(Kinda Belated) Weekend Update – August 21, 2011

21 08 2011

“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now.

You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets.

Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life.”

– George Clooney as Ryan Bingham in 2009’s “Up in the Air

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

– Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button in 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In case you missed it…

It was a pretty slow week as I was incredibly preoccupied running last second errands before leaving for college on Wednesday.  Hopefully I won’t fall off the map too precipitously, but things might be running slow for a while – especially in terms of reviewing new releases.

I took this as an opportunity to run reviews for some older movies that tied into other releases this week.  With Jessica Alba headlining the new “Spy Kids” movie, I reviewed her “Machete” and “Little Fockers” from 2010.  James McAvoy’s “The Conspirator” hit video this week, so I took the opportunity to review “Gnomeo & Juliet,” the animated Shakespearean tale to which he lent his voice.

I also took a look at the September crop of releases, which has a few gems shining amidst the trash heap.  Kris Tapley of “In Contention” just updated his Oscar predictions to include “Moneyball” as a probable nominee for Best Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actor.  More reason to get excited.  Click on the picture below to see the September preview post.

And the end of the week saw a lot of emphasis on Anne Hathaway as “One Day” opened in theaters.  On Friday, the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” was “Rachel Getting Married,” Oscar-nominated because of her performance.  On Saturday, I reviewed “One Day” and for the most part liked what I saw.  Click the picture below to read the review.

Recommended Reading

Save a tree, read a blog. Unless you want to print out a review … in which case, you aren’t saving trees.

And Vulture asks the question we are all pondering: Why Do Studios Think There’s So Much Value in Old Titles?  After the flop of “Conan the Barbarian” and “Fright Night,” here was their best conclusion.

“‘Studios remake these movies because they often already own the title,’ says Ammer. But it’s more than that. After all, it wouldn’t cost a studio any more money to hire a writer to write an original screenplay than it would to have him or her write one based on an older film. The real appeal of an old title is more superstitious: The studios use them, says Ammer, because ‘they know it’s worked in the past.’ Even though it’s an entirely different movie made by different people for a different generation, the idea is, hey, the title worked before, why not give it another shot? For all of Hollywood’s supposed liberalism, studios, like their audiences, are quite conservative. Genre is the most predictive aspect of a film’s future results, and then title, so why not double down? A remake of a successful genre film allows a studio the greatest possible risk reduction.”

The Tree of Death

/Film said it best when they broke the story: Even Sean Penn did not care for Sean Penn in “The Tree of Life.”  However, I’ll give credit to where I saw this first, Guy Lodge of “In Contention.”

Sean Penn moping about in my hometown.

In an interview with the French magazine Le Figaro, Sean Penn had this to say about Terrence Malick’s enigmatic film:

“I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.”

I’ll go ahead and add this disclaimer to those that love the movie or the fact-checking Gestapo that yes, I realize that’s not the full quote.  But for the sake of this post, it’s easier to just analyze this part.

Where to begin?  The fact that a two-time Academy Award winner would bash his own movie would be shocking even if it was a total sellout, but even I as a non-impressed watcher see “The Tree of Life” as anything but a sellout.  It’s high art, just not the kind of art that was to my taste.  He doesn’t exactly mince his words there, pretty openly stating his distaste for how his role in the movie turned out.

This is nothing new, of course.  Adrien Brody complained when he was largely cut out of Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” – while I don’t like when whiners get their way, he certainly got it with Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” in 2002.  But Penn’s statement goes far beyond just a diva fit, although I do think it dabbles in a sort of self-centered sensibility.  He questions the very way that the movie was made!  Keep in mind that Sean Penn has stepped behind the camera before, even turning out an all-time favorite of mine with “Into the Wild.”

Penn gets to the core of my issues with the movie.  I’m even a little bit more flexible – I’d be fine without a conventional narrative.  But Penn points out that the movie was incredibly disjointed.  I’m sure that the movie was beautiful in Terence Malick’s head, just as Penn says it was beautiful on the page.  Interestingly enough, I’ve heard from industry insiders that Malick shot the script with the dialogue, even allowing Jessica Chastain to speak.  Then he would cut, walk over, and tell her to emote all of the dialogue just with her eyes.  An interesting philosophy that produced an interesting end product.

Still moping...

Yet when everyone on set is not working in sync with the same vision towards a final product, the movie inevitably suffers.  If an actor doesn’t understand his purpose on screen, how can he do a decent job?  Moreover, how can he contribute anything to the movie?  If a director can’t even articulate his vision to the people he entrusts to help him create art, how can he articulate it to an audience?  I’ll inevitably be hit with the “it’s subjective” argument, but give it up here.  You can’t honestly argue that Malick is such a visionary that he can’t even be on the same page with his fellow artists.

Even those that I’ve talked to who LOVE the film can at least admit that the Sean Penn segments were the weakest parts of the film, and the actor’s statements shed some light on why that is.  An actor just existing on screen because a character exists on the page doesn’t make for compelling cinema if he doesn’t understand the basic objectives and motivations.  It’s just … boring.

I guess my biggest question here is why didn’t Penn make a bigger fuss on the set?  It seems kind of cowardly to whip out these harsh words now, potentially even in “too little, too late” territory for those who feel they’ve wasted their life watching the movie.  I get the whole mindset that Malick is a genius and you don’t question him, but for such primal acting concerns as these, why wouldn’t you demand more from the master during production?  If he was really that dissatisfied, why not walk off the movie?  These problems Penn has should have been settled a long time ago, and by just bringing them up now, he’s either searching for attention or absolution for being the worst part of the movie.

Penn did close with this statement about the movie, something that I’d say I basically espouse:

“But it’s a film I recommend, as long as you go in without any preconceived ideas. It’s up to each person to find their own personal, emotional or spiritual connection to it. Those that do generally emerge very moved.”

 

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FINCHERFEST: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

30 09 2010

As part of a deal with Paramount and Warner Bros. to make “Zodiac,” David Fincher took on the $150 million production of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”  The result was his first nomination for Best Director and the most Oscar-nominated movie of the decade.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a masterpiece.

YES, I used the dreaded m-word.  Do I regret it?

Absolutely not.  I stand by assertion 100%, and I will argue my side until you see it.  Fincher’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story is the closet thing I think we will ever get to a 20th century epic.  It’s a sweeping story of love, time, and life, not to mention the single most beautiful movie I have ever seen.  Aside from the typical splendor of a period piece, Fincher’s film has the greatest visual effects I have ever seen.

When I first saw “Benjamin Button,” I was under the impression that the younger (as in newly-born) Benjamins would only be voiced by Brad Pitt, not acted by him.  Yet after doing some research, I found out that aside from the last five minutes of the movie, Benjamin Button’s face was always animated by Pitt.  It’s completely possible to not notice that it actually is him because the effects are so subtly incorporated, and doing such is such an incredible achievement in film history.

I’ll address two common criticisms of the movie, the first being its similarities to “Forrest Gump.”  These concerns might be valid had the two not shared the same writer, Eric Roth.  I see no problem with an author exploring similar issues, especially when he delves deeper into more profound revelations.  “Benjamin Button” gets to the heart of what it means to be alive in the grandest of fashions.

And then there are those who claim that the movie’s 166 minute runtime is absolutely unbearable.  To those poor, impatient souls, I say that our journey is Benjamin’s journey.  We don’t just watch time go by; we feel it with him.  Glancing through an inverted lens gives us a fascinating look at the passage of time and its effect on one man fated – or perhaps doomed – to live it that way.  Just because I say this is a masterpiece doesn’t mean that I think it is perfect.  I don’t think any film can be entirely perfect, but when a movie is truly great, it has many beautiful, fleeting moments of perfection.  Some claim that the movie drags, and I’ll agree that certain scenes could have used a little more time in the editing room.  However, the pacing is not slow.  It is deliberate, and only at this wistful speed can we truly appreciate Benjamin’s world.

Everything about this movie got so much attention, but I’d like to draw attention to one element that got completely and unjustly overlooked: Cate Blanchett’s performance.  She received absolutely no awards or nominations for her performance as Daisy Fuller, Benjamin’s love interest, which is a shame because this is by far her most emotionally compelling and sensitive performance ever.  What I found particularly remarkable about her in “Benjamin Button” was her ability to turn small moments into things that can stick with us.  When I think of her in this movie, I keep coming back to a small scene where Daisy looks plaintively at a young girl with all of her physicality intact and suddenly just finds herself overcome with despair.  It’s as much her story as it is Benjamin’s, and Blanchett wins our hearts just as quickly as Pitt does.

It’s a marvel that Fincher can transition so seamlessly from his violent thrillers and dramas to this romantic vision of the 1900s.  In my mind, it’s his best and most thoughtful work, displaying more of his top-notch precision than ever (albeit in a totally different form).  There are very few movies that have the power to stun us into silence, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of them.  It has the power to make us feel light as a feather and make us fly in a gentle wind, full of emotion and with a new appreciation for life.





Random Factoid #417

18 09 2010

“A stage actor acts on a stage, but a screen actor doesn’t act on the screen. The stage actor just walks on by himself, but the screen actor is put on there by a projectionist.”

– Christoph Waltz, accepting his SAG award in January 2010

We weren’t meant to have the power of pause, rewind, and fast-forward if you really think about it.  When Thomas Edison invented the movies, he wasn’t foreseeing the invention of the BetaMax, the LaserDisc, the VCR, the DVD, the Blu-Ray Player, the free watching on Hulu, the iTunes rental, or the Netflix instant streaming.  As far as I am concerned, the movie was never meant to leave the hands of the projectionist.

Which is why I feel compelled, sometimes, to put the remote down and enjoy a movie start to finish without pausing – like it was meant to be enjoyed.  It’s like a trip back to the good old days.  Sure, we still do it in the theaters, but to go through a whole movie without pauses at home is bringing the theater one step closer to our home.

I regret to say that I often multitask during movies largely out of necessity, because I can’t afford to totally lose as much time as I spend watching movies.  But for some movies, I put down everything and just watch.  These are the movies that I like to call “the experience movies.”  They require you to put away all gadgetry and distractedness so that you can be fully engrossed.

Some movies I would say belong to this list are “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”  Do you have a similar list?  If so, what’s on yours?





Random Factoid #416

17 09 2010

What happened to bonus features?  Seriously.

They used to be my favorite part of buying DVDs when I was eight or nine.  I would shell out $20 for Disney classics I didn’t really want to see that much just so I could watch the special features.  Mini-documentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes – I loved it all.  It was only about four or five years ago when I realized that all I actually wanted to see was the movie itself.

That transition in thought apparently came just in time because most studios don’t even include them on the discs anymore.  Anybody notice how even “Avatar,” the biggest movie of our time, didn’t even have a trailer?

Why is it that no one wants bonus features anymore?  I miss having them as an option when I want something more than a movie.  I don’t need a documentary as long as the movie itself like the Criterion Collection of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but something would be nice!

Is anybody else up in arms about this new development?  Anybody with any insights on why they are gradually disappearing?





Random Factoid #341

4 07 2010

A last second e-mail over a week ago has turned into a contribution on a blog post, so I thought it might make a good factoid.

Right before I left for Wilderness, I got an e-mail from Frank Mengarelli, the “Pompous Film Snob,” asking me what my favorite trailer ever was.  I instantly replied because I knew my answer, but on the way to the airport, I saw his reply asking for a bit of a write-up.  I scribbled down some rationale for my choice, and while I was gone, he ran the favorites.

It’s some of my favorite bloggers who contributed, so the whole post is worth checking out.  Here’s what I wrote about my favorite trailer ever, the teaser for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

I love the teaser for “Benjamin Button” because it perfectly captures the magic of the movie.  It shows the aging process without ruining anything except the breathtaking cinematography.  The “Carnival of the Animals” playing in the background only adds to the sense of wonder.  I hadn’t even heard of the movie when I first saw the trailer, and it absolutely knocked me off my feet.

Coming in at a close second is probably the “Up in the Air” teaser.





Random Factoid #309

2 06 2010

I’m fascinated by alternative casts of movies.  I like to think about how different it would be to watch a movie with different stars.  For instance, I can’t imagine how much different “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” would have been with John Travolta as the titular character!  The thought actually bothers me…

Thanks to Moviefone, you can visualize more of these potential casts that might shock you – I also found myself shocked by the sight of Johnny Depp as Ferris Bueller!  But here are some that Moviefone didn’t feel like sharing.

  • Matt Damon as Captain Kirk in “Star Trek” (role went to Chris Pine)
  • Jake Gyllenhaal as Jake Sully in “Avatar” (role went to Sam Worthington)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio as Neo in “The Matrix” (role went to Keanu Reeves)
  • Jim Carrey as Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean” (role went to Johnny Depp)
  • Mel Gibson as Maximus in “Gladiator” (role went to Russell Crowe)
  • John Travolta as Forrest Gump (role went to Tom Hanks)
  • Tom Hanks as Jerry Maguire (role went to Tom Cruise)
  • Tom Hanks as Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption” (role went to Tim Robbins)
  • Chevy Chase as Lester Burnham in “American Beauty” (role went to Kevin Spacey)




Random Factoid #287

11 05 2010

Frank Mengarelli, the “Pompous Film Snob“, tagged me in one of these seemingly endless memes.  This one is about the Criterion Collection DVDs.  The point of the thread is to find out who has the most of these very special DVDs.

How many do I have?  One.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

To be honest, I don’t buy many DVDs nowadays.  And the Criterion Collection focuses on older movies, which I’m more prone to rent.