Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Watch’

“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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“Charlie Wilson’s War”: Fights the Good Fight

January 11, 2008

Charlie Wilson’s War

Perspective, that’s what Charlie Wilson’s War keeps in mind. While other political war movies this season are caught in the quagmire of the news of our current world wide screw ups, Charlie goes back to one that could have started or (at least worsened) many of our current problems. At the very least it takes apart the thought processes of our political system. It does so by telling the story of Charlie Wilson and how he waged a covert war that helped end the Cold War. In short, by supplying Afghanistan with billions of dollars worth of military equipment they were able to stick it to the Soviets. It’s funny to think of a time in which we were helping Afghanistan and not tearing it apart.

There’s no grandstanding here. There’s never a “we’re better than they are” mentality. Writer Aaron Sorkin knows we all have a little dirt on our hands and he points it out. Sure we’re helping murderers and backstabbers, but we’re not so righteous ourselves. Charlie Wilson, a military advisor is, in fact, the least righteous person for the job. Tom Hanks has always had a hard time really digging into the darker sides of his characters, but here he takes full strides as an actor bringing to life this sordid, womanizing personality. He’s not stupid, just brazen, which is probably why he got along so well with Gust Avrakotos, the CIA operative that Philip Seymour Hoffman throws himself into.

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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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“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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“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (And jokingly, Seville)

December 23, 2007

Sweeney Todd

Tim Burton’s visual stylings are sometimes almost too handsome for the movies he directs. He doesn’t like a dirty visual look, though the settings and the worlds the characters inhabit are many times surrounded by filth. There’s an edgy graphic novel quality he lends to the stories he tells as every shot is placed neatly into a box on a page. His sets are like doll houses and his actors sometimes look like mischievous dolls. This aesthetic brand has created a following of indulgent misfits. People so drawn to the misfits in Burton’s films that they yearn to have scissors for hands themselves (not realizing that it’s a metaphor.) A lot of reviewers have thrown the word goth around, but it’s not quite goth – it’s not as one note as goth. It’s more fanciful, a world of twisted child like imaginings. Many times though Burton has relied on this visual quality to tell his story when what he may have needed was a stronger story in the first place. I’m a fan of many of his films ranging all the way back to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, but for me the quality of his movies in recent years has become flimsy. Mars Attacks, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Corpse Bride were miscalculations I felt, some worse than others. Usually with perhaps strong beginnings that didn’t know where to go once the second act kicked into gear, or didn’t know what they wanted to be. I’m pleased to say that Burton has found the proper dose of inspiration and cohesiveness with his new film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and he’s created something on par with his Sleepy Hallows and Ed Woods of the past. Since the movie is pretty much lifted straight from the musical I don’t think I’ll need to worry about misinterpreting the story. It’s a story of revenge. A young barber with a wife and child is sent to prison under false charges by a morally hideous judge only to return and find out his wife is dead and the judge has his now 16 year old daughter held captive. It’s that revenge that drives him to the edge of insanity and beyond the realm of proper reason. Of course the nice little side story of human meat pies remains intact.

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“Atonement”: Their Minds Wander While Their Claws Sink Deep

December 18, 2007

Atonement

It was getting to that fifth alcoholic beverage and realizing suddenly that you’re being affected to a far greater degree than you thought. That’s what watching Atonement was like for me. It’s the first film that I’ve been so very greatly affected by in a long while, and that’s even after seeing every plot twist in the trailer. A lot of that comes down to the great craftsmanship and vision that Christopher Hampton has brought to the screenplay and how director, Joe Wright, interpreted that screenplay. My dilemma is how I begin to tell in what way this affected me, with the story or the craftsmanship? In the end every aspect of this film has been so carefully intertwined that they are all inseparable, and for me to talk about any of it would be to give away the surprise that I felt during this film. So, I feel I should be cautious and remain vague in my initial review and I will double back later to write more.

The very basic story involves an imaginative young girl, Briony Tallis (like Tri-on-ee), who wishes to put on a play for the arrival of her Brother, only in the process she witnesses a series of moments between her sister, Cecilia Tallis (Kiera Knightley) and the grounds keeper’s son, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) that from the perspective we’re allowed to see it from – Briony’s perspective – is startling, even frightening. And like the good writer that she is begins to fill in the blanks herself. But what’s truly going on between Cecilia and Robbie is a bit more complicated. The parallel events that unfold are so carefully constructed that what happens is without realizing it you’re truly brought into the psyches of these characters. Especially the psyche of the 13-year-old Briony. You really do understand the world as they do. But you would think that a 13-year-old, even as imaginative as this would know better. What is it that truly pushes her to believe what she believes. There’s a short scene later in the film that hints at this, dealing with an emotion that Briony probably doesn’t understand herself.

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