Friday, February 29, 2008
Snow Angels (David Gordon Green, 2007)
Snow Angels is David Gordon Green's first adaptation (of a novel by Stewart O'Nan), and features his biggest name cast to date with Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, Griffin Dunne, and Amy Sedaris. Despite these small changes the film is undeniably true to David Gordon Green's style. Tim Orr once again takes care of the photography and Jeff McIlwain and David Wingo contribute the score. Technically speaking the film has a lot of problems, some of which it manages to get away with due to the lo-fi indie nature of it, and others that are too glaring to write off such as the scene where Arthur (Michael Angarano) brings his girlfriend, Lila (Jeanetta Arnette), a plate full of pancakes for breakfast only to magically transform into waffles in the subsequent shots. The cinematography wasn't as impressive as I remember some of Green's other films being and there are some soft focus issues, however there are still a lot of beautiful shots, particularly of the snow covered wooded areas and frozen lakes. The most noticeable problem was the overmodualated production audio, especially during scenes where character's yelled or raised their voices. Even though this is obviously a low budget film, it is still a professional project and there is really no excuse for such a blemish.
Like Green's other film's the story takes place in a small town, with working class characters and the camera captures the natural beauty and ugliness of nature and humanity. The writing and the acting comes across as very naturalistic and believable, and despite the overall serious tone there are quite a few awkward moments of humanistic comedy, perhaps even more so here than in his previous work. The narrative explores several different relationships including two young teenage lovers just getting to know each other, Arthur's parents who have recently separated and are attempting to cope with that, and Annie (Kate Beckinsale) and her Husband Glenn (Sam Rockwell) who have been a child, but have been separated for some time. Although Rockwell, Beckinsale, and Angarano are the most flushed out characters, Snow Angels works as a great ensemble piece, and shifts focus between the different characters fluidly and unforced. The youthful couple serves as a foil as well as a reminder of what Glenn and Annie once were. Although this film has more of a central story to it than Green's first two efforts, it still has that meandering feel to it, as the tragic story is almost secondary to the joy, pain, confusion, ambitions, and suffering of the characters. The tonal shifts are impressively handled and probably what I enjoyed most about the film it's just a shame at how amateurish parts of the film come across as due to technical flaws.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Friday, February 22, 2008
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)
Great score, great performances, and some of the most dazzling cinematography I can recall in recent years. Casey Affleck was very good and deserving of his Oscar nomination, but my favorite character/performance was from Paul Schneider as Dick Liddil
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, 2008)
As a fan of director, Michel Gondry and his unique visual art and creativity I must admit that I carry a bit of a bias. Gondry follows up his eccentric Science of Sleep with a more accessible comedy with a brilliant premise in which a the protagonists (Mos Def and Jack Black) accidentally destroy all of the tapes in their Boss's small video/thrift store and attempt to recreate the films themselves. The character's and the situations are a bit over the top and even illogical at times, and the general plot points are pretty formulaic, however Gondry's flare for the unique and quirky still manages to capture the spotlight and make up for the flaws. I was displeased with some of the continuity in the editing, and wasn't a big fan of parts of the soundtrack that sounded like royalty free music; writing isn't Gondry's strongest point either. The script mostly seems contrived in order to showcase Gondry's aesthetics. Like any other generic script the conflict is introduced in the first 15 minutes. Mr. Fletcher's store is on the verge of being demolished and replaced by condos. The initial 15 minutes left me skeptical, but once the remakes began production or "Sweded" films as the characters dub them, I started to get into it. Jack Black provides some comical remarks throughout, but I was mostly amused by the inventive visual tactics used to recreate the films. On top of the captivating visuals, and comedy, Be Kind Rewind has a heart. I found the final scene to be very touching; almost the same sort of earnest sense of community A Wonderful Life evokes. The resolution consists of the community uniting to make their own memories and interpretations of the past from scratch. The film champions the independent filmmaker showing that money shouldn't be a limitation to creating art, however Gondry also addresses the harsh reality that the little guy rarely wins as he portrays bureaucrats and big business as the bullies.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Monday, February 18, 2008
The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
A hilarious Sturges film starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. Although I found Fonda's performance to be pretty vapic, Stanwyck is fanstastic. Eugene Pallette as the father of Charles Pike is hilarious as well.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
The Great Dictator (Charels Chaplin, 1940)
Links are to clips of scenes referred to:
Some complain that Chaplin was struggling to adapt to the sound era when he made The Great Dictator. There are a few instances where I think the film could have been cut down as it gets a bit too talky, but overall I found the film to be a lovely hybrid of silent and early sound aesthetics that was far ahead of it's time in terms of dark comedy and political satire. It's hard to believe the film came out in 1940 before the United States had even entered WWII. There are times where I think that the film could have just as easily been entirely silent, however there are certainly scenes that make me think otherwise such as the riveting final speech which is just as relevant now as it was then. Scenes such as the one where Hynkel plays with the balloon globe, the scene in which the men are eating cake with coins in them, or when the barber shaves along to the score play like Chaplin's classic silent pieces. Conversely the film also makes audio gags that work well too. For example when the crowd applauds Hynkel's speech only to be instantly muted by his hand gesture or the jingling of the coins in the jewish barber's belly as he hiccups. My favorite scene has to be the upside down plane bit which only gets more hilarious as they run out of gas and apathetically embrace death as the plane crashes.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
The Great McGinty (Preston Sturges, 1940)
A pretty solid script that won an Academy Award and an overall impressive debut film for Sturges considering the severe budget constraints. This is the third film I've seen from Sturges and they all involve the lead characters pretending to be someone they aren't and the character arcs lead them to epiphany, which seems to work well, however I'd like to see a different formula from him in the future.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953)
Billy Wilder's film is an interesting mishmash of tension and comedy. A WWII prison camp was a bold location for such a film with so much humor, especially in 1953, less than ten years after the war, and it almost feels like two separate films at times because of the dynamic range of tone shifts from scene to scene. Animal and Harry make up a frequently used for broad humor that I could have done without, however there are a few pretty good gags such as the German's giving each barrack a copy of Mein Kampf and a mini evergreen as a Christmas gift, and the letter from a mother who is convinced that her son is fairing well in the prison camp which she hears has a tennis court which is frozen over in the winter and used as an ice skating rink. The German's are portrayed more as simple minded caricatures speaking in broken English who are easily duped, while the real villain is backstabbing American's ratting out their fellow comrades. Like most Wilder films, Stalag 17 has a pretty direct message. This time around he seems to be disturbed by the rampant Mcarthyism that ran wild during the late 40s through the late 50s. In 1947 Hollywood began blacklisting employees and people were anonymously being accused and interrogated based purely on hearsay in many cases. The film parallels these activities as the main character, Sgt. Sefton, the cynical swindler, played by William Holden who won an Academy Award for this role, is falsely accused of being the rat and Dunbar is sold out to the Germans and sent to be interrogated for his act of sabotage without any evidence. With a running time of just about 2 hours, I felt that the film was a little too long and became redundant towards the end, but still a very solid film.