September 30, 2008

Underrated MOTM: The Siege (1998)

September's Underrated Movie of the Month (MOTM) is another movie that exists not only as a reason why I started this feature, but as a reason why I enjoy writing about movies at all. Last month I outlined how Falling Down was a real-time representation of 1992 Los Angeles. While that movie was of its time, The Siege was ahead of its time. Like eerily, presciently ahead of its time.

I'm tempted to call it one of the most important movies of the last decade, though not necessarily one of the best. In fact, I'm not even going to defend the quality of the film itself here at all, so maybe I should say
The Siege is "underappreciated" more so than it's "underrated". I just recommend you see it, even though I know the message will be lost on people if they get distracted by the plot or the acting or the actions of some of the characters.

There's no sense in discussing this movie unless you're able to completely shift your mind's perspective back to 1998. I'll help: the biggest news story of the year was President Bill Clinton's infidelity and impeachment; most of the American public didn't use the internet and a good number of people didn't know what it was; Apple unveiled the iMac; The Offspring were a popular band while Armageddon ruled the box office; gas cost $1.15 a gallon; "Friends" and "ER" were the most popular shows in a television line-up that had yet to know something called "reality TV" (I believe the first "Survivor" was in 1999 or 2000); you could see your friends and family off at the airport all the way to the gate; the U.S. announced the first budget surplus in 30 years; the first infamous school shooting occurred in Jonesboro, AR (Columbine would memorably come on 4/20/99); and for most of the world, what came to mind when people said "terrorist" was the IRA in Northern Ireland.

So now it's the fall of 1998, and a movie called The Siege quietly makes its way into movie theaters. Director Edward Zwick's most important film to date has been Glory and there's some excitement that he is working with Denzel Washington again. Oddly, the original screenplay was written by a New Yorker columnist named Lawrence Wright - his first ever film. Nobody really knows what to expect from this guy.

Opening on November 6, The Siege grosses $13 million at the box office, second to The Waterboy's $40 million - an amount which, coincidentally, will be the total gross earned by The Siege before it fades out of theaters as a critical and commercial failure.

And then September 11, 2001, happens.

And then the The Siege becomes, according to Wright, "the most-rented movie in America."

9/11 created a flood of overwhelming emotions: fear, grief, paranoia, anger, and confusion, among others of course. Those who had seen The Siege three years earlier briefly experienced an additional funny feeling: déjà vu.

"Wait a minute, what?

A major terrorist attack in Manhattan? Local and federal law enforcement agencies are in a state of chaos? The terrorists were thought to be Islamic extremists? They lived and worked in the U.S.? Now the government is detaining and torturing anyone who looks Arab, is Muslim, or has an Arabic-sounding name?

Haven't we seen this before?"

Because it's almost impossible for our minds to forget that 9/11 happened, I have to reemphasize how foreign so much of this was in 1998. Granted, the first World Trade Center attack had occurred and al-Qaeda had just carried out the embassy attacks, but the American public was not in a state of fear. Osama bin Laden was not a household name. We didn't know what a terror alert or an air marshal was and we couldn't point out of Afghanistan on a map of the Middle East (unfortunately I fear that's still the case with most of us). So while terrorism itself was not an original idea for a movie, the attack and response portrayed in The Siege was, like 1994's True Lies, simply not something Americans could connect with on any level because it just seemed too exaggerated.

Hmm, actually, forget that last part. Audiences flocked to see not one but two even more fantastical disasters in New York City just a few months earlier in 1998: the horrendous remake of Godzilla pulled in over $130 million in May, while the aforementioned Armageddon raked in better than $200 million in July. Despite featuring two established stars in their respective second movies of the year - Bruce Willis (who also starred in Armageddon) and Denzel Washington (who carried He Got Game, which happened to open the same weekend as Godzilla) - The Siege pretty much flopped. Why? Bad reviews? Maybe, because there were plenty. But don't a lot of terribly reviewed movies open in the #1 spot at the box office? I think there was another reason people avoided this movie, but to this day I can't really figure out what it was.

Maybe this an appropriate time to include the trailer, then, because I want to get back to hammering home this point about the film's prescience. This is before 9/11, remember. Listen very carefully and tell me the dialogue here doesn't send chills down your spine:

Again, before 9/11 and the "War on Terror" and the Patriot Act and anything else that has since completely changed our daily lives. It's as if this movie was actually used by both the terrorists beforehand and our government afterwards. Is Wright to blame for 9/11? No, I'm obviously not serious at all. It's just that the coincidences in The Siege are so incredible that you almost have to start reaching for completely irrational explanations like that.

Maybe I should just read the book. You see, that unknown screenwriter Lawrence Wright turned out to be a bestselling author after his days at the New Yorker, and in 2007 he won a little award called the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for his highly acclaimed book, "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11". I bet it would be fascinating to read that book and compare it to this movie (which I admittedly haven't seen in quite a few years).

No, it's not perfect and yes, it's a little messy, but as the 10 year anniversary of The Siege approaches in another month, I consider it more than worthy of a revisit. I don't even know what it would be like to watch this movie again now. To some people it would probably seem simple minded or offensive or somehow inaccurate with what we now know about so much of its content, but if you haven't seen it and you have any interest in the themes of civil liberties, human rights, interrogation techniques, religious extremism, or military intervention, and if you can successfully take a trip in your mind back to 1998, then The Siege is an absolute must-see.

September 26, 2008

REVIEW: In Search of a Midnight Kiss (A)

What's in the water in Austin, TX? It's apparently not only the best place in the country to see live music, but increasingly also a breeding ground for independent filmmaking talent (see Wes Anderson, Mike Judge, Robert Rodriguez, Terrence Malick, Richard Linklater, et al.). Having only seen Alex Holdridge's latest film (his third), In Search of a Midnight Kiss, I would unquestionably add his name to that list. Teaming up with Austinite actors Scoot McNairy (for the third time) and Sara Simmonds (for the second), Holdridge has created an honest romantic comedy set in...Los Angeles. Nevermind, the entire crew is from Austin, as are most of the bands featured on the soundtrack.

In different ways, In Search of a Midnight Kiss brings to mind hip cable television comedies like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and retro-hip indie films like Before Sunrise (which along with this film and many of Richard Linklater's other films was produced by Anne Walker-McBay). Its characters are attractive, witty, and sarcastic, and its romance is mature, intelligent, and realistically bittersweet. As it happens I could say the same things about last year's 2 Days in Paris, which was the passion project of Julie Delpy, star of both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

Wilson (McNairy) has recently moved to L.A. after being dumped by his girlfriend, his current depression compounded by the fact that he wrecked his car on the drive out to California and lost most of his belongings. Seeking refuge with his best friend, Jacob (Brian McGuire), and Jacob's girlfriend, Min (Kathleen Luong), Wilson finds himself lonely and lethargic on the morning of New Year's Eve. Jacob needles him into posting an ad on Craiglist for a New Year's date; Wilson reluctantly complies, leading his ad with "misanthrope seeking misanthrope". After almost immediately receiving a bizarre phone call (is there any other kind involving Craiglist?) from a cryptic but captivating woman, Wilson soon finds himself on an early afternoon blind date with Vivian (Simmonds), the kind of person who hides her vulnerable sensitivities behind mischievous lies and sexually charged flirting.

The rest of the day is a test, we learn, as Vivian presents Wilson with an ultimatum: she'll leave him by sundown unless he can win her over and prove worthy of an evening date that will presumably lead to the celebrated "midnight kiss". Tensions rise and fall and rise again as the two navigate their way through each other's pasts and emotional hang-ups, and we eventually realize that as much as we would like to see them succeed in this venture, we know the realities of the new year (as in Linklater's Before Sunrise) may make things difficult. One of these developments was an unnecessary stretch for me, but it was forgivable in light of the movie's overall commitment to authenticity.

Don't look for long dramatic sequences or major memorable moments in In Search of a Midnight Kiss, because it's in the subtle details that Alex Holdridge's talent shines through: the briskly paced scenes featuring rich dialogue packed with witty jokes and references, the realistic characters with their embarrassing confessions, and the beautiful black and white cinematography that ironically shows Los Angeles in more intimate and vivid detail than any polished promotional video ever could. The camera frames, zooms, and observes L.A. in a way that establishes the city itself as a character with as many flaws and unique traits as our pair of hopeful romantics.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss is, frankly, the kind of old-school independent film that has been noticeably absent from movie theater screens in recent years. This is not a major studio film packaged and marketed through an art-house subsidiary like Fox Searchlight (just for the sake of comparison, check out the full cast and crew lists for Midnight Kiss and Searchlight's "independent" Street Kings and Juno). This is apparently the real deal - the work of a group of friends who are passionate about telling realistic stories on screen. Robert Murphy, for example, played Vivian's ex-boyfriend (quite memorably) and also wrote and performed two songs on the soundtrack. Oh, and he was the cinematographer responsible for the brilliance I've already mentioned.

If you're in search of a charming independent film, look no further than this little treasure. Like its main characters, In Search of a Midnight Kiss embraces its flaws and wins you over with its winning attitude and honest emotions - not to mention its tragically hilarious comedy. There is no pretense and no great effort to be ultracool, just the natural flow of a day in the life of a couple people looking for love on one of the loneliest days of the year. It won't resonate emotionally with everyone, but it should nevertheless restore your faith in American independent film.

Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Social Significance - 5

Total: 47/50= 94% = A

September 25, 2008

REVIEW: Lakeview Terrace (B)

Lakeview Terrace is one of those films that brings together a “coalition of strange bedfellows”: Will Smith as producer, Neil LaBute as director, and Samuel L. Jackson (Jumper) and Patrick Wilson (Little Children) as lead actors; none of them have previously worked on a project together. Using deductive reasoning, then, we can assume that the common thread for their involvement was an attraction to the story by David Loughery, who’s been out of work since 1995 and is probably best known (if he’s known at all) for his screenplays for Star Trek V, Passenger 57, and Money Train. Or maybe Lakeview Terrace was just another offer Sam Jackson couldn't turn down.

Anyway, you have to hand it to Neil LaBute, Hollywood’s favorite misanthropic ex-playwright. After garnering critical acclaim and an armful of awards for his feature film debut, 1997’s In the Company of Men, the former Mormon has seen his successive films disappoint both critics and audiences, no more so evidently than with his disastrous remake of The Wicker Man two years ago. But he keeps on plugging away, and he makes no effort to tone down the “hard edge” that he’s developed over years of producing what most people would consider downright cruel material. LaBute is unbothered by such criticism: "I don't shy away from subjects that come to me - and once I decide to do a subject, I don't pull back - but I'm not consciously stirring the pot or ripping stories out of the headlines to create tension and thus shine the light on me."

Well considering I didn't even know he was behind Lakeview Terrace until I was at the theater, I would say he was successful in putting the issue of interracial marriage ahead of himself. However, the issue itself unfortunately gets lost in a snowballing build-up of standard thriller clichés, leaving us with a film that falls significantly short of its grand ambition. The story, which focuses on L.A.P.D. officer Abel Turner's (Jackson) dangerously increasing discomfort with the interracial newlyweds next door, Chris and Lisa Mattson (Wilson and Kerry Washington of The Last King of Scotland), becomes a messy episode that strays from its meaty central theme as it becomes distracted with unnecessary forays into topics like child abuse, family planning, police corruption, single parenthood, and, with as much symbolic subtlety as a slap to the face, even California's notorious wildfires.

This is a tragic mistake because the themes Lakeview Terrace begins to address are urgently relevant in contemporary (and especially future) America, and previous films about interracial couples have done precious little justice to the issue, if they've even been seen at all. Spike Lee ruffled too many feathers with Jungle Fever, for example, while both Wes Anderson and Susanne Bier virtually ignored the subject in The Royal Tenenbaums and Things We Lost in the Fire, respectively. As such, Lakeview Terrace deserves some credit for at least attempting to initiate a discussion, and that counts for quite a lot. Additionally, I appreciated that the characters were believably written and ably played, particularly by Jackson and Wilson. Their actions may have at times been exaggerated or convenient to the story arc, but for the most part they existed as a people you may know or at least acknowledge exist in real life.

Sam Jackson creates a new definition for the term "housewarming"...

While Lakeview Terrace's effort at an important story doesn't quite make up for its lack of creativity in telling it, I would still consider it worth viewing. There are far more movies that are just as mediocre or even worse, but you'll likely find yourself thinking about Lakeview Terrace in hindsight more so than your average commercial blockbuster. Ultimately it's like much of Neil Labute's work: despite its flaws, it's not a story that can easily be tossed aside.

Writing - 7
Acting - 9
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 4
Social Significance - 5

Total: 42/50= 84% = B

September 24, 2008

Short Cuts: "So Is the Kitchen"

The Money Pit (1986). Directed by Richard Benjamin; written by David Giler; starring Tom Hanks, Shelley Long, Maureen Stapleton, and Joe Mantegna.

September 23, 2008

(Movie) News You Need to Know: Muppet Mania

"Fuzzy Renaissance"

Last weekend, some friends and I were reminiscing about Jim Henson's Muppets. We determined that a.) "Muppet Babies" was probably one of the best cartoons of our childhoods, b.) we had no idea what was wrong with Beaker, and c.) it was odd that some of the Muppets were clearly identifiable animals (Fozzie, Rowlf, Kermit, Piggy), while others were completely unidentifiable beings (Gonzo, Animal, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo). Anyway, Muppets were on my mind this weekend.

Didn't it come to my great surprise, then, to coincidentally discover last Thursday's New York Times article announcing the return of the Muppets. Brook Barnes takes us on a pretty mind-blowing exploration behind the scenes of the new Muppet franchise about to be launched, which will include, among other things, TV specials with the cast of "High School Musical" and the Jonas Brothers, videos for (Jim Henson's family sold the Muppets to Disney in 2004), a Christmas special on NBC in December, several new feature films, and merchandise to be sold at Urban Outfitters, Limited Too, and Macy's. (On that last point, my friend Mitch is that much cooler for having rocked an Animal T-shirt with regularity about eight years ago. Actually, he probably still wears it.) Anyway, read the article to get the full scoop.

Let me clarify my stand on the Muppets here. I already said I loved "Muppet Babies". I also count The Muppet Movie among my favorites from childhood, and I'm enough of a purist to have skipped the last feature film, Muppets in Space, in 1999. I might even be less comfortable about this new Muppet effort as I was with the new Star Wars movies 10 years ago, because at least those were made by their original creator, George Lucas. In the case of the Muppets, however, we have a bunch of Disney marketing executives who are preparing to bring them "into every pop-culture nook and cranny that the company owns or can dream up"
, the idea being that "the film will make a bigger splash if the marketplace is prepped first."

I guess it really gets to a larger issue that I'm constantly struggling with: why do I have a problem with brands from my childhood being resurrected for the next generation? I'm stubborn, old-fashioned, traditional? I don't know. I think I would just rather kids be forced to like the old Muppet movies and shows than being encouraged to embrace a new and potentially tainted form. Unfortunately, this dad's experience doesn't bode well for me:

[And some parents are starting to notice that the Muppets are suddenly on the radar screens of their young children.

“I tried getting them to watch DVDs of ‘The Muppet Show’ probably a year or two ago, and they weren’t that interested,” said Tom Weber, a New York father of two girls, ages 5 and 9. “But now that Disney is making its marketing push, they seem more aware and into it.”

Ellie Weber, the 5-year-old, confirmed it. “Miss Piggy is really funny,” she said. “I like it when she plays with the froggy.”]

Get it right, Ellie...

Well what about the next movie, due out in 2010? Interestingly, it's officially in the hands of Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller, writer and director, respectively, of this year's Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Um, is that really necessary considering a guy by the name of Frank Oz is alive and well and looking for work? You know, the Frank Oz who wrote The Dark Crystal and The Muppets Take Manhattan (which he also directed)? The Frank Oz who has provided the voice behind half of the Muppets for over 40 years and has been involved in every Muppet production since 1963?

Ah, yes, and the Frank Oz who, along with most of the Henson family, has publicly derided Disney's acquisition and management of the Muppets for the past decade. It all comes back to politics, then, doesn't it? I'm with you, Frank. Disney better know what they're doing, and they better do it well...

September 22, 2008

Only in the Movies: Free Cabs

The great responses to my first installment of Only in the Movies totally caught me off guard. I expected nods of agreement on my theory that answering machines are anachronistic movie props, but quite a few of you put me in place. Thank you.

As it is, however, I stand by observations (and was quite proud, as you can see in the comments, that Elegy featured three answering machine scenes). I also have an interesting update to report from the conversation Fox and I had in the comments about the difficulties of filming a "voicemail" scene, and how if you're not going to use an answering machine, you also couldn't really show a character with a cell phone up to their ear. Well, two movies I've seen since writing that post - Boy A and In Search of a Midnight Kiss - quite prominently use voice messages without featuring beeping answering machines! In both films the messages are used as narration in the form of a voiceover, and in Boy A we even get a couple shots of characters physically holding cell phones up to their ears and listening to the messages as we hear them at the same time. So it's not so hard after all, is it? An interesting phenomenon to keep your eye on - that is, if you keep your eye on minute, mostly meaningless details while you're watching movies.
Anyway, this time around I'm targeting cab culture in film.

Why don't movie characters ever pay their cab fares?

If I believed that everybody in movies was like me, then it would make some sense. For the most of the cab rides I've had, it's taken a minute or so to disembark, and I would add about another minute or so per passenger, up to a max of three minutes. The variables that affect this formula include, but are not limited to: clarifying the exact drop-off location ("Yeah, up on the left is fine"; "Just across the street past the light here", etc.); triple-checking the seats to make sure you're not leaving anything; waiting for passing traffic or curb access so you can open the door; and, of course, the actual financial transaction, which is complicated exponentially if you have more than three people: Who has cash? Who has change? How much do you owe?

Maybe it's just me, but my experience has proven that there are few instances in life involving as much concentration as the last 30 seconds of a cab ride. I've got one eye on the destination, one eye on the fare meter, and a third eye on the cash in my hand. Inevitably, even if you hold your breath and use the Force, the meter jumps $0.65 at the last second and totally throws off your tip calculation, causing you to either stiff the cabbie or shrug your shoulders and hand over a $20, which of course means you have to overtip because he or she won't have correct change.

None of this ever happens in the movies because the characters simply don't pay their fares.

Typically, the character simply raises their hand for a second (or even just whistles!) and has no problem hailing a cab. This is generally followed by instructions to "Follow that car!", or simply no instruction at all as the cab drives away and the character either gazes introspectively out the window or maintains eye contact with another character until out of sight. They don't need to tell the cabbie where to go; he or she just takes off driving.

After arriving at their destination - again, with no complications - our character will a.) simply get out and get going without paying, b.) walk away after giving the driver the exact amount including tip, or c.) take off running. Actually, I only remember that happening in The Pursuit of Happyness, but the fact is that it's one of the most memorable scenes in the movie because the actual reality of paying a cab fare is addressed.

What do you think? Are filmmakers getting out of this easy because they know cab fares are a minefield, or am I just crazy and everyone's real-life cab rides happen exactly like they do in the movies?

September 19, 2008

A Phoenix Rises Again in Minneapolis

I've only been back in Minnesota for two years, but it's been more than enough time to know that the drama surrounding Minnesota Film Arts (MFA) and the Oak Street Cinema has been, in a word, turbulent. I missed most of the big blow up that happened a few years ago, but suffice to say rumors of the Oak St.'s death have been tossed about willy-nilly for months. In fact, yours truly wrote a eulogy for "The Oak" just last March.

even though I've volunteered at the MFA-operated Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival the last two years, I've managed to keep above the political fray with this issue. I'm just out see good movies, and I don't know enough about what happened or why to lose sleep over other people's grudges. Let's just say I fully support local movie outlets like Pepito's Parkway Theater, Cinema Revolution and Take Up Productions, but I was also devastated by the thought of the Oak St. being torn down this September to make room for unnecessary condos.

Well, I got an email this week announcing an apparent full fall line-up at The Oak, and I know I'm not the only person in town who was surprised - not only by the simple fact that there are going to be films playing there more than once a month, but also by the list of the actual films that are going to be playing.

Check this out:

This weekend: A Soul Cinema Tribute to Isaac Hayes (screening Shaft, Wattstax, and Truck Turner)

Sept. 26-Sept. 29: Diva (Jean-Jacques Beineix)

Sept. 27: Manhattan Short Film Festival

Sept. 30 - Oct. 1: Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnias)

Oct. 3 - Oct. 9: Alain Robbe-Grillet series (screening Last Year at Marienbad, Trans-Europa Express, L'Immortelle, Eden and After)

Oct. 10 - Oct. 23: Jean-Luc Godard series (screening Contempt, Band of Outsiders, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Breathless, Alphaville, Pierrot Le Fou)

I would say that's a pretty impressive rebound from MFA Director Al Milgrom & Co.

Unfortunately, I think it's going to be tough to work many of these into in a busy personal fall schedule for me (plus all of the new releases coming out, plus the Walker's Mike Leigh retrospective!), but good grief, people, we need to put personal loyalties aside and get to some of these screenings. Who knows how much longer we have...(I'm trying to leave its fate a little more open-ended this time around)...

September 18, 2008

Perfect Song, Perfect Scene #3

Final scene, Rushmore (1998): "Ooh La La" by The Faces

REVIEW: Boy A (A-)

You probably remember ten years ago in Jonesboro, AR, when a pair of adolescent friends set off the fire alarm at their middle school, took positions at the edge of the school grounds, and opened fire on their classmates and teachers as they filed out of the building, wounding eight and killing five. The boys, then aged 11 and 13 years old, were caught, convicted, and sentenced to time in juvenile prison. Both were released upon turning 21, and as of today they are back in society, their exact whereabouts and assumed identities unknown.

Is this fair? Has justice been served?

Boy A, which premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, is the work of the Irish filmmaking team of director John Crowley and screenwriter Mark O'Rowe (they previously collaborated on 2003's Intermission), who have together adapted Jonathan Trigell's novel of the same name into a poignant, probing parable that exists as much in real life as it does on celluloid. It's competing with Elegy as the most depressing movie of the year (or of the last few years, for that matter), but I suppose you could find bright spots in the strength of the production itself, which from the directing to the acting is outstanding across the board.

As with other just-less-than-perfect films, however, Boy A occasionally stumbles as it tries to navigate what is, on the surface, as simple a story as the Jonesboro massacre. Eric Wilson (Andrew Garfield) is being released from a London prison; we have no idea what he did, when he did it, or why. His uncle, Terry (Peter Mullan), is his guardian in the absence of Eric's parents, and he's arranged for Eric a job and a room in a friend's flat. They agree on a new identity, and Eric, known in his court proceedings as "Boy A", decides to become "Jack Burridge". For the time being, all we know is that Jack did not act alone, at least one person died in an incident, and the crime was heinous enough so that Jack initially requires police protection upon his release. He keeps a low profile and attempts to start his life over again, much like the Jonesboro shooters must have just recently done.

But it's not so simple, and as Jack spreads his wings, so does Boy A - slowly, gradually, and eventually almost to its own detriment. The use of flashbacks to explain Jack's trouble past is effective and engaging until it finally crosses the line into something unnecessarily horrifying. The relationship Jack has with a girl at his job, Michelle (Katie Lyons), is touching and true until it eventually becomes maudlin and melodramatic. And the coincidences and contrivances are clever until they become exaggeratedly convenient. None of these mistakes threaten to outright ruin the movie, but combined, they exist like those annoying stains on your favorite shirt that prevent you from fully enjoying your time inside it.

The more you wear the shirt, though, the more comfortable it comes, and Boy A is a near perfect fit at times, thanks largely to the amount of time we spend getting to know Jack. Even when we realize that his crime was the participation in a murder of one of his classmates, we somehow feel sympathy for Jack, and even when we see his violent instincts temporarily surface, we somehow feel sympathy for Jack. We
know he's had a hard life and we want to him to succeed this time around.

Ironically, however, we have no idea why we feel this way, and this is subtle truth that didn't bother me personally, but is still another potential weakness of the film. After all, what evidence do we have that "rehabilitation" occurred other than the charming attitude of this young man walking out of prison? It's the million dollar question that has no answer. Not in the movie, and not in real life. I have to admit I kind of wish it had been more directly addressed in Boy A, especially because at one point, which I've now seen is given away in the trailer, the story turns into Jack's "good deed" creating major problems for him. I guess this was just a way to drive the story to a logical conclusion instead of making any grand statements about his particular situation, so in at least that sense I'm comfortable resting my grievance about it.

Considering my gushing praise for Casey Affleck's world-stopping performance in last year's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, you'll know that when I say Andrew Garfield's work here left me almost as floored it means he was something truly special. Knowing him only as the sarcastic Stanford student in last year's Lion for Lambs, I was enormously impressed with his British accent, enough so that I initially doubted it could possibly be the same actor. Well, it turns out Garfield was born in L.A. and raised in England, so there you go. I imagine award eligibility is unfortunately out of the question because of release dates or something silly like the fact that Boy A played on British television last year (for which Garfield actually won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor), but for a role that required nearly every minute of screen time, he was as good as anyone I've seen this year. Yes, he was fortunate to play opposite a capable cast of co-stars, but it's his picture above anyone else and in numerous scenes (one of my favorites being the entire sequence at the nightclub), he delivers the kind of career-defining performance that should get him in line for some major roles in the near future.

Of course, I said the same thing about Shia LaBeouf (one spelling attempt there, thank you) after A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and he's apparently chosen to go the route of action star for the foreseeable future. Hopefully Garfield will latch onto something of significance after his supporting role in next year's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (also known as Heath Ledger's final film).

If not for two key scenes in the last 20 minutes, one of which was the ending, Boy A might have risen to the top of the list of non-documentary films I've seen this year. The movie should have abruptly ended after a particular scene when Jack is walking down an alley, because more ending up being less with an almost ruinous attempt to tie some loose ends together at the end. Nevertheless, this is a movie that needs to be seen, both for the performance by Andrew Garfield and for our collective understanding of this true-to-life story. Jonesboro, as we all know, was not an isolated incident, and there could potentially be several individuals we interact with in our lives who were once known as a letter of the alphabet. Can any insights be gained by seeing their side of the story in Boy A? That's for you to determine. Come back and let us know after you see it.

Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Social Significance - 5

Total: 46/50= 92% = A-

September 17, 2008

Reel Life #1

I've been a pretty serious news/current events/world affairs junkie for as long as I can remember, going back to the days when I would read TIME magazine as a wee young'un on my family's couch at home. Suffice to say, I get a little uncomfortable when I don't know what's going around my daily surroundings and around the world.

Recently, either because there have been more news stories appropriate for the occasion or because I've just been thinking cinematically in other parts of my life as I've been blogging, I've realized there is a ton of potential material for movies and documentaries that is flying through the news wires every day. With so many hundreds of sequels coming out this decade, it's more than a little frustrating to see Hollywood lazily sit on their hands instead of trying to identify new stories to adapt to the big screen.

With that in mind I present the first installment of Reel Life, an occasional feature where I'll pick out bits from the news that, from my personal viewpoint, would lend themselves well to a film adaptation. Obviously, this fits within the greater umbrella of my blogging/film philosophy: bringing that which I see on screen into real world applications for my daily life. With these examples, the flow just happens to be in the opposite direction.

Please share your comments on these stories and feel free to suggest or email me others that you find. I've got a working list that I'm taking from for these first few and I'll always be looking to collect more.

Also, at the end of each I'll rate the potential that the story has for an adaptation (it would not necessarily need to relate to that specific story, just to a subject in it), and the most appropriate ways in which a film could be produced.


"Decades of details flood woman with unmatched memory"

I've always boasted about my excellent memory, but I've never gone so far as to call myself Jill Price, the 42 year-old school administrator who recently wrote a book about her experience with hyperthymestic syndrome. This is a condition that I have an incredibly hard time wrapping my mind around: the ability to remember every detail of every day of your life going back decades. Can you imagine how much of your brain space would be filled with meaningless information like what shirt you wore on July 6, 1989 or what your friend ordered for lunch three years ago on November 19th?

Obviously this could make for an incredibly amazing character trait, and some producer needs to get on it before one of the TV networks comes up with another moronic primetime drama about a supernaturally powered detective. Maybe it's already been done; I wouldn't know.

Story Potential: Very high
Project Possibilities: Feature length film franchise; feature length documentary

"Italian outrage over Roma drowning photos"

Something is horribly wrong in the beach community of Torregavata, Italy. Four girls went swimming, two of them drowned. As their bodies, shown on the left here, were laid out on the sand and later placed in coffins and carried off the beach, numerous Italians reportedly ate lunch and sunbathed just meters away from them. I actually saw a different photo of the situation that was much more shocking.

The key detail in this story, of course, is the fact that the two girls, cousins aged 12 and 13, were Romanies, more commonly known as Gypsies. Apparently, discrimination and contempt toward the Roma people is a major issue in Italy, and this incident was an extension of that unfortunate attitude. I don't know much about the circumstances, but if it's anything like the Turk situation in Germany, someone like Fatih Akin (The Edge of Heaven) could bring it to light.

Story Potential: Limited to Moderate
Project Possibilities: Feature length film; feature length documentary

"Albinos, Long Shunned, Face Threat in Tanzania"

Albinos are another group of people that have received about as much attention on screen as they have in reality: that is to say, very little at all, and I'm not counting 1995's bizarre Powder.

In Tanzania just in the last year, at least 19 albinos, including children, have been killed or mutilated. It has been a long held belief in Tanzania and several other countries that the body parts of albinos have magical powers. And so, those who suffer from albinism (a genetic condition that impairs normal skin pigmentation) not only have to deal with being ostracized from society and facing almost certain skin cancer, but they have to constantly, literally fear for their lives. The paranoia must be crippling; some carry whistles to call for help and/or shut themselves into their houses after dark. I can't imagine.

Story Potential: Limited
Project Possibilities: Feature length documentary

"Ready-Made Rockefeller"

From an idyllic hamlet in New Hampshire comes the story of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a native German who moved to the U.S. as an exchange student decades ago and eventually assumed the identity of one "Clark Rockefeller". Playing up the famous name, "the man with the eccentric accent, the tantalizing hints of family fortune and the impressive conversational knowledge of everything from physics to art to the stock market" even claimed to have "the key" to the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. Incredible.

His con lasted for more than 27 years until blowing up after he kidnapped his daughter and brought her from Boston to Baltimore this summer. His true identity stunned those who knew him, many of whom are probably also reeling from the suspicion that he may have been involved with the murder of a California couple in 1985. The details of his outrageous con that are outlined in the article would make for a riveting film.

Story Potential: High
Project Possibilities: Feature length film; feature length documentary

By the way, if any of these ever happen, I'm claiming royalties.

September 15, 2008

REVIEW: Burn After Reading (B+)

While my wish for a Coen Bros. sighting/introduction (they're here filming A Serious Man) at the promo screening of Burn After Reading last week went unfulfilled, my expectations for a distinctly Coenesque comedy were easily met: bizarre characters, dark humor, and a downward spiraling story.

The star power in Burn After Reading is in stark contrast to most of the Coens' films, including last year's Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men, and especially compared to A Serious Man, which will feature no one you've ever heard of. Indeed, the five actors listed on the marquee for Burn After Reading have all been nominated for acting Oscars, and three of them (George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton) have won. Add in the Coens' own writing and directing Oscars and you have what might be the most impressive ensemble of any movie so far this year.

This is not a fact that can be easily overlooked, because the characters written by Joel and Ethan Coen could not be trusted in the hands of amateur actors. From McDormand's neurotic Linda Litzke to John Malkovich's nihilistic Osborne Cox to Brad Pitt's naive Chad Feldheimer, we have some of the most engaging (yet also some of the most one-dimensional) personalities of any of the Coens' thirteen movies. While these three characters left the most distinct impression on me as I look back on Burn After Reading (including my favorite line - Pitt's laugh about the Schwinn), the rest of the cast is most certainly deserving of high praise as well. Richard Jenkins revives and softens his Walter Vale persona from The Visitor, J.K. Simmons dials in one of the most hilarious C.I.A. chiefs in recent memory (even somewhat reminiscent of his indifferent Mac MacGuff in Juno), and Tilda Swinton and George Clooney face off again in an amusing "what if?" scenario that could have been tacked onto the end of Michael Clayton.

I'm zeroing in on the characters ahead of the story here because they're where the heart of Burn After Reading beats most loudly (that is, when it's not drowned out by Carter Burwell's driving score, which I can only assume he developed to make up for his muted tones in No Country for Old Men). Yes, the characters are where this movie lives, if only because the plot is, to be frank, kind of stupid. A U.S. agent and a couple of gym employees get caught up in the messy divorce of a disaffected ex-C.I.A. analyst? That's it?

Yeah, that's it alright, but if there's anything more idiotic than the story, it's the absurd manner in which these characters interact with each other, and while it's what provides consistent humor throughout the movie, it's ironically also the one place that criticism of the film can be directed. At times I felt the Coens were going for laughs a little too easily, relying only on the goofy mannerisms that the actors seemed to create on their own. Instead of the rapid-fire writing of the The Big Lebowski or the cultural wink-winks of Fargo, the Coens seemed to be content, for example, just filming Brad Pitt run wildly on a treadmill. In fact, I was almost expecting us to witness Pitt experience the stereotypical and completely unfunny bike accident that would send him flying over the handlebars onto the hood of a car. This didn't happen, of course, but my point (and it may be an unfair one) is that the spirit of some of the biggest laughs in Burn After Reading unfortunately reminded me of Step Brothers: idiots screaming obscenities at each other.

On the other hand, I would be selling the Coens short if I didn't also acknowledge the wry, almost subversive humor that pokes fun at U.S. intelligence agencies and, for that matter, generations of spy thrillers. While taking aim at a bureaucracy with the traditional
"nobody knows that they're doing" ammo, the Coens still manage to dress up the comedy with timely references to internet dating and U.S.-Russian relations. Moreover, I do have to admit that the brothers have once again successfully "captured a culture": the Beltway, where everyone is suspicious and loyalties are traded like baseball cards. From what I know about living and working in Washington, D.C., Burn After Reading's portrayal of a cloaked, almost comically paranoid environment is not too far off the mark. For the sake of our national security, however, I sure hope the depictions of those internal C.I.A. meetings are.

The jocular tone, violent irony, and surehanded style of Burn After Reading will come as no surprise to those who have seen other comedies by the Coen brothers, but it will be interesting to see if the general moviegoing public, perhaps most familiar with No Country for Old Men, will give this one a chance (though the rabid Pitt and Clooney fans will surely help). It's not quite as immediately appealing as The Big Lebowski, but if nothing else it's proof that the brothers are still masters of their own uniquely distinctive form; the films of few other filmmakers these days are so immediately recognizable - or entertaining.

Writing - 8
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 4
Social Significance - 3

Total: 44/50= 88% = B+

September 14, 2008

REVIEW: Transsiberian (A-)

Transsiberian first caught my eye late in the spring when I was perusing the summer releases, and I quietly looked forward to it as a possible late summer sleeper. I've never been to Siberia or China or Russia, but something about the brief synopsis sounded creepy enough to get my attention. A cast that includes Ben Kingsley (Elegy, The Wackness), Woody Harrelson (Semi-Pro, No Country for Old Men) and Emily Mortimer (Redbelt, Lars and the Real Girl) piqued my interest even more.

So Transsiberian finally arrived at the "station", and I embarked on a completely engaging, even if not altogether enjoyable, ride through the bleak Siberian tundra. Writer/Director Brad Anderson's (Next Stop Wonderland, Session 9) dark thriller is the child of Strangers on a Train and A Simple Plan, and although it doesn't quite inherit all of the best traits of its genius parents, it's still a suspenseful story of deceit and faithfulness in one of the world's most desolate places.

In the marriage of Roy (Harrelson) and Jessie (Mortimer), Anderson has created a somewhat unbelievable pairing: the dopey, naive Christian volunteer and the woman with a rebellious past. Their counterpart couple, the strangers they befriend on their trip from Beijing to Moscow, is a more realistic duo, despite the mysteries behind their suspicious actions. Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) is a handsome Spaniard who ogles Jessie while taking shots of Russian vodka with Roy. His girlfriend, Abby (Kate Mara), is an American drifter who doesn't say much and doesn't seem entirely comfortable with Carlos. Each of these characters has identifiable markers so you know what they're really like: Roy has the nerdy glasses, Jessie has the constantly anxious expression on her face, Carlos has the tribal tattoos and Abby has the eye shadow applied so heavily that she looks like a raccoon. These markers are one of the few small things that Brad Anderson could have done away with in order to make the eventual actions of each character a little more surprising, but I guess if you don't notice then you won't be bothered anyway.

The only character I have yet to mention, and the one who eventually threatens to derail not just the train but the actual movie, is Grinko (Kingsley), a Russian narcotics detective who, almost too conveniently for the story, joins the party halfway to Moscow. Kingsley has little work to do in Transsiberian (his third movie of the last two months) but he delivers as usual, and his fairly good Russian accent goes a long way in making up for the utter failure of Mortimer's American accent. As memorable as Kingsley's character is, however, it's Woody Harrelson who almost steals the movie with his over-the-top performance as Roy.

It seems I've only mentioned the minor flaws that prevent Transsiberian from achieving excellence, but all things considered it's a thrilling success that deserves a lot more of an audience than it's likely to get. Brad Anderson continues to impress critics, but none of the films he has either written or directed, going back to Next Stop Wonderland a decade ago, has caught on with the general moviegoing public, who, if they knew what was good for them, would rush out to see Transsiberian instead of commercial thrillers like this week's upcoming Lakeview Terrace.

Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Social Significance - 3

Total: 46/50= 92% = A-

September 11, 2008

Short Cuts: "I Don't Like Remembering"

Today is still a difficult day for me, as it is for many of you. There were a number of people from BU on those planes that morning, including a personal friend of my roommate. But beyond the trauma of that day in Boston, I still can't fully comprehend how much our daily lives are still affected by what happened. Look past it if it makes you feel better, but you have to admit that under the surface, we're in a much different country than we were seven years and one day ago.

I don't do anything special today, and I don't expect anyone else to. I didn't post anything last year and I just as likely won't next year. There's nothing to do, really, but reflect and move on.

One of the reasons I love film is because it can be used as a tool for such occasions. It can provide perspective and bring us into another person's life. There have been a handful of movies that have dealt with 9/11, some directly but most indirectly, and I've found a couple of appropriate clips for this installment of Short Cuts (a year from now, of course, one could potentially use the scene in Man on Wire).

As in Reign Over Me, some of us are living like Charlie (Sandler), and some of us are living like Alan (Cheadle). I think both are normal, and I think both are fine. But whatever your reaction is, whether grief or indifference or something else, maybe that reaction - and not tragedy itself - is worth reflecting upon.

In doing so, we might better understand the full scope of the situation, and in doing that, we might better understand the people we encounter in our daily lives.

Because, as you know by now, the movie experience shouldn't end in the theater.

25th Hour (2002). Directed by Spike Lee (two Spike Lee joints in a row?!); written by David Benioff; starring Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, and Brian Cox.

Reign Over Me (2007). Written and directed by Mike Binder; starring Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Liv Tyler, Jada Pinkett Smith, Donald Sutherland, and Saffron Burrows.

September 10, 2008

Finding a National Treasure or: How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love Ben Gates

Forgive me if this seems a bit strained. It's just that Nicolas Cage has been my least favorite actor - by a country mile - for going on about a decade now. The tics, the accents, and the shouting are utterly unbearable for me. So when Fletch asked me to defend the indefensible and write a positive argument for a movie starring Cage, well it was simply a challenge that I had to take on, and a fear that I had finally had to face.

Actually, it wasn't that hard. I love
National Treasure. Moreover, I love Nicolas Cage as treasure hunter Ben Gates. Somehow, someway, a little action-adventure that I didn't see in the theater slowly grew on me over a solid year of every-other-day showings on one of the Encore movie channels. The end result: me sitting in the theater at an opening weekend showing of National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.

Between the witty, strong-willed woman (Diane Kruger), the sarcastically hilarious sidekick (Justin Bartha), and the deliciously deviant villain (Sean Bean),
National Treasure almost plays like a second generation version of an Indiana Jones movie. And although Ben Gates is no Indy, he has his own charming personality quirks, like knowing archaic colonial ciphers and codes and playing a brilliant game of show-and-tell with the original Declaration of Independence. Best of all, Cage attempts no accent and only has a couple of spaz attacks. The fact is, Indy is the spoiled, handsome action star while Gates is the nerdy underdog hero with the superstitious father (Jon Voight). Who would you rather root for?

If the stereotypical characters and the cheesy dialogue don't satisfy your need for a guilty pleasure, watch National Treasure for some decent action sequences and an insanely elaborate conspiracy theory. Who can't appreciate the entertainment value in that? Also, I haven't even mentioned yet that the National Treasure franchise is one of the few action-adventure series being produced these days that's appropriate for the whole family: no profanity, sex, gory violence, or otherwise inappropriate content, and no dark themes that can misinterpreted as subliminally evil. It's just honest-to-goodness silliness that you can watch with your kids on movie night.

There you go: Nicolas Cage, against all odds, as a provider of fun, wholesome cinematic entertainment.

Now don't anyone dare use that sentence outside of the context of this movie.

[This defense is an entry in CAGEFEST, a "celebration" of selected films starring one Nicolas Cage, hosted by Fletch at Blog Cabins, otherwise known as the shepherd of the LAMBs and the only person who bags on Cage in public more than I do in private.]

September 9, 2008

REVIEW: Traitor (B-)

Background: Just when I thought we were done with these movies, along comes Steve Martin. Yes, the same Steve Martin, and the person who apparently came up with the idea for Traitor while he was acting opposite Queen Latifah in 2003's Bringing Down the House (no doubt Martin decided to name this movie after his agent). But hey, good for him for branching out in between Pink Panther sequels. At the helm is co-writer and director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who last penned The Day After Tomorrow. Leading the cast are Don Cheadle (Ocean's 13), Guy Pearce (Death Defying Acts), and Saïd Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner). Jeff Daniels (The Lookout) also shows up and successfully separates himself even further from his now somewhat shocking involvement in Dumb and Dumber.

Synopsis : Samir Horn (Cheadle), born in Sudan and raised in Chicago, is a devout Muslim working undercover as a detonator specialist. The only person who knows his true identity is Federal Agent Carter (Daniels), who helps him infiltrate a terrorist network masterminded by somebody named Hamzi. The problem is, Horn has to actually convince the terrorists that he will literally kill for their cause. Fortunately he's a great liar, and for months he successfully deceives both his Islamic fundamentalist partner Omar (Taghmaoui) and also FBI Agent Roy Clayton (Pearce), who along with his laser-eyed partner is trying to prevent Horn from carrying out Hamzi's horrific plan: simultaneous suicide bombers striking dozens of American buses over the Thanksgiving holiday.

I Loved:
+ The effort at a more positive portrayal of Islam. It didn't work, but I acknowledge the effort.

I Liked:
+ Guy Pearce, who it turns out has made little worth seeing in the last few years apart from The Preposition (which I actually didn't even see). He appears to have a lot in production the next year or so (including the upcoming Iraq War movie The Hurt Locker), but it remains to be seen if he can erase his performance in The Time Machine, one of the Five Worst Movies I've Ever Seen.
+ The globetrotting storyline, from Sudan to Los Angeles to Toronto to Chicago. Too bad none of it mattered. As a friend I was with mentioned afterwards, "Why bother taking us around to so many cities if we don't even get to see them?"

I Disliked:
- The constant music. When there's subliminal mood music playing during 90% of the movie, you know some other element isn't as strong as it should be.
- The seemingly random decision to make half of the frame blurry in a number of scenes. Did I miss some symbolism there?
- Don Cheadle. It wasn't just that his "accent" was ridiculous, but it was frustrating to see him wasted as a lead here. It's tragic that so many people will have seen this movie and the Ocean's movies, while so few saw him just last year in Reign Over Me and, in an Oscar-worthy performance, Talk to Me.
- A minor error in geography that would have passed by unnoticed had Nachmanoff not made such a big deal out of it. At one point, Samir is being chased in Chicago, IL. Over and over and over we keep hearing that he's headed to an address at 128 South Randolph Avenue. Now it's no surprise that Randolph Avenue doesn't exist in Chicago, but there is a Randolph the nicest part of downtown, far from the projects on the South Side as shown in the movie. I know this is an insane criticism, and I know I had the same issues with 21, but I still think that if a filmmaker is going to drill a location and city into our heads so intentionally, and if the movie is obviously going to be seen by millions of people familiar with a major city, there's no reason to make such egregious geographical errors.

I Hated:
- How predictable the climactic bus scene was. Memo to Jeffrey Nachmanoff: people see a lot of movies, and for those of us who pay attention to detail (as you, directing the picture, also should), way too much was given away by your melodramatic camera work.

Writing - 8
Acting - 8
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 7
Music - 5
Social Significance - 5

Total: 40/50= 80% = B-

Last Word: I admit that my grievances with Traitor were petty, for the most part, and as an overall illustration of how religious zealots can "use" people to carry out violent acts, it's mostly successful. The real tragedy that I have yet to mention, however, is that the end result is all too familiar: the "peaceful" Muslim ends up being the exception and not the rule. In other words, the movie inadvertently equates Islam with terrorism so many times that the underlying opposite message is basically lost on the viewer. Poor acting and lazy, cliché
d, just plain bad police procedural writing don't help matters.

I wouldn't be so bothered by Traitor's poor quality if it wasn't dealing with such important issues. As it exists now, it will be just another forgettable movie; the lasting images will unfortunately be of violent Muslims. A more even-handed approach, one that actually makes you think without bombarding you with action every 10 minutes, would probably result in a more memorable and much better film. Hmm, yes, maybe something like the vastly superior The War Within.

September 8, 2008

(Movie) News You Need to Know: Coens Continuation

*"In Twin Cities, Coen Brothers Shoot from the Heart"

Well, life continues to call; this move is taking its time - and my time as well. As I mentioned in my self-congratulatory post last week, I have lots on the way but can't get it out just yet. Thanks for your patience.)

In the meantime, the Twin Cities are soon to be abuzz with Coen fever. You know, the native sons who aren't as "native" anymore as much as Minnesotans like to claim? As I mentioned in that post, A Serious Man is to be filmed here starting, in fact, today, and continuing through November. Colin Covert, who had a few words to say on the Coen Brothers at that time, did me the favor of continuing the article with an update on their current production. Lots of interesting tidbits in there for locals, including some shooting locations. Chances are I'm going to get about as close to the action as you are, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

The article also includes the necessary mention of Fargo, the success of which ironically sent the brothers out of state for good. Fear not, self-conscious Minnesotans: Bob Graf, who produced all of the Coens' recent movies, told Covert, "If there were some people who felt Fargo was caricature, I don't think they'd feel that about this."

See you on set.

September 3, 2008

300 Words About: Elegy

At different times in my life I've considered pursuing a career as a college professor, but after seeing the lives illustrated on screen in 2008 by Dennis Quaid in Smart People, Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, and Ben Kingsley in Isabel Coixet's Elegy, I'm not sure if I'm up for it. What is it about teaching higher education that causes crippling depression and social anxiety?

In the case of David Kepesh (Kingsley- The Wackness, Transsiberian), it's a torturous affair with one of his students, Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona). David fears that Consuela is too young and attractive and that she'll leave him for a younger beau at any time. But feel no pity for him- he walked out on his wife and young son (Peter Sarsgaard - Rendition) years ago, and has spent two decades in bed with countless women, none so faithfully frequent as his one-time student Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson - Vicky Cristina Barcelona). In between lectures and affairs, David commiserates with his poet friend George (Dennis Hopper - Sleepwalking), himself no model of fidelity.

Who are these people in real life, and how can I avoid them in the future? It's hard enough to watch their lives crumble on screen, so I can't imagine immersing myself in Philip Roth's novel
(appropriately titled "The Dying Animal") . I'm sure there are many people who find comfort in sharing the tragedies of these characters, but empathy mostly escaped me in this case, especially if it was meant to be directed at David Kepesh. In some ways, I saw Elegy as a twisted sequel to About a Boy - what would happen if Will (Hugh Grant) never learned his life lesson?

Despite the sorrow and pain, there are bright spots in Elegy. The ensemble cast, led by Kingsley and Cruz, just about bowled me over. I've not seen any other films directed by Coixet, but she certainly took advantage of the talent and experience of her actors. Additionally, I thought the cinematography matched the overall tone very well. We could observe the emotions without being forced to experience it with manipulative camera work or overbearing use of color and light. Unfortunately I can't speak positively of the editing - Elegy is about half an hour too long.

All in all, the award-worthy acting makes Elegy mostly engaging, but your reaction to it may ultimately depend on your ability to gain any hopeful insight from such a severely depressing parable.

September 2, 2008

Celebrate Good Times

One year ago yesterday, the first post on Getafilm was released for public consumption. I had no idea what I was doing, or how long it would last, or how much time it would take, or even who would read it. Part of that has been clarified in the last year, part of it has not.

If you're reading this, and it's not your first time visiting, I sincerely thank you. It seems weird (see: narcissistic) to actually thank people for reading what I write, but in one way, you really are doing something for me: you're letting me know that I'm not the only one interested in taking the movie experience beyond the walls of the theater, and I guess I find some comfort in that fact. It's been encouraging to witness people actually chew over what they see on the screen and not just swallow it whole. It's the difference between chowing down fast food and savoring the flavors of exotic delicacies. Maybe that's a little much, and maybe I've blown my way past a number of these movies as well, but if I've in any way made you think, really think, about how a film that you've seen relates to your daily life, I would consider Getafilm a success. It's really that simple.

Some of you are bloggers, critics, or filmmakers, some of you are literal scholars of cinema, and some of you are just recreational movie buffs. Most of you are certainly friends, old and new, and according to the data I've had my interns slaving away on, you've found your way here from over 120 countries. Blows my mind.

That I've received visits from
Slovakia to Sudan to Sri Lanka doesn't really compute in my head (nor does the fact that I've actually met some of you in real life as a result of this), but it almost makes me emotional to think about a global film-loving community, as shown above.

Yep, "Kumbaya" - that's me.

I'm still finding my way as I go through this, and I'm not yet sure what will happen next, if anything. I've considered a redesign, I've considered a change in blogging platforms, I've considered a change in content, but for the time being about all I can handle is keeping up with watching and writing.

Speaking of which, it may be obvious that I've been busy elsewhere in life the last week or so, and I'm still in the middle of a residential move, so my blogging energy and time is temporarily limited. It isn't the first time, and it definitely won't be the last, but I accept the fact (and I hope you all do, too) that getting a post up is sometimes not one of life's highest priorities, even when celebrating an occasion such as this.

I do still plan on posting (and postdating...) the Underrated MOTM for August, and I have a number of new post features that I plan on starting this month. I'll also be "unveiling" my new review format with my write-up on Transsiberian later this week, and taking part in some blog-a-thons and community blogging series with some of the amazing people who manage the sites listed to the left. Check them out if you haven't before.

Seriously, like right now.

Getafilm has grown in ways that I didn't even know it could a year ago, and let me just say again that you've been as much a part of that as me. Trust me (and I know I speak on behalf of all bloggers when I say this), this would not be anywhere near as enjoyable, and I would not have anywhere near as much motivation to continue doing it, were it not for the fact that I know you are reading and contributing to it as well.

As you can see from my release calendar on the left, we have many movies to watch and think about as Oscar season begins. Obviously, I hope you come you back here frequently and share what scenes, moments, or movies resonated with you. If they differ from mine, well so much the better, and if you'd rather not comment (and the majority of you haven't commented, which is just fine), well I'm glad you're checking in anyway. Just never feel like your comments here are unwelcome or inadequate in some way. I've felt like that at some places, but believe me, I can speak from this side of the computer and say that's a ridiculous thought: if you feel like you have something to say, I'd love to hear it.

Alright, I think I've given you enough to read for today. Time for you to make your way to the nearest theater...
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