Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flipping through the Channels: Cruel Intentions

Cruel Intentions
Directed by Roger Kumble
Released March 5, 1999

Ah, what a fantastically ridiculous film. I first watched this movie at least five or six years ago when I could not fully appreciate its camp nature and its true awfulness that is so clearly apparent in my most recent viewing on HBO. Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar try so hard to be aloof and above everything with all their fancy opinions and never-ending wealth. Truth be told, both Phillippe and Gellar are not actually good actors (sorry, Buffy fans! Don’t kill me!), and watching them try to out do each other is both painful and hilarious at the same time. Their desire to sexualize (a word?) everything is a lot to take, but it is consistently entertaining to watch them as they try to sleep with everyone. Substance-wise, this movie has a lot less in it than I initially remembered. I thought that I remembered the infamous horse scene from this movie, but I think that I missed it while I getting up to get some cake. Even without seeing that, I can still find Selma Blair’s performance absolutely fascinating, and appreciate the small roles given to both Swoosie Kurtz and Christine Baranski. And then there’s the music. “Every You, Every Me”, “Colorblind”, and especially “Bittersweet Symphony” are used so perfectly in this movie, not to mention the stellar score. Overall, this is one amazingly entertaining but completely ridiculous film that makes me laugh and cringe at all times throughout.

Entertainment value: A
Quality grade: C-

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Best Films of 2007: #5-1


#5: THE BUBBLE

“Walk on Water” director Eytan Fox takes an inside look at the politically active youth in Tel Aviv in this fascinatingly fresh and wonderfully nuanced film. The young cast is uniformly excellent.

#4: AFTER THE WEDDING

This Danish effort from director Susanne Bier uses amazingly subtle cinematography to convey the deepest and gravest of messages. Mads Mikkelsen and the entire cast give remarkable performances in this stunning and powerful film.

#3: AVENUE MONTAIGNE

Perky, bright-eyed C├ęcile de France interacts with a number of colorful characters in this amusing and often funny drama that still has a serious but warm heart. The film is supplemented by wonderful music and a dazzling cast.

#2: THE LIVES OF OTHERS

The late Ulrich Muhe commands the screen as an interrogator in Germany in the 1980s. The story is marvelous, and every aspect of the film, especially its cinematography and music, make for a terrific experience.

#1: THE DARJEELING LIMITED

Wes Anderson’s latest film is simple yet wonderfully adventurous, and the music and colors of the film set it apart from the rest of the pack this year. The script is excellent, but it the casting of is Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman as wacky brothers that really makes the film.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Best Films of 2007: #10-6


#10: RATATOUILLE

This winning animated comedy tells the story of a young rat whose culinary inclinations inspire him to get into the restaurant business. Terrific voices and a thoroughly amusing script make this premise work incredibly well.

#9: FIRST SNOW

About 15 people saw this fantastic thriller about a traveling salesman marked for death after a visit to a fortune teller. The suspense is gripping and the film is appropriately chilling, with excellent performances by Guy Pearce and J.K. Simmons.

#8: STARTER FOR 10

James McAvoy proves a suitable lead for this wonderfully amusing comedy. The cast is fresh and top-notch, and the script is terrific. The true definition of a dramatic comedy, with a heavy British influence.

#7: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY

Director Julian Schnabel creates a dazzling and affecting portrait of a magazine editor paralyzed by a stroke who only retains functionality in one eye. The film is tough to get through but amazingly photographed and incredibly powerful.

#6: EAGLE VS. SHARK

Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” stars as a supremely uncool loser who brings his would-be girlfriend along on a trip back home to get revenge on a bully. The script is flat-out hilarious, and the players work together perfectly.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Best Films of 2007: #15-11


#15: KNOCKED UP

Judd Apatow and crew take a potentially overdone concept and make a charming, hilarious film out of it. Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl make a terrific unlikely couple and are supported excellently by Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, and a whole host of other Apatow regulars.

#14: GONE BABY GONE

Casey Affleck stars as a private investigator trying to help a woman find her missing daughter. Affleck is a wonderful new talent while Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman show no signs of losing any of their skill. The film is incredibly suspenseful and powerful.

#13: EASTERN PROMISES

David Cronenberg directs a violent, fascinating portrait of the Russian mob in England. Viggo Mortensen gives a career-best performance as a silent, shadowy figure who develops a bond with an intrepid midwife played by Naomi Watts. Lots of blood – not for the faint of heart.

#12: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are perfectly paired as outlaw Jesse James and wannabe Robert Ford in this period western film. The cinematography and music make for an all-around mesmerizing experience.

#11: JUNO

A quirky teenager gets pregnant and decides to go through with the birth in this sharp, smart comedy with an undeniably brilliant script. Ellen Page is great as the title character, and a wonderful cast helps make a fantastic comedy.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Best Films of 2007: #20-16


#20: WAITRESS

The late Adrienne Shelly directs this amusing and entertaining dramedy about a dissatisfied piemaker longing for happiness in her life. Keri Russell leads an all-around wonderful cast, including Shelly herself.

#19: I’M NOT THERE

Six portraits of different periods in Bob Dylan’s life make for one fascinating film. With the exception of Richard Gere’s outlaw Dylan, the cast is amazing, especially Marcus Carl Franklin and Cate Blanchett.

#18: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

The Coen Brothers’ latest film is a dark and violent tale with one hell of a bad guy in Javier Bardem. The suspense is gripping and the cast does a fine job.

#17: ATONEMENT

Two beautiful young people find that the overactive imagination of one girl prohibits them from spending their lives together in love. A talented cast is supplanted by gorgeous scenery and fantastic music.

#16: SUPERBAD

Young stars Jonah Hill and Michael Cera try to live it up in high school. The dialogue is lewd and ceaselessly hilarious. Christopher Mintz-Plasse makes his unforgettable debut as the superbly uncool McLovin.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Best Films of 2007: #25-21


#25: SNOW CAKE

This film, delayed from a late December 2006 release, opened at very few theatres in April but packed a major emotional punch. Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, and Carrie-Anne Moss all give terrific performances as people dealing with a young woman’s death in a wintry town.

#24: A MIGHTY HEART

This affecting drama tells the story of journalist Mariane Pearl, whose husband was captured by terrorists in Pakistan. Angelina Jolie turns in an amazing performance in this gripping, taut, tough film that bears a lot of similarities to 2006's “United 93”.

#23: ONCE

This film is so simple and yet so effective. Two likeable young musicians meet and make music. There is little else to it, but the wonderful (Oscar-winning!) music makes the film. The story plays only a small part in the movie, which makes it all the more awe-inspiring.

#22: INTO THE WILD

A young man, fresh out of college, decides he wants to abandon civilization and live off on his own and experience nature. Sean Penn goes behind the camera to direct this inspiring drama with terrific cinematography and a stellar cast, led by the talented Emile Hirsch. The film also boasts a terrific soundtrack by Eddie Vedder.

#21: BEE MOVIE

Critics berated this animated tale, which stares Jerry Seinfeld as a bright-eyed young bee eager to get out and see the world. It is the latest in a series of animated movies that combine slapstick, kid-friendly jokes with subtler, funny adult humor. Seinfeld is perfect for the lead role.

Soapy But What's The Point: Married Life

Married Life
Directed by Ira Sachs
Released March 7, 2008

Hearing that Chris Cooper is starring in a movie really ups my excitement level, and then hearing that Pierce Brosnan is co-starring brings it back down again. Luckily, Cooper has more screen time and does his very best to fit into the part of a two-timing but well-intentioned 1940s husband. His immersion into the role seems almost effortless, but that is mostly a testament to his acting skill. Brosnan smirks and saunters his way througgh the film as the ethically undecided ladies man/best friend to Cooper's character. The time is well-captured with the set pieces, but the pace of the film and its relative lack of any satisfying or surprising resolution is a letdown. There are absolutely some fantastically memorable scenes, most notably the superb introduction of Rachel McAdams' character. McAdams will someday be a great actress, but she needs better roles than this to get there. Patricia Clarkson gives a decent performance, but like Cooper, it feels like she is really not trying too hard. The music here is fantastic and will stick with me for a while. The film, on the other hand, will not.

C+

Saturday, March 15, 2008

TV Blog updated

I slipped so far behind on both my blogs in the past two weeks or so, but I have caught up completely on TV with Abe, so please check that out in the meantime. More to come here ASAP.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

An Animated Documentary: Chicago 10

Chicago 10
Directed by Brett Morgen
Released February 29, 2008

1968 is quite the year in terms of historical significance. Both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated and “Tricky Dick” Nixon was elected President of the United States. Director Brett Morgen’s film brings to light another major scandal of 1968: the arrest and trial of eight prominent anti-war ringleaders who organized a massive protest of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

The Chicago Ten include the eight men arrested and the two defense lawyers who advocated for their rights. The Chicago Eight, as the defendants were more commonly known, may be familiar because it was recently announced that Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame would be portraying Abbie Hoffman, one of the Eight, in an upcoming Steven Spielberg-Aaron Sorkin project on the same subject. That casting choice seems only appropriate after seeing archive footage of Hoffman and his fellow Yippies describing how they choose to respond to the government in a blatantly immature manner. Even their name – Yippies – is jokingly attributed to a brainstorming session where they tried to find words that rhymed with “hippies.”

Yet this story of the Chicago Eight is no laughing matter. While the Yippies prance about and make jokes, the insincerity of their trial is horrifying and immensely disturbing. The second half of the film abandons humor altogether and turns to stark seriousness. Morgen uses animation to recreate the trial, finding his inspiration for the idea from Yippie Jerry Rubin’s assertion that the trials were “cartoonish.” The concept, substituting animated dramatizations for any present-day interviews, is a novel one, but it runs the risk of caricaturing the trial, and especially the prosecution, far too wildly. The late Roy Scheider in particular seems to be overplaying Judge Julius Hoffman, but Morgen claims that Scheider was kind in his portrayal.

The film is decidedly on the side of the Yippies, but that does not mean its allegiance is not justified. While their childish methods may offend some, the sickening response to Black Panther leader Bobby Seale’s attempts to defend himself in court and videos of police officers brutally beating protesters certainly arouse sympathy, if not activism. This film recalls the fantastic 2006 documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, where leaving the film creates a sense of wanting to be a part of such a communal, significant protest. Morgen commented after the screening on his sense that activism today is nothing like what it used to be and that the current war situation is disturbingly similar to that with Vietnam in 1968.

What is reassuring is that Morgen’s experiment pays off. The animated segments work in concert with the archive footage of Hoffman, Rubin, and the other Yippies calling their supporters to action or responding to charges. A sense of just how much of a joke the trial was is driven home, and then some. A possible roadblock for the film would be unfavorable comparisons to the likes of Michael Moore, where the truth is embellished or even fictionalized for the sake of proving a point. To his credit, Morgen does an impressive job of staying focused, and while the lack of any actionable present-day interviews may be somewhat lamentable, the overall effect of the film is staggering and powerful. Morgen and his film cannot speak as loudly as the characters themselves can – but their actions, as captured by Morgen’s film, certainly speak loudly enough.