Monday, July 27, 2009

Everything is Illuminated

Searching for one’s past, one’s roots is one of those themes that never grows old because there are so many people, so many pasts, so very many roots.

Traveling with Jonathan as he searched for the story behind a simple photograph is thrilling in a quiet and so very controlled way. Especially made so because the land of his adventure is not a new, unexplored land but an old land, a used-up-for-the-most-part land that is as mysterious as one never settled. The land is a mystery because it is so different from America but also because it has been closed to the West for so long and only now slowly opening. And as it slowly opens, Jonathan enters with a guide his age traveling with his grandfather.

There are so many searchers here, both intentional and accidental. By the end of the film there is exploration and discovery all over as so many circles are dawn together. Revelations all over. I guess everything is illuminated.

And because it is simply a fine story with rich characters in a unique is a really fine film that flows with ease and depth.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Face in the Crowd

When the list is made of most versatile actors, Andy Griffin is going to be there. For anyone who only knows him as Sheriff Andy Taylor in the nearly 250 episodes of The Andy Griffin Show, seeing him in No Time For Sergeants might not be a stretch. He seems more like one of the residents from the hills outside Mayberry than the Sheriff. But as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd, he is the drifter who would have passed through the small town, stolen all the girlfriends, and had all the businesses willingly empty their cash registers for him. Even though just a face in the crowd, he knew how to make his way, to seize the day, to make every moment count for him.

Not an admirable character by any measure, Lonesome’s insight into pop culture is astonishing. Or perhaps not. Each age (and ages are getting shorter and shorter) believe it is the first one to be run-over by mass media and its ability to get so many thinking the same way so fast. What people do today on YouTube, Lonesome did on radio and then television.

Again, a fine story, great cast, unusual setting all in the hands of Kazan makes for a great film.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Face in the Crowd

When watching a movie someone suggests to me, I try not to read the synopsis of the film. Partly because sometimes those give away key parts to the plot, but mainly because I know there is a reason that this person wants me to watch it, and reading the synopsis won't help in my movie viewing. In fact, I love going into a movie as blindly as possible.

With A Face in the Crowd, I did just that. I read the netflix sleeve to the point where it says "...proves that celebrity isn't all it's cracked up to be," and stopped. I wanted it to be a surprise. So in my head I imagined a film noir, gritty drama type movie, because that is what Pablo had been picking and that is what Kazan's last film I saw was like. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it seemed like a light-hearted romcom with Andy Griffith.

Only, it wasn't a romantic comedy, and it certainly wasn't light-hearted. The movie reminded me of Network, in the sense that it concerned power and greed in the television (and radio) life. Andy Griffith had a side to him I had never seen, and personally, didn't want to see. He was terrifying and awful, and yet you sympathized for him because he obviously had had a hard life. 

By the end of the movie, though, Walter Matthau had come out of nowhere and suddenly there he was, with the climatic monologue telling Lonesome Rhodes about his future, and that it probably wouldn't be good. Part of me thought it would end in LR's suicide, and yet it left us hanging, as great movies sometimes need to do. Because, after all, aren't movies supposed to be just snippets of life? And doesn't life go on, long after the movie ends? Sometimes, we don't need to know how everyone's lives turned out. We were able to just view a small portion, when all three of those lives collided, and we are satisfied with the fact that after the movie ended, all three of the lives continued to go on living.

Hot Fuzz

I seldom laugh repeatedly through a movie, but Hot Fuzz reached me about half way through. The early chuckles stirred by interesting characters in a clever setting grew into full blown laughs when the action part of this action film began.

The juxtaposition of action and setting was brilliant. Those huge guns in such a quaint village being wielded by quaint village people was so absurd. But the action scenes were executed as good as any in a straightforward action film. No letting a cheap imitation pass for good action. This was gun’s a’ blazing first class action.

And while the Sandford villagers’ objective to remain the “model English village” seems a little over the top given the violence used to retain the title, it really isn’t when you realize that all conflicts, in one way or another, is about maintaining a way of life.

The team of Simon Pegg (writer, actor), Nick Frost (actor) and Edger Wright (writer, director) did what they did in Shaun of the Dead...remarkably entertaining story with a seemingly most incongruous plot, setting, action, characters.

Really made me laugh.

Hot Fuzz

Shaun of the Dead was one of those movies that I constantly heard about, but didn't see until a few years after it was released. So many people praised it, and after I saw it I swore that I wouldn't put off seeing another one of these guys' films again.

So, when Hot Fuzz was released, I saw it in theaters. And loved it almost as much as Shaun of the Dead. By the time it was released on DVD, I had seen it a few times and loved it a little more every time.

This movie is one that requires multiple viewings. The foreshadowing is brilliant, and is so densely hidden into the plot and dialogue that it seems almost silly when you notice it later in the film. For example, I noticed on the second viewing that every single thing Danny asks Nicholas if he'd "done" while being a cop, Danny and Nicholas later do in the final shoot-out.

The jump cuts and editing in this film are also incredibly entertaining and pleasing to me. I am always a fan of editing that you can tell was worked diligently on, instead of just cutting every time the camera moves. Instead of showing people driving to a certain place, the jump cuts show people getting into a car, the car braking, people getting out. It seems more fast-paced (which is especially needed in a movie such as this, which is all about murder and the law) and it cuts out an unnecessary driving scene.

While some people may write this movie off as a silly action flick, it is instead a deeply intelligent work of comedic and artistic genius.

On the Waterfront

I know nothing of Elia Kazan except his work and this is all I need to know. More than once I have started watching a movie not realizing it was his, but was drawn into the story told through the film and the look and the feel of the film. It hardly gets better than On the Waterfront.

All the elements come together and Kazan, sitting as a weaver at the loom, pulls the separate threads of actors and script, setting and lighting, camera work and set decoration into one fine story.

Seeing it just days after the death of Karl Malden made each time he was on the screen something of a tribute to him. This is what he did so well...hold the moral compass, be the one who will do right or be the catalyst for another doing right.

And Brando’s Terry is the character reeling from the torment between head and heart, a guy who just wants to be a player in his own life but is caught in a place and a time manipulated by others.

There are films I like because of a certain elements; I like this one because all the elements are certain.

On the Waterfront

There are typical ideas of "men": usually older movie stars when they were younger, usually working class, usually troubled, and almost always hot-headed and masculine. Marlon Brando is a very classic example of this, perfectly executed in On the Waterfront.

Unlike his character in A Streetcar Named Desire, where he is incredibly manly but also incredibly antagonisty, in On the Waterfront he is a guy to root for. You don't know much about his life--where his parents are, how old he is, how he grew up, even what town he currently lives in--but you can infer what kind of life he led and leads. He works a dead end, dangerous job. He also works as a lackey for the union at said job. He once aided in killing a man, without realizing it.

And yet, women, both fictional and real, are drawn to him. Maybe it is because he is a sensitive and tortured soul, forced to grow up hard and tough, because that is the life he was born into. Characters like this are always intriguing, because they have become cliche. But when Brando plays it, it isn't cliche. It is true and you can tell that Brando is killing himself in this role. That is what makes this movie so memorable.

It doesn't hurt that Elia Kazan directed it and the plot is killer and the supporting cast is fantastic.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Jeux d'enfants

It is so “un” film-cool to prefer dubbing to sub-titles, and I am not that un-cool. I need the character’s voice to look like the character sounds, and vice versa. But I do not like subtitles and so often (always) choose not to watch a film with subtitles. Reason is simple...I cannot read text along the bottom of the screen and see all that is on the screen at the same time. I know the director and the cinematographer, crafted the shot...and I want to see it all...but I can’t while I read. If an actor makes the slightest eye roll that proves he’s lying, I missed it because I was reading.

Ok, so having said that, Jeux d'enfants was challenged with a bit (bit?) of prejudice from me from the start. None the less, I let its primary colors and near cartoonish (I mean that in the nice way) action carry me along. There is a type of film technique that when used draws attention to the fact that you are watching a film, not just eavesdropping on someone’s life. This film did that. I am inclined more to fourth-wall-cinema.

Initially drawn to Julien because of his defense of Sophie, I grew to like the two of them less because their “game” was always at the expense of another...the other’s clothes, garden, pet, wedding reception...whatever. Then as they grew up, the “game” was at the expense of the other, not another, but on each other with longer periods of time between episodes coinciding with the escalading of pranks. Finally, the only way they can be happy together forever is to become incapable of any more pranks, but in each other’s arms.

I see all the charm and cleverness and technique, and offer respect to them as well.

Jeux d'enfants

Max (brother) and I first watched this movie on IFC one day, randomly stumbled upon it. I was completely transfixed on the colors and the whimsical nature (shoot me for saying that, please). The story line, also, was something that intrigued me. I could never imagine having someone dare me to do something. But of course, these people were not like me.

Each of these characters feel as though they have some sort of vendetta against the world. Julian's mother was taken from him while he was so young, and Sophie's parents were literally nonexistent in the movie. They found solace in each other and their ability to make each other laugh. Unfortunately, it was usually at the expense of another person.

As their dares got bigger and more ridiculous, you are torn between cheering for them and feeling bad for the rest of the world. By the end of the movie, I felt relieved that the two characters could spend eternity together, literally entwined in each others' arms, but felt awful that they had to leave behind their two spouses.

I leave this movie feeling confused, but still in a daze at the visual aspect of it, and the characters. Saints they are not, but they sure are interesting to watch.

Midnight Cowboy

Not the happiest movie in the world, but maybe one of the sweetest. A buddy flick with the least appealing characters ever, but maybe among the most admirable. There’s the longing for the road and the rainbow at the end, initially NYCity, then Florida. There’s the sacrifice of one buddy’s fulfilling dream for the other's dream of survival. There’s innocence and experience. There’s realization and there’s enlightenment.

And there’s Voight and Hoffman.

It was the twelfth actor-listing for Voight in IMDB...sixty-two more followed. For Hoffman it was his thirteenth...and then another fifty-two credits. Such a body of work these two guys have created since then; such a pleasure to see them work so well so early.

Memorable characters that live in lit like Huck n' Tom and Dean n' Sal.

Midnight Cowboy

Movies these days are really getting a kick out of the "buddy" mentality. Or, more recently, the idea of a "bromance." Obviously, this only applies to two or more men. 

But way back in 1969, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman had perfected the bromance, especially the idea of two men coming from different backgrounds, forming a friendship that can last through anything, and is stronger than either had imagined. It popped up out of nowhere, and neither regretted it.

I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Dustin Hoffman the more I watch him. He is able to slip in and out of characters so completely, when you watch him you don't think "Oh, it's Dustin Hoffman playing a New York bum," but "My goodness, of course it's Ratso. I mean Rizzo."

Neither of these characters have a life you want to lead. I can't imagine moving to New York to be a "hustler," nor can I imagine living in the slums of the city. But these are characters you root for. They are the epitome of characters you root for. From the beginning, Rizzo talks about Florida, and from the beginning you are begging that he can make it down there.

I haven't seen Jon Voight in many movies, but I can safely say that just from this movie it is obvious that these two actors are diamonds in the rough that is (and was) Hollywood.