Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

One daughter gets out of rehab to immediately join her family for the older sister's wedding. If that is not the set up for family drama, I don't know what is. The portrayal of the love and hate felt simultaneously in family relationships is dead on in this film, with both sisters expressing the difficulty of being "the other sister". And while there is some reconciliation, some recognition of the difficulties in the others lives, we don't get a washed over happy ending where everybody is as happy as Cinderella. But we definitely get the impression that everybody truly loves the other.
An additionally important aspect of this film is found in the music. I love when a non-person becomes a character, and in this case the music is an important character. The diversity of musical styles was fabulous and really drove the celebration aspect of the wedding weekend, as well as highlighted the diversity of the people involved. The music seemed to be so diverse that diversity of the people and personalities involved in melding the two families paled in comparison. Adding this character of music to the mix allows the bride's familial relationships to be the focus of the film without getting lost in the significant difficulties of inter-family mergers. And at the same time, this character of music is front and center, and integral part of the film, so that we do not just ignore the other difficulties. We are told that the family merger is important, and the people involved are very different, but that is not the point of this particular story.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Au revoir les enfants

Set in France, near the end of WWII, a school run by Carmelite monks provides the setting for this now 20 year old portrayal of the tension between ethics, nationalism, self preservation and self discovery. When a new boy arrives at school, the others simultaneously welcome him, isolate him, become cruel, share books, steal and learn what it is like to be different than the others. This is good filmmaking. In particular the tone set by the choice of colors (all drab greens, greys, blues, browns) fits exactly the "dreary north France during winter and war" that seems appropriate. It reminds me of how powerful a color pallete can be at generating mood, which was also done particularly well in The Lives of Others, and Far from Heaven more recently. Unfortunately, watching a particularly well made film from 20 years ago means that the same formula has been presented many times since then. The end result for this viewing is that today the material seems tired.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Transporter 3

How often is a three-quel any good? And how often is a summer movie released in the fall any good? Well in this case, at least once. The Transporter 3 is an excellent continuation of the Jason Statham series in which Statham gets to drive cars fast and beat people up with his hands, feet, and in amazingly his coat, shirt and tie. A satisfactory plot line, the requisite evil guy who comes up with the obligatory plot restraint (don't go too far from the car or you blow up) that was made very popular by Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in Speed, and the creative (and almost believable) defy-all-odds escapes. And yet it all holds together. Comparing this film to Daniel Craig's Quantum of Solace, I would actually have to say that this is a better summer action movie. And while that may have to do with the inherent expectations that come with a Bond movie, I am going to stick with recommending this over the Bond film, if you have to chose only one.

[Get on Soapbox #1] Someday, would someone please make a film in which a car goes over a cliff, crashes into the valley below, and does not explode in a fireball of destruction.[Step down off Soapbox #1]

[Get back up for Soapbox #2] Requisite evil guy actually delivers the line "You know, at heart I am really a pacifist" and follows with some explanation about how he tried to plan to avoid death but outside of his control, everybody just seemed to fight back. Let's clarify that a pacifist isn't someone who just tries to avoid violence unless someone fights back. A pacifist is someone who plans to avoid violence, and does avoid violence. Even when someone perpetrates violence against you, or in your general vicinity, or in a way that interferes with your desires, a pacifist so wholly abhors violence that they always seek an alternative action. Never is violence the only option. And we must not be so naive to suggest that there is always a happy ending to seeking alternatives to violence. Seeking peace and avoiding violence is often ugly (and often for the seeker and avoider). But it is always right. Just want to make sure that the general public does not confuse pacifism with avoidance of violence when it is convenient. [Step down from Soapbox #2]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I must admit from the outset that I am not a Bond fanatic. I do like the Bond movies, and I have my favorite Bond (Sean Connery), but I can't name all the films, nor argue the merits of the various plot lines and villains. At the same time, there are two characteristics that are essential identifiers of a Bond movie. Cheeky humor and gadgets. It is these two areas that Quantum of Solace fails miserably. So much so, in fact, that this iteration does not even have Q. And Daniel Craig (so far) is a bit too serious for the cheeky humor. But this film fits solidly into the 'good action/adventure' category: Nice little plot, a few absurdities that need to be over looked, good chase scenes, a rescue or two, a friend "on the other side", a boss who believes in you in spite of all appearances. In fact, this film reminds me more of The Transporter series, or even a bit of District B-13 than it does of the classic Bond model. And that is actually OK with me. I don't want to be someone who is stuck in history, with an "If it is not like the first Bond movie I saw, then it isn't a Bond movie at all" attitude. But again, I am not a fanatic.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Any two movie day is a good day and today the latest from Pixar finally made it to my DVD player. I was mostly interested in watching this as the final installment of this years "Apocalyptic Trilogy", along with I am Legend and The Happening. While there is definitely truth to the idea that high expectations for a movie lead to an inevitable let down, I don't think only high expectations where the problem here. This animated feature got lots of press this summer, but even then I wasn't really interested. Perhaps that is why it slipped to my "watch later" list. But while watching, Annika commented that it seemed like the entire movie was made with one purpose in mind... to create a theme for a ride to be built around at Disneyland. For me, it comes down to the simple fact that the plot devices didn't work. I was not engaged by the "characters" or the "love story" or (as can often be the case with animation) the visuals.

The only redeeming factor is that it fills out the "Apocalyptic Trilogy". So lets talk about that...
In the three summer movies (I am Legend, The Happening and Wall-E) we have three different views of how humanity will be screwed over in the future. Respectively, in all of our technological prowess and efforts to cure all ills we create a deadly virus which wipes out humanity, we piss off nature who then creates a deadly pathogen that wipes out humanity, and humans vacate Earth to allow the clean-up robots to fix our mess for us. While the whole zombie creature thing of I am Legend is too far fetched to be believable, the idea of "accidentally" creating a devastating pathogen while trying to do good is probably too close to reality. This is why most of Europe avoids GMO's as they preach the precautionary principle. Something about American arrogance must go along with creating the cure that is really the illness and then being genuinely surprised that this could happen. The same can be said about Wall-E in that the cure is to seek independence by "just vacating the earth", leading to an extreme consumerist society which is ultimately dependent. One wonders what is needed (and I hope the answer isn't war) to move a society or culture's values in a significant way. What are the factors that contribute, who contributes them and what is any individuals role?

Slumdog Millionaire

There is nothing like a week off of work to get back into the swing of cinema. This week begins with a nice little film from India. Actually, while it is filmed on location in India, it is not really from India. Instead, it sets up as a pretty mainstream Danny Boyle (Sunshine and Millions) piece. But Slumdog Millionaire is a very enjoyable film (in spite of the occasional disturbing murder which definitely warrants the R-rating) that I would categorize as a romantic drama. The film centers on a Indian boy (Jamal) who grew up in poverty with his brother. He has somehow gotten on to "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", and each question he is given is connected to some experience he has had in his past. With each question comes a flashback and a deepening understanding of Jamal, his brother and his motivations. Brilliant colors juxtaposed with drab urban India make for a visually stimulating (and appealing) experience. The protagonists are likable while the antagonists fill their role nicely. Overall, this plays out like a classic fairy tale based on class stereotypes and struggles, with love and family to pull everything together. And while that may not sound like a ringing endorsement, in this case it all works.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Family Stone

Part two of this pairing is The Family Stone. Let's see, the whole family is coming home for Christmas with one brother bringing the girlfriend. The other brother falls for her and the original brother falls for the original girlfriends sister, who is called in for emotional support. Again, and I quote (myself) - "Finding a relationship when one doesn't expect it, and in the place that one is not seeking it, but finding ultimately that it is the perfect relationship that can't be let go." Also a romantic comedy, with just a touch more comedy. But the romance in this film originates in the fact that the whole family comes home for Christmas. What is more romantic (i.e. characterized by idealism, or idealizing a particular person or situation) than a family of five kids returning every year with their own families for several days at the 'ol homestead. For some, this is as (or more) appealing than the romantic relationship of meeting the perfect mate. Makes me wonder what other kinds of romance people hold dear...

Part One: And then she found me

And then she found me

Do films always come in themes, or does watching any two films together cause one to see similarities. In And then She found Me, I am not sure who "She" is, or who finds whom. Perhaps that is the intent. Helen Hunt is in the middle of a divorce, a search for children and a search for real relationship. She is not sure where to search and grabs on to the first thing that comes her way, tosses them away (the first thing you see can't ever be the right thing... right?), and then grows up to grab on again. Finding a relationship when one doesn't expect it, and in the place that one is not seeking it, but finding ultimately that it is the perfect relationship that can't be let go. This effort goes solidly in the "Romantic comedy - but light on the comedy" category. Not bad, but I only saw it last night and already had to pause to think about who was actually in the film. Cute, but not something that will stick with me.

See Part Two: The Family Stone

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Happening

Episode Two of "The Apocalyptic Trilogy". I was surprised to notice the similarities between Episode One and Episode Two. Episode One (I am Legend) stars former teen rapper Fresh Prince in a drama about how a mutated virus becomes a hemotoxin that kills everyone in the Northeast. Episode Two (The Happening) stars former teen rapper Marky Mark in a drama about how plants evolved to emit neurotoxins which kill everyone in the Northeast.
This M. Night Shyamalan film is definitely a message film. There are too many people, and eventually nature will rise up and take action. Darwinian population control. An interesting idea, I will admit. I can even imagine the paragraph treatment that was shopped to the studios. Unfortunately, there is nothing interesting or engaging beyond the idea. No real suspense. No real characters. Wahlberg doesn't even come close to pulling off the sincere, dramatic leading man. The entire film is shouting "Listen to my message". I knew the message going in, and no value was added along the way.

I'll wait until I see Episode Three of the trilogy (Wall-E) before offering any thoughts on the trilogy as a whole.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

David, Newton and Ingrid

It really is amazing how much "culture" takes place around me. Thursday night, we went to El Rey in West Hollywood with, at most, 150 other people to see David Ford open for Newton Faulkner open for Ingrid Michaelson. Ford and Faulkner are both Brits.

set was standard. Four songs including Go to Hell and It's a Shame, utilize all the powers of sampling and reverb that he could muster. Based on crowd response, they didn't know who this guy was, and based on Ingrid's set, his style would not be appreciated. While I like his music, I probably don't need to see him again until he has something new.

Newton Faulkner was new to me. And his set rocked. His guitar playing included both left and right hand picking and using his very live amplification on the sound board as a full range percussion set. I am sure that had I listened to his album, I would have assumed it was a singer/songwriter along with his band. But this solo act is pretty amazing live. And while his original pieces were good, they were a bit "mumbly" and hard to understand. On the other hand, his cover of Dead of Alive's You Spin Me Round was hilarious. And this was only topped by his (must I repeat solo) performance of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Absolutely brilliant.

After this, Ingrid Michaelson as the headliner was a bit dull. She has a clear voice and easy stage presence. Clearly she has her shtick together as a performer and the stage banter was light and fun. But it still felt tired. She was performing her stuff, threw in a couple brand new songs (and seemed genuinely pleased/surprised when completed) and didn't really seem to be having fun. The end of the tour perhaps? Perhaps I am overly harsh, since nothing could be as bad as the Jacob Dylan we saw earlier this year (Ingrid clearly knew the audience existed). Or perhaps I was just tired and not really her target audience. Overall, this was a fun evening at El Rey, and another example of the things you can do in LA without really trying.