
An aspect I also loved outside of everything else is the look inside of the wrestling world it provides. The scenes in which the wrestlers prepare and plan for the show were just as interesting as anything else in the movie.
So in conclusion I was extremely moved and uniformly impressed by “The Wrestler”. It is without a doubt one of the best films of 2008; it is a hard film to watch but a very emotionally rewarding one. Not really rewarding in a positive way but in the way that occurs when a film really gets you the way that shows you the power that film can have. The film will stick with me for a good long while I have no doubt and Mickey Rourke will do the same as I try to shake off the emotional ringer that he has put me through in is arguably the best performance of this year. I believe Randy the Ram exists. I believe the story I was told. While it is again sort of a contrived story that we have seen in other forms before, it is told in such an effective way with such an effective character study that it hardly matters. And besides, aren’t most of the other Oscar contenders of this year formulaic as well in one way or another, despite how good they also are? I guess the problem with the film besides that it is a little contrived is that I do not know whtat it would be without Mickey Rourke. Certainly a good film but not anything like what this film actually is. But nevertheless for me it was a powerful experience and right now that is what I care about.
See this film if you are looking for a raw and powerful cinematic experience with a lead performance that will move you to your core. Easily in the top 5 best films from 2008 that I have seen.
This is another film where I would like to see it again to fully know what I think. I have been the victim of overhype this year. Almost everything I have seen when I go in expecting something remarkable has left me something either remarkable but personally I am not obsessed with it or underwhelming for some reason. I do not really think “Slumdog Millionaire” falls into this category as much as a few of the other films from this year that left me sort of underwhelmed. But in a small way it did. Yet I loved the story, thought it was beautifully told, felt drawn into the characters and their predicaments, etc. I really liked the creative way that the story was told with how he knew the answers to the question. The directing may make a visual pleasure for the audience of events that should not be visually pleasing to watch but I feel that there is an appropriate balance between a glossy visual overcoat of Mumbai life and a raw depiction of disturbing events. The question and answer device felt somewhat plausible which is good because I was afraid it would not.
The visuals are quite stunning. Danny Boyle does a fantastic job of really making everything pop but toning it down a bit for intense events and toning it up for exciting ones. It lent a very fresh feel to the film which makes it stand out with its distinctive style. This is quick editing that works. However I did have a couple of stylistic problems. One was too many hard angles. Some work very well and some were just too much and at times took me out of the film. Second was this technique that Boyle uses sometimes and I have no idea what the name of it is but he uses it when Jamal sees Latika waiting at the train station the first time. I think it can be used once or twice maybe but more than that and I feel like I am watching a music video.
The soundtrack and score are incredible. I was a huge fan of the music choices even though I think another M.I.A song would have worked better instead of “Paper Planes” just because it seems to be everywhere now even if it is still my favorite track by her. Nevertheless it was still good and the rest of the music added such life to everything.
The story itself is really captivating. Seeing Jamal’s life story is immensely satisfying and quite disturbing. I did not expect things to get as intense as they did but Boyle does not shy away from the reality of some of the issues that plague Mumbai and other parts of the world. Shooting in Mumbai also was an essential decision because it grounded everything in a strong reality while the stylistics gave the film a whimsical and lively quality. So that was a very powerful combination.
While everyone wants to jump up for joy at the end of the film I was happy but I did not have the reaction I think I was supposed to. Jamal and Latika’s relationship by the end did not grab me the way the rest of the story did. I very much cared about her because of the horrible life she has had to go through. I very much cared about him and wanted her to get out of her situation but as a couple I was not overly drawn to them. I think this was because while I loved their interactions as children, I did not feel that I had much stock in them as a couple later on because we do not get to know her at all. I know there really is not any room to develop her as a character but in the later segments when she is older, she really is just a beautiful woman who sort of stands around and has no personality. At least we do not get to see it and I get that it has all probably been suppressed through the years but still…I wanted them to get together definitely and I did like and care about them as a couple but by the end I did not want to stand up and cheer or have the reaction that I feel that I should have. So again I cared but I was not on the edge of my seat about the matter.
The performances are uniformly good. Everyone really does a great job of bringing heir characters to life. My two personal favorites are Anil Kapoor as the host of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and Irrfan Khan as the police inspector. As good as Dev Patel was in the film I really would prefer him not to get an Oscar Nomination in Supporting Actor as it looks like he is primed to. It is simply too packed this year.
The film reminded me of “City of God”, which personally I think is the better film but this is honestly a crowning achievement. I do not know what the flaws will be that people see in the film as the hype dies down and the time to rant and rave about whatever issues in the film there seems to be come about but right now I just know that despite a couple of reservations I really was taken in by the film. It has stuck with me and I actually have a strong urge to see it again; which is not a significant urge I have with a lot of the films I have seen this year so that is a really good thing. This is a great film and I feel more strongly about the more I think about it.
Friday, January 2, 2009
"Revolutionary Road" (2008)
First of all I realize that I am being easy on this and "Doubt" by giving them partly a B+. They really should have B's. But this is a combination vote of how much I enjoyed the films as well. Plus for all of the problems I have with both of the films', their best scenes are right at the top of the best of the year and there are whole chunks of scenes in both that blow my mind so that accounts for the B+ factor. Its successes count for a lot even if the ultimate overall success of the films for me are questionable.
“Revolutionary Road” is a tough film to review. I do not really know where I stand on it. I think I need to see it again to really decide. I will mostly talk about the film as an adaptation because it is how my other thoughts about the film can come about. As I read the reviews of folks who are extremely enthusiastic about the film I can see where they are coming from with their thoughts and sort of agree. Then when I read the reviews of the people who did not like the film I can also see where they are coming from. I very much liked the film but for me it just never really ascended into being a great film even though its last half hour to thirty five minutes is fantastic.
The adaptation to “Revolutionary Road” is very faithful to the book. Most of the dialogue is directly from the novel which was a new and rewarding as it allowed for scenes to be shown as almost literal translations to what I read which was so satisfying to see. One thing that is done is that the film lets us a bit more into April’s life. We see things from more of an equal perspective and even though she still comes off as cold and unlikable, the film is Frank and April’s film as opposed to Frank’s book. I liked this change very much even though the script and direction sort of drop the ball on Frank's development a bit. I feel that if Kate Winslet had not played April and an unknown actress was playing the role, then it would be more understandable to keep the book from Frank’s perspective but when the film is supposed to be a breakdown of a marriage with Kate Winslet starring, you know you are now going to have a character who has no point of view. I do not think this ruins anything depicted in the book because as I said before April still comes off as cold and unlikable but at least she becomes more sympathetic. Her life seems to have not gone the way she wanted it to. The unique and meaningful life she had dreamt of having never happened and she shows resentment towards her kids because of it and towards her husband because it makes the most sense for her to blame him. I do not think that by doing this we should have lessened what we understood about Frank but unfortunately because of the script’s inability to internalize Frank’s thoughts as they did in the book we are left with an equally perplexing understanding of Frank. Basically what is done is that they do more with April which makes her predicament clearer and does much to enhance the character but we never feel let into her psyche truly through the script; Winslet provides so much with her face though that she brings a lot more than what was there on the page. Then we have Frank whose character goes more undeveloped through again the scripts inability and Mendes’ unwillingness to show us a real struggle with Frank’s decisions. In the book he struggles with what to say, worrying about upsetting his wife after the play she is a part of. He ends up saying “Well that wasn’t exactly a triumph.” Instead of showing a struggle on his face as to what to say at all we simply see the end result of what he does say which ends up being insensitive. So while we have the same dialogue we do not have the struggle, we just get the line and since it is his first interaction with April in the present, he immediately comes off as insensitive.
Another instance is when Frank has an affair with Maureen the secretary. He does not know what to say after they have sex and he ends up saying “You were swell” and leaves her there in bed. Again this is from the novel if I recall but the internalization is not. I understand this is nearly impossible to convey but DiCaprio’s face is not properly used by the director during scenes like this because we are not given any chance to really see him before he says this, we do not get a moment when he is cautious. Even the way he goes about the affair comes off as something he does normally when in reality this was the first time he had done this. It is a big decision for Frank but we never see that. We do get a nice moment when he comes home from the affair to a surprise birthday party from his wife and kids. However they lose another opportunity to make Frank’s actions seem substantial to him when they do not have Frank try to tell April that night about the affair. They took so much from the novel word for word in terms of dialogue but they could not take a half a sentence? It would have inferred that Frank had not done that before if he had felt guilty enough to tell her about it that night but they do not do that.
Even though they did not flesh out these moments, there is something they cut out that I am ecstatic about. Frank carries on his affair with Maureen in both the film and the book but they do not show when Frank ends the relationship and when Maureen’s roommate confronts Frank about his intentions. He tells the roommate off and then laughs about it afterwards and laughs after he ends his affair with Maureen (even though he knows she is in love with him) to the point where he has to stop his car to calm down. It’s pretty much a horrible reaction to have and I am happy they cut it out.
Another thing I am happy that they cut out was all of the stuff with the plans for April to visit the psychiatrist. It is brought up and it is definitely in the film but it is not as substantial as it is in the book. Even in the film it came off as misplaced and dated psychiatric evaluation on Frank’s part that would have felt really unfounded in the film.
I did not appreciate the omission of the letter at the end of the film. I find it to be crucial but apparently the filmmakers did not.
Anyways, Frank is still underdeveloped in many ways and April is more developed than in the book but neither are fully fleshed out characters from the script, they meet in the middle with their development. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet make their characters what they are and they are admittedly able to do so much with Frank and April through their faces. DiCaprio takes a while to get going but once we hit a certain point in the film he really nails it. He is remarkable in the last 35 minutes. His face as he eats breakfast near the end is heartbreaking as we realize that his longing for a different life really is not what he needs; he just needs April to be loving and content with where they are and that is enough for him. For April she cannot function in that life, she does not just need love from her husband; everything she needs she does not have and cannot have. She is incapable of thinking about her kids’ happiness and her husband’s happiness once it gets to a point where she cannot take it anymore. Winslet does not take any time getting going and gives an incredible performance here filled with expressions that speak volumes and delivering lines that cut so deep. These are two very brave performances that push further and further…and then further. Winslet’s face during pretty much every scene she is in is entrancing. I cannot explain how Winslet gave such a deep performance with April and yet the film manages somehow to make us merely distantly observant. It is a cold film that promotes self reflecting during and after the film which is not very fun.
Something that they kept which I loved and greatly contributed to the successful elements in the film was that they kept the scenes with Shep and Milly by themselves intact. We got to understand Shep’s predicament and to see them as a couple as well so when everything happens it becomes important for everyone involved. The scene when Shep explains to Milly that he thinks that Frank and April’s decision to move to Europe is immature is incredible and honestly could be the most substantial scene in the film for me. Milly inexplicably breaks down when she hears that he is against the move they are making and it is never explained why. But it is because the Wheeler’s decision forced them to think about their own lives and where they were at. When Milly hears that Shep thinks the idea is immature she is officially allowed to look down on it and to feel content with her suburban life again instead of being threatened with the idea that Shep and she are trapped as well. Her reassurance of their lives causes her to break down. It is a remarkable little scene that adds so so much to the final film.
Michael Shannon steals his scenes as John Givings easily giving one of the greatest book-to-screen performances ever. I have nothing but praise for him. Some of his lines and the way he delivers them are like the equivalent of knife going into you. He also has what for me was the most important and telling line in the book and film about how couples are able to recognize the emptiness but it takes real guts to recognize the hopelessness. I also need to point out pretty much everyone else. Kathy Bates is great. Zoe Kazan is excellent as Maureen completely capturing her persona in the book. I was very impressed by her. Lastly Milly and Shep played by Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour are soooo good here as well. The whole film features great acting.
The last 35 minutes of the film is pure gold pretty much. Even though we are never really let into the lives of these two the way we would like it is still an incredible final 35 minutes. The way Winslet is photographed as she dances with Shep is stunning. The blowout between Frank and April is insanely awesome and it took my breath away. I honestly cannot even explain it. DiCaprio’s blow up as he mixes sadness, anger and overwhelming frustration is a marvel to see. The last scene with John was painfully awkward and powerful. The breakfast scene is absolutely astounding. April’s course of events after Frank leaves is very moving. And everything after that not to give everything away is just so powerful even without the intense emotional involvement on the viewer’s part. And they keep the ending exactly the same as it is in the book which is not something they needed to do but they did and I am so happy they did. I could go on and on about each of these scenes but I will not.
Also a great core from the always fantastic Thomas Newman, my favorite film composer and incredible cinematography from once again Roger Deakins, the master.
All in all it was a mixed experience. Honestly I was pleased with all of it; none of it was bad at all. The scenes ranged from decent to incredible. The performances were the strongest part of the movie, fittingly so with everyone really giving it 110%. It is a film that leaves you in a weird mood as it is uncomfortably relatable at times even at my young age. Even though the film captures the dullness and repetitiveness and the eventual boredom and ordinary qualities that come with settling down and it really does a fantastic job of adapting the screenplay in terms of how faithful they are to the dialogue and story, I still felt distant from the film afterwards. I do not know if this was the intention but it was how I felt. I never felt sucked in completely with the characters even if I was sucked into certain scenes and to the end. I understand that Frank and April are not supposed to be very likable but something was lost in the translation from book to screen that made for a much more observant experience as opposed to a participatory one while some films are supposed to feel that way (mainly in some arthouse foreign films to broadly use the term) I do not know if that was the intention here. It made for a sort of confusing experience. Between this and the fact that I felt the script never pushed the characters to the next level and the direction was sometimes too unconcerned with developing Frank’s character, these are some flaws or at least the latter ones are since I still cannot figure out the intention of the distance you feel during it. But overall this is a worthy experience to have because it offers several strong aspects to it, I was interested throughout and the acting on display here is just tops; there are few films this year that match up to it in terms of the ensemble. I am still thinking about the film even though I saw it 3 days ago; it has stuck with me and that cannot be a bad thing right?
“Doubt” is not a perfect film. Let me just say that and get it out in to the open. I have issues with the adaptation of it. 25 minutes into the film and only the first sermon in the play has been told; nothing else is from the play. The additions do not even make sense. They are not scenes of dialogue really. I have no idea actually how they even take up all of that time. It is remarkable how much time passes at the beginning of this movie without actually having anything near significant or interesting happening. The movie is brought to a halt before it has begun. Director John Patrick Shanley seems to feel that the more you expand the play the more cinematic it gets. The problem with this is when the additions to the film become repetitive, redundant and sometimes outright poorly done. For instance, the credits to the film show us following a child named Jimmy who is going to be serving mass and we see him getting up and making his way to the church as the credits appear before us. Who is this kid? He is not a character; he has no purpose except to immediately broaden the film’s setting to outside the parish. It is ridiculous though as the beginning of the film to be something completely unrelated to anything in the story. It feels misplaced and forced as a way to immediately establish a cinematic quality about the story.
There are other kids like William London who for some strange reason have recurring parts in the film which I do not mind so much but when it seems like they stick out and are intruding in a way into the film it becomes distracting. I also believe that we saw a bit too much of Donald Miller the child whose relations with Father Flynn cause suspicion. I am glad we got to see a little of him and his scene with Flynn that is not in the book I had no problem with even though part of me does not think we should have seen any of their relationship. Then there is a scene with just him and Jimmy which simply should not be there at all. They either should have chosen the scene with him and Flynn and a couple of other shots or cut out the one scene and shown a select few of the glimpses of Donald. I am sorry but I do not want to see a lot of the kid because it takes away from everything. I do not like him actually being physically brought into the story. So these are my big complaints about the film; that the film takes forever to actually get started, the parish is opened up too much and we see too much of Donald Miller, the child in question.
My smaller complaints have to do with a couple of unsubtle directorial choices. I am not sure if John Patrick Shanley was the best person to direct the adaptation of his own play. He does a decent job but it could have been better and he would have been in a bit of trouble I feel if Roger Deakins was not the one behind the cinematography. Anyways, he uses a wind motif throughout the film that comes off as obvious as well as an outright lame attempt at analogy involving a cat catching a mouse being parallel with Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn. Sister Aloysius even points it out as if it were not obvious enough as it is. I also still hate that last line however Streep pulls it off giving it significantly more weight than when I simply read it.
So these are my complaints but overall I very much enjoyed “Doubt” because of the performances and because of how interesting I find the story to be. Shanley uses the framework of a nuns certainty about the relationship between a boy and a priest without any proof and challenges his audience to experience doubt for ourselves and to dissect what that means and how someone can be so certain and how unsolvable the predicament is. The performance that relies on all of this working rests on Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn. On the surface Meryl Streep and Viola Davis actually have showier role to play but in terms of the success of perhaps the most difficult task, Hoffman gets that job. He plays every scene both ways simultaneously. If you decide to look at one scene and think he is guilty you can read it that way with massive amounts of depth going on. Then look at the scene again as if he was innocent and he feels completely sincere in his denials. He also has genuine moments that could be read as being guilty and others with nothing but sincerity. He actually made me feel more confused than ever about what I felt Father Flynn and what his relationship with Donald Miller is. He filled me with more doubt than ever and since Shanley’s purpose is to have you experience doubt or certainty or at least something involving what you think about Father Flynn, Hoffman succeeds at making some people feel certainty and others doubt. Added to all of this he creates a complete character; one that believes in changing the parish with the times, a man who takes pride in being a man who has power in the church, who tries to inspire others but does not take any crap from anyone. He tries to connect but does he connect too much to Donald? He is a strong believer of changing with the times but is not about to give up his patriarchal position and fully believes in the hierarchy established in the church. He taks a pleasure in his position and enjoys the power of the men; he loves the idea of the male camaraderie and fully believes in the submissive position that the nuns hold in the church and that that is the way it should be. He is completely comfortable sitting in Sister Aloysius' chair when he enters her office, when Sister James serves him tea he does not see her as being nice but you can see he believes this to her duty. He seems to take pleasure in being a mix between someone that people look up to but also having the power to subtly intimidate others. He is very likable on the surface and does seem to genuinely want to be there for the boy no matter what the consequences are but under the surface he has some particularly negative qualities about him. If I had to pick I lean towards his innocence based on the fact that he tells the Sister to ask the boy herself. But again, after I saw it I was leaning towards guilt. This is the mastery of his performance.
Meryl Streep although in a very showy role really steps up her usual game to bring an engrossing performance that drags you into the film whether you like it or not. She displays a ferocious demeanor that actually made me want to side with her because she is the only one who is sure of anything. Her certainty and relentless action to take Father Flynn down seems to be the form her distaste for the hierarchy and lack of power that the nuns have has taken. Father Flynn represents everything she hates. He is well liked by most of the students and he holds and freedom and power within the church that she wants. She is the principal and holds a self instigated reputation for being cold and intimidating and yet she does not hold the power her position suggests because she is a nun. She seems to act out her disapproval for all of this by putting all of her power into taking Flynn down. It is a very interesting dynamic that these two have and makes you wonder how sure she actually is and how much is it is justifiably deep seeded resentment.
Amy Adams is going to go more under the radar for having the most subtle performance but she is not the weak link here by any means as she more than holds her own with the rest of the cast. Sister James represents the audience and our perspective in a way, at first wanting to be sincere in her suspicions but eventually regretting telling Sister Aloysius at all. She perfectly conveys the innocence and hopeful qualities of someone who is still quite new to much of the world and who just wants to do good by connecting to students. I liked the addition of seeing her teach in the classroom and trying to emulate Sister Aloysius’ teaching methods while not feeling it to be right in her heart. Adams is one of my favorite working actresses today and I cannot wait to see how her career unfolds.
Last but certainly not least is Viola Davis in a show-stopping, film-stealing performance that still sticks with me. Her one 8 minute scene or however long it is actually does manage to steal the film as everyone says. This is not an exaggeration. She does so much with her character in such a short amount of time that she could have starred in the film and I would have felt just as much development with her character. Meryl Streep barely registers on the radar during this scene; that is how good she is. Yes this scene is sort of the center of the play in many ways and yes it is a scene that is meant to have this sort of impact but that does not make it any less substantial that it does. The scene sent me into tears by simply hearing the words and seeing her face. There is no music manipulation here and we are given n openly raw performance that feels devoid of any sort of acting actually happening. I felt so thoroughly that she was a real mother from 1964 and not an actress playing this character. The line “Whatever it is, it’s just until June” sends shivers down my spine even now. This could be the most powerful scene in cinema in the year 2008 for me. And it is because of her.
There are several other fantastic scenes and this is why I think that while the film has its definite issues, some more harmful to the film than others, the big scenes that are the most important are done magnificently. The scene when Sister James and Sister Aloysius confront Father Flynn with their suspicions is filled with significant tension. The scene when Father Flynn gave his sermon about gossip and intolerance was inexplicable frightening as Father Flynn inflicted his intimidation through the form of a sermon that not so subtly addresses the nuns. The scene when Sister James and Father Flynn have their discussion is a subtle and touching one. The scene however that will be on my Top Scenes of 2008 and it will be very high is the one in which Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius really go at it when he finds out that she has spoken to Donald’s mother. This is one of the greatest actors ever and one of the greatest actresses ever going at it at the top of their game, pulling out all of the stops as they just put it all out there. This is a tour-de-force scene, one that left me breathless. It is inexplicably available on youtube as an extended clip that apple put up. It is about 6 minutes long even though the scene continues after the clip ends; this is essentially the climax of the film.
While I do not think this should be nominated for Best Picture at all, I do think this is a worthy film in many ways due to the across the board incredible performances, the film’s beauty is perfectly conveyed through Roger Deakins and the fact that overall I feel that the film is effective especially in the scenes that matter; these scenes are all stellar. The film is mired down a bit though from getting such a slow start, opening up the parish too much, showing too much of Donald Miller and Shanley’s unsubtle direction at times that likes to think itself more clever than it actually is. It is a mixed bag but one well worth seeing because its successes are more substantial than its faults.