Archive | June 2014

The Reader (2008)

The Reader

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Starring Ralph Fiennes as Michael Berg

Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz

David Kross as Young Michael

Imdb Link

In post WW2 Germany, a teenage boy, Michael Berg starts having a summer long affair with an older woman, named Hanna Schmitz who saved his life. One day, Michael finds that Hanna has mysteriously vanished. He doesn’t see her for 6 years, until he is in law school, watching a case in which she is being prosecuted.

A sometimes overly sappy, but usually riveting drama. The Reader is a good example of a film that does everything right, but doesn’t really go above and beyond in many ways. The direction is well done, the writing is pretty good for the most part, the acting is fabulous, the camera work is good, as is the music. Really, everything is done well. My problem that keeps the film from reaching a perfect score though is that, yes The Reader does what it does well. But it never goes above and beyond (other than for Kate Winslet’s performance). It seemed like Stephen Daldry and crew were fine with making a movie that was good in every way, but only great in one or two. Speaking of great in one or two, that great spot is Kate Winslet, who won an Oscar for this role and performance. I really do have to say, she deserved that award. Winslet was so powerful, and incredibly moving every second she was on screen. She really stole the show. And she also made it easier to sympathize with a person that is evil. We see her as human, not just a monster. I think this is also a big part of the film, asking who was to blame for the terrible things that happened during the holocaust. Was it the guards of concentration camps, or were they just following orders? It definitely does a great job at making you feel conflicted. We should hate Hanna, but she’s just such a human character that it’s hard to hate her. Another big part of the film has to do with secrets, how far would we go to hide a secret. And in a way, everyone in the film has one. They all choose to hide something at some point. Just overall, I think that Stephen Daldry is good at what he does, which is making a film good enough to reap awards nominations, but not a film that’s really great. That said, I am looking forward to Trash, which I’m hoping is something new for him. The Reader is a very good movie, with Kate Winslet’s best performance. But it’s also a movie that doesn’t really strive for greatness.

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The Aristocrats (2005)

The Aristocrats

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Paul Provenza

Featuring George Carlin

Gilbert Gottfried

Robin Williams

and like 100 other comedians.

Imdb Link

A talking head documentary in which many comedians discuss the world’s dirtiest joke. The Aristocrats.

Well I was drawn to this documentary after watching Gilbert Gottfried perform The Aristocrats joke on a roast. After this, I was just wondering, what the hell is this? and why do I want to see more? So in searching for another comedian performing the joke, I found this documentary. Now I’m not much of a documentary guy. But this is definitely a new favorite documentary of mine. The Aristocrats is one of the raunchiest, dirtiest, and most shockingly hilarious movies I’ve ever seen. And it is legitimately only a group of comedians doing interviews where they’re asked questions about this joke, which really is an inside joke for comedians. But as they start to tell it, and tell their stories about the joke, we become in on the joke. It becomes funny to us as well, and we start to be able to love the ridiculousness of it. The comedians tell variations on the joke, they describe how they make it their own, they tell us the funniest ones they’ve ever heard. It all just makes for one of the most outrageous, disgusting, and hilarious films in recent memory. I do have to say that the documentarians didn’t really do anything special with the film. It is only talking heads, nothing else. There’s no other footage, it is only interviews. Which is fine, and it works, but it doesn’t push the envelope on how to do things. I don’t think this is a really well made doc, but it’s fun to watch. Also I think I’m gonna start playing the aristocrat game with friends, seeing who can tell the longest, dirtiest version of it. I highly recommend watching this movie. It’s full on YouTube and it is hilarious.

Ran (1985)

Ran

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Starring Tatsuya Nakadai as Lord Hidetora Ichimonji

Jinpachi Nezu as Jiro Ichimonji

Akira Terao as Taro Ichimonji

Mieko Herada as Lady Kaede

Imdb Link

After Lord Hidetora, an old man now, starts to feel he’s no longer fit to be the great lord of his lands, he gives his title and property away to two of his three sons. These sons, corrupt with their new power, turn against the old man, and it all turns into one huge game of thrones.

I chose this to be the first color Kurosawa film I watched, well, because it’s his most acclaimed and everyone says his use of color in this film is perfect. I have to agree with that statement. Kurosawa is meticulous with the set up of each shot in Ran, every single shot is color coordinated in it’s staging, even when looking most chaotic, you can tell the effort that was put into making it all about the colors. Whether it’s just three sons, all in different color robes sitting next to each other. Or whether it’s two armies, all wearing yellow and red, split down the middle by a crazy old man. The film looks spectacular. I think it’s amazing to see how well Kurosawa adapted to using color. As he arrived a bit late in the game for it, and was well known for his great use of black and white. But he definitely managed to do it well. The story of Ran is something amazing, based on Shakespeare’s King Lear (one of my favorites of his) this film takes ol’ willy shakes and puts him into the middle of feudal samurai Japan. And it works magnificently. The portrayal of Hidetora’s slow descent into madness is brilliant, slowly showing him losing his faith in his children, and then losing his wits, and his sense. Tatsuya Nakadai, who plays Hidetora is most definitely one of the best King Lear’s I’ve ever seen. Nakadai nails every aspect of the role. He makes this role even more tragic to watch than it already is. Another stand out performer in the film was Mieko Herada, who plays Lady Kaede, the manipulative fox, basically the Lady MacBeth character in this. She manipulates and plays mind games until she manages to tear an entire family apart. She didn’t get much screen time until one scene where she threatens to kill her brother in law. Personally, I might actually say this is the best acted scene in any Kurosawa film. Every single minute she is on camera, she owns the film. Really, all in all, this film just works on so many levels. From the meticulous thought that went into planning every single shot. To the amazing performances. To the badass war sequences. This all feels like a Samurai Game of Thrones in a way. And that is a very good thing in my opinion. I highly recommend watching this. Another masterpiece from a Japanese master. Nearly everything Kurosawa touches turns to gold.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Dazed and Confused

★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring Jas0n London as Randall Floyd

Wiley Wiggins as Mitch Kramer

Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson

Imdb Link

It’s the last day of school, 1976. The upperclassmen haze the incoming freshmen, by paddling, hunting down, or otherwise humiliating them. Everyone is doing something that night, going to a party, getting high, trying to get laid.

To be honest, I expected something more out of this film. I don’t know what, but something. I feel like I always go into Richard Linklater films expecting something other than what I get. I mean, he has some films that I really really enjoy, such as the Before trilogy, or School of Rock, then there’s films like Dazed and Confused, and Slacker where I expect something so much different out of them, and I really don’t end up enjoying them all that much. Slacker had an interesting premise, but sloppy execution and dialogue that made these slackers sound a lot more philosophical than they actually are. I found a lot of that same problem in Dazed and Confused. I felt like it had some hilarious moments, but the execution felt no different than any high school movie John Hughes ever made, it was the same style, same kind of direction. Then also a lot of the dialogue just didn’t suit the characters. I mean, Richard Linklater is a great writer, he really puts some great ideas into his dialogue, and it’s interesting to listen to. But oftentimes, you can’t differentiate one character from another, they all speak the same way. Which is, awkwardly, quirkily, philosophical. They all have big ideas, and they all sound like they come from Richard Linklater, not from the character. Which is never a good thing with dialogue. To be honest, you could not be able to tell a quote from the nerds in this movie, apart from a quote from Jesse in any of the Before movies, or any character whatsoever in Slacker. They all sound like Richard Linklater talking. Sometimes it works better than others, I mean, Jesse in Before is an author and a romantic, so it’s believable that he’d talk like that. Whereas a football player or a high school nerd in Dazed and Confused? Ah, not so believable. It’s full of really great characters who feel unique as well though, such as Slater and Wooderson, who both have their share of damn good lines. They’re some of the few characters that do not feel like the writer talking. Honestly though, I found Dazed and Confused to be just alright alright alright. It wasn’t good, wasn’t bad. Didn’t do anything for me, probably because a) I was not alive in 1976. Or 1993 for that matter. b) I’m not the partying type, so I don’t find much relatable in the film. This falls in the middle of the spectrum for high school movies for me though. But if you want something truly  amazing about the same era of high school. Go check out the TV show Freaks & Geeks.

Enter the Void (2010)

Enter the Void

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Gaspar Noé

Starring Nathaniel Brown as Oscar

Paz de la Huerta as Linda

Imdb Link

Oscar is a junkie living in Tokyo with his sister. One day, he gets shot by the police while doing a drug deal with his best friend. His soul floats around Tokyo, first seeing his life as it was, and then seeing the fallout after his death.

The most self indulgent film I have ever seen. This is a film in which the director is doing whatever the hell he wants, not stopping for anyone. He breaks boundaries, he goes places not many would dare go. This is a film in which the director, literally has someone ejaculate into the audience. This is a film that is offensive, shocking, and god damn it if it isn’t brilliant. From the very beginning seconds, when we’re greeted with seizure inducing opening credits, names in neon that flash by so fast that you can’t even read them. From that point, we know exactly what we’re entering into. This is one huge acid trip of a movie. From the opening sequence, which is probably 10 minutes, uncut point of view footage, in which we are the main character, we are Oscar. We see him as an enormous screw up, just by being him for a few minutes. Then we go into another long point of view shot, where we walk across Tokyo, all ending in Oscar being shot, and our journey really beginning. The whole movie is really a series of long shots from the point of view of a soul, drifting across Tokyo. At times, it feels like Gasper Noé filmed his acid trip. Other times it feels like he filmed his nightmares. At all times though, this movie manages to enchant and disturb us. The camera work in this movie is one of the most extraordinary feats I have ever seen. Enter the Void is beautifully colorful in a seedy, Las Vegas neon sign way. The color scheme looks amazing, and perfect for the subject matter. Then there’s the extraordinary long takes, as well as shorter takes that are meant to look like long takes, and the constant view from above angle. I kept trying to figure out how they managed to get camera angles like the ones they got. Finally, I really liked the camera direction to only show the back of Oscar’s head when his life flashes before his eyes. It gave the camera work even more of a ghostly feel in those moments. As one reviewer said, “This is either the most drug filled artsy movie, or the most artsy drug movie.” Which really describes it well. To quote the film, “It’s like death is the ultimate trip.” Which seems to be the vision for the whole film. Oscar’s death turns into a two and a half hour long psychedelic experience. This is a gritty, brutal, and haunting movie. And one that’ll stick with me. Although, yes, it may be ridiculously pretentious, and yes, it is incredibly self indulgent. This is a truly amazing movie. It does things that others never dare to do. And it looks pretty god damn spectacular while doing it.

Red Beard (1965)

Red Beard

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Starring Yuzo Kayama as Yasumoto

Toshiro Mifune as Red Beard

Imdb Link

A young, but highly trained doctor, Yasumoto, is sent to intern at a clinic in a poor town. He hates it there, and tries to get himself fired, until the doctor who runs the clinic, who is known as Red Beard, convinces him that being a doctor is about helping others, not helping yourself.

I had been trying to go through all of Kurosawa’s filmography chronologically for some time, and I stopped about four months ago, when I got to Red Beard. Well not really stopped, just never found an evening where I wanted to sit down and watch a three hour long film about doctors. I thought it would be boring, too drawn out, and something that would not be worth three hours. Despite the fact that Kurosawa is one of my top 5 directors of all time, I believed that Red Beard would be one of his lesser works. After watching it, I can’t stress how wrong I was. Red Beard is a masterpiece on every single level. This is a film, set a few years after the age of samurai, about doctors learning to love mankind. Kurosawa typically makes two types of films, his deep, thoughtful dramas, and his fun samurai movies. This is a mix of the two. The subject matter is humanistic, all about helping others, the script resembles that of another masterpiece of his, Ikiru in many ways. Yet however, this film has the energy at times of one of his samurai films. One scene in particular, where Red Beard uses his knowledge of the human body to wreak utter destruction upon about 30 men. He breaks bones, cracks necks, pounds pressure points. It’s incredible to watch, and even though this is a drama, this fight scene feels as welcome here as it would in Seven Samurai. The whole film keeps you interested throughout with it’s huge emotional range, it’s amazing camera work, and it’s attitude. I need to speak to the camera work for a bit, because a lot of these shots mystify me. There’s one scene in particular, in which some nurses call into a well, trying to bring a child back to life, and the camera pans down into the well, then shows the nurses reflected in the water. It’s mystifying that they could pull that shot together. There are so many moments like that in here. And while this might not be Kurosawa’s best looking film in terms of beautiful camerawork, it is definitely one of his most technically accomplished films. And finally, the attitude of the film makes it an easy watch, even at 3 hours. There’s no sulking around being miserable here, and if there is, it’s shown as a bad attitude. This film has life, this film has a positive outlook. This is a film made with the thought that mankind is good. It feels so hopeful. And that hopefulness is reflected in the titular character, who is one of the most genuinely kind, and amazing characters ever written for film. I can’t think of another character that is just so good. Red Beard is a true hero. Also, this is by far Toshiro Mifune’s best performance. In a perfect world, he would have earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the doctor. Too bad Red Beard went unnoticed that year. Really, all in all, this film was a huge surprise to me. It’s one of my new favorite Kurosawa films, and it makes me want to get back to my task of finishing the man’s whole filmography.

Wayne’s World (1992)

Wayne’s World

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Penelope Spheeris

Starring Mike Myers as Wayne

Dana Carvey as Garth

Rob Lowe as Benjamin

Tia Carrere as Cassandra

Imdb Link

Wayne and Garth, two college age slackers who run a no budget cable access show out of Wayne’s parents’ basement, are contacted by a TV producer, Benjamin, who wants to buy their show off of them and make it into a big advertisement.

I’ve never seen any of the original SNL skits that Wayne’s World is based on, so this is my first exposure to Wayne’s World all together. I gotta say, it’s a pretty damn hilarious movie, with some good characters, quotable lines, and creative fourth wall breaking. I really like Mike Myers work on Austin Powers, he plays one of the funniest characters of all time flawlessly in that film. I thought his portrayal of Wayne in this didn’t quite live up to his Austin Powers, but it was still pretty hilarious. I mean, yeah, it was very over exaggerated at times, and occasionally crosses the line between funny and bad, but I really liked Mike Myers portrayal of Wayne. I also love seeing that Myers wrote a lot of drafts of the screenplay. You can tell a lot of Myers humor in the script, like the product placement scene, or all of the fourth wall breaks in general. It feels very uniquely like Mike Myers. Some of the jokes were misses for me, but overall I thought that the writing was funny. The script has dull patches, where nothing interesting happens, then there are times when you get amazing lines like “If Benjamin were an ice cream, he’d be pralines and dick.” that have you quoting them for weeks (I know I’ll be using that one a lot. God damn Benjamin.) And then there’s times when you don’t even know what’s going on and it just has you cringing. Like the very end where they do three separate ends. Which just felt… over stretched, unnecessary and ambiguous for no good reason. Still, Wayne’s World is very good for a laugh, and is one of the better SNL spinoffs I’ve seen. It may not ever reach excellence. But it’s not bad at all.

Spirited Away (2002)

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Spirited Away

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Starring Rumi Hiraagi as Chihiro

Miyu Irino as Haku

Mari Natsuki as Yubaba/Zeniba

Imdb Link

Fourth Watch

On their way to their new home, Chihiro and her parents take a wrong turn, and end up stopping at an abandoned amusement park, which just happens to be the location of a bath house for spirits and gods. Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs, and Chihiro is trapped in this spirit world, forced to work for an evil witch in the bath house to get her parents back.

After watching Porco Rosso, I decided to give another brilliant Miyazaki film, Spirited Away, a rewatch. And what can I say. This is his most well known film for a reason. I mean, it may not be my favorite of his, that honor goes to Howl’s Moving Castle, however, Spirited Away might just be his best film. Everything that Miyazaki does well is on full display here, from the metaphors, to the mythology, to the emotions it invokes, to the breathtaking animation. I’ll start off with evaluating the writing of the film. Miyazaki’s screenplay for Spirited Away is a beautifully crafted thing. He introduces us into such a complex world and yet we understand all of it. He doesn’t over explain anything, he just lets us roll with it and lets us understand from his images. Then there’s the layers and layers of metaphors in the film. I swear, you could teach an entire university course on the metaphors in Spirited Away. Every single character, every spirit is a part of a metaphor. It’s fun to try and figure out what each spirit means. Some are easier than others, such as the “stink god” being a polluted river, and then there are the hard ones, like the Radish god which I still have no clue what the hell what it means. I also have to say, it’s one of Miyazaki’s best when it comes to emotions rolling over you. I’ve said it before, Miyazaki goes strongly by the show not tell method. He never tells us to feel any emotions, unlike other animation directors, who might show a character being sad because their parents are gone. Miyazaki makes us feel these emotions through other means. Every emotion we feel watching this movie feels natural. Not artificial. My one criticism of the script is in the plot. I feel it moves weirdly at times, and characters contradict themselves occasionally, or things happen that we were told should not happen. Such as Haku telling Chihiro to not leave Kumaji until she had a job, and that he would try to trick her into leaving, and what does Kumaji do? He tricks her into leaving. And nothing bad happens to her, as we were told it would. Just small things like that happen throughout the film, but it does take you out of the film for a second to say “wait… didn’t they just establish that should not happen?” Next I have to talk about the visuals of the film. Spirited Away is arguably Miyazaki’s most beautiful film. That said, it’s also Miyazaki’s film that strays the most from what he usually does with his visuals. As Guillermo Del Toro said at his TIFF lecture on Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, “Studio Ghibli’s two most ordered colors of paint are blue and green.” Which usually shows how much of nature Miyazaki shows. However, in this film, the majority of the film takes place inside the bath house. And most of the colors used are yellows and reds. But it looks amazing, maybe better than anything else he’s done because it looks so different from anything else he’s ever done. Then there is the music, and again, Joe Hisaishi makes something that manages to make the film infinitely more beautiful. The theme to Spirited Away is haunting in it’s beauty. Really, just everything about Spirited Away is great. It may not be my favorite Miyazaki piece, but it’s up there. And it’s one of the best animated films ever made.

Porco Rosso (1992)

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Porco Rosso

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Starring Michael Keaton as Porco Rosso

Kimberly Williams Paisley as Fio

Cary Elwes as Curtis

Imdb Link

In a time where sea plane pilots rule the seas, the most famous one is “The Crimson Pig” or Porco Rosso, a man who has been cursed into looking like a pig. Porco Rosso is a bounty hunter, catching any sea plane pirate that he can. Until one day he’s shot down, and is forced to go to Milan for repairs.

Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite directors without a doubt, only two of his films I’ve ever seen have not left me amazed. Somehow, I’d never seen Porco Rosso, or Kiki’s Delivery Service. This week, I decided that I needed to give Porco Rosso a watch. It definitely did not disappoint whatsoever. Porco Rosso is a beautiful film on every level. For one, like all other Miyazaki films, the artistry in Porco Rosso is incredible. The thing I love most about Studio Ghibli movies is that you can tell exactly how much effort went into every frame of the film. You can tell the artistry and the care that went into making the film as gorgeous as it is. Another thing I always love about Miyazaki films is the writing. Miyazaki loves to write in metaphors, which he definitely does here. In many of his films, characters are represented in certain forms because of the way they are, so it’s no mystery as to why the title character was transformed into a pig. Porco/Marco is a very piggish person, but he’s a character who definitely changes over the course of the story. Going from a selfish pig, to a slightly less selfish pig. We may never know what turned him int0 a pig in the first place, but we know that he’s changed by the end. Miyazaki’s metaphors are part of what makes his films so great. He’s never too heavy handed with them, and yet they are all recognizable if you put any thought in. One thing that surprised me about the writing in this film was how comic it was however. Miyazaki is a great writer, but I’ve never really thought of any of his films as hilarious. They usually just roll over you and make you feel, not making you laugh, but making you just generally happy. Porco Rosso had me laughing constantly. The dialogue in Porco Rosso was really witty and sharp. Another thing I always have to mention when I see a Miyazaki movie is the music. Joe Hisaishi is by far one of the best composers out there. And his work on Porco Rosso is brilliant. It gives the film a really Italian vibe. Really, just overall, this is a great film. Miyazaki knocks one out of the park once again. I do have to say though, that the English cast wasn’t as good as they usually are in Miyazaki dubs. Next time I watch, I’ll be trying the original language version.

Steamboat Willie (1928)

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Steamboat Willie

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Ub Iwerks & Walt Disney

Imdb Link

Mickey Mouse is at the wheel of a steamboat, whistling a song, when his boss yells at him, and makes him go scrub the deck of the boat, where he starts a symphony of animal noises.

After watching the underwhelming Get a Horse!, which was a tribute to old Disney short films like Steamboat Willie, I decided I should go and watch one of the real classics, and what better one to watch than the classic Disney short that started it all. Steamboat Willie was the first animated film to be synchronized with sound, as well as the first cartoon to ever use the now iconic character, Mickey Mouse. This is still remembered as one of Disney’s best cartoons, and for good reason. Sometimes people use “first” and “great” as synonyms, when referring to films. Occasionally, I’ll go into a supposedly “great film” that did something new, and find it to be just average. However, Steamboat Willie is one of the times when I definitely agree with the consensus that this is a classic. This film both revolutionized animated films, and still manages to be a thoroughly enjoyable film today. As I’ve said, this was the first cartoon to sync sound in to it, and it does it nearly perfectly. It is an enjoyable mix of cute visuals and an odd rendition of “Turkey in the Straw”, played by animal voices. It also manages to introduce the character of Mickey Mouse in a way that makes us love him, and remember why we love the famous Disney character in the first place. You can see why this was the film that made Mickey the icon that he is, and you can also see why Disney Animation Studios is using the start of Steamboat Willie at the beginning of their new animated films. This really was the start of Disney as we know it today. Also, you can see all the animated short films that have taken inspiration from Steamboat Willie since, such as every single dialogue free Pixar animated short. Each and every one of them has taken influence from this movie, and yet, unlike many other influential films, this does not feel dull after watching those. Even nearly 90 years after this short debuted, this film is still the king of animated short films. I’m so glad I finally got around to watching this film, and if you haven’t, but you enjoy Disney movies, this is one that is most certainly worth watching.