Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lincoln (2012)

Watched this in the afternoon, thinking I could use a good nap.  Ended up not being nearly as stodgy as I feared.  What could've been a corny and dry history lesson is turned into a political potboiler thanks to Tony Kushner's script.  There is corn, mostly provided by Spielberg's staging and John William's score full of pomp and majesty (lots of distant horns on the soundtrack).  But Kushner's script, which avoids white-washing and canonizing, keeps the director in check.  Daniel Day-Lewis gives a ghostly performance (he sounds eerily like Walter Brennan), but most of the all-star cast does what they can to humanize bewigged and pantaloon-clad daguerreotypes.  What comes through loud and clear is that the back-room deal bullshit that goes on in Washington was always there, and that sticking to your principles in that town will one way or another eventually kill you.  Change the names and shave off the muttonchops and this could've been set in present day.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Haven't we had enough of this?  Haven't we had enough of these flashy Tarantino rip-offs?  Hit men delivering eloquent monologues (why don't they just shut up already?), slow motion bullets, soundtrack laden with seventies pop tunes, multiple story lines converging clumsily...it's all here, and it's all been done before and much better.  While not as shitty as a Michael Ritchie caper, this occupies the same litter box.  Writer/director Andrew Dominik makes a film that a fourteen-year-old boy with no friends and raised on video games might find brilliant.  Bottom of the barrel.

Price Check (2012)

Comedy about a new boss (Parker Posey) who swoops into an underperforming division and takes the film's protagonist (Eric Mabius) under her wing and makes him over from drone to executive.  Posey is hardly credible as an executive, but is funny nonetheless.  Writer/director Michael Walker effectively captures the fake enthusiasm and forced camaraderie inflicted on office workers by bosses making more than double their salaries, and what an unfulfilling job can do to someone's psyche.  The trouble is Walker doesn't seem to know where to go from there.  Somewhere near the end, the film has a jarring jump to "Six Months Later" during which it appears many things happened.  These are not shown, explained, or accounted for...it reeks of lazy writing.  It goes beyond not knowing how to end a story, it seems like everyone just got sick of filming and wanted to go home.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Skyfall (2012)

The latest James Bond starts off with a signature, pre-credits action sequence (the best sequence in the film) then gives us a rather busy (visually) credit sequence with a limp Adele song, which made me long for the John Barry/Maurice Binder days.  This is a fine movie.  Just fine.  My problem is the film isn't fun, except when Javier Bardem is on screen, and the whole film has a gloomy pall hanging over it.  There's only one, all-too-brief Bond girl (who is quickly disposed of in a rather vivid manner...he doesn't even end up in bed with her) and hardly any exotic locales:  There is one scene in the streets of Istanbul, and a skyline shot of Hong Kong, and that's it...most of the movie takes place in an underground bunker.  Daniel Craig may be the closest to Ian Fleming's conception of the character than any of the other actors that have played him, but the films have taken on their own identity apart from the books, and a little glee and panache would've lightened the grim mood.  He has maybe thirty lines in the entire film, and never changes his facial expression, no acting required, his haunted blue eyes providing the required screen magnetism (if any).  Most of the acting is provided by Bardem, who's obviously having a ball, the best Bond villain in years.  Spoiler Alert.  The film seems in limbo, tearing down the franchise's legacy while supposedly celebrating it.  M is murdered and the famous Aston-Martin is symbolically blown to smithereens, while the character of Moneypenny is reintroduced and we visit Bond's childhood home...in Scotland (a reference to Connery, I'm guessing).  Though I'm not proposing reinstating the days of Roger Moore's eye-rolling, James Bond is taking himself way too seriously.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Room 237 (2012)

Documentary by Rodney Ascher about the supposed hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.  This has audio interviews with the films enthusiasts while clips from the film are shown, sometimes frame by frame.  Now, Kubrick, for me, is not someone I worship.  To me, he produced two masterpieces: Dr. Strangelove and The Shining.  The Shining is an endlessly fascinating film and to my mind Kubrick's greatest achievement, so I was excited to have some of the film's secrets revealed to me.  To my disappointment, these theories are presented as a joke, and the interview subjects (some of whom are serious scholars) come off as crackpots.

For instance, in a scene between Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, a chair behind Nicholson disappears.  The narrators read a lot into this.  Knowing what I know about Kubrick, the real reason is that the scene is composed of two shots filmed a fucking year apart!  A simple continuity error.  If Kubrick wanted to give us a sense of unease, he'd already gone further by making the geography of the hotel completely nonsensical (elevator shafts that weren't there before, windows placed in impossible locations), I don't think he'd simply remove a chair, something that might be perceived as a mistake.

Some theories ring true, like the genocide of Native Americans, something even a casual viewer of the film would pick up.  In the opening scenes, the manager states the hotel is built on an Indian burial ground and that many Indians had to be "fought off" during its construction (this gives heft to the stunning image of blood gushing from the elevator doors...don't take that elevator to the basement, lots of Indian blood down there!).  Also, the Jack Torrence character as a minotaur (the monster of the hotel and hedge maze, plus Kubrick's first production company was called "Minotaur").

Through most of the film, Danny's gift aside, the set-up is that this was all in Jack's mind (whenever he sees a ghost, he's looking in a mirror, therefore he's talking to himself). Then near the end, Kubrick has that chilling scene when you hear the latch of the storage room door being opened from the other side by Grady.  This completely shifts the implications that the sinister hotel and its ghostly inhabitants are at work.  The one thing the narrators cannot explain (or agree on) is Jack Torrence's presence in the photograph in the final shot, dated "July 4, 1921" (who, or what, was he?).

Directors like Kubrick, or even David Lynch, who leave things vague or open to interpretation never own up to these theories, why would they?  The thing I took away from this is the folly of overanalyzing films.  It's enough to make you as crazy as Jack Torrence.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Argo (2012)

Last year's Best Picture winner, directed by and starring Ben Affleck.  Affleck the actor gives a downright cloudy performance, as if his mind were on something else...my guess is he's unable to pat his head and rub his tummy at the same time.  Affleck the director fares slightly better, assembling a great cast (particularly Brian Cranston and Alan Arkin) and just playing the action without showing off too much (although he does slip in a beefcake shot of himself).  I suppose he should've been nominated.  Perhaps the Academy still has nightmares that they gave Kevin Costner an Oscar for Dances With Wolves?  A good, solid movie.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Sessions (2012)

A 38 year old paraplegic is tired of being a virgin and looks for sex by means of sexual surrogate Helen Hunt.  This reeked of Oscar bait (the two lead characters are a disabled guy and a prostitute with a heart of gold!).  I went into this wanting to hate it...once it was under way, the nonchalant approach and good acting made me want to love it...neither happened.  A nice movie where most of the good stuff comes not from the script but from the actors trying to inject truth into the proceedings.  Once again Helen Hunt struggles with an accent and it comes off as inauthentic (this time it's a Boston accent, about as convincing and tenuous as her Brooklyn accent in As Good As It Gets).  Her vagina's holding up nicely (you see it often, it's practically a supporting character).  Much better than her face, she looks as if she sleeps in a dehydrator.  Also starring John Hawkes, Moon Bloodgood, and William H. Macy (who looks like he shares that dehydrator).

Monday, April 8, 2013

'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris (2007)

Routine documentary about Jackie Paris, one of the most criminally overlooked singers of the twentieth century.  He was (and is) known as a "singer's singer", which basically translates as "unpopular with the public".  Among his ardent fans were Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn (who went to bed with him), Charles Mingus (who didn't), Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk...Paris was the first to record the Monk classic "Round Midnight".   Paris turns out to be a rather dull Italian guy, who never drank or smoked, and never got his big break.  His voice (I've been a fan since stumbling across his remarkable recording of "Detour Ahead" a dozen years ago) is sometimes shaky and gravelly, but like other great singers who have an imperfect voice (Billie Holliday, Anita O'Day) it's intimate and unique and an emotional experience to listen to.  Sounding like no one else can work for you or against you, and the latter seems to have happened with him.  The film reveals very little about the man, you'd do better to purchase his lp "Skylark" (he recorded only four albums in his prime, and just another two after his voice went).  There are larger mysteries, but just listen to this man's voice and try to fathom why he never made it big... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsuNH5pqFLQ

Holy Motors (2012)

For the life of me, I could not begin to explain what the fuck this movie is about.  Perhaps director Leos Carax likes making his audience feel stupid?  The only other film of his I've seen is the hysterical (in the bad sense) and pretentious Pola X.  I should've known this would be an arty ordeal.  Is this film about divine providence?  About fate?  About identity?  About the nature of acting?  About movies?  About an hour too long?   Carax once again attempts to grasp at some universal truth and instead produces a fistful of hot air.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Late Quartet (2012)

Christopher Walken, Katherine Keener, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Mark Ivanir star as a renowned string quartet about to embark on their twenty-fifth season, when the group's cellist (Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.

The egos of creative types is a subject matter that can grow rather tiresome.  All the infighting and history of the group comes off as nothing more than a classical music version of Fleetwood Mac.  Oddly low-key and overdramatic at the same time, this has good performances from the four (however, none of them even bother to look like they're actually playing their instruments) and a scene here and there that works.