Monday, April 20, 2009

Movie Rundown - April 13 to April 19

The Cutting Edge: Magic of Movie Editing (*****)
Film editing is one of those hidden arts of making movies. It's rarely obvious, it's rarely noticed by the average movie-goer, but it is one of the most essential aspects of the art. It's right up there with the writer and the director. An understanding of editing is essential to appreciating movies as art.

Good thing there are things like this documentary to point out examples of editing achievements and techniques, of a brief history of editing from the first person to splice film together to the MTV generation of quick cuts and the ability to edit within the frame.

This is one of those documentaries that needs to be seen, an examination of the film medium in total, an elaboration on one of the most under appreciated aspects of movie-making, bringing it out and exposing it in way that I guarantee will provide nearly everyone with a great appreciation of the task after having watched it.

Breathless (****)
One of the major films of the La Nouvelle Vague, Breathless is the film of a thief and his love interest as he tries to lay low after the unintentional murder of a man during an escape.

This is a hard film to talk about, if only because like many of the most influential of films from the era, what it did best has been so mined and replicated that it can kind of feel like old hat. But Breathless sets itself apart by keeping the characters and acting interesting, with a story that carries on to an inevitable end but invests you in the characters who try their hardest to avoid it.

The real key here is in the film making techniques. Goddard was big into jump cuts, disregarding the traditional editing of film to provide a more kinetic experience. It's almost jarring at first, with the film skipping like a record with a scratch, but the energy on the screen is absolute. By cutting out the unimportant things, or choosing when to show them, the empty spaces are given a weight and impact that most films lack. I can't help but recommend this one for just being that amazingly put together.

Milo and Otis (***)
I saw this on the urging of my friend Adam, who said that he had fond memories of it. It's the story of a cat and a dog who grow up on a farm together and end up getting lost in the wilderness on an adventure. Standard animal fair along the lines of Homeward Bound or similar?

Not really. See, Milo and Otis was actually a Japanese movie that was appropriated for American audiences, given a comforting narrator and turned into a comfortable story. But like the most classic fairytales, there's something in the storytelling that makes me feel as if there's far more here. The animals are described in adorable ways, but they act like animals, with the instincts of hunters and scavengers and fighters. There is a kind of hard undercurrent, dark and bleak, that keeps the storytelling interesting.

I don't know if it's just me, but it feels like there are two stories here, a very adult, mature story about the stages of life and the isolation of men over time, even in the state of nature, and the cozy bedtime story of farm animals looking for home. And it's that dichotomy that makes it worth watching, the hidden depth that provides entertainment across the age groups.

Yeah, for an animal movie, it's pretty good.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (****) [rewatch]
It's getting to the point where the car movie reviews are coming to be old hat. So let me just break this down really fast. The third entry in the franchise of things that are both Fast and Furious to varying degrees is a fun movie. It's got a silly but servicable plot, some pretty solid acting, and absolutely amazing car work. It also it completely fetishistic about how awesome Japan is, from the crazy styles to the crazy food to the insanity that is Japanese culture.

If you haven't seen any of the movies before, this one is essentially a stand-alone film, so you wouldn't be missing anything by just skipping to this one. It's got some cute eye candy of both genders, some great music, and brilliant car work (almost all of which was done practically, see my complaints about the original Fast and Furious below).

Also, Sonny Chiba.

Sonny Chiba is the motherfucking MAN.

Bullitt (**)
This is ... troubling. Bullitt is the first of the 'rogue cop who doesn't play by the rules' movies. Or at least, the first big one. Dirty Harry, Die Hard, whatever you want. That archetype made it here. The problem is, as the first of a subgenre, it feels really mellow and tame compared to the rest. So the film itself seems long and boring and convoluted.

That said, there's a classic car chase through the streets of San Francisco in here that's FANTASTIC. The problem? It's 10 minutes long, and the movie goes on for another 45 minutes after that.

This one's just aged really badly, I think. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wasn't looking at it for a particular film reason. Like I said, it's noteworthy, but ... not my thing.

State of Play (****)
I wasn't really that excited for this movie going in, which might have been a blessing or not, because I ended up really surprised. You see, I wasn't committed to seeing anything this week, but knew I should, and this was showing before Observe and Report so it got the vote.

This tale of reporters after a conspiracy is a strange beast in this day and age. The BBC miniseries version from a few years ago probably was a little more relevant, I'm not sure, but this is a movie that exists in the last days of the newspaper business. And it's aware of that, with a newspaper that's a small arm of a giant media company and the tension of a Journalist with a capital J and a member of the paper's younger blogging branch teaming up.

It's an odd combination, but it really does work quite well. It feels kind of strange, though, watching the paradigm shift. The world isn't going to be the same, and while Journalism will eventually find its proper home after the sinking of the newspapers, right now we're entering a time when this kind of story would be nigh-impossible to actually come about. The idea of a newspaper having the resources to dig into a conspiracy? Well, that's hard to do if the newspaper is owned by corporate business interests. Impossible if there's no funding for that kind of in-depth research. Ridiculous if there's no power to protect sources and go where one shouldn't in pursuit of the story.

It's a digression, but that the movie left me with those feelings is only to its credit. To turn back to it, it's a tightly plotted political thriller with a great cast. I'm never a Russell Crowe fan, but I have to admit that he always is a credit to any movie he's in. And Mr. Affleck is the perfect actor to portray a Senator. It's impossible to tell with him what's real and what's artifice, and the role suits him.

It's a great movie. I'd recommend it for anyone with even the slightest interest in the subject matter or genre.

The Fast and the Furious (***)
So I picked this up at Walmart for the hell of it on Friday night after seeing State of Play, and rewatching it is kind of a frustrating experience. See, this is one of those movies that is going to go down as the kick off of a franchise that's become pretty good in the past two movies. But this one isn't so great. In fact, it's sometimes infuriating.



See, the whole point of any decent car movie is to see these powerful, behemoth vehicles doing things that a normal person could not make them do. It's pushing the limit on what can be done with something that is normally so ordinary. The drivers are exceptional, the equipment is top notch, the magic the two make is thrilling.

Unfortunately, in one of the first noteworthy scenes of the movie, the majority of the race is done in CGI. Which exhibits a lack of faith in the subject matter that I find disturbing. A director who can't trust the cars to sell themselves is a director who hasn't committed to the idea of making a car movie.

That said, it's a solid enough film, and the second half is much better about this than the first half, with some solid races and an absolutely killer final crash that's all in camera and breathtaking for it.

This one is eventually going to go down as a guy movie classic, I think, so going back to it is to acknowledge its influence. Unfortunately, Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious are much better films, but will likely suffer for not coming first.

The Darjeeling Limited (***)
This one's confusing. Because I really adored the first half of this movie, only to really lose my patience with it in the final 30 minutes or so. You see, this is a quirky movie about some idiosyncratic brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody, and Jason Schwartzmann) who take a train ride across India for reasons that aren't originally clear. It's a movie about dysfunction, about the relationships between family, about growing up and growing together. It's a nice film.

It just makes its point too damn early. There's a moment towards the hour point of the film where all three brothers are sitting around a campfire bonding. And everything that comes after that is simply a retread of that moment. I don't know, call me crazy, but I felt that the pacing on this one was all knocked out of alignment near the end.

That said, I did enjoy it. It's got a great style, and is shot well, and the three leads are genuinely funny. I just ... didn't enjoy it as much on the exit as I did during the watching.

10 Questions for the Dalai Lama (****)
Despite being more than moderately curious about Buddhism, the history of Tibet and the Dalai Lama has never really been a big subject for me. I knew about it, of course, but not in such detail as this documentary provides. Shot by a man who spent the month before a 10 question interview with the leader of Tibet-in-Exile travelling through the land and taking in the religion and traditions of the people, this is an intimate and compassionate look at the displacement of Tibet and the history of the region, including the Chinese invasion.

It all culminates as the director sits down and talks with the Dalai Lama about the nature of happiness, cultural change in the face of globalization, the problem with China on the international scene, and other things. What's remarkable about this movie is the Dalai Lama himself. Here is a spiritual leader who embraces what is new and different, a man who's devoted to learning and understanding not just his faith, but things all over the world. As you watch this man dressed in monks robes fiddling with electronics, or talking about quantum theory, you can't help but be amazed that in a world where all too often religion goes hand in hand with closed-minded zealotry, here is a man who can embrace his faith and the works of humanity all in a single grasp. A man who believes in peace as a road to solve all problems. A man who laughs even when faced with a bleak, unwinnable position, because he refuses to be a victim and refuses to resort to emotional vengeance and self-destruction.

It's inspiring, just to watch him. This is one of the few times I've ever been moved by the statements and arguments of the leader of any faith. And I think that it is worth experiencing, whether you would agree with him or not.

Dark City (*****)
Talk about going out on a high note. This movie was a recommendation from a random person on twitter, and I added it mostly on a whim. Little did I know what I was walking into.

Dark City is a neo-noir about a world where nothing is as it seems. Memories are faulty. The hero wakes up remembering nothing with a dead hooker in his room. There are men in black coats after him. There is a wife he doesn't remember, played by the enchanting Jennifer Connelly, playing a jazz singer who steals the show whenever she stands in front of the microphone in one of her vintage, solid-color dresses, the bright spot of an otherwise mundane world.

This is a movie about mystery. A movie about identity. It did what The Matrix tried to do better a year earlier, with more regard for having substance. It's empowering, it's mysterious, it's unknowable and yet familiar. I can't heap enough accolades upon it.

Go see it. Seriously. The director's cut can be picked up for cheap at Walmart, or you can netflix it, or whatever. But it's a brilliant film that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to EVERYONE. I don't even want to talk about it, for fear of spoiling things. Just ... go see. You won't be disappointed.


And there we go! Next week is already pretty planned out, though I wouldn't be surprised if something out of the norm shows up in there, too. So far on the agenda we have the following movies coming from netflix:

City of Lost Children
2 Fast 2 Furious

And on Friday I'm planning on seeing Earth, Disney's new nature documentary that looks gorgeous. I'm not even into nature docs, but it's utter eye candy and digital theaters mean that I'm willing to see things just to look at them and drool for a while.

Until next week, enjoy! Time to get working on the script!

(p.s. Lovely readers, I'm planning on getting the script up on the blog once Script Frenzy is over for anyone to read. Look for that in early May some time, I'll have to figure out how to host it and all that first.)

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