Posts Tagged ‘Golden Globe’

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”: Effective…but Great?

January 22, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

***There are minor spoilers throughout as this turned out to be more of a critique than a review.***

I’ve come to a conclusion over my limited years of movie viewing that there can be a difference, albeit a very abstract one, between a great movie and an effective movie. Both categories share similar qualities which makes it difficult to tell them apart sometimes. They share the skillful touch of a true craftsman, an absorbing musical score, lush visuals and fine performances, but in the end sometimes even the greatest movies lack in their effectiveness and vice versa effective movies aren’t always great ones.

For a great movie to be ineffective, the third act sometimes fizzles away, or it could simply be that certain elements don’t gel so the emotional connection is lost. A great movie might play more to the intellectual side of the viewer, relying on the audience to fill in the banks, consider this years Charlie Wilson’s War or perhaps There Will Be Blood (great movies, but effective only to a point.) On the other hand an effective movie will through the use of certain creative techniques force you to feel what the main character is going through. Sometimes the method used can be tedious, other times overwhelming and many times exhausting, but when done well can envelope you into the mindset of it’s protagonist. Of course when these two elements are combined you have an Oscar winning film…(right?) I would say Zodiac and No Country for Old Men fit into this category.

Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an incredibly effective film, but I would argue against its true greatness. It follows the life of former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) between the moment he wakes up from a coma to find that the only part of his body he can move is his left eye (called lock-in syndrome) to the publication of his book which the movie is based on.

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“In the Valley of Elah”: The More Things Change…

January 9, 2008

In the Valley of Elah

There’s a great cast of supporting actors in In the Valley of Elah, a film that deserves far more attention than its received. There’s Jason Patric, Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon and about half the cast from No Country for Old Men. Charlize Theron as Detective Emily Sanders does some of the best work I’ve seen her do (and it’s done without boasting about the paring down of her beauty.)

But the performance that steals the show is Tommy Lee Jones as Hank Deerfield, creating the third best character I’ve seen at the theatres this year (just behind Daniel Plainview and Anton Chigurh.) Hank is a man of simplicity, a man of strong religious values, a military man who continues to live the rituals that were ingrained in his head. The blankets have to be perfectly tucked under the bed, face cleanly shaved to a fault, shoes shined and cleaned…everything he does is by the book. Jones instills such a strong sense of virtue in this former Military Police Officer that it’s easy to love him despite his hard headed nature, and the fact that he sees himself as more capable than those around him.

Hank’s a man who doesn’t believe that his son, also military, would go AWOL, but when the son doesn’t answer phone calls or emails Hank steps out on his own to do some investigating. He hits a road block going the military route and seeks help at the local police station where he meets and butts heads with Det. Sanders. Theron isn’t afraid to play Sanders with the humility of a great actor. Even though she finds Sanders strength in the character’s son and a drive to prove herself among her fellow detectives, she remains far from perfect.

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“There Will Be Blood”: How High Are Your Expectations?

January 4, 2008

There WIll Be Blood

With wunderkind writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson at the helm of a movie there are certain levels of expectation to be met. With one of our finest method actors Daniel Day-Lewis in the same movie the expectations are that much higher. Even without those two elements with a title like There Will Be Blood expectations are already set high. There has to be blood spilled. Now with the existing creative team the expectation is that when that blood is spilled it should mean something, or have some level of effect on us. An impact, be it anti-climactic or Rober DeNiro with his head hanging out a car screaming bloody murder climactic (I think Robin Williams said that in his stand up — I just quoted Robin WIlliams.) When I left the theatre this evening, I felt slightly short changed on both accounts.

The first thing I have to speak about, because it sets the tone for all things to come in Blood, is the music by composer Jonny Greenwood who composed that lush score for Children of Me. (This is incorrect and has been amended in the comment section below.) In Men there’s a moment when the characters are heading through the prison camp to get to the boat that will get them to their final destination, but first there’s an empty shot of a tunnel. Just as that image comes up, before the characters enter frame, we’re met with a collision of stringed instruments that tell you things aren’t going to go as planned. The very first shot of Blood has that same beautiful car wreck of unnerving symphonic wonderment. It gives everything in its path an unhinged and terrifying soul. We don’t trust the landscape we see. We get a strange feeling about Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), even though he says nothing. The music creates a hypnotic spell as Plainview digs towards the heart of the earth looking for silver, almost as if he were digging towards hell. But when he hits instead oil, it pools like black blood on the surface of that dead landscape. And he’s a wealthy man. Already our expectations have been met, blood has been spilled. But the music itself also builds an expectation, that things no matter how well they go will always carry with them for Plainview (an ironic name if I’ve ever heard one) a misery that will send him spiraling into the worst kind of apathy, digging his way closer to hell. And all this is apparent from that first chord struck. It reminded me in many ways of the use of music in Kubrick’s The Shining.

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“Persepolis”: And the resistance dies quietly…

January 1, 2008

Persepolis

There are images in Persepolis that hold the emotional weight which most movies can’t force out of me in two hours. There’s haunting images, images of joy, of fear, sadness, hatred, beauty and because the imagery is so strong – it’s a black and white graphic novel style animation that accentuates the emotional struggle by exaggerating human characteristics, nuns that move around like snakes is a particular joy to watch (the image above) – and with this strong surrealistic style it heightens the feeling of what it’s like to have the country you grew up in taken away from you and controlled by religious fanatics who are more power hungry than righteous. Then being uprooted from your suddenly morphing home and sent to another country where as hard as you try you can’t relate and the roots of your own life never quite break into the soil. This movie begs the question, who are we if where we come from has been taken away from us?

Marjane is the young girl in question and Iran is the country. What did I know about Iran other than what reporters bark at me and what our own religious fundamentalists would like us to believe. Iran is a bad place, right? Where their idea of God is skewed, right? And everyone there is exactly the same in their beliefs, right? Isn’t that the same way of thinking that allows terrorists to attack our country? Aren’t we religious zealots to them? I’m sure our own government doesn’t mind that the general public views the rest of the world under a simplified light, it allows them to go to war whenever they feel like it. What Persepolis does is add perspective. And it does it through the eyes of that young woman Marjane.

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“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”

December 29, 2007

The Dewey Cox Story

For all the innuendo in this musical biopic parody, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is really flaccid. I haven’t heard such an intense silence from an audience while watching a film since Schindler’s List. I admit when I first walked into the film I wanted to laugh and it took me a few moments of uncertain chuckling to realize that the film really wasn’t funny, after that I genuinely laughed twice.

Walk Hard tells the story of Dewey Cox who as a young boy is forced to live out the mock lives of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, flipping back and forth depending on whenever the writers Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan want to make fun of Ray or Walk the Line. Instead of letting the essence of the musical biopic inspire Apatow and Kasdan they follow said stories so closely the movie itself doesn’t have any legs to stand on of its own. Even though it’s meant to mock these films, we know what’s going to happen to Dewey from scene one and the creators don’t have the fore site to deal with the subject of musical biopics in a creative way. So even the bits that could have worked are mired in the fact that Walk the Line was a pretty good movie and that Ray wasn’t bad either, and we already know the stories. We’re actually subjected to a scene straight out of Walk when Cox plays for the first time a song that he’s written, the joke being in the film that it hits the charts and causes a stir within moments of it’s recording. It sounds funny, right? But somehow it’s not. How would you like to watch a remake of Walk with Jake Gyllenhaal, or Psycho but with Vince Vaughn…? Here it’s John C. Reilly being asked to act out scenes that have already been acted out by other actors. It’s not creative nor inventive in the way it approaches its material. It lacks spirit and an interest in truly skewering the films that really deserve it. It’s a lazy comedy, repeating many of the jokes over and over again.

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“4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”: The Scariest Kind of Horror Film

December 26, 2007

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

The title is far scarier and problematic than it suggests, and like most films of its nature the people who need to see it won’t. Let me write it again (to get it out of my system)… 4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 day is a film by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, and it’s gnawing away at me. Sometimes a person has to write to get it out of their system, this is one such time. I walked into the movie theatre this evening wanting to experience something different and I got my wish bestowed upon me times three. All that I knew of the film was the title from a few best of year lists, and the fact that its now up for a Golden Globe and will more than likely be up for an Oscar.

Now the question is as it always is, how do I unfold the story to you without ruining the experience in the way I experienced it? So I’m not going to give you a synopsis of the story because the psychology of the film works better if you don’t know going into it and while the film focuses on one particular event and the aftermath of it it’s not what the movie is about. This film unfolds like a first person story – one of the only films that I’ve seen work as a first person film – and to feel the confusion and exacerbation that Otilia is going through for her friend Gabriela, it helps not to know what the event is. The first twenty minutes is a daunting task as we play catch up to our two young women preparing for something though for what we’re not sure. This movie is in the details so pay careful attention to the small things Gabriella focuses on and thinks are important. When you understand everything, think back on these things and you’ll end up shaking your head in dismay. She’s a girl in a woman’s body, able to experience things as a woman, but unable to maturely handle the responsibility and repercussions of her actions. Otilia is a pushover but she’s dependable, dependable to a fault. She’s the character we end up following around through the preparations and the reason why we’re kept in the dark is so that our own frustrations are amplified to match her frustrations, but once we do get the idea we’re taken through every emotion she goes through, as she’s going through it. The camera follows Otilia’s shadowy figure through streets allowing us to feel like we’re walking the streets. We jump when she jumps, we get nervous when she does – is that guy following her or is he just going the same way? She is invited to sit around a cramped dinner table while she anxiously awaits the opportunity to excuse herself, and we wait along just as anxiously. This isn’t done with the use of music, or with tricky editing, but letting the camera sit opposite Otilia with everyone crammed into the edges of the frame. There are no cuts. And we wait, and wait, until we hear the phone ring. She wants to get it, but can’t…how can a person answer someone else’s phone? She’s too kind to excuse herself, we would be too kind to excuse ourselves, so we wait it out, nodding our head to the polite chatter and answering questions we’ve been asked a million times before, we have to. Layers upon layers build, and we sit, getting more and more anxious. Waiting for the worst to happen.

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