August 31, 2010
August 27, 2010
After watching (most of) the trailer for The Social Network in the theater the other day, I was reminded of a recent discussion about it at Living in Cinema in which I wondered aloud why this movie is being made in 2010.
It's not as if there was a recent New York Times-bestseller about the founding of Facebook and David Fincher and Sony Pictures are cashing in on the hype. (Update: I'm an idiot. Apparently there was such a book, "The Accidental Billionaires", written just last year. Has anyone read it?) It's not as if Facebook has changed or significantly evolved in recent years, aside from a growing user base and some negligible dust-ups about privacy. It's not as if Mark Zuckerberg is some megalomaniacal, misunderstood genius that the walls of Harvard just couldn't contain, or that his behavior could be considered anything other than extraordinarily normal for a 26 year-old with $4 billion in his pocket. And it's not as if the story behind Facebook, such as it's publicly known, is any more special than the story behind, say, AOL or Google.
August 26, 2010
The Other Guys is: 1) an unoriginal slapstick laugher in the same vein as most B-grade buddy cop movies from the last decade; 2) a nonetheless distinctively styled film, punctuated by awkward pauses, timely pop culture references, and outrageous yet sacredly delivered dialogue that bears all the hallmarks of an Adam McKay/Will Ferrell production (the best being Anchorman, the worst being Step Brothers); and 3) a comedy with a conscience, complete with a closing credit sequence delivering devastating facts about the financial collapse and the evils of corporate greed. You know, because the bad guy in this movie is a financial swindler of some sort.
August 23, 2010
Watching Restrepo earlier this summer I was reminded of La Sierra, a similarly styled you-are-there war documentary about the deadly urban battles between Colombian paramilitary units and rebel guerrilla factions, which killed more than 30,000 people during the late 90's/early 00's. Within this setting La Sierra plays like a non-fiction version of City of God, which was inspired by true events but never given the documentary treatment (unless you consider parts of Jeff Zimbalist's hopeful Favela Rising; coincidentally Zimbalist also knows a thing or two about Colombia having recently directed the excellent The Two Escobars).
Anyway, I saw La Sierra years ago at a small film festival in San Diego, and it was unforgettable enough for me to name it among the best documentaries of the decade. Revisiting again last week thanks to Netflix (add it now), I was struck by the rich layers it efficiently provides in 84 minutes, as well as its ability to haunt me with dozens of unanswered - and perhaps unanswerable - questions.
Like Restrepo, La Sierra was made by journalists (Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez) who embedded themselves and risked their lives in an extremely dangerous, highly complex political situation. Both films juxtapose disturbing raw combat footage with serene scenes of nature and poignant interviews with jaded fighters. One of the main differences, however, and one that lends a profound sadness to the film's eventual outcomes, is that the interviews in La Sierra all take place in real time, within the period documented by the film. The characters talk a lot about living one day at a time, not being able to plan or even imagine their lives past the next week. Death is ever present, and when it arrives suddenly and violently for one of the film's main subjects you experience a sickening realization that this story was not planned out. There was no script. The camera was simply turned on and life was lived, at least for a while.
August 12, 2010
Fargo (1996). Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, John Carroll Lynch, Peter Stormare, and Harve Presnell.
August 10, 2010
If you've checked out my Reel Life series you know I have a deep interest in relating real-world happenings with on-screen possibilities. As much as I enjoy considering which underreported news stories could blossom into captivating films, though, I also love hearing new updates on particular issues after movies have covered them. Recently I read two articles that related to films from 2009, and what I learned in both instances was surprising and disappointing.
Last spring, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's little-seen baseball drama, Sugar, had what anyone would consider a rather poor public reception. The film received a healthy dose of buzz when it played Sundance back in January 2008, but by the time it landed in theaters last spring (advantageously right at the beginning of baseball season), some kind of moviegoing malaise had descended on American audiences. Oh, wait, nevermind - turns out people were just flocking in record numbers to Fast & Furious, because, you know, you can never see Vin Diesel smirk from behind the wheel of a sports car enough times. And so, while Sugar earned a superb 93% RT/82 Metacritic rating it only grossed a paltry $1.1 million at the worldwide box office.
It was this disappointing show of interest from Americans (wasn't baseball once the national pastime?) that made a recent article I read in TIME all the more frustrating. Sean Gregory wrote a well-balanced piece about the professional baseball industry farmed out of the Dominican Republic ("Baseball Dreams: Striking Out in the Dominican Republic", 7/26/10), but not once did he mention Sugar, which, if you don't know, examines the professional baseball industry farmed out of the Dominican Republic. How is that possible? How do you write an article on this subject for a mass audience without discussing a recently acclaimed film that was shot on location in the very place you're researching your story?
August 5, 2010
It's entirely possible that the first time I ever saw Jack Nicholson was under a thick layer of makeup, as The Joker in Batman. I was a child of the 80's and as such I matured into a movie-goer mostly seeing Nicholson in Batman, and then A Few Good Men, and then a score of poor 90's movies (Mars Attacks!...in the theater). If I didn't at some point go back and view some of his more accomplished films, I might have written the guy off completely. After all, he has little aside from The Departed to speak of in the past decade - unless you're a fan of The Bucket List.
Which is why the young or the ignorant like me should appreciate the Trylon's August series, The Jack Nicholson Experience: 7 from the 70's. It brings us back to what most people would consider Nicholson's heyday, demanding that we respect him for the august actor that he once was. He was nominated for five Oscars during that decade, and you have the chance to see four of those performances in the comfy Trylon rocker seats this month. Even casual movie fans of an adult age have by now likely seen The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Chinatown (not being screened), and maybe even Five Easy Pieces or Easy Rider. But have you seen The King of Marvin Gardens, The Passenger, or The Last Detail? I have not, and for a first-time viewing experience you could do a lot worse than the classic 35mm projection at the Trylon (six of the seven will be projected in their glorious original format).
On the subject of viewing experiences, I can say with confidence that The Shining remains the most terrifying movie my horror-averse eyes have yet seen. Nicholson himself doesn't really make me quiver, but the combination of Kubrick's methodically slow cinematography, creepy twins, and an isolated setting have put me over the edge quite a few times. I'm so scared by this movie that in the half-dozen times that I've seen it I've never been able to watch what happens in Room 237. So if you somehow haven't seen it, consider this a ringing endorsement to enjoy The Shining in the company of 49 others at the Trylon next weekend. God be with you.
The full schedule: