Saturday, December 22, 2007

Coppola and His Experiment with Consciousness

December 21st, 2007 Francis Ford Coppola attended a screening of his new film Youth Without Youth at the Landmark theater in Los Angeles. I was in attendance for a memory of meeting a legend of yore. Sure he has seen better days and made better films. I am actually not all that familiar with his body of work besides the Godfather series, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, and his work in the 90's that was propelled by his debt. His presence will be etched in the back of my mind for years to come, especially the scarf. Sometimes I think artists only wear those things, anyways it is displaying his ability to follow the label of artist.

Youth Without Youth is a film that deals with man's consciousness and ability to construct reality. Most of the film follows a linear fashion, but Coppola plays with it to demonstrate the dynamic nature of Eastern Philosophy, which believes that life is a cycle not two extremes like the West believes. He probes the very nature of reality in this somewhat garbled narrative. Coppola still knows how to create beautiful images on the screen. I don't think I was visually bored at any moment of the film. Romania has never looked so beautiful or tragic. But the story lacks excitement and vigor that most movies have. You question the ties between the three act of the film.

Filled with mostly foreign or indie stars, it does contain the two impressive names of Tim Roth (Dominic) and Bruno Ganz (see the German film Downfall). Although he is only in the first act, Bruno Ganz plays the role of the doctor that treats Tim Roth's character after he is youthed by being struck by lightning, hence the name. Dominic changes from an 80 year old to being a man in his 30's. Yes, I know it seems a stretch, but its a movie! This portion is the most thriller-like of all of the three acts, I would also say that this is the most enjoyable portion of the film. Dominic spends his time running from the Nazi scientist who wanted to use him as a human guinea pig.

After a brief escape from the Nazi, he holds up in Switzerland and begins to recount his life and write about what he feels to aid the Professor in his understanding of how and what happened to Dominic. The ties are severed with the death of the professor, he is then propositioned by the CIA by a brief cameo with Matt Damon. This is where I stopped having interest. Each scene drifts into the next with no real clarity, much like the exploration of consciousness. Also using mirrors as a motif, Coppola manipulates the reflected Dominic to express his inner dialogue. Dom then in his boredom, and ours, dives into the origin of language.

Another person is struck with lightning, which Roth calculates (using his infinite wealth of knowledge). The effect that the lightning has on her aids Dominic's life's work which is to find the origin of language. He uses her to decipher and dive into the depths, but he begins to question his motives and decides to spare her for his life's works. At this point his life wraps around itself and he is old again... almost like the film is merely a dream. Overall, I came away with the feeling that I just saw something of an unfinished work. Coppola has lost his touch having not directed a film in over ten years. Hopefully his next will dive into a more interesting and accessible subject and shoot it in a fashion that is more coherent.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Truths on a Saturday Morning

Well here is some of the things that I discover on a Saturday morning:

It is best to be the only one up at 8:00 a.m., that way you can listen to your music without judgment.

You can be alone while everyone else is "recovering" from their Friday night.

This is possibly the start of the best day. Furthest day from the work week.

Accurate amount of time to think and digest Grindhouse, the vote is yay, but not YAY!

This time is best spent under the covers with a laptop in front of you with music and the internet.

Sugary cereal is surreal here.

Cartoons now make you feel nostalgic for the ones of your youth. No matter when you grew up, you will think those are the best....ever.

Books are not my friend in this setting.

Birthdays are just another day.

Oldies are the best listening materials on Saturday mornings, especially all of those songs that remind you of home.

You just realize that the filmmakers behind Grindhouse tried a little too hard to recreate their youth, boo.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Fincher's Zodiac

Over my 22 years I have mostly passively watched films. Very few have actually caused me to think about it days after watching it for the first time. Zodiac is the change in that. It is very much a film that is something that I have changed my initial reaction to it. So there is the movie that introduced me to Fincher, Fight Club, that has been my favorite since I have seen enough to effectively gauge a designated favorite. But this one was so different from his former work. If Seven was his Ying of serial killers, Zodiac is the Yang. Where Seven takes on the thrills of the chase, Zodiac takes on the methodical steps of the chase. Not since JFK has there been a more obsessive procedural.

The movie opens on July 4th, 1969. I think this is where Fincher’s real brilliance shines. It is his ability to completely recreate the time. He is the master chef who knows exactly the right combination of music, settings, clothing to feast your eyes on for a night. Faintly in the background, fireworks being set off just enough to subconsciously register in your mind almost blinding you from the complete chaos that was about to take place. For days after Donavan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” was stuck in my head, something that I kept echoing in my head.

Seven, Panic Room, Fight Club, they all seem to have the same style of visual. The streamline across the floor of Tyler’s apartment, the digital tracking shots that set the layout of Jodie Foster’s house, these are all very much the brand of a “Fincher” film. Zodiac is very much a Fincher film, but it departs from his usual flamboyant display of visual prowess. He trades them in for a more subtle, but more grandiose, approach. This is most apparent with his time passage of the Golden Gate Bridge and what I have been heard referred as God’s P.O.V. The only shot that reminded me of his normal digital wizardry was a montage of newspaper clippings, I know he just couldn‘t restrain himself.

David Fincher is no young man, he is in his mid-40’s, but you wouldn’t think it from the number of films that he has done or the energy that they emit. Fight Club is, by far, the best example of this. Narcissistic, nihilistic, self-destructive, but very much in the vain of grunge/alternative rock out of the early nineties. It is by far his masterwork. Although he only has six feature length films to his credit, it is a career that should be, if not, envied by most directors. He has managed to take the troubled Aliens3 film out of trouble and turned it into a film that is very much his own vision, lead Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman into the depths of Dante’s hell in the literary-seeded thriller Seven, and directed two films about the paranoia. Lastly, Fight Club, as I mentioned before, his masterwork. He created the most intriguing, awe-inspiring films of the 90’s. It was paned by critics, but it happens to be one of the most poetic films about nihilism and the pains of being a youth of the nineties.

Zodiac’s most outstanding achievements are the tiny details, mainly Fincher’s attention to the factual accuracies of the film. For the four different appearances of the Zodiac killer, three different actors were used. All of them were chosen to match the description given by the witnesses. The audience doesn’t notice that there were three different actors because like a good filmmaker, Fincher lets us use our imagination to fill out his face, make conclusions of our own. Often, I found myself trying to piece the case together on my own. “He is driving a white car, but in the first killing it was a dark colored vehicle. He is not the killer, it can’t be him.” Fincher allows our mind to play around with the facts, creating our own possibilities and solutions.

Zodiac marks the Fincher’s arrival into the world of not just a great director, for which he already was, but on the level of more mature and complex films. The only thing that I truly found lacking was the use of Graysmith's cartoonist implemented in the story, or actually Graysmith's destruction of family been more substantial. Wouldn't it be nice if they took it a little further. But none the less, Zodiac pushes the levels of on-screen violence, if you want to argue check out the lake stabbing scene, it tests the audience with its meticulous detail-centric pacing, it maintains itself to be one of the best films of 07’. Okay, so the last statement will take a while to prove right, but you get the gist.

Grade: A

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The following is a test of the emergency broadcast system.

Although this article below is not the greatest blog I have written, but it was an experimental in my blog. I am so deeply satisfied with the result, it is almost like I have just consumed a large Italian feast all to my own. There were so many people who won tonight that truly deserved to win: Alan Arkin, William Monnahan, Marty Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, The Departed, and An Inconvenient Truth. This feels a much like my Christmas’s, I told my parents what I want. So come Christmas morning, receiving presents are much like the Academy giving the award who it actually should go to. This was really a dream year for me. I feel like I am finally starting to think similar to the academy and more importantly feeling like I am starting to see enough films. So I can appreciate who everyone is and what they have contributed to the cause. Despite these good feelings, I know that, in fact, I only truly know 1/5th of what is out there in respect to film. For example tonight they honored Ennio Morricone, he has scored over 400 films. That is a huge achievement in respects to scores. Now I think of what he scored and how many of them have I seen? Honestly, about 8 of them and only a few I can name on the spot. There is a lot I still want to see, not to mention the ones that I don’t even know what I want to see them or new ways to see them.

The Academy Awards gave me stronger feelings that The Departed is a brilliant film. Although an Oscar has never merited the sole requirement of a great film. Several Scorsese movies are this way Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino and Mean Streets. But there have been some truly unforgettable films that have the merit of Best Picture, example Silence of the Lambs, American Beauty, Platoon, Godfather Part I AND II, and Deer Hunter. So, in tribute to the movie and the man, I am watching The Depaarted now.

Well goodnight, and good luck.

Oscars: or the Night that Scorsese won.

Tonight is something that I have never done before. I am trying to blog moment by moment, minute by minute in an attempt to give you few readers a reactionary blog to my night of nights.

4:54 P.M.

Marty Scorsese just got done talking to Oscar runway with Roepert and his sidekick that has a face that emits a orange hue. I am salivating at the event that I have been waiting for my whole year. I am excited for The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine(which wont win a whole lot), and Children of Men. I am less excited for the multitude of pictures that I have not viewed yet this year. There was a large number of films that were in the race this year. To be vague, 60+ which is only a few more than the normal amount. A few quick predictions about this night, Martin Scorsese for Best Director, The Departed for Best Picture, Forest Whitaker for Best Actor, Jennifer Hudson for Best Supporting Actress, Happy Feet for Best Animated Film (even though not a whole lot to pick from this year), Helen Mirren for Best Actress, and lastly An Inconvenient Truth for Best Documentary.

5:09 P.M.

First segment is filled with the Red Carpet walk. Interview with Steve Carrel and Leonardo DiCaprio. Carrel funny, DiCaprio insightful with the standard questions of "How does it feel?" The intro was kind of funny, featuring a number of the characters nominated in films all over. Not a bad start, but not great. Hopefully it picks up.

5:50 P.M.

First win of the night goes to the fabulous art direction of Pan's Labyrinth. Glad this film was horroned with the first win. The beginning was humorous. Ellen started off with a rather funny string of awkward jokes about her dream of always hosting this award show. I chuckled quite a bit. The pacing is good so far.

5:57 P.M.

Ha, Jack Black, Will Ferell, and John C. Reily come out for a great musical about why comedians never win Oscars. Also the second award of the night goes to Pan's Labyrinth for Best makeup. And now the young stars of the nominated films of Pursuit of happyness(yes it is misspelled and Little Miss Sunshine. They presented the award for Best Animated Short. The young Smith boy said the wrong line, but Abigail covered nicely. There was a lot of ooo's and ahh's. I am growing tires of seeing the "Frodo" line when they blaze through the nominations.

6:26 P.M.

Although the sound mixing and editing was great to hear, the real surprise of this last segment was the Best Supporting Actor Award going to Alan Arkin. Loved the movie and his performance. He was choked up towards the end.

6:39 P.M.

The nominated songs for Cars and An Inconvenient Truth were performed by their respected creators. Although the songs were never what I tune into the show for, but they are always and added bonus. The Departed trailer/introduction for the Best Picture was showed and the last image should be the used promote for the film box art. Jack's crazed blood-shot eyes and the title is all they needed. Great stuff. Too bad you have to see Jack with a shaved head and clean shaven. Make me think a little more about all of those rumors that he is not doing all that well, health-wise.

7:01 P.M.

So The Departed is 1 for 2. William Monahan won for Best Adapted Screenplay, after a great writing montage over the history of writers in film. I am so glad to hear that it won. Now I just hope that it will win the remaining three Oscars in Best Picture, Editing, and lastly Direction. Now Best Costume goes to Marie Antoinette. And dear god, here comes the great actor turned bon-e-fid Hollywood crazy. Now I am growing old waiting for the damn Ennion Morricone award and the rest of the big awards.

7:17 P.M.

With the win for Best Cinematography and all of the praises of the winners for Toro's vision, he has a very tall order to fill in his next picture. Although, I didn't love Hellboy, I am now thinking more and more that I need to revisit it. There has to be something that I didn't see in it. So far this year, I think that Pan's will have the best percentage so far in the race. It is 3 for 3, with another three to go including Best Foreign Film, writing, and Soundtrack.

7:37 P.M.

I guess I spoke too soon about Pan's. But what it has already is impressive. This propels me need to see The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar. But before that was a very touching and emotional montage of all of the Best Foreign Picture winners. I am still wondering about the title for the Bicycle Thieves. The literal translation of the title is Bicycle Thieves, but it was credited as The Bicycle Thief.

8:04 P.M.

I am shocked by one of the people at the Oscars. During the honorary Oscar for Ennio Morricone, someone shouted "Hey, in English!" I wonder who that asshole was, and why he was there. Other than that, this was an amazing tribute to a great man, great composer, a legend. I am very pleased by the tribute. It is back on, better watch. Another phrase that is bugging me on the nominees page is "Well, do ya punk"

8:49 P.M.

Well after debating with friends over the internet, I have slacked on my duties to this blog entry. A lot has happened in these few segments, including Thelma winning for Best Editing, which I hopes makes the last two nominations into the Oscar Gold for Picture and Director. Marty was welling up with tears, after she dedicated her Oscar to him. Only moments away from the moment I have been waiting for, all night long.

9:19 P.M.

The credits roll and feel so deeply satisfied by the results. I feel like a fat hog after a huge meal. The results of tonight are a dream come true. The Departed went 4/5 for the night, but it one four great categories, Editing, Picture, Writing, and most importantly Direction by master Scorsese. Now I can sleep well.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Merry Departed Day!

For most of you this won't mean too much, but today is the release date for Martin Scorsese's latest film The Departed and for this I feel like a review of the DVD is due.

The Departed

First off, the film is one of the best films of 2006. It is a remake of the 2002 Wai Keung Lau film Infernal Affairs, but to say that it is a remake is incorrect. It is more like a reinterpretation of the original film. There are some different characters, but more importantly, a whole different culture and life is portrayed here. There is a whole lot of difference between the streets of Hong Kong and the streets of South Boston. When this film premiered I was blown away. It is not only a great crime drama filled with some great villains and dialogue, but it is one of Martin Scorsese's best films in a decade or so.

It is filled with a great cast headed up by Scorsese's new De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Boston-native Matt Damon. The rest of the cast is filled with great character actors including Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, and Kevin Corrigan. I would say that the stand out performance are by the two leads, which unfortunately was not reflected by the Academy this year, but it is a competitive race and I am sure the other noms were deserved. I am rooting for Marky Mark in his race for Best Supporting Actor.

What I have been meaning to get to is the DVD release of the film. From a former employee of Warner Home Video, they release specific content for the different distributors. Two examples of this are a) Target, which gives a copy of the script and b) Best Buy, which gives a metal case and postcards. I have purchased the Target version, for which I would have chosen the other option if I knew about it before.

Disc One is the widescreen version of the film in its original aspect ratio, aside from the trailers for The Departed and other Warner Bros titles. The second disc, if you choose to buy it is where the real Scorsese fest comes in. There are the 9 deleted scenes all containing introductions by Martin Scorsese himself. Also they have included Stranger Than Fiction, a documentary on the adaptation of the real life gangsters of South Boston, Crossing Criminal Cultures, a documentary mostly on Scorsese's obsession with gangster films with using Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travlers and the cast and the technical advisers of The Departed. The last special feature is probably the best one, it is the documentary Scorsese on Scorsese. This was originally aired on Turner Classic Movies in late 2004 or early 2005, not sure to be exact. Anyways, this is an excellent documentary on the man behind the camera covering most of the information contained in his autobiographical book published first in 1989 and updated in 1996 and 2004 respectively. This will be a joy to watch for any Scorsese fan, or if you have seen if before, or own.

Check it out, rent it, buy it, do something to honor this man. It has been a great Departed day so far. Now here comes Valentine's Day, plan accordingly.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Billy Wilder and the Last of Altman

Here are two short reviews of the A Prairie Home Companion and Billy Wilder Speaks.

Billy Wilder Speaks

The man, the legend, Billy Wilder. Billy Wilder Speaks appears to be a rather skimpy documentary on the famed director if you were to only look at the running time, coming in at a slim 71 minutes. But it doesn’t skimp on the meat, it even gives you a little of the fat. Speaks covers a selective flexography of the late director that are still debated and loved today. Unlike most films about members of the film industry, it is a very intimate conversation with the acclaimed artist and the filmmakers. The viewer gets to see first hand, Billy Wilder and the filmmakers discuss his films that made him a legendary director and the working relationship with his actors and actresses.

Due to the intimate nature and format of the documentary, it is almost as if it takes an enlightened route for its beginning. Instead of the obvious academic biographical documentary, directors Gisela Grischow and Volker Schlondorff start with the premise and how the project started. After all, this was supposed to be him and another working on his autobiography. Because of Wilder’s attitude going into these conversations with a tell-all attitude, the documentary is only filled with genuine content. It almost feels like you are in the room with him. The one drawback that I can see is his accent, but whenever he slips into German subtitles pop up.

Like most “talking heads” documentary, this suffers from being very targeted into its audience. Grischow and Schlondorff’s audience is an avid film fan or the classic cinema fan. I would argue that most people of the MTV generation wouldn’t care to see this, or would even know who Billy Wilder is, but this strengthens the film. It was made for the film fanatic, after-all it was premiered on Tuner Classic Movies.

I am say that I love this documentary because of the subject matter, for which I am biased in my love for film and classic one at that. When watching this, I was instantly seduced by his charm. I think it is his German accent and the nervous little and’s that he adds in when he cannot think of the correct English word. If I was to look at the overall structure of this film, it is well balanced. Billy Wilder Speaks for the most part tries to stay in a rather chronological fashion, although it strays from time to time. For instance he talks about the film Apartment before he discusses the films starring Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot. It is almost like Grischow and Schlondorff tried to save the best for last.

One of the few complaints I have with the film is what was included in it. This was filmed over the course of several weeks. There must have been hours and hours worth of footage, so you would think that he talked about everything that he directed or possibly wrote. With these mountains of footage, there was no talk about any of the later of his films? I would of liked to hear him talk about some of the more personal projects he worked on such as The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. It just seems odd that they only touched on his earlier works. Aside from that complaint, I would give this a generous B+ rating. It was very informative and entertaining, although some of the events that took center stage in the doc were not information that was new to the public.

A Prairie Home Companion

If you are like me and have yet to see all of Altman’s films, I would still tell you to check out this little nugget of gold. It is a solid take on the final bow from this director’s last stand. When watching a movie like this, it is hard to not buy into the charm of this slice of Americana. I don’t want to be an ageist, but A Prairie Home Companion is not really my idea of a good time on a Saturday night, but for this vacation into Garrison Keillor’s Saturday night with Altman at the helm is quite a delight.

A Prairie Home Companion opens up like a noir film out of the 40’s, set in a diner with voice over of a private eye talking about his story. Now-a-days voice over is just a lazy attempt to fill in the audience because they couldn’t craft a more visual way to set up the story. But Altman knows this, as does the audience. Altman turns it into a joke, making us fell happiness before he sets in with his undertones of nostalgia and sadness.

Garrison Keillor’s long running radio variety show is one of a kind and as seen as a pillar of wholesome entertainment. The show is light and fluffy, filled with music and comedy that you could raise a family on. Although it is wholesome it is very funny and entertaining. I feel like this is one of the films that I would take my family to. I still had a number of belly laughs with the “Bad Jokes” number by Dusty and Lefty as well as the extended Duct Tape commercial, where it goes to levels of lunacy then accusational. Aside from the laughs, the rest of the time is spent with number that you just want to sing along with.

Seeing this film after Altman’s passing sheds new light on the film. It is almost as if he knew this would be his last film and wrote a letter to the film going public. This is most apparent with the death of Chuck, to which G.K. (Keillor) responds “We never look back, that’s the beauty of it. No one gets old. No one dies. We just keep going.” Also another line is “There is no tragedy in the death of an old man. Forgive him his shortcomings, and thank him for all his love and care.” This is Altman’s way of responding to death, people will morn him, but he wants them to continue to soldier on. P.T. Anderson was signed on as a stand-by director to Altman , which reportedly was needed by the insurance company who financed the film.

One of the best things about this film, aside from the old-time music and jokes, is the cast. It is filled with nothing but great actors and a surprisingly good performance out of Lindsey Lohan. Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Merlyn Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline, and more that you can check out on the cast list. It is one of the best casts of 2006, except for The Departed.

A Prairie Home Companion is a deeply poignant last film of Altman, but damn is it entertaining too. It is filled with a great cast, good laughs, and something to sing along to. Very deserving of an A-.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Why We Fight Borat!

I took a break from the marathons of The West Wing that has plagued my weekends to watch a couple of movies that have released in the last year. I am still working on seeing something in the theater. This is an odd combination, I agree, but these are the two that I have selected for recent review. Borat and Why We Fight.

The first one that I saw was Eugene Jarecki’s documentary Why We Fight. It is an alternate look at the reasons for war, and more importantly the warning of the importance of the military industrial complex. It seems that if you look at the recent events in the Middle East, the country is highly displeased with the actions of George W. Bush. It starts with warnings from former General/President Eisenhower of the implications of the overuse of power and the military industrial complex. Then flash-forwards to the mess that we are in with the current administration.

With the uses of interviews of several ex-military personel, some higher-ups in the military, and one touching interview with a kid that joined the military after his mother’s death Jarecki constructs the statement of disapproval of the Bush administration. Our world has grown-up and evolved, while the United States has gradually gotten weaker and weaker since the end of the cold war. Jarecki tells us through his interviews that through wars we get stronger and grow economically.

I believe that there are two great interviews, among a slue of good interviews. One being the kid that is entering the military after the death of his mother. It is an interview that you start to yell at the screen, he lives alone, has only a few friends, and feels the financial burden of the world. All this adds up to the one conclusion he has in his mind: military. Constructed much like a good drama, he journey goes down the road that is filled with numerous pitfalls that could be avoided. The other interview, Wilton Sekzer, that really stands out is the Vietnam Vet who lost two sons in the falling of the Twin Towers. Sekzer is brutally honest, telling his story without any fear of consequences. It is almost if he goes through the whole gambit of emotions, he is first shocked, then angered, then patriotic, then after getting over his emotions he starts to investigate and find out the not whole noble intent of the military.

There are glimpses of smart bombs, military stock footage, press conferences with the President, gun shows, and adding up to a documentary that was a good glimpse into the obvious liberal view of the war. This documentary is not really for all people, but it is one that I enjoyed. Although it is highly biased, it works for what it is trying to achieve.

The next movie on the block was the boldly funny Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Although I was hesitant to see this at first, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome of this film. There were times in this film when I was on the verge of tears, other times I was on the verge of throwing up. The thing that I was most impressed with was the guts that comic Sasha Baron Cohen. He swallowed his pride and truly gave this role all of his energy. I think anyone who can go up to the average American citizen and be in his Borat character without laughing at the outrageous dialogue and situation.

As far as the rest of the aspects of the film, they are shot documentary, shaky-cam style which wasn’t to the level of The Bourne Supremacy. By the way, that movie will forever be the barometer for excessive shaky-cam. Back to Borat, I love the broken English that is perfectly mispronounced and sentence misconstruction that made me laugh continually through the movie. Even the excessively long title makes me still chuckle today. I usually can’t say that much about a comedy without ruining a joke or two. They really aren’t inferior films or movies, they are just hard to talk about. This will make you laugh, but also you will be offended.

Okay, this whole movie is about laughing at all of the people that he has managed to offend. Because believe it or not, everyone who was on camera volunteered to be on camera in one way, shape or form. Not to go too deep on this, but I think that is the underlining brilliance of the movie. It cut to the bone the sick American dream that we as a people in this nation have. If there is a camera, we are obliged to perform in front of it. It is our duty as an American. We all want our 15 minutes of fame, no matter who you are. That is all for now… more soon, very soon!