Wednesday, September 30, 2009
It has always taken me a few viewings to appreciate Coen Brother films and A Serious Man will be no exception. Films like Barton Fink and Millers Crossing I enjoy at first then after watching it a few times I begin to love them and they become some of my favorite films. Other times I watch The Ladykillers and O Brother, Where Art Thou? and multiple viewings do not help me appreciate them more. A Serious Man may fall into the latter category. I am being a little hard on it because I expect the world from the Coen brothers and I know what they are capable of. Technically the film is flawless, it looks great and the acting is right on. Roger Deakins photography is excellent and you feel you are in 1967. The main problem I had was the story, it's simple and nothing really happens. Michael Stuhlbarg is great as a man who's life is suddenly falling apart and his religion is doing nothing to help him, that is pretty much the entire story. I am sure it has a few hidden agenda's like women are the root of all evil, corruption leads to death, and don't sweat the small stuff because more serious problems are on the horizon,but I'm not sure and thats what multiple viewings are for. The only problem I had with Stuhlbarg's character is he is such a victim that after awhile you lose sympathy for him simply because he never stands up for himself. Some of his problems are so simple to get out of that all he has to do is say "no" or just talk to someone and his problems are over. There are too many dream sequences and too many characters that are their just to be quirky. I wanted a standout performance or a deeply enriched character, and instead we get good acting with nothing too memorable.The story can be confusing at times if you know nothing of the Jewish religion, but they repeat themselves a few times and the uneducated viewer,like myself, gets the jist of it. I was lucky enough to go to the New York Premiere where the cast and crew were present, and I really wanted a Q&A afterwards to possibly get some deeper meanings, if any, on the film as a whole. I think the audience felt forced to laugh at the quirkiness and maybe a little inferior because of a feeling that their should be something more to the film. If you are a Coen Brothers fan then I recommend this film, you will get something from it, but not their top work. Don't let the greatness of the ending fool you into thinking this is a great movie. 3 out of 5 stars.
Monday, September 14, 2009
It has been a tough summer for those of us who grew up watching films in the 80's. First we lose John Hughes back in August(Podcast on that subject is coming soon,that is why no tribute on the blog), now we have lost one of my childhood heroes with Patrick Swayze. Like Hughes,Swayze has been around, but his best work died when the 90's began. Patrick Swayze was very good in Donnie Darko(2001), but that is the only memorable performance since Point Break(1991). The first thing I saw him in was in The Outsiders(1983), and I must have watched that film a hundred times. Over the next 8 years(which seems like a lifetime when you are a kid) I watched everything he was in including Tiger Warsaw(1988). Swayze had a great commanding voice and a terrific screen presence. There was a reason he was in charge in every movie he was in, he chewed up screen time and always gave that older brother vibe. I loved every film he did from 1983-1991, but these are my favorites.
The Outsiders(1983) The first time I saw Swayze was as leader of the Greasers and Ponyboy's older brother Darrel Curtis. He was a real prick at the beginning, but then Ponyboy and Johnny killed Leif Garrett and he stopped being a hard ass. With the crew of talented actors in this film Sawyze takes control and leads them to victory over the well dressed Socs.
Dirty Dancing(1987) Yes it's a girlie film, but if all girlie films were this good then I would be a happy man. Johnny Castle is perhaps the role that will always be associated with Swayze. Good story and good cast,but I always felt that Johnny and Baby didn't have great chemistry. That is mainly because Baby had nothing to offer to the older and cooler Johnny but youth and sex, and he didn't need any help in that department. Swayze reeks of coolness, confidence and really carries this film. Only Swayze is allowed to put Baby in the corner.
Youngblood(1986) This is Rob Lowe's film,but Swayze's Derek Sutton makes this ship float. This isn't a great film,but I watched it so much as a kid it still holds a place in my heart. Swayze is the veteran player that must teach young Lowe how to stop being a pussy and fight the hated and hairy Racki. Again Swayze plays the older brother/mentor role that he shined at. I watched it again recently and it still holds up for me.
Red Dawn(1984) Out of all of his films this one had the most impact. As a child I had a great fear of Nuclear War and Red Dawn fed that fear more than any film. It was a mixture of fear of a Russian attack and the fun of playing guns in the woods that made this film so appealing. Again Swayze is the leader(Jed) of a bunch of kids hiding from a bunch of evil Reds. He takes charge and decides to fight back, and he does it his way on his turf. Swayze is so in charge that a older Powers Boothe and crazy C.Thomas Howell don't even try to take control. Jed doesn't take prisoners, allow crying, or put up with snitches. Red Dawn is a film of it's time and it is a shame they are remaking it. The producers have big shoes to fill and they won't come close to filling Swayze's.
Point Break(1991) The last great performance. A action film is only as good as it's villain, and Swayze's surfer Bodhi plays it to the tee. He is so good in this that you care more about him than Special Agent Utah. I watched this the other night and even when you find out Swazye is the bad guy you don't stop liking him, in fact you root for him. It's a shame Swayze didn't go out riding the treacherous waves from the 100 year storm.
Road House(1989) The name is Dalton! Was their any doubt that this would be on my list? This movie is like a fine wine and improves with age. I think Swayze's role as Dalton has become his second most beloved character behind Johnny Castle, but it is easily my favorite. Anyone who whips comebacks like "Pain don't Hurt.", "Your too stupid to have a good time!", and "Opinions Vary." is all right in my book. I noticed none of the online obituaries mention this film because Road House is all balls and adrenaline and it caps my most beloved decade in film. I was lucky enough to see this film at the theater and had the same reaction as a 9th grader as I do now...Fun Filled Greatness! In fact The Outsiders and Youngblood were cable movies for me , the rest I saw at the theater. Other films that almost made the list were Ghost(1990),Next Of Kin(1989), and Grandview,U.S.A(1984) all good films,but I like these a bit better. Lets not forget the funny side of Swayze, his S.N.L. performance with Chris Farley as competing Chip and Dale dancers is gold. He will be missed and sadly another part of my childhood is gone.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
1. THE PLOTHOLES: Almost as many as District 9: 1) Landa falling into that trap at the end—letting himself get cuffed then carved up—when in every other scene he’s the smartest character in the movie 2) Landa killing the German actress for plotting to blow up the theater, even though he’s doing the exact same thing 3) Shosanna’s story being included in the first place—if she hadn’t plotted to blow up the theater, then Landa and the Basterds would’ve done it for her.
2. THE TITLE: It’s like calling Pee Wee’s Big Adventure instead Amazing Larry. The Basterds are secondary characters, a subplot to Shosanna’s story when it should be the other way around. (Not to mention, they’re introduced first as a band of lawless killers, but the potential of that concept isn’t explored at all. It’s completely dropped when they’re brought back to be recruits for a special mission. It makes their introduction as lawless killers a waste of time).
3. THE STYLE: You can’t take Leone’s framing, pacing, and music wholesale and then put your name all over it like you reinvented cinema.
4. THE THEME: Tell me what this movie is about. His other movies bothered to have a theme, even if it was as simple as exploring middle age or the paradoxes of vengeance. I swear Babel had more of a defined theme than this movie.
5. THE SUBTEXT: Using nitrate film as a weapon is kind of an awesome idea, and since the movie suggests that "film" itself is in a very legitimate way owned by the Jews (by bringing up the Jewish producers & studio heads in the British officer’s orientation scene) then Tarantino's choice to slaughter the Nazis with film is maybe the most clever thing in the movie, it’s like having them be slaughtered by bagels or I don’t know, diamonds. It’s kind of amazing that it works, but he does nothing else with it and it’s not developed any further (like say how propagandaistic film can do more to end a war than actual firepower, a variation on the pen is mightier than the sword, etc). It just seems like this whole movie’s construction was some scribbled notes about what would make “The Ultimate WWII movie , OKAAY?”, without any sort of sense of how it would logically come together.
6. THE TENSION: What makes the opening of Once Upon a Time in The West so great is that Leone doesn’t spend the next 2 1/2 hours repeating himself. Some scenes are shorter, some are funny, some aren’t fraught with tension. So when a scene comes along that is overwhelmingly intense, then it’s that much more powerful because there's a variety of tone. But almost every scene in Basterds builds the same exact way with the same prolonged tension, and pretty much makes the movie monotonous by definition.
7. THE BEAR JEW: Kevin Costner in 13 Days does a better Boston accent than Eli Roth’s faux-Affleck squawk. Not to mention the character doesn’t make any sense—why all the ominous buildup spent on him? Getting taken out by a baseball bat blow to the head is kind of mercy killing, at least compared to getting scalped.
8. THE EDITING: The scene with Landa and Shosanna in the restaurant is a tension build for nothing, it’s a cheat. That and the first half of the basement bar scene could be completely lost and it would be the same movie.
9. THE FONT: When did he get so font happy. It's distracting and just underscores how inconsistent this movie is.
10. THE LAST LINE: Tarantino’s lack of humility would be tolerable if he were still making something purely his own like Pulp Fiction, but I can’t think of an instance where a director was so megalomaniacal so to have his character practically be a stand-in for him, and address the audience, so to tell us that we just watched what he “thinks is a masterpiece,” only to be followed by the “written & directed by” signature. What this guy needs is a movie with a story credit by Roger Avery again. Actually, anyone even. Tarantino is probably surrounded by more Yes Men than George Lucas at this point.
Then again, Christoph Waltz is amazing in this, and the 1st scene is a perfect example of what Tarantino can do best, and I admit that I wasn’t clawing at the seats like I was during that Jungle Julia bullshit. I just wish he had figured out how to make the movie about badass Nazi killers that I bought my ticket to see.