Friday, November 09, 2007
WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, a summer camp comedy, is a bad, bad movie. It's stupid. It's poorly acted. It's badly shot. It makes MEATBALLS look like THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. And this is coming from a guy who worked four summers at a camp on Catalina Island, a guy who still nurtures fond memories of the time the Newport Beach High School Girl's Swim Team camped out at the next bay over.
And yet, ghastly as this film undoubtedly is, I can't quite bring myself to outright hate it. This is where the world of context comes into play. This film, released in 2001, was cowritten by and features Michael Showalter, who went on to give us THE BAXTER. Its stars include Michael Ian Black, who was also in THE BAXTER; Paul Rudd, who killed in THE BAXTER, THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, and KNOCKED UP; Christopher Meloni, who blew everyone away with his roles in "Oz" and "Law and Order: SVU"; and (most importantly) Elizabeth Banks, who has helped to give us SPIDER-MAN, SEABISCUIT, THE BAXTER, THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, the incomparable SLITHER, and INVINCIBLE, plus a great turn in "Scrubs." And she kisses a girl. Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce play the grownups, and they get a pass on general principle. Had I seen this movie in 2001, I'm sure I would have hated it outright. Seeing it in 2007, I see a bunch of talented people figuring out how a third act transition works, how to hit a mark, how to act onscreen. I see people who are still unsure of themselves and going for easy, parodic schtick, and I know they'll mature and go on deliver clever, character-based work.
Still, I can't recommend WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER. Not even for Paul Rudd completists or Elizabeth Banks fetishists. The movie made me laugh all of once, and that was more a dismayed bark than actual amusement. Just move right along to THE BAXTER, where the training wheels come off. You'll be glad you did.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
THE CORPORATION is, indeed, a film by true believers for true believers. The problem is, I'm not entirely sure what these true believers believe in.
THE CORPORATION asks the question, "If a corporation is a legal person, what kind of person would it be?" The answer: "A psychopath." And, y'know, that's fine. State your thesis, make your argument, and have at you. But the movie's all over the place. One moment it's on about corporations in particular, then capitalism in general, then American consumer culture, then environmentalism, et cetera ad infitum. For authorities, the film gives us people like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, which sends a very clear message to the observer: if you don't trust these guys, this film isn't even trying to talk to you.
As a film, THE CORPORATION is basically a power point presentation with moving slides. The problem is, these visuals add nothing to the presentation, instead merely giving us something to look at while people read to us. If the purpose of this documentary is to inform or persuade, it succeeds only in boring the skeptical audience and leaving that audiencee unmoved. While watching THE CORPORATION, I felt like turning it off and just finding the bulletized summary somewhere on the Internet. It would have served the same purpose and saved me some time (But hey, I saw it on the Metro, and it's not like I had anything else to do.).
Had I done so, however, I'm still not sure I would have reaped a clear picture of where THE CORPORATION is coming from. What does it want? A global economy run by the same people who run the DMV? A transition to the pastoral existence of urban fantasy? Just to hit all the right talking points so maybe it can score with that cute hippie chick?
I don't know and, frankly, I don't care. THE CORPORATION fails as an invective, it fails as an entertainment, it fails as a film. This one is for punch-drinkers only.
Oh, how I love 2003's THE ITALIAN JOB.
This is a movie that looks great, that sounds great, that's packed with charismatic and interesting stars, and that is both complex enough to reward careful viewing and broad enough to play in the background at a get-together. It's not the greatest heist movie ever (That's RIFIFI. If you haven't seen it, your life has no meaning.), but it does everything it needs to do, and it does it with style.
THE ITALIAN JOB begins with a job in, well, Italy. Venice (top city on my 'to visit' list), to be precise, and the job is a clockwork masterpiece of timing, guts, and skill. From there, we're on to a world of doublecrosses, revenge, Charlize Theron looking impossibly beautiful, fun dialogue, neat car chases, exciting practical stunts, and did I mention Charlize Theron looking impossibly beautiful?
The last time I saw this movie, it played in the background during an impromptu get-together. It was easy to settle into during lulls in the conversation, and it had lots of pretty pictures to display when the talk picked back up again. What a fun movie.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Will you enjoy ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN? Only if you enjoyed ICE AGE. This sequel brings nothing new to the table.
That's ok, really. ICE AGE was a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and a half, and THE MELTDOWN is, as well. It gives us the same characters, led by the likeable Ray Romano. It gives us another story of a journey, and it gives us another lesson about loyalty and family. Like I said, not a bad way to spend a little time, and lifted by the extraordinary animation done by 20th Century Fox.
I'm sorry, that's all I've got. This movie is already fading in memory.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Carl Theodore Dreyer's THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928) is a compelling, thought-provoking, and aesthetically rewarding film.
THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC is a passion play that draws clear parallels between Joan and Jesus. Like Jesus, Joan is hauled before a politically loaded court, asked questions designed to trip her, and ultimately meets her fate. In this telling, drawn from court documents, Joan may be insane, she may be enlightened (to use a term from another religious tradition), or she may simply be a scared kid who's in way over her head. Maybe she's all three. Maria Falconetti, in her only film role, plays Joan almost as a blank slate, allowing us to project our interpretations of her predicament and her reactions to it onto her sometimes impassive, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes terrified face.
While the film wraps us in fascination, it prods us to thought. How different were Joan's ecclesiastical courts from Christ's? Why the fascination with styles of dress and the religious implications of gender-normed clothing? To what extent did Joan's ecclesiastical judges belive in what they were doing, and to what extent were they either saving their own necks or expanding their power with the dominant political forces of the day?
These considerations alone would make for a commendable film, but Dreyer compounds and magnifies them with his choices in the creation of the film's look and feel. The architecture of the fortress in which the action proceeds is unsettling and off kilter in a way that alludes to German expressionism without becoming overwhelmed by it. His harsh, unforgiven lighting and camera work lends the production a documentary feel that adds to its immediacy. And his direction of the actors themselves feels spot on. These felt like real people undergoing real tests, not early film actors hamming it up.
Criterion, as usual, does commendable work with this film. I love that a company can build a business model around the public good, and Criterion consistently does that by restoring and presenting the very finest of cinema. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC is as crisp as we could want, and it's a pleasure to view.
I loved this movie.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
OCEAN’S 13 is like bubblegum. It’s unpretentious, it’s essentially kid stuff, and it’s fun. What more do you need?
Here’s the setup: George Clooney and his gang go after yet another Vegas Casino. How these guys’ faces aren’t on every wanted poster in the city is beyond me, but there you have it. And really, that’s all you need to know. Their motivation is irrelevant.
What really matters here is the film’s style, and OCEAN’S 13 has style to spare. The locations are fabulous, the wardrobe is fabulous, and the dialogue is just plain fun. C’mon – it even has Eddie Izzard in a small yet crucial role. And if Eddie Izzard isn’t enough to get you queue up a movie, well, why do you even bother?
Ellen Barkin and Al Pacino both model the latest in age-defying technologies, everyone appears to be having a good time, the heist is sufficiently intricate, and I enjoyed the heck out of OCEAN’S 13. What more could a guy ask for?