REVIEW: The Ides of March

8 10 2011

George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” makes plenty of references to the brokenness of the American political system, something you can observe by merely turning on the news nowadays.  But perhaps the most problematic indicator of the nation’s shortcomings is how easily the film can be read as a black comedy.  Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov’s script is chock full of cruel ironies, many of which are veiled references to various political scandals.  And the very liberal Clooney is all too happy to throw Bill Clinton, and to some extent, Barack Obama, under the bus.

In an era where Congressmen send lewd pictures over Twitter, governors have foreign mistresses, and presidents act improperly with interns, is it possible that we’ve become so desensitized to scandal that we have just accepted that the system will fail us?  “The Ides of March,” with its grandiose plot of political intrigue, seems to imply yes by the lengths it has to go to shock us.  And in 2011, when public opinion seems to have turned against the establishment, this may be the movie people watch in the future to see American disillusionment and the failure of Obama’s hope and change rhetoric.

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Know Your Nominees: “Inception”

4 02 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, our next stop on the tour is “Inception.”

So what was the inception of “Inception?”  According to director/screenwriter Christopher Nolan, the movie began as a heist film mainly as a way to provide entertainment and exposition for the complicated dream structure.  But concerned with the cold emotional detachment to the characters in a heist film, he began to add the hero’s story to get the audience to connect with the movie.

What’s real and what isn’t was a big talking point about “Inception,” but it may interest you to know what was shot on location (real) and what was shot on a soundstage or studio lot (not real).  The snow fortress was a built set, as was Saito’s castle. With a few other exceptions, most scenes were shot on location in Tokyo, Paris, Mombasa, Los Angeles, and a small town in Nolan’s home country, England.

How about that spectacular anti-gravity fight scene in the hotel hallway.  According to Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt did all his own stunts for the scene, only using a double out of necessity for one scene.  The scene was done by creating a spinning set, not through CG.

Another fantastically well-executed scene of mind-blowing visual proportions was the scene at the Parisian café where the city implodes.  How did they shoot that?  According to cinematographer Wally Pfister, they used a camera that captures 1,500 frames per second (in contrast to the average camera which captures 24) to create the slow-motion effect.  In post-production, the visuals team added effects to make the objects look like they were floating.  (Everything was shot out of air cannons for the explosion effect.)

Throughout the second half of the movie, we saw plenty of the van falling off the bridge.  But what you might not know about this scene is that it took months to film and entire days were dedicated to the shot.  But it gets better: the van was shot out of an air cannon and when the van hit the water, the actors actually had to stay underwater for four to five minutes holding their breath and taking air from a tank.  How’s that for dedication?

The ensemble cast turned out perfectly, but it wasn’t always what it was.  Before shooting, Evan Rachel Wood was slated to play Ariadne but dropped out and the role went to Ellen Page.  Another big casting shift was the exit of James Franco, who was originally cast to play Arthur, due to scheduling issues; the role ultimately went to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Fans of Marion Cotillard got a chuckle when they heard “Non, je ne regrette rien,” the closing song of the film “La Vie En Rose” which won her an Oscar for Best Actress.  The title means “No, I regret nothing” when translated literally into English.  Was it a clever nod to her previous role?  Actually, no.  Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer chose the song before Cotillard became attached to the project because of its booming rhythmic qualities, not because of its association with the actress.

Many people have seen “Inception” as a metaphor for filmmaking, and Nolan has said that these musings aren’t entirely off-base.  But the craft he was most interested in exploring was architecture.  In an interview with WiReD, he stated, “I’m very interested in the similarities or analogies between the way in which we experience a three–dimensional space that an architect has created and the way in which an audience experiences a cinematic narrative that constructs a three–dimensional -reality from a two-dimensional medium—assembled shot by shot. I think there’s a narrative component to architecture that’s kind of fascinating.”

NEWS FLASH: The kids at the end of the movie are not the same as the ones before! Adjust your explanations of “Inception” as necessary.

Don’t worry, no top theories here.  Only some insight on where the idea came from – not exactly inception.  Nolan gave a top as a gift to his wife and then rediscovered it, incorporating it into “Inception.”  The one used in the movie was symbolically designed by the prop department to represent Cobb’s universe.

Check back on February 7 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “The Kids Are All Right.”





REVIEW: Whatever Works

15 08 2009

Anyone who keeps up with this blog or knows me well can probably guess that I often identify with Woody Allen and his neurotic characters, for better or worse.  And as soon as I heard that Larry David, one of the creators of “Seinfeld” and the hilarious star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” was going to be starring in Woody’s latest, I knew they could be a scary pair.  However, David’s Boris Yelnikoff unexpectedly proves to be quite likable.  “Whatever Works,” frankly put, works for me.  It is a light, breezy comedy that doesn’t make you strung out like some of Allen’s (or David’s) other projects.  David provides the caustic quips, but a phenomenal supporting cast is equally funny.

Boris (David) is a misanthropic scholar with the belief that humans are a failed species.  He gets living proof of this when Melody (Evan Rachel Wood, “The Wrestler”) shows up on his doorstep one night.  A naïve and dim-witted down home southern girl, Melody slowly starts to melt Boris’ cold heart.  On the other hand, she also begins to randomly spurt his cynical views about life and humanity to anyone who looks at her.  As their time living together lengthens, there are of course the inevitable run-ins with Melody’s mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson), who disapproves of her new lifestyle, and her firm father John (Ed Begley, Jr.).  All four characters undergo drastic and hilarious changes in the way they see and live their lives, eventually learning to simply enjoy whatever works for them.

I really cannot sing the praises of Larry David enough for making Boris so lovable despite being a suicidal misanthrope.  He stands out among the normal neurotic leads of Allen’s films.  Evan Rachel Wood is also spellbinding.  Her amazing range astounds me; she can do any movie she wants and steal the show.  The rest of the supporting cast is phenomenal, especially Patricia Clarkson as she turns from the good Southern Christian to a very artistic experimenter.

The script is Woody Allen at his best; in fact, it was written in his golden age during the 1970s.  It is delightfully witty and quite thought-provoking too.  There is good dialogue between Boris and the audience through monologues to the viewers, and I found them quite refreshing and inventive.  “Whatever Works” is a comedy to please anyone with a funny bone.  Even for those who find Allen’s movies too zany for their taste, this possesses a charm uncanny to most of his other works.  A- / 3halfstars








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