July 28, 2011

Getafilm Gallimaufry: Midnight in Paris, X-Men: First Class, The Tree of Life, Super 8

Midnight in Paris (A)

Having never been to Paris, I've enjoyed exploring the city's iconic setting in various films, from The 400 Blows (which I saw recently for the first time) to Amelie, Band of Outsiders, Ronin, Before Sunset, 2 Days in Paris, and even European Vacation and Ratatouille, to name just a few. I can see why it makes for such an enchanting setting for movies, and Midnight in Paris hit all the right notes for me again. The smells and spells of the city were a terrific complement to a dream-like fantasy story. Owen Wilson played essentially the same version of the same character he's played in every movie from You, Me, and Dupree to Shanghai Knights, and while I wouldn't have expected that character to fit here, it was a near perfect fit for the quirkiness of the narrative. I didn't buy the chemistry between his character and Marion Cotillard's, but then Midnight in Paris is not a love story between characters but between a director, a city, and his cultural and literary influences. I like that Woody Allen doesn't go to really any length to explain why particular characters are where they are, when they are. The charm of this movie is easy to succumb to, and that it's Allen's highest-grossing film to date speaks to the appeal for mature, original, simple cinema in the midst of the year-round blockbuster bonanza.

X Men: First Class (B+)

Here's a movie for which I couldn't explain my interest ahead of time, other than that some aspect of the original X-Men movie and the story has always intrigued me. It involves the fact that this series is set in the real world and involves real people and places, unlike Batman, for example (why the endless fawning over and praise of that story, I still don't know). You could say Watchmen is also set in the real world, and while those graphic novels may well be interesting (I haven't read them and hated the movie), I still find X-Men to be among the most socially relevant comic book series around. Mutants are, of course, a metaphor for any marginalized minority group in history, which makes the films both relatable and actually much more emotional than Spider-Man or, good grief, The Green Hornet. Lending to the realism in this latest film is the excellent acting from Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence. Casting seasoned dramatic actors in comic book movie doesn't always work (Ed Norton as The Incredible Hulk?), but it definitely did in First Class, and if the cast stays on for the next installment, I'll follow along as well.

The Tree of Life (B+)

Up until a few years ago, I had no idea Terrence Malick was so revered by 25-40 year old male movie buffs. Among my peers in the blogging world, Malick's The New World was far and away considered the best film of the last decade. I remember quite well seeing it in the theater and shrugging my shoulders on the way out, so the devout praise for the film has always escaped me. Not baffled me, because I didn't think it was bad, but escaped me, because...I don't know, maybe I just didn't get it, or know what I should have been watching for, or have enough patience and thought to consider its deeper meanings. I never did give it a second watch, but needless to say the hype around that film made me quite anxious to have a third shot at understanding Malick (I'd previously seen The Thin Red Line). My verdict on The Tree of Life? A visually captivating and ambitious meditation on the meaning of life and nature of family, but a somewhat emotionally dull one at that. Really the only emotion I felt, other than an utter sense of awe at the cinematography and visual effects, was an unnerving fear. Brad Pitt's character was terrifying and his presence was palpable even when he wasn't on screen - maybe that was the point (Sean Penn, meanwhile, seemed absent even when he was on screen). The father-son relationship is one of about a million things that Malick lays out for interpretation and analysis. Over the next few years, as that is sure to play out again online, at least I won't be as confused. And besides, I'd much rather people spend years discussing a film like The Tree of Life than a film like The Dark Knight. (That's two digs now at TDK, if you're keeping score at home.)

Super 8 (C+)

When is a remake not actually a remake? When everything about the new movie is identical to a previous movie, other than a few plot devices. Of course we know by now that Super 8 is J.J. Abrams' homage to the films of Steven Spielberg, but instead of being merely influenced by Spielberg's films (E.T. being the easiest comparison), Super 8 plays like a lesser version of one. Sillier dialogue, a plodding pace, and hardly a speck of originality (to say nothing of logical gaps - how did the camera and the car and the kamikaze teacher come out of the train crash essentially unscathed?). Watching Super 8, I felt like I'd seen it before: the rowdy dining room table, the same-looking alien with the same-sounding guttural growls and high-pitched chirps, the placid suburban neighborhood predictably thrown into chaos. Of course I realize that this criticism, besides making me come off as a total grouch, can also be applied to countless movies. Filmmakers are influenced by filmmakers throughout history, and I expect my issues with Super 8, rather than being based on the movie's own merit, actually just stem from my nostalgia for "the real thing" - Spielberg's films.

July 11, 2011

"Location: MN" - This Weekend @ the Walker

For better or worse, the most iconic Minnesota movie scene that ever was.

If there is anything Minnesotans love more than Minnesota (a big "if"), it's movies about Minnesota. Movies that show us who we really are (Fargo), who we really aren't (Fargo), and who we desperately fear the rest of the world thinks we are (Fargo). That fear being unsubstantiated, of course, because the rest of the world pays no attention to us in the first place (perhaps the greatest horror of all). I digress.

It ain't Hollywood by any stretch of the imagination, but a number of excellent films have been written, produced, and filmed here, and this weekend's showcase at the Walker Art Center, Location: MN, is a rare opportunity to go out and explore the state by going in to a dark and comfortably air conditioned theater. Keep in mind these are only movies filmed in Minnesota, not movies written by Minnesotans (Gran Torino), or written by "Minnesotans" (Juno), or set in Minnesota but filmed elsewhere (Juno, again).

Despite this filtering of the list, there are a handful of movies whose exclusion I find curious, even if somewhat obvious considering the artistic reputation the Walker needs to uphold. I mean, it would be audacious to justify including The Mighty Ducks, or Jingle All the Way, or Grumpy (and Grumpier) Old Men, or Drop Dead Gorgeous, or New in Town, or Little Big League. (Actually a bizarro series featuring those films and others could do decent business here, but the Walker isn't the likely setting for it.)

But what about more acclaimed films like North Country, Untamed Heart, A Prairie Home Companion (my allergy to Garrison Keillor notwithstanding), or A Serious Man? Or what about some of the little indie films that didn't make big splashes but still floated out beyond the local festival circuit, like Into Temptation or Stuck Between Stations?

And, most importantly, what about my favorite - and the most culturally accurate - Minnesota movie of all time: Aurora Borealis (add it)?

Related Posts with Thumbnails