Monday, February 23, 2009

Comments on Academy Awards 2009

Comments on the Oscars 2009!!

Overall I was delighted with the ceremony itself. It was a little cornball but it always is. I thought Hugh Jackman was fantastic. He is just adorable. "I'm Wolverine!". I loved the opening number. I thought the "Musical's back" number was a little much and also really random. But not bad. I loved the way the awards were presented although I would have liked clips from the acting awards. Also instead of lots of people saying thank you for the montage on who has won I felt that lots of clips from the actual preformances would have been more inspiring and less self serving. Loved the short Judd Apatow film. Loved the genre montages. Loves the stage setup so so so so so much. Tina Fey and Steve Martin were great as was Ben Stiller in his Joaquin Pheoniz spoof.

Basically though there were no shockers last night. The only one was the loss of "Waltz with Bashir" losing to "Departures" which I felt in my gut and did not go with so while it was a surprise, anyone intensely following the Oscars as I have would have heard the case for why that film might have stolen it which it did. And I really felt that Sean Penn would be taking it home for a while now so that came as expected for me. I am happy he won even though I think Rourke deserved it. He really did an incredible job. Dustin Lance Black's speech was very moving. Kate Winslet has finally won an Oscar. I really thought Penelope Cruz would lose for some reason. I was wrong. But I adore her so its fine. Heath winning was expected and touching. Was hoping for a Slumdog upset but clearly that was not in the cards. Hmmm...thats about it. Its weird that the Oscar year is over. I am unsure of what to do with myself now. I'll get into lots of manga and start watching Mad Men and other shows; that's what I'll do. Well until next year. I'll try to do much better with blogging from now on. It will be hard but I would really like to try.

Lots of New Films that I do not have Time to Do Individually

Ok I have seen lots of films that I do not have the time to write about individually.

Among them:

City of Ember (2008): B- Really great first hour. Could have been amazing. Best art direction of the year. But the last half hour just meanders off into nothingness.

Choke (2008): B: Really entertaining and fun but ultimately forgettable in the grand scale of things. But I'd recommend it because it is very good. Sam Rockwell is fantastic as always.

Let the Right One In (2008): B+ Stuck with me very much after it ended. Not obsessed with it the way some people are from a subjective point of view but in terms of recognizing how great it really is I can attest 100% to that. The relationship between the two is done beautifully and the violence is handled with immense skill and subtlety without hiding away from it in the slightest.

The Visitor (2008): B. Not normally my type of film but Richard Jenkins really got me involved. I want him to be my awesome uncle or my best friend. He is incredible in this really doing some beautiful work. I am very happy he has finally gotten some recognition for a performance that whole heartedly deserved it.

Shine a Light (2008): C. After seeing Gimme Shelter this is basically a really really really poor man's version of that. And its not even that. Its definitely decent. The concert is shot really nicely by Scorsese and the Rolling Stones still put on a great show but ultimately I wanted more archival footage and did not get that.

Reprise (2008)B-. I wanted to love this but in the end I felt like we were kept at too much of a distance from the characters to really get to like them at all and these are characters that I think you are supposed to care about. The director shows a great amount of talent and skill with his first film but it is too focused on being influenced by the French New Wave films to really give us anything of real value. There are some nice moments and really great parts and other parts where I rolled my eyes. Great soundtrack though.

Penelope (2008): C. This sounds like I did not like this but I actually did. But in the end its just an average movie. Not bad but not anything really good. So it gets an average grade. Christina Ricci and James McAvoy elevate the material's forced quirkiness and make us care but again its just not memorable.

Paranoid Park (2008): B+. Not as good or substantial as Milk but really really fantastic film about the ennui of adolescence shown to an extreme with the way a young skateboarder comprehends and deals with the fact that he accidently killed someone. The use of Nina Rota in this is beautiful. And Gus Van Sant's tracking shots always impress me. One of my favorites of his.

The Strangers (2008): B+. One of the most frightening and terrifying experiences of my life. While I felt more could have been done to get us to like and care about the characters who are being terrorized I felt that the experience itself made me feel like I went through something and thus caring about the characters did not change the fact that I felt like what I was watchign was happening to me. This is the director's first film and he brings a completely refreshing vibe and skill set to the horror film lessening on the gore but not the disturbance and using very little music and concentrating on subtle uses of sound and camera shots to scare us. His use of other music such as Joanna Newsom has a profound effect. This is a very talented director. Even Roger Ebert who hated this film goes on for paragraphs about the skill level that the director shows. This is a film that breathes life into the horror film. And I cannot wait to see more from this talented guy.

The Incredible Hulk (2008): B
I personally enjoyed this as much as "Iron Man". Yes I know. Shocking. But I did. I really really liked this a lot. Edward Norton and Tim Roth bring a degree of respectability and talent to the table. Liv Tyler and Edward Norton did a great job and have good chemistry. As I said, Tim Roth was my favorite aspect of the film. The scenes with Tim Blake Nelson slowed thinkgs down a bit and fucked with the tone a little but no biggie. While its not "The Dark Knight" or anything, I still think it should be put in the list of films as examples of the superhero genre upping its game.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008): A-
Incredible and fascinating documentary. I know some say that the film is on Polanski's side and that the film tries to get us to like him but I sort of disagree. The films main goal is to point out that Polanski's guilt put aside, he had an unfair trial with a completely corrupt judge. I agree that he got completely fucked over. The way the director puts together this material and story is truly remarkable. That aside it does not change what he did and while he is an incredible director and his talent is important, he did something horrible and I do not care if the girl publicly forgave him years later. I do not think the film tries to hide behind what he did. I think the film addresses it but also tries to make him a sympathetic figure due to his history. I don't think the film forgives what he did or even tries to excuse it; they do show that he is supposedly a nice guy and a good person but honestly anyone with half a brain should understand that what he did was wrong and I assume the film assumes that people are not stupid and can honestly decide for themselves that a man who drugs a 13 year old girl and rapes her is not very cool. But I do not think the film was that one sided although I would have liked to see more from the victim of it.

Frozen River (2008): B. Really interesting film with an unbelievable performance from Melissa Leo. Really refreshing raw look at a person struggling. The film is not sugarcoated in anyway or polished to be accessible. This woman's life sucks and in a very realistic way. I appreciate the film for that.

Lakeview Terrace (2008): B+ I loved this. I flatout loved this movie. I was completely taken in by it. I do not even know what to say about it but it completely took me by surprise. Loved loved loved this.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008): B-. I only give this a B- because some of it felt false but the parts that did not in particular the relationship between Nick and Norah which woud be the most important aspect of the film rang true to me and I thought the chemistry and talent of the two actors really clicked and that time was taken to develop their relationship that normally is not seen as much as it is here. Ari Graynor did a fantastic job as well as the drunk friend who I hope to see in more roles.

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Changeling" (2008) Grade: B

"Changeling" (2008)
Grade: B

I really like the feel of Eastwood's films. I always have. This is no different. I never felt it broke beoynd a certain level into becoming one of the truly impressive films of the year but I still feel it is a bit better than people seem to think it is. I was interested the whole time. Horrified much of the time. Eastwood did such a great job of recreating the 1920's. Really beautiful. The real life events of the film make a good subject because some of the things that happened were so ridiculous that you would only believe it in a film. Eastwood's music is subtle and moving as usual. The performances were for the most part great. Angelina Jolie manages to break away from her real life status and really give us a moving and genuine performance as Christine Collins. The helplessness she holds is so many situations by her character are really felt by the audience because of her performance. Her hope and desperate nature are conveyed really beautifully by her as well. I cannot believe this is the same woman from "Wanted". Collins is a woman functioning in a man's world and the power the other gender holds over Los Angeles and the country at the time really hindered Christine's choices as well as anyone who would take her and lived in a world where a woman who was desperate for helped was written off as crazy. While the emotions were there I wish there had been a been more of character here though. I do not feel like the script really fleshed her out enough at all but its not a huge complaint. I also felt John Malkovich would have had more presence here as the Reverend but he's just sort of there. But I loved how his character is a sane religious person. It was so refreshing to see a religious person portrayed as sane and likeable and good. I'm not religious at all but I feel that all the time they are portrayed as literally insane in films and its sort of ridiculous. So it was nice to see that change. I actually think I was the most impressed or at least the most effected by Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcott. Some people thought he was bad and over the top but I thought he was haunting and that it was as disturbing a performance as you can get. He seriously fucked with me and made the disturbing subject matter about 10 times as hard for me to watch. Because this was a disturbing film. Definitely hard to get through. I thought he was brilliant in this and I think its one of the best performances of 2008. Excuse me for being in the minority. Any Ryan was good here as well. The character I personally came to like the most out of anybody in the film was Detective Lester Ybarra. He;s not really a character though seeing as you do not really get to know him at all but hes in a ton of the film and I really liked the role he had within it. Despite all fo these performances I thought Jeffrey Donovan as J.J Jones was actively bad. I could not take him seriously with his stupid half Irish accent and found that he frequently took me out of the movie. Congrats to Jolie for being able to emote in the same scene with him. I hear he is good on "Burn Notice" but hes really not good here. He looks the part but does not play the part well. All in all this was a very solid film. Not one of the best of the year but definitely one of the better ones. While I'm not sure it works completely I still was effected by it. The scene in which Northcott hangs was the best scene in the film. Man that's fucked up. I read one comment that said that the scene explains best why the reviewer was against the death penalty. Its funny because for me it explained exactly why I was for it. Its really the only conservative thing I am for but I won't waver on my support for it. Some people just do not deserve to live. Gordon Northcott was one of them. So yeah those are my thoughts on "Changeling" Good, sometimes great, not a masterpiece by any means but definitely solid.

"Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" Grade: C-

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (2008)
Grade: C-

I was going to give this a C but after rewatching some of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe on ABC Family last night I forgot just how damn good that film is and it further made me realize that this is just not a good film. The effects are great and beautiful, the kids have a lot of presence. But other than that, nothing held the weight it did last time. I thought they stayed too faithful to the book and needed to branch off of it to give these kids some development because while they had presence this time around they had absolutely no personality. These kids grew up in the last film and then went back through the wardrobe and had to be kids again. That is such a golden oppurtunity for exploration. Really? You aren't going to do anything with that? Also this is the most violent PG film I have ever seen. I am convinced the MPAA was on crack when they gave this a PG rating considering that all of the kids KILL people in this ( i don't remember if Lucy does though) and Peter DECAPITATES SOMEONE!!!!!!! What the hell!? PG!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??! Also everything involving Caspian and the Telmarines was uninteresting and I know that it has a lot to do with the fact that I'm not huge on the book either but still. And Ben Barnes as Caspian was a joke. That accent was funny and distracting and he could not manage to give emotional weight to anything he was doing. This is a shame considering he is playing Dorian Gray in the new adaptation and that I really liked him in "Stardust". And I understand that these books and film is completely religiously motivated and I accept it and will not ridicule it. I do not think there is anything wrong with it but it distracted me at times. Also this stupid Susan and Caspian romance nonsense? Barf.

Despite all of this I feel that there were a couple of areas it succeeded in. Again I love the kids despite the nothingness required of them this time around. I loved how they handled the scene when Peter and Susan find out they will not be coming back to Narnia. I also have always loved the music in the first Narnia film and I loved it here as well. And again the effects were great and the film looked beautiful. But all in all this was dissapointing.

"American Teen" (2008) Grade: B-

"American Teen" (2008)
Grade: B-

Ok I am getting tired so I have to hurry these along. "American Teen" is a documentary that felt a bit too MTV for me. I think the style of the film is what detracted from it for me. I believe it when the director says its all real. Obviously some shots are staged as some always are in documentaries. But she shot 1,000 hours of footage over the course of a year, she had a lot to choose from. I believe its all real but I think the way it was edited together felt a bit fake which is why she is catching some slack. The animation sequences when they were each describing their dreams was really stupid. It was lame and honestly condescending to the meaningful stuff each of them were saying. It took me out of the film and was such an unneccesary gimmick that it would have gotten a B without those. I just wish the style had been different. Also the placing of information was structured in a very convenient way as to manipulate people into feeling things for these characters at certain times. For example, throughout the film we hate Megan for doing horrible things but then we learn right before her acceptance letter for Notre Dame is supposed to be coming in that her sister committed suicide two years before. All of this just in time for us to want her to get into Notre Dame instead of not wanting it. Colin was the least interesting for me. I adored Jake and Mitch (until Mitch did something really stupid). And of course Hannah was my favorite. Absolute favorite. She was so freaking cool. I want to be her best friend. But anyways yeah, definitely really really entertaining but put together in a way that is unfortunately a bit too stylish for its own good.

"Stuck" (2008) Grade: A-/B+

"Stuck" (2008)
Grade: A-/B+

"Stuck" is awesome. Seriously awesome. Stuart Gordon is brilliant. This film is so fucked up and has such a weird sense of humor about it that makes me wonder how hard it must be to create a film with an atmosphere like this. This film instead of showing a character making bad decisions that are unrealistic like many of the ones made in horror films, this film shows a character making horrific and seflish decisions that make no sense whatsoever but are so real for some reason. By the end of the film we must assume Brandi's character (Mena Suvari) is insane. Because seriously her constant assertions that none of it was her fault and just basically every single thing she does is so mind boggling to me but in a way that purposely adds to the film and does not detract from it. Suvari is so good here as is Stephen Rea doing so much with not a lot of time before he is stuck in the windshield for much of the film. This was based on a true story, the incident happened exactly as it does in the film as in real life but the film takes liberties from there. The film asks the question what makes people do the WTF things that they do? The score to this was spot on as were the rap songs particularly the one at the beginning giving the film a unique feel right off. I also loved the character of Rashid who starts off as sort of a stereotype but so much is done with him by the end of the film. I think you sort of have to get Gordon's style to get the film and I think you sort of have to get that the film is a dark dark comedy going into it otherwise this is going to seem ridiculous. It is ridiculous. But intentionally so. I loved this film. More than the majority of 2008 stuff I have seen. I think it reaches a near brilliance at times.

"Horton Hears a Who" (2008) Grade: A-/B+

"Horton Hears a Who" (2008)
Grade: A-/B+

I cannot explain what a kick I got out of this movie. I was expecting to be pleasently entertained but I laughed so much and was so taken in by everything. This won't be a long review because there is not much to say here except I loved this movie. Loved loved loved it. The Katie character was one of the most bizarre and random creations I've seen in animation in a long time but I was laughing so much everytime we saw her. The voice work was excellent with Jim Carrey providing such a likeability, fun loving innocence to Horton and Steve Carell provides an amusing practicality to the Mayor. I just really truly enjoyed this. It might have strayed from the feel of Dr. Seuss with its humor and slapstick but I still feel like it captures the feel of his drawings and the appreciation for life that his stories carry. Did I mention I loved this?

"Boy A" (2008) Grade: A

"Boy A" (2008)
Grade: A

Wow am I happy I saw this film. Weinstein picked it up and distributed it acroos a few theaters in its release in 2008. The year before it had played on TV in the U.K picking up some awards. I always have counted a films release date as when it is released in this country. So for me it is a 2008 release. And its better than 4 of the Best Picture nominees in my opinion. I was hooked onto this film the second it started. I highly highly recommend it. Anthony Garfield deserves heaps of attention and I think it looks like he will have a career based on his performance in this film. Katie Lyons is excellent her as well as is Peter Mullan. Everything about this film interested me. It was never done in a cliched way, the film had respect for its characters, it never really chose a side but asks you do make a decision for yourself which made for challenging viewing. I am convinced his conversation with her in the last 5 minutes is imaginary. Some people complain about the believabililty of the incident which surprises me because I never thought for once second that that was meant to be taken as real and still do not. This must be a very confusing read if you do not know what it is about. Basically it is about a boy who helped kill a 10 year old girl with his best friend at the time. Years later he is 24 and is released under a new name to start a life for himself. We see him attempting to start a life while seeing glimpses of his childhood. Garfield gives one of the best performances of the year creating such a likeable character whose predicament as a child becomes easy to see and the story and performance provide a character that is not at all what you expect to see which makes the story that much more interesting. I highly highly highly recommend it.

"Ghost Town" (2008) Grade: B

"Ghost Town" (2008)
Grade: B

This was a nice little film. The music was corny and too slight for my taste and I found Greg Kinnear to be very annoying but Ricky Gervais and Tea Leoni made this movie work (even though it had a very adequate script also). The two of them really pushed this film to its heights. She has such a presence and likability here that she alone gives the audience a layer of involvement that most romantic stories lack. And Ricky Gervais really is fantastic here and it works because as Ebert put it "he's not trying to make people laugh". Alan Ruck and Dana Ovey provide a touching subplot as well. While this movie is not amazing and its not anything to write home about, its a nice and refreshing surprise to the sameness that a lot of films have and it took a few turns I did not expect so overall I certainly would not call the film predictable either and that is another thing the film has that most do not.

"The Other Boleyn Girl" (2008) Grade: C

"The Other Boleyn Girl" (2008)
Grade: C

This was not as bad as I expected. I find it hilarious though how literally not one thing in this film is factual. Its all made up. Hardly any of it happened. Anyways, I found the film to be quite entertaining actually with interesting performances from Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johannson. They each have one birthing scene and its funny to see how they sort of try to outact each other with it. I actually felt Johannson did the better job with the role of Mary than Portman did with Anne. Sometimes they were hard to take seriously and other times they were very effective; it was weird how all over the place they were. Kristen Scott Thomas is always a pleasure to see. The end was effective. I guess my problem with it is that it feels hollow and rushed as if the scenes were cut down to their essentials yet its really long. There is little time for development basically leaving the two actresses of the roles of "the good sister" and "the bad sister". And honestly Henry is such a douche that it makes no sense as to why Mary would actually love him after everything but I guess those were the times. All in all the film just does not too much at all. But I was definitely interested, the performances were adequate and at times quite good, the story was interesting, costumes fantastic and the cinematography pretty. Basically I subjectively enjoyed it much more than I was unimpressed with it objectively.

"Encounters at the End of the World" (2008) Grade: A

"Encounters at the End of the World" (2008)
Grade: A

First thing's first: I liked this a lot more than "Man on Wire". Honestly I was a little underwhelmed by that film. Objectively it is masterfully put together. The part on the film when he actually goes on the wire was beautiful. I firmly believe what he did was beautiful. I adore Petit. But this film just engaged me so much more. Herzog's narration is so unique. It makes you look at what you are seeing in a completely different way. His narration is as I said unique, touching, haunting, adorable, funny and insightful. He has created something here that is so special. There are so many moments that were so weird and off and not anything I ever expected to see in a documentary. He paints Antarctica as a weird place, one that people who have been through so many different portions of their life find themselves. A place where important research is being done and things are being discovered. A place where little oddities are everywhere for you to discover. He presents a place that is completely hypnotic. I cannot get the moment when the lone penguin walks off towards certain death out of my head. It was so beautiful yet so disturbing. I highly suggest you see this for a unique look into a section of the world.

"Quid Pro Quo" (2008) Grade: C-

"Quid Pro Quo" (2008)
Grade: C-

I appreciate this film's attempt to explore a condition that is not well known to people; BIID, a condition in which people desire to be an amputee because they believe it will make them happier. The film was interesting for this reason and because of Vera Farmiga's performance (has become one of my favorite actresses). However the film was simply unforgettable and actually too short (76 minutes) to accomplish what it wanted. I never felt like I had any sort of understanding of the condition. I'm not expecting much but I did expect a slight insight which I did not feel that I got. The subject matter was really interesting and again I respected the attempt to tell a different story but I thought it was building up to something and I never got a payoff. The film was not actively bad which my grade suggests; it just was not very good. Love the poster by the way.

"Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson"

“Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson” (2008)
Grade: C

Hunter S. Thompson fascinates me. I just feel that the film is a little too introductory. I wanted more from the film and felt that it sort of jumped around a bit too much and skipped over some stuff. There is so much to cover that I feel like we just scratch the surface of it all. I never felt that I got to know him very well. It was interesting since I did not know a lot about him but at the same time I was underwhelmed. I know this got great reviews and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the subject but but for me it was a bit all over the place with not a ton to offer.

"Surfwise" (2008) Grade: B+

“Surfwise” (2008)
Grade: B+

This was an interesting documentary about the Paskowitz family who raised their 9 children outside of the system so to speak. None went to school and they all were raised in a very small trailer that they would ride around in and surf. All of them are alive including the parents and all are interviewed about their lives and how they felt about the way they were raised. The father’s comments were the most interesting because it was his beliefs that were the reason that everyone lived the way they did. I am not sure how I feel about the reunion at the end but the film is definitely worth checking out. Probably my second favorite of the documentaries I have seen from 2008 which include Encounters at the End of the World, Man on Wire, American Teen and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

"Berlin: Symphony of a Great City" (1927) Grade: B

“Berlin: Symphony of a Great City” (1927)
Grade: B

This film done very much in the manner of “Man with a Movie Camera” (although made earlier) is a sort of tribute to the city of the Berlin in the 20’s. We have talked about it in length in class and I cannot figure out what I think the film is trying to do since there are conflicting views. I certainly think because of the status of Berlin at the time that the film is attempting to honor the city and show how unique it is and how different it is from other places with its liberal attitude. There are moments when it seems to be wary of certain issues of class and despair. The score has moments that are meant to overwhelm but the score is a posthumous score and awe do not know if it is what filmmaker Ruttman intended. While I think Ruttman is very much establishing moments of caution, I do believe that he is much more interested in the rhythm of the piece, the avant garde nature of the film, creating the idea of visual music and paying tribute to a unique city in a unique time. That is how I take the film. That being said, the film was excellent; I am always interested in seeing films of this nature and the B grade is more due to this being no “Man with a Movie Camera”. It was excellent and certainly interesting but it is not “Man with a Movie Camera”. Vertov has him beat.

"Grave of the Fireflies" (1988) Grade: A+

“Grave of the Fireflies” (1988)
Grade: A+

Surely one of the greatest films ever made. The film takes place during WWII and the air raids in Japan. While the film never offers a statement on their part in the war and the atrocities they committed as well, the film simply points out the obvious but taken for granted fact of the citizens of Japan (in this case children) and their sufferings. The film explores the efforts of two children Seita and his little sister Setsuka who are unwillingly caught in the midst of a war that they do not understand and are not a part of. The film is trying to put the spotlight on the suffering of children during the war and how they are really the victims in all of this. Basically if you do not cry during this then….you have no soul. That’s right I said it; you have no soul. This film is a bitch to get through. Seriously, it is a very hard film to take in and handle. But it is well worth your time. Isao Takahata has a keen eye for the beauty in stillness and small moments that say so much. I am convinces Takahata wants to make people as miserable as possible with this film. I am joking. Well, I’m half joking. This is widely known as one of the greatest films ever made and rightly so; it is one of the truly few masterpieces in cinema; a film only bested by “Fantasia” in the world of animation.

"Barefoot Gen" (1983) Grade: A-

"Barefoot Gen" (1983)
Grade: A-

This was an extremely disturbing yet very moving and masterful anime film dealing with Hiroshima. The first 25 minutes are pretty lighthearted at least compared to the rest of the film. Once the bomb drops there is a sequence of the most disturbing animation I believe I have seen. Everything fits so well here though and there are moments of humor amongst the horror which give the film the humanistic quality that makes the film stand out. I do not know really what else to say except that it was very moving and beautifully put together despite how disturbing it was. I could say a lot more because we have discusses it in my anime class in great detail so I'm well versed on the films themes and depiction of WWII but I have so much more to get through.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Will Update Soon

Sorry I've been so negligent of this blog. I will update soon. I've seen some stuff and will give really quick reviews of things soon and then I will try to give more regular updates. : )