Archive for December, 2007

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’Tis the Season to be Disappointed

December 31, 2007

Thank heavens for There Will Be Blood because without it one of the best movie years in recent memory (at least as far as American films go) would have gone out with a whimper. Here’s what underwhelmed me over the holidays.

SWEENEY TODD

Why don’t I like Tim Burton’s movies more? In theory Burton is the most interesting, most unusual director in Hollywood, so why do I always find his films fall short? I think it’s that there is something so embalmed about most of his films: they’re so overly designed that there is no whiff of life in them. Sweeney Todd looks incredible with its haunted faces and gashes of color (especially Sacha Baron Cohen’s blue suit) but the film itself felt like it was playing out a foregone conclusion. Of course it helps to love Sondheim’s musical itself and on first listen I can’t say I really did. But I loved Rent, so what do I know?

JUNO

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year. Ellen Page and Michael Cera make the year’s most adorable couple but Page especially is undone by Diablo Cody’s cloyingly know-it-all dialogue that smacks too much of Dawson’s Creek, and by Jason Reitman’s insistence on underlining every too-smart line with a visual embellishment of his own. Add nattering Moldy Peaches ditties over that and the whole thing screams quirky. The trailer, however, which I had seen so many times that I knew it by heart, remains my favorite short film of the year.

I AM LEGEND

It’s rare that I watch a film with no idea who the director is, but half way through I Am Legend I realized i’d never bothered to check. Turns out it’s one Francis Lawrence who brought us Keanu Reeves in Constantine, as well as videos for Britney, J-Lo, Justin, Janet and, natch, Will Smith. The problem with I Am Legend is that Lawrence doesn’t get jiggy enough with the idea of a deserted Manhattan. There are some stunning images—deer running though a Times Square filled with tall grass, a decimated Brooklyn Bridge—but not enough real invention. The real problem is the script which has less narrative logic than Alvin and the Chipmunks, changing the play whenever it’s convenient (the zombie hordes can’t stand the light, but now they can!) And when Will Smith’s hero scientist rhapsodizes about Bob Marley (I Am Legend, get it?) it’s pure David Brent.

ATONEMENT

Another film which, for me, played better as a trailer. Having read and loved Ian McEwan’s novel this year, watching the film was passably enjoyable as a reminder of its greatness, even as it reminded me of how much the film couldn’t possibly capture. If I’d never read the book I don’t really know what I’d think. Mr. Tumnus makes a far better Robbie than I thought he would, and Keira Knightly, whom I’m usually on the fence about, is radiant. Loved the clattering typewriter score too.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS

Well, you can’t win ’em all when you take the kids to the movies. I was dragged kicking and squealing to this on Christmas Day but I have to admit there was a moment mid-way through the second or third scene when I thought “actually, this isn’t half bad.” I was wrong.

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Movie poster of the week

December 21, 2007

Taxi to the Dark Side

I was looking for something festive for this week, but then I came across this poster which is anything but. This design was initially rejected by the Motion Picture Association of America for showing us the one image the American public seems to need shielding from: military prisoners in hoods (the same thing happened with the Road to Guantanamo). See the full story here. And Happy Holidays.

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Movie poster of the week: R.I.P. Mr. Lazarescu

December 14, 2007

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

The death this week of Romanian actor Ion Fiscuteanu, better known as the titular star (or victim) of one of 2006’s very best films, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, prompted me to resurrect this: the world’s most inappropriate movie poster. As anyone who has seen this grim fable–in which the dying Lazarescu is shuttled through hospital wards and treated with either scorn or indifference–can attest, the original Romanian poster is so wrong that it’s almost right.

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Sneak peek: There Will Be Blood

December 9, 2007

THERE WILL BE BLOOD there_will_be_blood1.jpg

[Opens December 26]. The film of the year? Perhaps. Certainly part of an astonishing 2007 western triumvirate with No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James, though to be honest I wasn’t as in love with it minute-by-minute as I was those other films. But it has a powerful hold on my imagination a day later. What struck me most about it, as a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan, was how, if I’d been watching it with no idea who directed it, I would never have guessed it was PTA. In fact, I would have been hard pressed to even take a guess as to who it was. Kubrick back from the dead maybe? There are certainly no PTA clues: no bursts of Supertramp, no cameo by Philip Baker Hall, no look-at-me tracking shots, not even any Jon Brion music (instead a simply astounding score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood). It’s just a really strange film (although at the same time deceptively straightforward) and the perfect colonic for Boxing Day.

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Movie poster of the week

December 7, 2007

Decline and Fall of a Birdwatcher

I caught sight of this classy poster hanging on the wall of the forensic lab in the avian-obsessed Brewster McCloud the other day. Released the year before Altman’s film, it purports to be a swinging ‘sixties update of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, directed by one John Krish. According to All-Movie Guide “Paul Pennyfeather is an Oxford divinity student who finds himself expelled after a gang of drunken freshmen remove his pants and he is accused of exposing himself to a girl. Looking for work, he retains the services of an unsavory employment agency that secures a position for him at a sleazy Welsh boarding school for boys…” If anyone’s ever seen this forgotten M-rated gem (“Suggested for Mature Audiences”) please let me know.

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Films Update

December 7, 2007

INTO THE WILD

I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to think about Christopher McCandless and his grandiloquent, doomed gesture. Sean Penn, with his bombastic camerawork overlaid with Eddie Vedder’s warbling battle cries, seems to be celebrating him, but McCandless comes across at times as a raging egotist, more concerned with trumpeting his big adventure than with just enjoying the natural world he’s supposed to be at one with. Of course, Penn, as I’m sure Krakauer does, makes it clear that he’s really running away from rather than towards something, but I felt far less conflicted about Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man, and he was no saint. The real pleasure of Into the Wild is in the human encounters he has on his journey (reminiscent of The Straight Story), especially a beautifully sad Hal Holbrook. I also loved Jena Malone’s voiceover (used to such great effect in Lucas Moodysson’s undistributed, undistributable Container).

AMERICAN GANGSTER

Entertaining and engaging enough, I suppose, if one had never seen The Wire. Even though it’s based on a true story, Ridley Scott’s film seems greatly indebted to David Simon’s masterpiece but, even at 160 minutes, just doesn’t have the time to give us the detail that makes that show so extraordinary. Instead it’s all broad strokes, some of which are wonderful, but they don’t add up to as much. Meanwhile, Harris Savides’s Harlem streetscapes are superb, but, as in Margot, he really seems to be really pushing the limits of underlighting his interiors.

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY

[Caught up with on DVD]. Ken Loach’s compelling IRA history/Iraq allegory is his most pictorial film to date, but, considering the title, disappointingly lacking in inessential sequences of rustling barley stalks. Cillian Murphy and his sad blue eyes center this sequel of sorts to Land and Freedom, which unfolds like a less formalist version of Jancso’s The Red and the White, with reprisals begetting reprisals until the world swallows its own tail.