REVIEW: Hitchcock/Truffaut

12 12 2015

Hitchcock:TruffautThough Kent Jones’ documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut” may bear the name of two deceased titans of the cinema, but make no mistake about it: this film is focused on those still living and producing vital work.

Of course, the consummate critic and historian Jones does present the the subject in more than sufficient detail. French New Wave founding father Francois Truffaut idolized the British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, whose work was popular yet not necessarily given much clout as art. Truffaut set out to prove it was just that in a series of conversations with the Master of Suspense, which he later transcribed into “Hitchcock/Truffaut.” The book became a seminal text in the field of film studies and, as Martin Scorsese personally attests in the documentary, inspired the next generation of filmmakers.

In recounting the making of the book and the influence which it exerted, Jones himself crafts a documentary likely to be studied as often as “Visions of Light.” (That reference means everything to anyone who has taken an Intro to Film class and nothing to everyone else, by the way.) “Hitchcock/Truffaut” provides an excellent primer on auteurist theory while also delving into Freudian, historical and economically determinist readings of Hitchcock’s work. If any of this sounds complex, it all feels effortless to understand when explained by today’s masters David Fincher or Wes Anderson.

The most exciting moments of the documentary come from hearing these contemporary filmmakers delving into the theoretical questions raised in Hitchcock and Truffaut’s conversation. Plenty of times, these directors have to answer questions about the influence of cinema’s giants, but it is usually only in conjunction with how it manifests in their latest film. Here, people like Richard Linklater and James Gray, two directors who rarely make films that resemble Hitchcock’s suspenseful thrillers, can talk about the surprising ways in which his work and his methods affected the way they understand their own work.

This kind of in-depth discussion gives “Hitchcock/Truffaut” a profundity far beyond the sound bites we normally get from filmmakers on a press tour. At times, Jones seems to lose sight of the original conversation in favor of letting Scorsese geek out over “Psycho,” but these joyful nuggets prove his point that Hitchcock and Truffaut’s dialogue is one still worth studying. This celebrated past has clearly exerted its influence in the present, and now, thanks somewhat in part to this documentary, it will continue doing so in the future. A-3halfstars





REVIEW: Gone Girl

17 11 2014

The gender politic has never been so fun or fierce to observe as it manifests in “Gone Girl,” David Fincher’s wickedly delectable adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel.  His eye for detail and intuition for the dark impulses that drive human behavior is a fitting, if not immediately obvious, match for her understanding of the roles available for men and women to assume or subvert in society today.

Together, they perform quite an incisive autopsy of the modern marriage which is every bit as confrontational as it is challenging.  The devilish duo might only be topped ingenuity by Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), the crazy couple they breathe into cinematic existence.  In their own distinct ways, they will lie, manipulate, and forge as necessary to get what they want out of the other.

Games that couples play have traditionally been a rich territory to mine for drama, but perhaps only “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” has dared to look this deep into the dark heart of nuptial discontent.  With their marriage plainly turned acrid, Nick finds himself at the center of suspicion when his wife mysteriously and rather suspiciously disappears.  The fact that Amy’s parents turned her life into inspiration for a best-selling children’s book series brings in a mob of overeager television personalities – led by a not-so-thinly veiled Nancy Grace surrogate (Missy Pyle) – going for his jugular.  It’s a trial by media, held in a writer’s room rather than a jury’s deliberation room.

Fincher does slightly overplay his hand in the first act of the film, all too clearly elucidating the unspoken implications and bringing to the forefront Flynn’s undertones of regional differences between Nick’s midwest community and Amy’s elite northeast upbringing.  Through Patrick Fugit’s assisting police officer on the case, whose face Fincher often cuts to after a plot development, the intended feelings for the audience get telegraphed a little too obviously.

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FEATURE: Can you identify a director by a music video?

29 09 2014

This week sees the long-awaited release of “Gone Girl,” the latest film by director David Fincher.  It’s become a bit of a habit among film lovers to lament that this modern master does not yet have an Oscar to his name – especially given that he came within arm’s reach back in 2010 with “The Social Network.”  (And to be honest, I’d rather him make a great movie than win an Academy Award.)

For those particularly interested in Fincher’s work, feel free to check out my “Fincherfest” series from 2010 where I reviewed all of his movies up to that point.

Yet while the holy grail of the film industry seems to elude Fincher, he is certainly not lacking in trophies for his mantlepiece.  At the MTV Video Music Awards (yes, the ceremony that gave us Miley’s twerkgate scandal), Fincher is the most rewarded director of all time with eight nominations and three wins.

He’s one of many current feature directors who also dabble in the music video form.  For Fincher, it allowed him to explore cinematic language and got his foot in the door in Hollywood.  Many directors, on the other hand, take music video projects once established as fun exercises.  Either way, some of the best and the brightest in the business have tried their hand in music videos.

But just from the conventions they use or the themes they explore, can you match a director to a music video?  I’ve put 10 below for you to watch and guess.  Click the link at the bottom of the post to be taken to a Facebook note with the answers.  (While you’re at it, go ahead and like the page too!)  Enjoy, and let me know how you do in the comments!

Fincher

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REVIEW: Side by Side

18 12 2012

Side by SideIf you are a film buff, “Side by Side” is a documentary that is totally up your alley.

If you just enjoy watching movies for fun, “Side by Side” will easily raise you up to aficionado level on the craft of cinema.

If you don’t like movies at all, why would you consider watching a movie, especially one about movies, in the first place … and why would you have even made it this far into my review?

Christopher Kenneally’s doc about the Digital Revolution’s impact on how film is made and watched is insightful and captivating for anyone who cares about film at all.  If you don’t, again, I’m not sure how much this will work for you.  The film doesn’t preach to the converted, but rather to the convertible.  But it also manages to never feel like pandering to those with less knowledge.  I even thought I was very well-informed on the subject and found that I knew a whole lot less than I thought.

And right around the moment you might feel that “Side by Side” is playing to a level beneath you, the film geek inside will be tickled with excitement by seeing one of your favorite directors come on screen to opine on the matter.  From James Cameron to Christopher Nolan to David Fincher to Martin Scorsese, this movie has got some major talent to back up any claim it wants to make.

Then again, it also has bizarre appearances by Lena Dunham and Greta Gerwig.  Not exactly authoritative figures on these issues, but they add some nice entertainment value.  As does producer and narrator Keanu Reeves, who makes his first meaningful contribution to the cinema since “The Matrix.”  (Side note: he’s seriously disappeared from the movies these days.)

There are so many changes occurring so rapidly in the film industry, and “Side by Side” does a great job at trying to hit on all of them.  I really enjoyed taking in the full scope of all the enormous adjustments having to be made, but I also wish I could have gotten to learn a few of them in more depth rather than getting a cursory overview on several more.  Perhaps this calls for a sequel?  What do you say, Keanu, how about “Side by Side Reloaded” and “Side by Side Revolutions?”  B+3stars





Oscar Moment: Final 2011 Predictions!

23 01 2012

Well, folks … guesswork is almost over.  In a little over 12 hours, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) will announce their nominations for the best of the best of 2011.  We’ve had plenty of nominations and winners to give us an idea of what’s to come tomorrow morning.  I’ve done plenty of analyzing the categories, but I think now I just have to go with a mix of gut and knowledge.

Best Picture

  1. The Artist
  2. The Descendants
  3. The Help
  4. Hugo
  5. Midnight in Paris
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  7. War Horse
  8. The Tree of Life
  9. Moneyball
  10. Bridesmaids

I’m feeling only six Best Picture nominees this year.  (For those who don’t know about the new rules and regulations of the category, the Best Picture field is now an elastic number of nominees between five and ten.  In order to be nominated for Best Picture, a movie needs to receive at least five percent of the number one votes.)  The top five are very obvious.

I would say “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” takes the sixth spot because it’s the only other plausible nominee with enough guild support (sorry “Bridesmaids”).  If we learned anything from 2010, it was that the guilds still win out in the end.  “War Horse” has been far too silent on the guild front and hasn’t made nearly enough money to be a smashing success.  Plus, there’s an opportunity – and a likelihood – that they can give him another Oscar win in the Best Animated Feature category for “The Adventures of Tintin.” “The Tree of Life” has the critical support, but I don’t think that’s enough to break it into this race.  Oscar voters aren’t critics.

Best Director

  1. Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
  2. Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
  3. Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
  4. Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
  5. David Fincher, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

The top three are rock solid locks.  Woody Allen seems very inevitable given the widespread love for his movie and that the directors have nominated him six times before.  The last slot could go any number of ways – Fincher like the DGA picked, Malick like every critic proclaimed from the rooftop, Spielberg if “War Horse” actually makes a strong showing, or maybe even Tate Taylor if they really love “The Help.”

Looking at history, the lone director slot comes when there’s a particularly unknown director for a well-liked movie: Joe Wright missing for “Atonement,” Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris missing for “Little Miss Sunshine,” Marc Forster missing for “Finding Neverland,” and Gary Ross for “Seabiscuit.”  So I think it’s safe to say that the vulnerable director of a leading movie is Tate Taylor.  But who gets the slot?

I would say look to the DGA, but looking over their nominees, they do a better job of picking the Best Picture five than they do picking Best Director.  So thus I glean from their slate that “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has the strength to crack the Best Picture field, but Fincher might not necessarily show up here again.  My brain says go with Malick since lone director nominees usually represent far-out, well-directed artsy films.  But my gut says Fincher gets it, if for no other reason that Hollywood seems to have found its new anointed golden director and just wants to shower him with awards for everything.

Best Actor

  1. George Clooney, “The Descendants”
  2. Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
  3. Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
  4. Michael Fassbender, “Shame”
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”

Best Actor is, on the whole, a very conservative category.  Save the occasional Tommy Lee Jones for “In the Valley of Elah” or Javier Bardem for “Biutiful,” it almost always unfolds according to plan – no matter how boring that plan may be.  So yes, I still pick Michael Fassbender for “Shame” even though there has been some skepticism raised recently.  And yes, I will even defend Leonardo DiCaprio who stars in what will surely be one of the most maligned movies of 2011 to receive an Oscar nomination.  This year, he accumulated the three most important precursor nominations.  And he managed to get nominated in 2006 even when he had two performances in play.  They like him, and I think that (unfortunately) they’ll probably reward him with another nomination.

Best Actress

  1. Viola Davis, “The Help”
  2. Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
  3. Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”
  4. Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
  5. Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Yes, even though she missed with the BFCA and SAG, I have confidence that the late surge of support for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” can net a nomination for Rooney Mara over Glenn Close.  I don’t think “Albert Nobbs” has much buzz about it anymore, and even though they like Glenn Close, there are a lot of quotients that Mara would fill.  She’s under 30 and hasn’t been nominated before; you have to go back to 1994 to find a year where the Best Actress category was all prior nominees.  Thus, I rest my case and cross my fingers.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
  2. Albert Brooks, “Drive”
  3. Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
  4. Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
  5. Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”

I only feel sure of the top pick Plummer; the next three are fairly vulnerable; the fifth spot could go any number of ways.  I still can’t predict Nolte for “Warrior,” and maybe it’s because I can’t separate my dislike of the movie from the nomination process.  I just don’t think the performance was good, and I’m hopeful that the Academy will validate my opinion.  It could be Brad Pitt as a double nominee for “The Tree of Life;” it could be Ben Kingsley sneaking in for “Hugo;” it could be SAG nominee Armie Hammer for “J. Edgar.”  When in doubt, go with SAG, I guess.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
  2. Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
  3. Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
  4. Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
  5. Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

Someone else suggested the Woodley comparison to Andrew Garfield’s snub for “The Social Network,” and I’m dreading that it might be the case.  But I really have a hard time picking Melissa McCarthy for a nomination, even if she was a SAG nominee.  I just don’t see it happening.  I don’t think the performance is enough of a stand-out to break the funny woman barrier at the Oscars.  The nomination could be a symbolic vote, but I think traditional performances win the day.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Midnight in Paris
  2. The Artist
  3. Bridesmaids
  4. Win Win
  5. Beginners

This category always has some surprises up its sleeve for nomination morning, so I don’t know how confident I feel picking so close to the WGA nominations.  I think “Bridesmaids” will see the prize for its remarkable awards run here, and I think “Win Win” has built up enough steam to get in too.  “50/50” has the WGA nom but not much else going for it.  Some say “A Separation” takes its enormous buzz and makes a showing here, but I think the drama of choice will be “Beginners.”  Just another gut feeling.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Descendants
  2. Moneyball
  3. The Help
  4. Hugo
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Four Best Picture nominees will be adapted, so I feel like those will make it in over some arguably “better written” or “more loved” work.  And “Moneyball” has too much acclaim and steam to ignore; it could win even if it doesn’t get a Best Picture nomination.

So that’s what I think!  What about you?  Anything you are hoping for?  Rooting against?





REVIEW: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

1 01 2012

Dragon TattooWhile on the path to triumphant Oscar glory last year, Aaron Sorkin made the wise observation that no matter what movie he chose to do next, it would always be seen as “the movie after ‘The Social Network.’” The same could be said for director David Fincher, snubbed of a much-deserved Oscar for a movie he clearly crafted with an intricate and delicate precision. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is no different as Fincher’s immaculate visual sensibilities dazzle the eye consistently for over two and a half hours; however, it suffers because of its placement in the director’s canon.

Had it preceded the masterpiece rather than succeeded it, there would probably be a river of praise flowing about his adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller. But the specter of Mark Zuckerberg lurks insidiously like an elephant in the theater, making any viewer familiar with Fincher’s work consistently aware of the fact that something is keeping the movie from being truly great. Never is there that sense of jaw-dropping, mind-blowing state of total awe that the director has inspired so many times in his previous features. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” may be his first movie that fails to live up to the promise of its trailer. (To be fair, Fincher’s movies always seem to have the BEST trailers.)

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to marvel at in the movie. The story is incredibly engaging, and it gets a great visceral charge from Steven Zaillian’s faithful script and Fincher’s knack for palatable sadism. Taking a 700-page book and compressing into a single movie is no simple task, and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is particularly dense on the page with its labyrinthine family structures, concurrent narrative arcs, and taut mystery. Whether it came from Zaillian in the writing or Fincher with editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall in the cutting room, the pacing is a marvel of control, never bloated or convoluted. The 158 minutes go by very quickly as the plot moves along at a nice, even clip.

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Oscar Moment: FINAL 2010 Predictions!

24 01 2011

Best Picture

  1. The Social Network 
  2. The King’s Speech 
  3. The Fighter 
  4. Black Swan  (5)
  5. Inception  (4)
  6. True Grit  (9)
  7. Toy Story 3  (6)
  8. The Kids Are All Right  (7)
  9. 127 Hours  (10)
  10. The Town  (NR)

In case you needed any reminder of why the movie in the top spot is comfortably perched there, look above.

“The Social Network” is way ahead in the lead, and I personally don’t think that anything is going to stop it.  But “The King’s Speech” threw an interesting twist into the race with its PGA victory on Saturday night with the help of a preferential ballot, and more discussion about this will be appropriate once the slate is officially set for February 27.

At this point, I honestly think that “The Fighter” could be the only movie with a chance to knock it out of the top slot.  It could easily take the SAG ensemble win, and it has popped up unexpectedly in many guilds.  The movie has also positioned itself to win two acting awards after victories with the BFCA and HFPA.  I just get a sinking sensation that this is the movie that has enough across-the-board love to pull an upset on a preferential ballot.

“Black Swan” has popped up on EVERY guild list this year, something that could make it the most nominated movie of the year.  This is obviously huge for the movie, but now that it’s assured a nomination, I’m thinking about how likely a win would be.  Given that the movie tends to polarize, the chances are small.  And as I’ve said about “The King’s Speech” all year, it’s not the Academy’s type of movie anymore, so I still have a hard time seeing it win.  “Inception” is out of the running because it missed out on a SAG ensemble nod despite being star-studded, and you need the support of the actors to win.

Those are the five certainties, and I’d be awestruck if any of those five miss.  I think “True Grit” and “Toy Story 3” are locks for nominations as well.  “The Kids Are All Right” is in, but I still stand by my assertion earlier this year that it would not shock me to see it left off.

It’s down to three movies – “127 Hours,” “The Town,” and “Winter’s Bone” – to battle it out for the final two slots.  There could, of course, be lurking surprises like “The Blind Side” last year, but no movie seems to have positioned its chips to make a big move on nominations day.  Every critical darling is underseen, and all the box office smashes are poorly reviewed.

I think “127 Hours” is in because it has a passionate base of supporters that should be able to overcome the faction of the Academy that simply won’t watch the movie.  It’s from Danny Boyle, who is clearly an Academy favorite after his “Slumdog Millionaire” orchestrated a sweep of the Oscars in 2008 that we only see once or twice a decade.  This a powerful movie, and those who can sit through it walk out with an enhanced appreciation of life.  I think they can easily power it to a nomination.

Previously, I had predicted “Winter’s Bone” to take that final slot.  But ever since the PGA left it on the outside looking in, I’ve been more inclined to favor “The Town.”  As I said on the LAMBcast, putting Ben Affleck’s movie in the field would make for a perfect 50-50 split between indies and blockbusters.  It would give a nice sense of “something for everyone” to Best Picture, which is kind of what I think the idea was when they expanded the field.

But “Winter’s Bone” does have a few things going for it.  While I don’t think many people LOVE “The Town,” I do think that there is a significant handful of people that do love “Winter’s Bone.”  It’s nothing like any of the other Best Picture nominees this year; it’s understated, quiet, stars no-name actors, and is truly of an independent sensibility.

The other so-called “indies” in the race feature recognizable actors and have largely entered mainstream consciousness.  I wouldn’t count out the desire to represent a part of the industry that isn’t manifest in the first 9 nominees, but my pick is still on “The Town.”  For better or for worse.

In case you were really hankering for my no guts no glory pick for a Best Picture nominee, it would be “Shutter Island.”  But I don’t think that’s likely.

Best Director

  1. David Fincher, “The Social Network” 
  2. Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”  (3)
  3. Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”  (4)
  4. Christopher Nolan, “Inception”  (2)
  5. David O. Russell, “The Fighter” 

No real change in the field here.  If there’s any surprise in this category, it will likely come at the expense of David O. Russell, a prickly figure in Hollywood.  But since this would be his first nomination, and those likely to replace him have won in the past three years (Danny Boyle/The Coen Brothers), he seems like a good bet.  I’d also say that Christopher Nolan isn’t as safe as most would like him to be; the DGA has shortlisted him twice and the Academy has yet to recognize him in this category.  A snub would be shocking but not unforseeable.

For the win, it’s Fincher way out in front.  Even if “The King’s Speech” or “The Fighter” makes headway in the Best Picture race, there is no doubt that this award will be going to “The Social Network” and its genius helmer.  It would be foolish to place your money anywhere else.

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