Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Romantic Rights (Part Two)

Most of these are going to be unlikely movies of romance, but it's in the quirky comedies and such that true romance shines.

2. The Jerk- "Tonight You Belong to Me"

First watch.

Now, the reason I find this to be one of those cinema moments where I get all warm inside is because of the naivete of Navin R. Johnson. Here we have one of the most naive and lovable characters to ever grace the screen. So out of the loop, he believes he is black until his parents finally tell him. He knows nothing of the world outside what he has known (which is a poor black family living in the south.) He is filled with the urge to learn new things but his scope is so small, that people living in the outside world see him as a fool. He meets the lovely Marie Kimble, as pure as snow and comes off just as innocent. They hit it off and after Navin dumps his biker girlfriend who taught him he has "a special purpose", they go on a date or two. The scene above is one of the sweetest moments mainly for the post song dialogue when Navin says that he wishes he could float through the coronet that she's playing, through the valves and through the tubes and give her a kiss on the lips. When she asks why he didn't, he says "I didn't want to get spit all over me." It's this innocence that makes Navin R. Johnson utterly the romantic.

God I love filmmaking.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Upcoming Awesomeness

Before The Darjeeling Limited, I was treated to seeing some fantastic previews of movies I was unaware of that were coming out. Let's take a look:

1. Juno- Directed by Jason Reitman, who treated us to Thank You For Smoking in 2006, Juno looks like an excellent follow-up. The movie looks like Knocked Up but involving teenage pregnancy. Quirky characters, starring the likes of Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Rainn Wilson and soon to be a big star Ellen Page (remember her as Kitty Pride in X-Men 3), this is sure to be at the very least entertaining and heartwarming.


2. Funny Games- This looks awesome, yet doing some online research, this film is a remake... from 1997... and its the same director. This makes me seem a bit interested about if this is going to be any good. The trailer, however, makes it out to look like a cross between a Bret Easton Ellis novel and The Ref minus Christmas time. Tim Roth and Naomi Watts are sure to bring the goods.


3. Sleuth- Jude Law + Michael Caine = Yes. Another remake helmed by Kenneth Brahnah, this clearly will be good with the acting talents this movie has. An interesting plot and definitely great direction is a recipe for success.


Also frothing over the wait for There Will Be Blood & No Country For Old Men.

Friday, October 19, 2007

About A Documentary

Coming out this weekend at a theater near you is one of the years most interesting and ambitious film experiences. Played at the Philadelphia Film Festival this year was a film called Kurt Cobain: About a Son. Part documentary, part cinema verite, part slideshow, About a Son is a film of images juxtaposed with clips taken from hours of interviews. The only voice heard is that of Cobain himself talking about his childhood, growing up in the suburbs of Seattle and his inspirations on life, his relationships and, of course, his music.

What makes this film different is it's overall style. Mostly live action shots that have loose connection to the life of Cobain, no footage of the icon is used until the very end of the film. It's an interesting focus on the anti-icon that Cobain became. The useage of footage of the areas Cobain knew as home, mainly Aberdeen, Washington and the surrounding cities in which Cobain lived, wrote, played, went to school and the like is a startling look into the soul of Cobain. The stark landscape of Washington is as deep, empty and somewhat flourishing with life just as Cobain seemed to be on the surface.

The most documenting part is the interview clips. All through the voice of Cobain himself, we hear from the horses mouth his thoughts on his troubled life and his self-image which was a stark contrast to what the media made him out to be. His troubled childhood plagued with illness and severe depression shows a deep, startling insight into his death and his psyche around the time leading up to it. One thing is for sure: after seeing this film, Cobain comes off as a normal down to earth guy who did nothing but love his child, his wife and his life outside of the limelight.

One last tidbit that makes this even more interesting of a film is it's soundtrack. One would assume we would hear some versions of Nirvana songs or even jsut some Kurt Cobain solo demoes used as backing to his stories. Instead, the filmmakers use songs that reflect what Cobain enjoyed and was influenced by. The soundtrack has some classic rock, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Up Around the Bend" which dates back to Cobain's time in a CCR cover band. Groups like Mudhoney, the Melvins, Butthole Surfers and Bad Brains which are clear examples of what Nirvana would soon to base their style of grunge and pop songs are also used and discussed in the film. Ben Gibbard's original tune "Indian Summer" is also sued in the soundtrack. He also co-wrote the score for the film.

Kurt Cobain: About a Son is definitely an interesting undertaking in filmmaking. It is a startling work of borderline genius. My only question here is does this style of filmmaking work? Would this work with any other icon or person? My guess is no given the way the interviews were done and then executed. However, this is not to say that it doesn't work for Cobain in a very breathtaking way. For lovers of cinema, this is a very impotant moment. For fans of Nirvana, this is a brilliant insight into its main man. To the average person, it may not eb the kind of moviegoing experience your looking for.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Train in Vain

When looking towards Wes Anderson's fifth film, a lot of people said "is it going to be any good?" My initial response was "It's Wes Anderson. You really can't go wrong." I was partially correct with this after seeing The Darjeeling Limited. What I didn't know was that not only would it meet my expectations, but it would far surpass them. Not that this is the greatest film in Anderson's catalouge, but it may be the first that shows some significant growth.

The Darjeeling Limited is a story of a relationship between three estranged brothers. Francis (Owen Wilson) is the oldest taking on the responsibilities of their deceased father and estranged, lost mother. Peter (Adrien Brody) is the most mysterious with secrets of his own that slowly unfold, is also the most independent and stubborn brother getting the best conflicts out of oldest brother Francis. Jack (co-writer and veteran Jason Schwartzman) is the youngest and the most volitile with a load of emotional baggage including his love of women and his paranoia about his girlfriend (Natalie Portman whose in a single wordless shot, but co-star of Anderson's short Hotel Chevalier.) Aboard the Darjeeling Limited on a highly organized "Spiritual Journey" nothing short of hilarity and conflict insues between the three estranged and strange brothers. Trips to temples where they ask what they should pray for, downing tons of watered down foreign perscription drugs to get a buzz going and squabbles over their deceased father's stuff lead to some hilarious classic Wes Anderson scenes.

As always, the light doesn't only shine on the protaganist(s) in a Wes Anderson film. Leave it to those with a few lines to sometimes steal the light of the journey. Amara Karan, who plays Rita, the apple of young Jack's eye is a beacon of truth and fragility on the train's volitie atmosphere. Waris Ahluwalia plays Rita's boyfriend and cheif steward of the Darjeeling Limited is now a two time vet of the Anderson clan (also in The Life Aquatic) plays as a good wall between the brothers on board antics. Anjelica Huston plays the Mother of the boys in a quicky performance, but an excellent one to boot. The best performance is from Ifran Kahn, who plays one of the locals in India whose performance of a yonug boys father gets some of the films most realistic and heart startling moments.

Where the movie excels into something different for Wes Anderson is in it's actual spiritual journey. After the brothers are thrown off the train, a series of at first hilarious events but shockingly realistic events occurs, they each see themselves for the first time as brothers and as non self centered humna beings for the first time in a year. Their is also a startling flashback scene that is comical and very hard to watch at the same time. This scene shows when the brothers for the first time were veering onto their own paths as self-centered individuals not caring about the importance of family and brotherhood.
Overall, I don't know if The Darjeeling Limited is going to be one of Wes Anderson's best received films, but it is definitely another notch in a great string of films. It's not much different from his other films, yet there is an air of something new here. Maybe the idea of spirituality, the usage of a moving location and the protaganist being a relationship between brothers rather than a specific brother. But all in all, for Wes Anderson fans, this is a triumph. For those who don't like Wes Anderson films, you probably won't like this one either. He's the kind of director that is hot or cold with audiences. The Darjeeling Limited is definitely worth checking out, especially for devoted fans.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Grindhouse Divided

Earlier this year, maverick directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino had a great idea: let's take two really shlocky movies and release it as a double feature with fake trailers in between them. This was their homage to the grindhouse films of the 70's. Exploitation films at their best. Over the top and filled with babes, guns, blood, gore and cheesey-yet-fantastic dialogue. They called it Grindhouse and it flopped (purposely? we may never know.)

Both films, Planet Terror and Death Proof, where in their own right perfect odes to their genre. Rodriguez's Planet Terror is the perfect zombie gore fest spoof and Tarantino's Death Proof is the an ode to movies like Vanishing Point and Bullit. The experience I got from the theater with both films plus trailers for non-exsisting upcoming Grindhouse features by other directors, was so much fun. Laughs, cringes of pain and awe inspiring dialogue (only awe inspiring for the cleverness of it.) I loved it and couldn't wait until the DVD release.

Months later, as expected due to poor a box office run, it was announced Grindhouse would be released as two seperate DVDs. This, to me, is a very strange idea. The whole point and purpose of the Grindhouse esthetic is the idea that the experience is more important than the movies themselves. Each film on it's own is pretty weak. Both were purposely written to be cheesey, poorly developed (film stock is grainy and reels are "missing") and over acted. Watching just one at a time, although more normal than watching both, ruins this aesthetic. It takes the idea of the entire movie going experience and throws it out the window. This shows that the Weinstein Company has a lot of power in seperating the two to try and make up for lost box office profits.
Each DVD release is also an 'Uncut' version. Since Planet Terror hasn't been released yet, I Netflixed Death Proof to see what an extended version of a purposely bad movie would be like. Needless to say, the experience was not as gratifying. There were more scenes of dialogue which were highly unecessar. The Butterfly lap dance was not harshly edited out (although sexy, was one of the funniest moments of the original cut when the 'missing reel' happened to be her lapdance to Stuntman Mike.) The seperation of the films and the apparent omission of the trailers as special features (Don't, Werewolf Women of the S.S., Thanksgiving and Machete were omitted) is a travesty.
Will I purchase these DVDs? Only if they release a combination where both are intact in their theatrical version with trailers included. Call me stubborn, but a Grindhouse divided just does not stand.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Modern Day Noir

From its startling opening monologue delivered by Tom Wilkinson, you are quite ready for the kind of film that Michael Clayton is going to be: a tale of the filth of corporate America, rotten executives and lawyers and the dark underbelly of society. Sounds like a film noir? It is to an extent. Michael Clayton teeters on the edge of classic noir and the contemporary thriller. From first time director, but long time writer Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Trilogy, Devil’s Advocate) we are given a tour de force directorial debut with one of the strongest screenplay’s this year has to offer.

Michael Clayton, played by the illustrious George Clooney, is what you call a “janitor” in the world of corporate law. If something goes wrong, he cleans it up. In this case, a high profile account is in jeopardy of being lost due to the unraveling psyche of one of their most trusted lawyers, brilliantly played by Tom Wilkinson. As he reels out of control in manic-depressive states, he seemingly is sabotaging the case. Clayton is sent in by his boss, co-producer Sydney Pollack, to investigate what the problem is.

As Michael tries to clear the haze behind the events, he finds that there is more going on than just the unraveling of his friend and co-worker’s mind. There is a lot more going on behind the scenes. Beyond this, Michael’s own life is unraveling at the seems making it hard for him to focus on his family, his job and his own personal freedom.

Michael Clayton excels in its story telling through its characters. Clooney’s sullen performance sets the tone for the films mood. Wilkinson’s manic-depressive lawyer gives the film its fragile existence. Tilda Swinton as the head of the corporation plays the part so subtly, you don’t know what her deal is until near the end of the film. It’s a film about mystery, deception and bending the truth and all its characters do just this.

The triumph of this film is in its writing. Veteran Tony Gilroy writes a flawless script full of authentic dialogue, heartwarming and bone-chilling scenes as well as a story so tight, one will find it hard to find a plot hole to fall through. Although it has its twists and turns, it isn’t impossible to follow over its two-hour run time. It does get a bit complicated, but the character driven thriller as opposed to the plot driven thriller makes it much easier to follow.

Tony Gilroy is at his prime behind the lens and behind the pen in Michael Clayton. Apparently this was a project he has been working on for some time but was interrupted by the more commercial, yet still intriguing Bourne Trilogy. This latest outing shows the growth Gilroy is capable of. With power players like Clooney and Steven Soderbergh producing, a triumph in the thriller genre is upon us. Mixing elements of noir and the modern thriller make Michael Clayton one of the best films of the year. Keep your eyes out come Oscar time as Michael Clayton deserves various nods.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Romantic Rights (Part One)

Romance in film is something I don't always enjoy. That is mainly because what I find romantic is not basted with cliches (well, not entirely true) but is more the romance of the quirky kind. What makes something romantic? To me, it's the innocence of love, whether it be the folly of youth or the unknown pleasures to come that make something romantic. This is the first of a running series I will be working on mapping the scenes of romance that have shaped myself to becoming the young romantic I am.

1. Heaven Help Us- "I've Been Loving You"

Social Worker: [the police and social welfare people have arrived to close the store, arrest Danni's father and put her in foster care... a crowd outside has gathered] We'll make arrangements with your mother to have the inventory accounted for.

Michael Dunn: [rushing in] They made this happen, didn't they?

Danni: [crying] Nobody made this happen. [Dunn embraces her]

Danni: I just don't want you to be sad... 'cause I'm not. Promise?

Michael Dunn: [fighting tears] No.

Social Worker: We have to go.

Michael Dunn: [running up to car Danni has just been loaded in] Well, hey listen, I'm glad I got to dance with you [car speeds off, leaving a dazed Dunn in the street]

Rooney: Don't worry, Dunn... we'll find her.

Constantly played on Comedy Central in the mid-90s, Heaven Help Us isn't your typical 80s teen comedy. Much like other 80s teen flicks, this is filled with rebeling teens with raging hormones. But unlike others in its time period, this is a retro flick about parochial kids in the 60s. Beyond that, this movie has dueling personalities. Half of the movie is about the group of trouble maker boys who dream of sex, rock and roll music and getting around the brothers who teach and discipline them. The other half is a heartbreaking romance of teen passion.

The romance is between Michael Dunn (Andrew McCarthy) and Danni (Mary Stuart Masterson). The two come from different backgrounds. Dunn lives with his grandparents and sister in your typical Irish Catholic family. Danni lives with her father, who is mentally ill, and takes care of herself and the store that she runs to keep her and her father alive and well. The two cross when Dunn enters her diner and in his innocence shows her the side of life that she never had. They both have their family problems which are reflected in their melancholy outlooks on life, however the innocence of youth is still there and strong. This is why this makes Heaven Help Us a unique love story and one of my favorite film romances.

The peek of the beauty of young love is in the boardwalk scene. Dunn and Danni are walking the beach on a cloudy day and it starts to pour. The two hide beneath the cover of the boardwalk soaked by the rain. Otis Redding's powerful love ballad "I've Been Loving You Too Long" starts to play as the two passionately kiss. It's moments like this in cinema that are truly romantic.