Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hoot


The newkid teams up with the local Boo Radley to overcome first the runofthemill schoolyard bully-Goliath, but then the more overwhelming corporate monolith pancake chain; the unwitting aid of Luke Wilson's keystone-cop, barney-fife mostly provides comic relief. The broadly comic performances, production gaffes and unlikely inspirational moments in the third act can be forgiven if the audience is only intended to be eight and under.

++1/2

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Fountain


I admired the cinematography, effects, art design and even the structure of the story (classic narrative to metanarrative to post-narrative), but didn't ever truly emotionally care about the characters or what the stakes were for them. My dispassionate (even rational?) engagement may have been the preferred subject position (a zen point of view? and if that was the intent -- Kudos, Aronofsky!) or it may have been that the slimmest of stories (a woman dies, her husband cannot let go) was overwhelmed by the epic treatment.

+++

Friday, February 15, 2008

Becoming Jane


This film does everything it should do, and well: tells a cinematic story about well-beloved author, focusing carefully upon a pivotal moment in her life and providing insight about her oevre while also honoring the genre that has emerged in other cinematic translations of her works. The script and the direction and the performances may be too carefully appropriate to engage our emotions in a way that transcends the genre, though there are camera sequences (almost always shoulder-mount approaches unusually above the eye level of the actors) which break the generic monotony and give the viewer a moment of genuine interest.

+++

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rocket Science



I'll admit that I'm a sucker for the color-by-numbers indie coming-of-age flick, but this movie so carefully weaves together elements from the fish-out-of-water, coming-of-age & crucible-of-competition genres, while still retaining the neccessary indie cred through soundtrack, an unlikely protagonist, a quite specific (and not a little quirky) world, likeable secondary characters, carefully stylized camera work ...that this movie felt like an almost too-perfect set-up for me.

That Jeffrey Blitz manages to *both* undermine all of our genre expectations in the third act *and* payoff all of our expectations in a fulfilling way is what makes this filmmaking actually seem as hard as Rocket ...

+++++

The Jane Austen Book Club



Within the first few minutes we meet enough characters with enough disparate problems to believe that the film might be a network narrative, but by the time enough of them convene at the book club, we recognize that the story will play out much more like a romantic comedy -- or, indeed, like it's projenitor, a Jane Austen novel. There were only a few moments where I was bumped from the personal and romantic tensions by the careful plotting, the not-so-subtle thematic braiding with Austen's themes, plots and characters; in all I found the dense plotting and complex characters to provide a deeply satisfying romcom experience.

+++1/2

Friday, February 08, 2008

There Will Be Blood


Daniel Plainview calls himself "the third revelation" and by the time he does so, his claim does not seem far fetched: he is the American Dream, he is Oil, he is Capitalism, he is Industry, he is Transportation, he is Advertising, he is Blasphemy who is only too willing to be Baptized for a Profit. That Paul Thomas Anderson manages to infuse a character with such iconicity, such thematic clarity and such tragic purity while telling a simple, straightforward, twist-less story does make this film seem unimpeachable.

++++1/2

Monday, February 04, 2008

Killer of Sheep


Burnett translates the mundane details of a slaughterhouse worker's family and neighborhood into such astonishing cinematic icons that every second of this movie can be watched as a purely aesthetic experience. Because the narrative and the performances also deliver such subtle power, it isn't difficult to discern why this (only recently released to DVD) 1977 film merited such critical accolades, but also seems utterly topical.

+++++

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Making documentary films...

Henry Jenkins interviewed Matt Ogden & this Q & A captured my attention. The degree to which the documentarian pre-structures the formal elements of their films always fascinates me.

One of the striking components of the film is the visual style -- especially your use of still photographs and oversaturated colors. How did these two stylistic choices come about and what do they signal about your relationship to this content?

From the moment the idea came to me, I knew I wanted this to be a visual documentary. In my opinion, a film should look as good as the story its telling. Charlie Gruet, the director of photography and a producer on the film, set out to give a style to the film, and not just shoot willy-nilly. The idea was to make this look cinematic, filmic, like you're watching a narrative film, not a talking head corporate video. All of the verite moments on the boulevard were shot handheld, in a fly on the wall style. The sit down interviews, scenics of Los Angeles, and specialty shots were more set up and art directed. But we didn't make things look "cool" for the sake of it. Each set, if you can call it that, was discussed and reasoned. Superman was interviewed on a vinyl couch against patterned wallpaper as if he was in Martha Kent's country home in the movie or comic book versions of Superman. Batman was shot in a cavernous warehouse (instead of a cave), but you get the point. Batman's past is dark. And we wanted a darker setting for him.

In addition to directing, I also shoot stills and we always shot during production for marketing materials, the website, posters, etc. The idea to use stills within the film didn't come until late in the process. We didn't settle on using still photos for the transitions until a month before we locked picture. We felt the composition of the photos complemented the sit down interviews and helped tell the story.


Haven't seen The Secret Lives of Superheroes yet, but want to.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War


This story admirably articulates a cultural plight in the popular vernacular by telling a story about Afghanistan's overdetermination by the Superpowers of the Cold War through the lens of One Man Facing and Overcoming Insurmountable Odds. The story works best because of the popular vernacular it employs -- the unbearable light of double AA star wattage, the brisk-almost-television writing of Aaron Sorkin, the overly-obvious, conventional and melodramatic orchestral score, the bemused, but lighthanded mise en scene of the 80s; the story fails most in it's fundamental (though admirable!) conceit -- because the stakes of Afghanistan are never personal enough for us to care enough about Tom Wilson's struggle, and conversely the Afghans themselves are never more than set pieces.

+++