Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
The best thing about I'm Still Here is Joaquin Phoenix's deranged, ultra meta, indulgently method performance as the bizarro universe version of himself. We know now that "rapper" Phoenix is a lie. That the self-destructive tendencies captured by in-law Casey Affleck are all just part of the act. Even the Letterman stunt was elaborate charade. In that respect, Phoenix was/is brilliant. The truth of the matter is that an act like that is far more deserving of recognition than his Oscar-caliber mimicking of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. The problem, however, is that while it boasts a remarkable performance, I'm Still Here is a bungled mess of a film. As a 'documentary' it's nothing but a patched together series of incidents and long-takes of near nothing. As a fiction, it's supremely boring in its voyeurism. The peek behind the celebrity curtain is dull, dull, dull, and I'd be remiss in my review if I didn't tell you that I reached the point of surrender at several times during I'm Still Here; giving up, reaching for the remote, fast-forwarding to the next ridiculous scene and getting all kind of thankful I didn't pay to see this in the theater. It's a strange curiousity and a ballsy experiment, but the pay off isn't there. Phoenix proves he's an actor that can become devoted to just about any project, Affleck? Well, I'm not so sure he's much of a director. An idea man maybe...
As I write this, Rotten Tomatoes is highlighting a ranked list that purports to count down Disney's official 50 animated features from worst to best using a weighted ranking system that takes into account the Tomato meter rankings, number of reviews, etc. etc. The results are....well, let's just say I don't agree with them. The Disney animated canon is a prickly, highly subjective space for debate for obvious reasons. Namely: a good chunk of the films exist as some sort of universal dictionary definition for children's cinema, and as such are consumed (in excess) when we are children. We bond with them, love them, and have our own allegiances to them. A definitive ranking system? Well, that's not going to cut it. As we age, it gets harder to divorce newer Disney movies with our perception of what Disney was when we were younger. Or, we build up intolerances for that movie our younger sibling ran on repeat, though we loved it before they were around. So, what I'm saying is, I guess, that critical rankings don't really count here, and while I can agree that Home on the Range was a piece of crap, I get downright indignant when Rotten Tomatoes tells me Robin Hood wasn't worth my time. What does all this reflection mean? A personal list, of course. With a huge nod to the fact that this is 100% subjective, I present my top 10 favorite Disney animated features (using the official list, of which it should be noted Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and all Pixar collaborations are not a part of):
10. Three Caballeros (1944): The Three Caballeros is less a feature film, more the oddest travelogue you will ever see. Donald Duck does South America; introducing us to the birds, the culture, and the ladies before a psychedelic finale of dancing cacti, blossoming star flowers, and fireworks. It's a minor work in the Disney canon, and suffers from continuity and 1940's cultural consumption problems galore. However, the sibling always loved it, and I grew to love it too. Three Caballeros is like jumping into a vintage travel poster. It's idealized/romanticized, frequently just wrong, varnished with a bit of touristy glimmer, and representative of something that just doesn't exist.
6. Lady and the Tramp (1955): When I was about 4 or 5, I loved this movie. I had lifesize plushes of Lady and Tramp, you know, the whole nine yards. A few years ago now, I watched Lady and the Tramp after an extended hiatus and fell in love with it for completely different reasons. It was no longer a cute little animated romance with dogs, it was now a beautiful, intricate film that not only managed to adequately anthropomorphize household pets and sweep them into an epic love story, but also to fully engage the senses. So much of Lady and the Tramp is tactile or plays, discreetly, with canine sensory overload and adapts it into something visually poetic. The cobblestones and puddles in the final chase scene are unbelievably rendered, the way Jock and Trusty sniff at them (the way Trusty sniffs at anything) brings you there too. The light that refracts through the glass bottles, the satiny elements that come along in the nursery, the dankness of the pound, the way the Siamese cats claw at the table runner, it's all done so well it's actually tangible.
Honorable mention: While the movie itself got edged out by the older fare, I have a soft spot for Lilo and Stitch and feel it's worth noting that Stitch is pretty much my favorite Disney character in the canon. He's a charmer, that one...
Friday, January 28, 2011
I tend to steer clear of films about social networking because I’m cranky and jaded and when it comes to Facebook, I’m especially crotchety and go into full avoidance mode. I was pleasantly surprised when I finished the is it or isn’t it documentary Catfish by filmmakers and brothers Yaniv and Ariel Schulman. The documentary begins when younger brother Yaniv (a photographer) begins receiving unsolicited paintings of his photographs from a nine year old painting prodigy in Michigan. He soon develops a relationship with her and her family (particularly her older sister) via Facebook and texting before realizing that they may not be all they seem. Most assume the documentary is a fake, even though the filmmakers still contend that it’s real. While some of the slickness makes me question its authenticity, the emotion is sincere enough to make that question unimportant. But even though I got caught up in that emotion while I watched, Catfish doesn’t have the sort of depth I wanted, introducing big concepts like identity, technology and the development of relationships, and the connection that art can create between two people, without ever really bothering to examine them in much detail. But that criticism itself seems to reflect the authenticity of the film, as it seems more an effect of the immaturity of the young filmmakers on screen than a real failure of their abilities to properly convey the “truth” of a story.
I’m not sure how we missed A Prophet on this blog, but we all make mistakes (and what a mistake it was). Brutal, gut-wrenching, and with a strange charm and charisma, it's one of the best of the decade, if not tied for the best film spot of 2009. Within the first 30 seconds of meeting protagonist Malik (Tahar Rahim) you’re hooked, and as he struggles to survive and find his identity in the wilds of a French prison while under the thumb of Corsican crime boss Cesar (Niels Arestrup), there’s no turning away, even when shit gets too real for comfort. While Arestrup's performance is what you’d expect from a fat, over aged crime boss ala the Godfather, Rahim’s Malik captures you from the moment his dark eyes are framed on screen. He says very little throughout the film, but his expressive face carries all the depth of emotion needed to charm the pants off the audience and get you 100% emotionally invested in his fate. The film is gritty, but still beautiful, the colors expertly drawn out while each shot is artfully composed, instantly high class but without sugar coating the violent prison experience, perfection in every way.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Cairo Time is a quiet old fashioned romance built around impossibility and unstated taboo. It's at once a gentle travelogue and a vessel for ideas, a picture postcard of the lighter side of Middle Eastern culture shock. Patricia Clarkson stars as a Juliette, the wife of a UN official who is idling around Egypt waiting for her husband to take the time to give a shit. As a stand-in, her husband sends Tareq (Alexander Siddig), his former right hand man who plays willing tour guide to Juliette. As desert days stretch on, Tareq and Juliette become comfortable around one another. She processes things through him and he seems to see things differently through her. The result is a little bit Casablanca, a little bit Before Sunrise; a self-aware exercise in pacing that possesses an undeniable artistry even as it shoots for that soft spot in your mom's heart. It's passively flirty and never sinks too deeply into the morally ambiguous mire. In Cairo Time we have a dalliance that's just plain nice, that takes its time and lingers like a lovely little dream.