Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

“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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“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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“The Kite Runner”: Flying Kites is Cool

December 21, 2007

The Kite Runner

The problem with The Kite Runner isn’t that it doesn’t have a story to tell, it’s that the story is so spread out its difficult to put an emotional bead on any one thing. Since the impact is lessened what the writers (David Benioff) and director (Marc Forster) try to do is to give us connections that are too contrived and so false that they bleed into the ridiculous.

The first third of the story focuses on two childhood friends in Afghanistan. Amir belongs to the dominant ethnic group Pashtun, who also belongs to the dominant Sunni religion. His Father, Baba, is a wealthy man who sympathizes with the lower-caste ethnicity known as Hazara. Amir’s best friend Hassan is not only a Hazara but belongs to the minority of Shi’ite religious followers and is the son of Baba’s servant, making Hassan a servant as well. Growing up one can imagine that this was never a problem for Amir and Hassan – this separation of class and religion, though they share some dialogue about trust and friendship early on. It’s a problem that the neighborhood boys don’t appreciate his differences and ridicule Hassan. Hassan is the type of strong boy who stands up for himself. Baba respects that about him and he’s afraid that Amir won’t live up to those expectations. When Amir overhears his Father’s love for Hassan, he becomes jealous. But there’s no time for that as the kite flying contest approaches.

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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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Anton Chigurh – Talk of the Town

December 14, 2007

No Country for Old Men a critical response

Jim Emerson writes at his blog Scanners

(A comment by Phillip Kelly in reply to an earlier post made me chuckle and got me thinking. He wrote: “I guess my theorizing [of] Anton Chigurh as main character doesn’t stand now that Miramax is touting him for Best Supporting Actor. Too bad.” That’s the jumping-off place for this entry.)

The New York Film Critics Circle gave Javier Bardem its 2007 Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Anton Chigurh (“shi-GUR”) in Joel and Ethan Coen’s “No Country For Old Men” (which was also named Best Picture). The funny thing is, so much of the discussion of the of the movie centers around Chigurh that you’d think he was was the lead. And critical reservations about “No Country” tend to focus on interpretations of Chigurh, and whether the critic accepts him as a character or a mythological presence or a haircut or some combination thereof.

Go read the rest of it, because he’s got more interesting points. Actually read all the articles he’s got there about “NCFOM”, and then all theearlier posts here. It’s a great film to discuss. That being said…

I still won’t relinquish my feeling that Chigurh is the lead character. He’s the only one we get to know well enough to understand his tics. Sure Carla Jean’s fate is sealed off camera, but he checks his boots. And what is it that we know he doesn’t like getting on his boots? We don’t get to know any of the other characters this intimately. He’s the only character talked openly about as having a code, which as I’ve written before a main character will either come around to a common belief or believe so strongly in something that the other character’s in the filmcome around to his – Anton falls under the latter. He’s really the only character others react to within any level of emotion for goodness sakes! I’m sorry but if Hopkins can win for best actor as Lecter, then this a lead role. But no, instead the character that we don’t get to see until several scenes in, the one whose demise we don’t even get to witness, whose face is hardly seen when we realize he’s dead, who merely steps into this story that’s already happening without him and would continue without him…who really just holds things up briefly in the grand scheme of things (boy if he represents mankind in this mess we’re in trouble!) is made to be the lead character. Only because he’s the closest thing to a “hero” we have. He’s fighting for his life after all, right? Just like we do every day. But we know better, just as Chigurh does when he tells him over the phone, the best deal he’s going to get is the one offered, and no offer says he’ll live. Does his life have the same meaning as even Tom Bell’s does? Is there hope for him afterwards, someone waiting for him? He doesn’t even make it to be one of the old men that the title refers to. We have no idea what he does for a living until he’s practically dead!! Main character my foot.

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“Juno”: Anyone want a lollipop?

December 10, 2007

Juno

I’m not a fan of The Breakfast Club. For a movie that everyone claims to exemplify High School life, I found it to be very false, even as a kid. Never did I meet fellow classmates that were as singular as the characters John Hughes presented. There was never the “jock” or the “nerd” or the “outcast”, and I went to a lot of schools. What Hughes did was create simplified versions that everyone then held on to. It was all more interesting and complicated than that. I’ve always found The Breakfast Club to be the ideal example of Hollywood reality. Hughes’s other film Some Kind of Wonderful hits a little closer, and aside from the slow clap in the final moments of the film Lucas (not John Hughes) hit the head just about right (the original ending did not contain the slow clap but was more morose.) I had the pleasure of seeing Lucas screened this last year and was surprised at how well it has withstood the test of time. It’s too bad the same can’t be said for The Breakfast Club. Now we have Juno, a film many have compared to the films of John Hughes. The writer Diablo Cody has been called a writer who’s got the voice of our youth down pat. I would agree with that, at least more so than they said Hughes did during his time. When the High School characters in Juno aren’t living and breathing pop culture idiosyncrasies, they carry all the uncertain starts and stops and pregnant pauses of people who aren’t wise enough to know the right thing to say immediately or at all. They have their own language, their own way of viewing the world, one that befuddles the adults in the film. One that befuddles me to some degree – does this mean I’m getting old? It feels to me that the quantity of eccentric High Schoolers has grown over the years – at least as far as independent films are concerned.

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