Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dead Man Walking (1995)

I had very mixed feelings about Dead Man Walking. Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn were both phenomenal. Had it been the Susan Sarandon/Sean Penn show, I would have been far more into it. As it is, there are too many scenes, mostly early on, that play like a debate.

All films, by their very nature, are manipulative. But when you can feel that manipulation, something is wrong. It's what I hate about Nicholas Sparks stories. I could feel it in Dead Man Walking. I could feel a screenwriter concocting the most polarizing circumstances upon which to put the death penalty up for debate. It felt like an issue movie and that is bad bad bad. When you have such a specific issue being parsed in a film, you've got to almost subvert it. Hide it under the stories of real people.

When it was just Sean Penn and Susan Sarandan, talking, arcing, being, they felt like real people. It felt like reality. But scenes with the parents of the victims, with prison guards, with lawyers and politicians - all that felt like fat. And the score was terribly over the top and dramatic.

I will say - that screen cap up there? That was a neat effect - being able to see her reactions in the reflection of the glass. Pat on the back, Tim Robbins.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I'm Here (2010)

Okay, first off, click here and go watch I'm Here. It's 30 minutes long and I don't think you'll be disappointed. Go ahead... I'll wait.

You back? Great. What did you think? I feel like maybe Spike Jonze sat down and thought, "Hmm. I wonder if I could make two robots feel more human than most humans feel." Isn't it a lovely little film? I feel like it could be analyzed into oblivion. One could discuss: Discrimination against robots. True love. If machines can be programed to love better than humans can. If you can train a machine to be more selfless than a human would. What truly differentiates humans from machines. Maybe machines will take over the world because they learn to love, not because they'll learn to kill us. 

But I like to just smile and think, aww. How sweet.

Plus, who'd ever think Andrew Garfield and Sienna Guillory could act through all that robot-ness. It's mostly voice acting and it's done very well. It's all pretty awesome. And aren't their mouths cool? What a neato effect. Anyway...

It reminded me of The Giving Tree. Ya'll remember that book? It's where the mommy tree gives everything she has to the boy? I'm Here is sweeter than The Giving Tree because the boy in The Giving Tree is a dick. But the similarity is there.

I've always believed the key to a great short is an incredibly simple story told well. A story that makes you smack your forehead and say "Why didn't I think of that?" This is such a story. It's got a beginning, middle, and end and there's a mini-journey along the way. I'm Here is a true delight.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Never Let Me Go (2010)

Never Let Me Go was lovely. I don't want to spoil it - more for those who plan to read the novel. The novel keeps you in the dark longer than the film and that mystery is half the fun of the book.

I enjoyed the novel a great deal, and narratively, the movie stayed fairly close to the source material. Thematically, it strayed quite a bit. The film decided to focus entirely on the love triangle between its three central characters. This was a wise decision. Everyone understands the desire to have time with the person you love. It's in the novel but it IS the film and it changes the characters in subtle ways that allows them to be better understood by the audience. 

Keira Knightly and Andrew Garfield were unbelievably good. Carey Mulligan was also quite good, but hers was an understated performance that did not scream to be noticed the way the others did. The visual style was perfect. The subtlety throughout fantastic. I hate to talk in cryptics, but lots of people have an issue with this film. They don't understand why the characters do not run away. I think it is a valid point considering the movie as a stand alone film. This issue is addressed in the novel, and with an eye toward the answer, you can feel it in the film. But I suspect it's only there for the novel readers. Nonetheless, It's a lovely looking film with fantastic performances. I would recommend reading it first, but I believe it's a film worth seeing either way.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ondine (2010)

I have mixed feelings about Ondine. I had pretty high expectations going in and I think they led to my being disappointed. The story is about a fisherman, played by Colin Farrell, who catches a woman in his fishing net. His daughter Annie, brilliantly played by adorable Alison Barry, comes to believe this woman is a Selkie (essentially a fancy mermaid). The story plays off this mystery from beginning to end, mostly providing evidence to support the theories of Annie. It has some very mild twists and turns, but ultimately, the filmmakers relied too heavily on their theme and let plot fall by the wayside. 

It's a lovely looking movie - the cinematography is perfect for the sort of magical realism feel it's going for. And all the performances are strong. The DVD didn't have English subtitles which I would have turned on given the choice. 

Overall, the film was worth seeing. With such a fun concept, I do wish they had done a bit more with the plot, but it's got a very sweet message about belief and hope. In fact, I found myself comparing it to Miracle on 34th Street at times. And, personally, I greatly enjoy Colin Farrell when he turns his acting ability on. Let me take this moment to recommend In Bruges - now there's a great Colin Farrell performance. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Zombieland (2009)

Zombieland was fun. A lot of fun. I don't have much experience with the horror comedy genre, but I do tend to enjoy the hijinks of regular horror movies more than the depressing, people are actually dying aspect. And since I recently learned that Jesse Eisenberg doesn't suck, I found this movie charming, silly, and, like I said, fun.

Zombieland is a road movie of sorts as the characters try to make their way to Pacific Playland - a fictitious amusement park outside of Los Angeles. The two most important things about road movies 1) avoid making them feel episodic and 2) make the characters who are on the road together fun as an ensemble. Zombieland achieved both of those and managed to give each of the characters a fairly focused and coherent arc in the process. Plus, it was funny.

The chemistry amongst all four players was a delight to watch. Snappy dialogue and surreal situations abound and all Woody Harrelson wants is a damn twinkie.  IMDb tells me that Zombieland 2 is tentatively scheduled to hit theaters in 2011 and as a new fan of Zombieland 1, I can't wait.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Son's Room (2001)

A happy tale The Son's Room was not. An Italian language film about a family that loses one of its members, this story is about guilt and acceptance. It's extremely simple in its structure and moves at a languid pace. The real knife cuts happen when the father imagines all the things he could have done differently the day his son died to prevent the accident. His wife is right when she says going down that path can only lead to madness. 

The story is mostly told from the father's perspective. And I suppose, to a degree, we wonder if his marriage will stick together. But the movie makes such an attempt at realism, we know from the beginning there will be no conclusions. This is a story that does not end, and this family, while changed forever, will continue on.

It's not the most unique film, nor the most exciting. I'm not sure exactly what about it earned it the Palm d'Or other than tragedy and sadness abound. I don't think I'm being harsh when I say it was just okay. It was exactly what you'd expect when you sit down to watch a story about a family that loses a son. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Social Network (2010)

The Social Network was brilliant. Perfect writing, mesmerizing acting, great humor, smart, fast, enjoyable, and above all, entertaining. This was the best film I've seen in the theatre in a long long time. Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg were spot-on. The score was enthralling. See it.