Tuesday, November 29, 2011
éliès, and he is the man who took "A Trip to the Moon." Unsurprisingly, Scorsese has chosen to run with the Méliès subplot, taking it to new heights and dazzlingly ornate sets. Some have argued that the story becomes sidelined here, that everything deteriorates into a film preservation PSA. No. You have to question that logic. For my money, you should avoid purveyors of such thoughts. Beware of critics endorsing that line of thinking, and, for that matter, beware of naysayers who dwell too much on trivialities here...they may not love the medium as much as they claim to. Hugo is a children's story, in many ways, but it's also a simple, wonderful, heart soaring ode, and a tremendously endearing treasure. Butterfield and Moretz may not be the most brilliant of actors, but their presence is fresh and we have no trouble experiencing the the film through them.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Sunday, November 27, 2011
here. On top of it. Got it covered. Way ahead of you. Etc, etc.
The Muppets -for all their cheery idealism- are a remarkably sophisticated act which, when piloted properly, offer a rare happiness and a densely layered humor. Their mere appearance inspires joy, yet, on the one-hand, they're a kid-friendly puppet act, on the other a self-aware, deeply meta variety act. Part of the beauty of the Muppets is derived from the wealth of their personalities. For every wide-eyed innocent, there's one snarkily pessimistic critic, maniac, or narcissist. When we were very small, we loved them because we wanted to know them. As we grew up, we loved them because we realized we did know them. The problem that The Muppets falls victim to is one of conflicted nostalgia. It expects that its die hard fans will want to visit (we do), but tends to revere its characters and busy itself entertaining the newbies
In an opening montage, we meet Gary (Segel) and his brother Walter. They're inseparable, and as they age, the two constants in their Smalltown lives are each other and a rabid Muppet fandom. They're Bert and Ernie in adjacent bunks, smiling through the hard times with bowls of popcorn and "Muppet Show" reruns. Walter's a fanatic. He finds hope in the Muppets. He should. He is one. So, naturally, when big brother Gary and his schoolteacher girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) embark on a Los Angeles vacation, they have little choice but to cart Walter along and sidestep romantic outings in favor of a trip to the holy land: Muppet Studios. Long story short: Muppet Studios is condemned, a dastardly businessman (Chris Cooper) plans on tearing it down, and Walter takes it upon himself to do the impossible...get the Muppets back together to save the studio.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
The last quarter of the year is my favorite film season, as I suspect is the case with most avid filmgoers. It’s when we get the bulk of the Oscar contenders, festival favorites, and under the radar limited releases in bulk quantities with a new “good” movie (or two, or three) slipped into a theatrical run each and every weekend. I love it, of course, but I’ll let you in on a secret: this is also a season boasting a surplus of bland yet “solid” films, and writing half-positive review after half-positive review for something you like, but don’t love, can become fantastically tedious. My J. Edgar rehashing was tepid at best, and when I went to see The Descendants the day after that viewing, I was worried I might be stacking my non-profit workload with writings I’d have to force myself to push through in the name of self-discipline (and a mildly OCD penchant for completion). After all, it wasn’t too long ago I found myself writing a rather underwhelmed review on Ides of March, I hadn’t been Up in the Air’s biggest fan, and there was a strong possibility that Alexander Payne’s The Descendants would be just another in a run of sad sack stories disguised as mildly comedic slices of life.
Alright, so I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that yes, The Descendants does indeed carry its fair share of sorrows, but otherwise I’m happy to report that as Oscar-bait family dramas go: this one is decidedly fresh, entertaining, and rather lovely. The Descendants is yet another literary adaptation, its origins pointed to in the deft juggling of multiple storylines and the terrific depth of understanding its actors seem to possess of their assorted characters. The film tells the story of Matt King (Clooney). Matt self-identifies as “the back-up parent” to his two daughters, and, before we get a chance to judge him, we find him admitting to his comatose wife that he knows he hasn’t been as attentive as he should be. Matt is trying to cope, but he’s also trying to hold together all the drifting pieces of his life. His youngest daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) is a precocious, difficult 10-year old with an attitude. He doesn’t understand her at all, and when he retrieves 17-year old Alex (Shailene Woodley) from boarding school, we wonder at first if her rebellious, rehabbed ways will calm the fires or douse them with gasoline. As an additional distraction, Matt is balancing the personal with the highly public: his family has lived in Hawaii for generations and the titular descendants have passed down a massive quantity of untouched island real estate, which Matt’s veritable tribe of cousins have put him in charge of selling off. The decision to or not to sell, or, who to sell to, is one rattled about as front page local news and one that could potentially effect the natural course of island life. The sale could easily take the forefront in an entirely separate film, but here is treated with the uneasiness of distraction. It’s one more nagging burden upon Matt’s shoulders, and we feel for him.
Oh, by the way? That comatose wife thing? Not a spoiler. There are a few things you should know going in and the first is undoubtedly that this is a movie revolving largely around the fact that Matt King’s wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) will not be waking up. In many ways, The Descendants is about dealing with death before the physical act of dying occurs. In a beautifully acted moment of poor parenting, Matt confides with his angry daughter Alex that the doctors will be pulling the plug. Of course, he doesn’t brace her for this, sit her down, or drape her in some sort of fatherly embrace, but instead tells her while she’s floating around the pool between cell phone conversations. Clooney puts in a tremendously understated performance here, shedding much of his debonair bravado and charming smugness to become a harried, hapless parent. This moment is quietly devastating, as so many in the film are. We can see that Matt is frantic, that he wants to share this news, that he’s frustrated by Alex’s actions and yet desperately needs her to be in this with him; we can also see what this means for Alex and trace back, lightly, through the assumed tactical errors he’s likely to have made in the past.
The Descendants is equal parts coming of age and coming to terms, splitting its focus amongst the members of the King family. The fractured pieces are the stuff of melodrama and prime time soap operas: dying mother, single father, troubled teen, extramarital affairs, a sneaky dose of hidden wealth. Yet, in Payne’s hands, they seem anything but. The situation unfolds in unexpected ways. Father and eldest daughter team up, slowly becoming closer and closer in a colluded effort to close up Elizabeth’s unfinished business. They embark on a quest, of sorts, for something intangible which only they (and perhaps Alex’s dimwitted dude friend Sid) know the motives behind. On one day it’s revenge. On another, redemption. Sometimes it’s selfless closure, other times it’s selfish rage. Shailene Woodley is impressive here, tapping into a depth of uncertain angst and that perfectly complements Clooney’s flailing eagerness to please. Together they mark just one set of the film’s emotional contradictions, and the way the characters interact and intertwine with each other separates the film from dozens of others in its vein. While I can’t be sure the film reaches the heights of the “instant classic” some are hyping it as, The Descendants is a rich, human tragicomedy as endearingly funny as it is profoundly melancholy. See it. Expect it to devastating in a way that’s somehow inevitable, and then allow yourself to savor the natural way the film’s humor arises from the emotional lows.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Yes, Really entries and get to watching all those talked about movies I've never bothered with. We've got some classics, some cult flicks, some notable flops, some dancing, some singing, some pure insanity. Once again, I'm enlisting your help on this. I've installed a poll at the bottom of the sidebar and am asking you to vote and cut out the decision making process here. Choose one, choose two, choose three, whatever. When the poll closes on December 5th, I'll begin the taxing task of watching them from winner to loser, and writing about them as scathingly as I see fit...
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Friday, November 18, 2011
What’s up doc? Just a few words before I go to sleep. I feel like I’m going to dream tonight. Big bad ones. You know, the kind you like. It's easier talking into the recorder. I guess I feel I can say anything. All my secrets. The naked ones. I know you like those doc. I know you like me too. That’ll be my little secret, okay? Why is it so easy to make men like me? And I don’t even have to try very hard. 18 songs for Laura Palmer with Anna Calvi, Lana Del Rey, and Tamaryn. Listen here or on 8Tracks.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
This past weekend, a friend asked over dinner if I was at all excited about seeing Meryl Streep play Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. On Saturday, I must confess that I answered with a very taciturn sort of "not really" and then some rumblings about seeing it any way out of some obligation to my own odd seasonal obsessions. What had been making the rounds was a lot of talk about a lack of authenticity to the story. Granted, I don't know much about what it was like to live in Thatcher's England (though I've certainly read and seen a fair amount opposing it), but I must say the trailer is surprisingly lively and appears to be much more promising as an overall film than the next great Streep performance I was chalking it up as being.
While it does appear to be relying on some of what made The King's Speech sell last year (and this could certainly be trickery), I will now confess that I'm definitely curious. That's all you'll get from me.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Regardless, the animation looks (as usual) phenomenal. I mean, get a load of the texture on that hair! Let's all set little imaginary clocks to countdown the days until June. That's right. You have to wait all winter. All winter.
Guys, we're not on the ball. You'll just have to excuse us for totally failing to actually watch the full trailer for The Hunger Games until about two minutes ago. Don't worry, though. It's taken care of. I must admit that this trailer is more promising than I'd anticipated. Something about the direction the casting had been going (with the exception of Jennifer Lawrence, of course) had been preventing me from getting my hopes up for any flat out dystopian sci-fi. Watching no-name teen male after no-name teen male fall into line was making this into a sort of Twilight deja-vu for me, but I think I may be able to actually grant this a vote of confidence now. What I'm digging, specifically, is the surprisingly spartan, bare-bones approach to the cinematography. There's something that does seem to echo old school science fiction here, somewhere between Logan's Run and Rollerball. If they can pull that off visually, while working with the strength of the story and its strong female protagonist, this could be something great. We'll know come spring.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Alright, I'm really excited about this one but it makes me a bit nervous to see Kristen Stewart silent in this trailer. Let's hope it's not because all she has to say was, "I get to have a sword and stuff, and really cool weapons."
Snow White and the Huntsman [Trailer]
Snow White and the Huntsman [Trailer]
October is always a busy month around these parts, and November isn’t much better. It seems that lately we can’t get through the fall without all hell breaking loose (in the best way, I suppose), but somehow I always manage to sneak in a movie or two at the annual Chicago International Film Festival. This year, it had been my intention to spend a few days camped in the AMC multiplex the fest calls home. I had big plans to check out whatever the schedule offered me, and to take in more than the usual dose or two of ‘special presentations.’ Work, weddings, and travels out of town interfered with that goal, but fortunately I still took in a couple worthwhile screenings. Next year, maybe I’ll take a few days off. Next year, maybe they’ll update that god awful intro reel (I’m looking at you, Columbia College). Next year, maybe I’ll have time to border jump over to TIFF. Next year, next year, next year. For now, though, part two: let's talk about Kevin.
Every so often I pick up a book I believe myself to have no interest in. These are usually best sellers and ‘book club’ titles; novels along the lines of The Poisonwood Bible, The Lovely Bones, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Help. Most of the time, I find my lack of interest validated. Every so often (The Poisonwood Bible, for example), I’m pleasantly surprised. Picking up Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin last year was one of those latter moments. I couldn’t have imagined how engrossed I’d be in a novel so centered on unpredictable violence and uncontrollable offspring. With Kevin, Shriver tells the story not of the titular boy (though he certainly plays a large role here), but of the woman who birthed him. In letters to her estranged husband, we receive Eva Khatchadourian’s compelling narration of events; she’s frank, darkly funny, angry, detached, and tragic. As the story unfolds, building from the bliss of her glamorous life without children to the anguish and unpleasantness of motherhood, the tale sparkles with pitch black insights and even-keeled suspense. I loved Eva, flat out, and was thrilled to find a female character as complicated, strong willed and honest as Shriver had written her. Kevin worked for me, it became somehow real, somehow personal, and I’m still shocked by how effective it was. That’s why, though I knew that the subject matter weighed heavy and the drama dipped to a devastating low, I couldn’t wait to see this film.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
So, happy late Halloween, happy Day of the Dead, all that business. We're late, but that's only because Halloween isn't really over for us yet. Don't let our lack of Halloween posts this year fool you: we're still all about this holiday, guys. So much so that at least one of us (ahem, this one) has declared that all parties occurring prior to Thanksgiving must be costume parties. Hell, maybe Thanksgiving too. You know what? This deadline may extend indefinitely.
That said: if you're missing our horror posts, go back and visit October 2010, when M. and I ran through 31 whole days of blood, guts, demons, and psychological scar tissue. Also, take a minute to watch this excellent little animation from A Large Evil Corporation (no, really, that's what they call themselves) and continue to get high on fructose. Nom, nom, nom.
Also, did anyone go out in any rad movie themed costumes this past weekend?