Filmaday’s Weblog
A New Review Every Day!

Sep
19

Before Alejandro González Iñárritu did Babel (2006) and 21 Grams, (2003) he showed us a style that has become a mainstay in the Best Picture category.  Amores Perros came before Traffic, and four years later Crash took away the glory of his unique style.  Translated, it means “Life’s a Bitch” in Spanish.  It’s a clever double entendre, referencing the horrific events revolving around a car crash, and the dogs that permeate every scene.

Gael García Bernal stars as Octavio, one of three dramatic leads.  Ambitious projects like this are the reason he is one of my favorite under appreciated actors.  Octavio is broke, and caught up vying for the love of his brother’s wife.  Iñárritu presents a complex situation, that begets only more complexity.  It’s in this way that I believe he’s discovered a new look at tragedy.  Before the ensemble drama (Traffic, Babel, Crash) became main stream, he created a web of fate I believe new to cinema.  We take one event or theme, and apply it to many different characters sharing the same setting.  Paul Haggis literally stole the car crash of Amores Perros and fittingly applied it to the isolation of Los Angeles.  I can’t think of a movie before Amores Perros (2000) that accomplished this task.  Please, feel free to correct me if you have an older example.

After the car crash, things slow down dramatically.  Yes this movie is a real drama with real emotion.  If you want the high paced action you saw in the first five minutes, you’ll just have to keep rewinding.

Though slow, there is something very thick in Iñárritu’s camera.  He understands irony.  He takes the beautiful and makes it ugly.  Going so far as to make the wonderful happiness of life sad and disturbing.  “Life’s A Bitch” ends up having multiple meanings when we consider the plight of Octavio’s dog.

For those dog lovers out there, prepare to see many dead ones.  Dogfighting serves as a metaphor for our ill fated lives.  Octavio’s romantic dreams are directly contrasted with the fighting his dog does to make them tangible.  Money, the most evil thing in our universe, becomes his tempting muse.

One of the beautiful things I noticed about the film was the colors.  The setting is Guadalajara, Mexico, a majestic yet crime ridden metropolis.  Iñárritu has clearly read his Othello, because many of the scenes containing jealousy are twinged with green.  Iago’s words started spurning their evil head in my mind and I realized the strangeness of the plot.  Octavio doesn’t like his brother Ramiro, but loves his wife.  Though we empathize with Octavio’s sensibilities and playfulness, he is a helping hand in adultery.  This is precisely the type of complexity that allows Octavio’s character depth.  He’s both good and bad at the same time.  His name starting with an “O” is probably a complete coincidence, but his jealousy and the green film tint are certainly the work of a brilliant director.

My critique of this film is in the pacing.  I love every character for their real portrayal, but became jaded by the expectation of sadness.  Slow moving at times, Iñárritu wants us to feel solitude.  A risky move considering I am part of 5 second attention span generation.

It’s hard to watch movies like this, and that’s why it’s so important.  If we only watch the light hearted, happy ending blockbusters, we lose a part of cinema that questions the human condition.

Sep
18

Oy Vey. The last time Robert De Niro and Al Pacino shared the same film reel was Michael Mann’s Heat. It wasn’t a great movie. Most of the world expected a heavy weight showdown worthy of Ali and Frazier. What we got was De La Hoya post greatness. I can’t believe Righteous Kill was their next meeting. This movie is boring. But what did we expect? The main characters names are Turk (De Niro) Rooster (Pacino) and Spider (50 Cent). Is this a hoe down? Perhaps writer Russell Gewirtz of Inside Man and soon-to-be writ Inside Man 2 was actually hoping for a hit.

Well of course he was, but he was sorely mistaken. Curtis Jackson is actually a decent actor when he is playing himself. In Get Rich or Die Tryin’ I liked and believed his character’s struggle. It wasn’t biographical but it worked, he was a hustler turned rapper. Pacino and De Niro have fallen so sharply they depend on a rap icon to provide a lot of the movies “draw audience”.

The film starts with a voiceover (unless you are American Beauty or Shawshank Redemption, you don’t deserve the V.O.) of De Niro admitting that he killed 14 people. He’s also a cop. Immediately we’re presented with a paradox. The cop as the hunted, not the hunter. Sounds promising right? We are even treated to an interesting title sequence where Scarface and Jake La Motta fire rounds at a shooting range. I dig it. Gewirtz is reminding us how cool these guys are. The rest of the film follows the “fall out” (remember there is a temporal lapse, Turk is admitting he’s killed these people) of the people he murders. He also happens to be a good bad guy (again, uninteresting because he’s not fallible) because he kills people who have raped, killed, and gotten free. Thus far the movie sounds decent, but things take a turn when Al and Bob start acting. I can’t believe I’m typing this but they have no chemistry.

I’m 100% serious when I say the biggest problem of this movie aside from the plot is the chemistry of two Oscar winning greats who have single handedly provided roles any man recognizes as cool. They just don’t work as a duo. Pacino tries his best to back up leading man De Niro, but the Bull can’t play anything but the Bull. He’s a completely inaccessible, under directed actor on screen. I’m not sure who’s fault it is, but characters need to be our link to the world of the movie. Otherwise everything falls flat.

There is a “twist” in this movie that is actually pretty decent. I didn’t see it coming because I was bored out of my mind with exposition and predictable dialogue. John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg make short stints, but provide nothing memorable other than plot devices. They help escalate the chase on De Niro.

Advice? Skip it completely. The only thing this movie can promise you is a lower opinion of two pass their prime actors.

***I realize a lot of this review can be seen as excessively harsh. It’s because I expect GREAT things from both of these men. Al Pacino can STILL act, he’s done so in The Recruit and Any Given Sunday. Hell, De Niro to me was the only believable part of Meet the (Parents) Fockers. He grounded the movie amidst absurd ism. Let’s get these guys real roles, not fleeting memories of who they used to play.

Sep
16

Glad to be back. One of the wonderful perks of going to Sundance is the unveiling of the indies to the large market. From the preview, Bottle Shock looks like a “must-see”. The trailer had high production value, a few laughs and a patriotic subject, US beating the French.
I wanted to like this movie and did. But the first half’s failures made the second half merely bearable. It’s a shame. I can tell you the biggest problem this and many other movies consistantly run into; I don’t feel for the characters.

As charming as the story’s subject is, I don’t identify or feel drawn to any of the heads on screen. We are introduced to too many, then spend too little time waiting for the big judgment.
Alan Rickman plays a snobby Brit (a reach for even his talent) captivated and dedicated to preserving the French “Invincible Vine”. Cut to the Barrett winery. Snuggled deep in wine country Bill Pullman (played the president in Independence Day) is the owner of Chateau Montelena.

Now all of the events this movie is based upon are true. In 1976 “The Judgment of Paris” occurred when a Brit named Steven Spurrier (not the football god) faced Cali vs. The French in a blind taste test. Guess who won. The movie loves to play upon the “trueness” of the events. It becomes too much. We are painstakingly introduced to each judge even though none of the audience will know one French puff from the next. Apparently these people were really there, but who cares! Randall Miller writes and directs well. Then he writes and directs poorly. It is a tale of two movies, and sadly, I don’t feel that the ending redeemed the crappy love story that is inserted into every movie regardless of truth. If it’s about the wine, SHOW US the wine.

Rachael Taylor plays the hottest intern known to man. Seriously, I checked. I can’t imagine this part of the story actually happened, it’s just there to fill up 20 minutes of a plot everyone knows going into the movie. She has a quasi romance with BOTH Freddy Rodriguez and Chris Pine. Apparently she’s the horniest intern known to man as well. I’m at a loss as to why this still works. The “love story” that we’ve seen so many times is with people who are just pretty. It’s not like there is real tension, it’s just make believe right? Why put the rat in the maze? They aren’t endearing, they don’t do anything other than look good on a 50 foot screen. Let’s smarten up, and write some better stories.

Most of the movie I was wearing my newly bought production hat. You see when you attend film school and listen to 3 hour lectures about sound design, you are bound to learn something. I become amazed at production value. There are some gorgeous helicopter shots in this movie that sweep the hills and valleys of Napa. He nails the aesthetics, even the music will make your skin tingle.

Verdict? Wait for video.

Aug
17

Before we get to the shenanigans that formed Tropic Thunder, I’d like to take a second to talk about the state of the blog…again.  In case you hadn’t noticed already, and if you haven’t, shame on you, this is not Jesse.  Hi, I’m Dave, nice to meet all of you.  I’ve been a friend of Jesse (JJ as he’s known to me), since the first day of second grade when he confidently announced that he was glad I was there, because I could be the fat kid in class now.  As for why I am currently introducing myself, its not because I like to take over random blogs; Jesse has decided to leave the blog in my hands while he gets settled in LA.  You might have read my previous guest reviews of Mongol or Revolver, (and if you haven’t, you should…pure gold) but hopefully I can bring my unique voice to all five readers of this blog (Hi Mom, Dad, Bro, Jesse, and Random Guy from Nebraska!)  I plan to give you a review each and every day whenever possible, not only the best new movies, but maybe some you can rush out and rent yourself!  I hope you enjoy my stint here as much as I will, and I look forward to some interesting reviews and comments! On to Tropic Thunder…

If you know nothing else about Tropic Thunder, know that Robert Downey Jr. is in black face the entire movie and you’ll never laugh harder.  Now before you start crucifying me on my first review, go see the movie first, and then come back and tell me it’s not funny.  I’d bet not a single person who actually sees this movie doesn’t come away laughing at the performance, not because he’s in black-face, but because its so delightfully meta.  Downey Jr., an admitted method actor himself, plays a method actor who goes so far into his role that he becomes black even when he knows he’s no longer in the movie.  While it seems difficult to understand at first, watching the movie provides the first mainstreaming of the meta-humor that has become so popular on the indie scene the last few years.  The entire movie riffs on the meta-humor; complete with extra ‘previews’ before the movie for the fake movies of the actors being portrayed in the movie (got all that?).  The nods to Hollywood, and the problems associated with making a movie, are just done so well and seamlessly that the normally highbrow meta-humor is just so easy the entire theater erupts in laughter.

Besides Downey Jr., Ben Stiller and Jack Black round out the big three of the movie (Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise make cameos as well, which I wont spoil for you).  You’d think with all that firepower the load wouldn’t rest on Downey Jr., but it does.  In another meta-reference, Black plays a comedian who has been completely typecast into fart joke roles, much as Black himself has been typecast into his own, loud, repetitive character.  Stiller, back in the director’s chair after Zoolander and The Cable Guy, is only mediocre in his role as a washed up action star but excels in getting the most out of the rest of the cast, himself and Black excluded.  Poor execution dooms these two characters, but with Downey Jr. and the rest of the supporting cast providing such strong performances, I didn’t mind it in the least.  I have to say, if you have an extra 10 bucks lying around, you need to go see this movie, if just to say you saw and believed Robert Downey Jr. as a black man.  I look forward to your continued readership and exploring the great and awful movies that are on the horizon!

Jul
16

What was supposed to be a summer of leisure has become an endless amount of tasks pre film school.  One thing I have not done is stop watching movies.  Though the state of the blog might argue with me, I’ve been out and about.  My friend Dave and I went to see Mongol on night when neither of us had much to do.  It turned out to be a great idea.   With his keyboard in the full upright position Dave brings us to the land of Mongolia, to meet the greatest conqueror of all time.

In the heat of the summer, popcorn movies seem to dominate the box-office and movie consciousness. Don’t get me wrong, as we’ve discussed previously in this blog, popcorn movies have their place in the movie cycle, and serve as the revenue generators for the smaller prestige pictures. Howeve it’s sometimes difficult during these summer months to find a film worth spending 10 bucks on when your choices are between Meet Dave and Mamma Mia. Yet, as summer movies go, Mongol bucks the trend in a highly inventive and refreshing way.

Seasoned Russian director Sergei Bodrov helmed and co-wrote this historical epic about the rise of the man would become Genghis Khan. Beginning as a 10-year-old dealing with the realities of his father’s murder, the plot follows Tenmudjin through his abusive childhood, imprisonment, and surprisingly his love and family life. The story itself is a bit laborious at points, clocking in at just over 2 hours, but to expect less from a historical epic is to leave too much out. While the historical epic has been around since the founding of motion pictures, Bodrov creates a new sub-genre, adding a post-modern humanity to the epic. Replacing much the typical two hours of battles and planning, which still exist in all their sword-swinging blood-spurting glory, is the story of a man and his daily trials. As much as I love action, this new take was a far superior story yet still delivered enough gore to play well even in the summer months.

As much as has been made of the story, the real gem in this film was its breathtaking cinematography. It has been a long time since I’ve openly gasped in the movie theater, but I lost count of how many times Bodrov and his cinematographer left me stunned by the immense beauty of the steppe in Mongolia and Kazakhstan (ditto – Jesse). This is just a movie that could not have been shot anywhere else and the landscape was as much a character as any one of the actors. The wide plains of the steppe accurately reveal a part of the mongol psyche in a way that no sound stage or stand-in location ever could. Bodrov’s innovative first-person camera angles help to keep the focus on the individual, but it cannot be understated the experience you will have going to this movie. After doing a little research online afterwards it turns out that Mongol is only part one of three in the life of Genghis Kahn that Bodrov plans to direct, and I eagerly look forward to the next two.

On an unrelated note: In a theater with two other groups of people (at a late night showing no less), this movie was almost ruined by two obtrusive individuals. Their loud constant talking interrupted almost every scene and I just could not get into this movie at times. It took not one, but TWO less than cheerful interactions (orchestrated by me – Jesse) with these folks to have any semblance of quiet in the film (not that they stopped afterwards, they still kept chattering along though at least at a level below normal voices). I have absolutely no patience for this lack of respect to your fellow movie-goers! Its just common sense that you don’t talk in movies, but the proliferation of home theaters and DVDs has caused people to think the movie theaters are their own homes. Teenie boppers text message and talk on their cell phones, others talk and question each plot point. Even my family members are guilty of this at times and I won’t put up with it from them either. Please, as a favor to the rest of us, don’t ruin the movie for everyone else, the rest of us just don’t want to hear it!

– Dave

Additional notes of my (Jesse) own would include the amazing fight sequences we seem to have lost in between Braveheart and Gladiator.  You can keep the flashy CGI of 300.  Give us the blood splattering on the camera, well choreographed swordsmanship, and real gut wrenching tension.  The score is not as memorable as either Braveheart or Gladiator, but rest assured, we won’t be forgetting Mongol anytime soon.

***Broke into the top 10 of 2008***