Thursday, September 04, 2008
SPEED RACER is the most audaciously brilliant film I've seen this year. It takes the adjectives "bright, loud, and colorful" and turns them into peaks to be scaled, climbing ever higher to some brighter, louder, more colorful future. The story itself can fit on the back of a cocktail napkin: "S.R. saves family. Drives real fast." But the Wachowskis' execution of that story is so joyfully over the top that it won me over. The images flash by so quickly that the brain barely has time to process them beyond "Bang! Zoom! Pretty Colors!" However, when your movie's racing by at these speeds, flashing images and a cocktail napkin plot is all you need.
Is this a film for the ADD crowd? Perhaps so - the cuts are so quick, the action so frenetic, that I'm not sure I want to show it to my kids. But it's beautiful, in its way, and it's daring. In crafting SPEED RACER, the Wachowskis made something unlike any film that has gone before it. Even if you're not easily distracted by bright, shiny objects, you've got to respect the filmmakers' vision and daring.
SPEED RACER is easily my biggest surprise of the year.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Cinescene's Les Phillips hit the nail on the head with his review of CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR. Well, except for his impression of Julia Roberts's performance. I thought she was fine. With his permission, here's Les's review:
CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR (2007, directed by Mike Nichols). This is slight, but expert, and very entertaining. A playboy Texas congressman suddenly gets serious about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and works to channel a billion dollars into military aid to the mujaheedin. Nichols and the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin scrupulously avoid political content here; CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR is a fluffy slice of American political life in the eighties. Wilson's staff is all-female -- one of them is nicknamed "Jailbait" -- he parties with lobbyists in Vegas. He tells a newspaper that he's never been to rehab because "they don't serve liquor there." Nichols makes high comedy out of Wilson's lovable roguishness. There's one French-farce sequence set in Wilson's office, with entrances and exits and fast dialogue, that approaches comic genius.
CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR is rich in excellent small performances, and it also has Philip Seymour Hoffman as the crude, irascible, hardass CIA man who tutors Wilson in the works and ways of covert geopolitics. He's excellent, but the part isn't a challenge; Jack Black could have done it nearly as well. Tom Hanks captures Wilson's easy charm and humanity, but he doesn't signify Texas. Julia Roberts plays a savvy, steel magnolia millionairess and political operator. It's a terrific role, and Roberts isn't up to it. She doesn't have the self-possessed energy that the character needs, and she doesn't sound like she's ever been anywhere near Houston.
A bit of a one-off, but Nichols hasn't lost his touch.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
I recently spent several paragraphs elaborating on the word "charming" as it related to ONCE. While there's nothing effortless about filmmaking, ONCE feels effortlessly charming, like it just happened. LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, however, works so hard at being charming that we can practically hear the servos hiss, gears turn, and ropes creak in the background.
Lars (Ryan Gosling) is socially handicapped. He is so painfully shy that human touches feel like burns, and he can barely speak even with his own brother. Margo works with Lars, and something about him seems to capture her imagination. But Lars can't see it, can't see anything, for he's too busy hiding behind his walls. Lars is drowning; he needs something to latch on to. He latches on to a doll. Not an action figure or a teddy bear, like his marginally better adjusted officemates, but a life sized Real Doll, a sex toy he names Bianca and invests with a past, a personality, even an attitude.
The charming part comes in when we see how his family, his friends, his town respond to Bianca. For Lars, you see, lives in the kindest, most forgiving, most loving town in the world. In fact, I'd say it's downright charming. In Lars's town, the citizens see Bianca for what she is: training wheels for Lars as he relearns socialization. In Lars's town, an ambulance will respond to a 911 call for a doll, and doctors and nurses are happy to get involved (Lars also benefits from a charming insurance company, I presume.). In Lars's town, the guys from the hardware store even bowl with Lars, Bianca, and (you saw it coming) Margo. Charming.
But there can be a fine line between charming and precious, and LARS AND THE REAL GIRL crosses right over it. The music is too precious. Lars himself is somewhat precious. And the conceit that an entire town, and not just a few core supporters, would be willing to play along with Lars was just too precious.
And yet, I'm a sucker for charming. So I liked this movie, even if I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. See it with something inanimate.
Monday, September 01, 2008
I enjoyed THE JAZZ SINGER.
The film, which ushered in the era of talkies for a broad audience (Yes, I know there were earlier talkies, but this is the one that really hit.), has one foot in the silent era and one in the sound. How so? Well, while much of THE JAZZ SINGER plays just like any silent film, with broad acting and intertitles, the musical numbers and some of the accompanying dialogue is in sound as we understand it today.
This raises an interesting question: why not sound all the way? Was it a technical issue, a financial issue, or something else? Anyone? Bueller?
Anyway, all I really knew about THE JAZZ SINGER boiled down to two words: talkie and blackface. Turns out, the film is about more than that, with a compelling story about competing duties and the realities of growing up and growing old. While Jolson´s style of musical performance doesn´t work for me (I´m more of a Crosby guy), I enjoyed the production numbers and found myself appreciating THE JAZZ SINGER as a film, and not just as a homework assignment.
So, THE JAZZ SINGER. Who knew it´d actually turn out to be a fine motion picture?
David Mamet´s REDBELT does all the things it sets out to do. Thanks, in part, to outstanding performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Emily Mortimer, it also manages to be one fine, entertaining film.
REDBELT is about the owner of a struggling judo studio (Ejiofor), long on honor and short on cash. Mortimer´s a profoundly wounded attorney who enters the studio by happenstance, but who sets in motion a potentially disastrous chain of events. Further on, when Ejiofor rescues a movie star (Tim Allen) from a bar fight, another chain of events, potentially wonderful, starts to roll.
We´ll see what happens.
What´s really interesting here is Ejiofor´s character, a guy whose profound commitment to doing the right thing makes for an unexpected (potentially) tragic flaw. Here´s a guy who plays by the rules when nobody else does, and we expect things to work out for him. But when they don´t, how much will he bend, how much of his honor is he willing to expend, to try and set things right?
Add Mortimer, whose supporting character desperately needs Ejiofor to do the right things, and we´re in for a character study of a good man whose circumstances both require him to be impossibly good and make that goodness impossible.
Combine this interesting story with Mamet´s dialogue (for which I´m a sucker), and you have an interesting, engaging, satisfying film. REDBELT crashed at the box office, but here´s hoping that it finds new life on DVD.
(Fun fact: I´m writing this in Sao Paolo, the hometown of Alice Braga, who plays Ejiofor´s wife in the film. Don´t ask me why I know these things.)