Saturday, 01 January 2011
You needn't know much about Orson Welles to see (or like) this movie. Nor do you need to devour Shakespeare. As an unsophisticated and non-well-read viewer, I found Me & Orson Wellesto be an enjoyable and unpretentious period piece, by Richard Linklater, the director of the also enjoyable, unpretentious, but more comically oriented The School Of Rock. But now, instead of the manic Jack Black, Linklater has cast Zac Efron in the lead, a controversial decision considering many non-twelve-year-old girls consider him a pretty boy unfit for anything past High School Musical. But don't worry, the guy doesn't seem limited to teenybopper franchises, and he does fine here, in a film he rather self-importantly deemed the first of his roles he was actually interested in.
He is backed up by virtual unknown Christian McKay, Eddie Marsan, and talented but typecast Leo Bill, who is forever willing to play the nerd, misfit, psychotic, or pervert. Efron plays Richard Samuels, an ambitious and slightly naive 'almost eighteen-year-old' living in new York City in 1937, who regularly skips school, much to the chagrin of his disgruntled mother, and gets a part in the Mercury Theater's production of "Julius Caesar" after publicly singing an awful song about cereal. Womanizer Joe Cotten (James Tupper) and womanizer-in-training Norman Lloyd (Leo Bill,) both of which have their minds on only one thing (and it's not theater) show him the ropes as well as Assistant Sonja (Claire Danes,) who Richard promptly develops a crush on.
The show revolves around keeping Orson happy, a self-obsessed terror set on his own talent. Richard won't be being paid. You must not argue. The actors laugh as a knee-jerk reaction at Orson's unfunny jokes. What does he earn for all this? "The chance to be sprayed by Orson's spit." Why does Richard keep the job at all? He has hope he can make it in the acting business. It's better than going to school. Sonja might be a big part of it. Norman and Joe classily comment that 'every man in the show wants to get into her pants,' then make a bet- the first one get five dollars. It is easy to guess that Sonja will be furious and broken-hearted that Richard made the bet, but it doesn't happen, which highlights the unexpected turns the movie takes.
The rest of the movie concentrates on the quirks of the cast and Orson's ego, as well as Richard's realization that whatever turn the show takes,he wants to be a 'part of it all.' This is well done, except for occasional bad line. For instance? "What's it like to be a beautiful woman?" Richard randomly asks Sonja. *Wince* What gutter did they pull that from? The only saving grace is that Sonja receives it as a bad line. Zac Efron starts out rather awkward in the first five minutes, delivering such off-kilter lines as 'you play with real feeling.' The heavily romanticized dialogue just doesn't feel natural, and it's a relief when the lines become smoother and wittier.
Christian McKay plays Orson Welles as perfectionistic, hard-headed, and childish. When he gets in a fight with his actors, he hollars at the top of his lungs, trademark spit spurting out of his mouth, "I am Orson Welles! And every single one of you stands as a adjinct to my vision!" Mm-kay... His unfailingly reasonable agent John Houseman (Eddie Marsan) tries to get through to him, but the bottem line is nothing that Orson Welles doesn't want to do will even be brought to the table. He is great character, and you see something sympathetic in him, then he throws you for a double loop. Me & Orson Welles is a historical film for people who don't have the time and patience for historical films, and establishes Zac Efron as an actor worthy of some respect (Rated PG-13.)
Saturday, 06 November 2010
In cooperation with my mom, laughing stars, and spawning from an idea I've had for a very long time, I have decided to write down a collection of my preferred film characters. ow, to answer the question, "people you'd like to have tea with or people you find vivid, complete characters?" I say- anyone! The can be likable, relatable, despicable- as long as they are interesting to you. I encourage all movie buffs to make your own list (especially you, Nick Duval... I think you might have some neat choices.) Here's the address to my mom's blog-
And here goes...
from... Firefly & Serenity
Victim of bizarre experimentation and sister to the devoted Simon Tam, River is an unpredictable, delusional force harbored on Malcolm Reynold's ship to keep out of the governments hands. She is a 17-year-old child prodigy who was taken to 'a special school' that was actually a trap, developed to test on and use extraordinary people for corporate purposes. After her brother rescues her, they are declared fugitives and they board spaceship Serenity, where River's behavior becomes increasingly erratic, endangering their fragile hold on refuge.
Why I like her- Summer Glau, a talented actress and professional dancer who is perfect for the part, plays off River's mischievous nature, unlived childhood, brilliance and inner turmoil with hardly a skip. And she becomes a sword-wielding bad-ass in the movie adaptation and staying fascinating, not corny. How many of us can do that?
from... True Blood
Self-conscious, lonely, and sexually obsessed, Eddie is the most unique vampire to be featured on "True Blood." Depressed ad distraught after his wife leaves him and seperates him from his son because of his gay sexuality (or so he says,) Eddie wanders bars hoping to score, but is rejected at every turn. The solution? Become a vampire to appeal to the fangbanger culture! As an undead lacking muchness, he watches TV and seeks services from the fabulous Lafeyette, pretending the relationship has actual intimacy. I won't spoil the whole thing, but things go sour fast. F**k Amy Burley!
Why I like him- Eddie is not as sure of himself as most vampires, and loneliness and boredom is something most of us can relate to. Stephen Root plays him sensitively, and without making him ridiculous. Oh, one more thing about Stephen Root- stop giving this man staplers!!!
From- Let the Right One In
A child vampire of unclear gender and ambiguous intentions, Eli, due to being 'twelve for a long time,' is far too sophisticated for her age. Unlike Eddie, she drink human blood (guess they don't have 'true blood' in Sweden,) and though don't think she's not capable of hunting for herself, she carries on a predator/prey relationship with aging pedophile Hakan, who comes increasingly clumsy with a series of murders. Her cool, calculated nature is put at stake when she meets Oskar, a troubled, bullied boy who seeks revenge. She helps him with that. Just for the sake of arguement folks, how do you think 'Eli' is pronounced?
Why I like her (him?)- She's very mysterious, and after havig it stolen from her gets to rediscover her childhood with Oskar. What will happen after the final scene? I don't know, but this time I'm rooting for the vampire (being that there's no True blood in Sweden...) Lina Leandderson is a talen worth watching in Swedish cinema.
More Coming Soon
Thursday, 28 October 2010
At the beginning of The Men Who Stare At Goats, a confiding message beforehand says that 'more of this is true than you might think.' Maybe so, maybe not so much, but it's an entertaining black comedy, involving guns, drugs, and goats based on the also apparently true memoir of the same name by John Ronson. The film, given only lukewarm consideration by the critics, takes very near to awkward dives between lightness, very dark humor, and compassionate drama, turns out unscathed, if not exactly on top.
Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor,) a journalist, is dumbstruck when his wife has a revelation over the fragility of life after the sudden death of a co-worker. Instead of taking an Eat, Pray, Love expedition, leaving her baffled husband to go to India and so on, she dumps him, apparently deciding life is too short to spend time in his company any longer. After a rather childish tantrum where he breaks dishes and yells at her and her one-armed boyfriend, Bob goes to equally childish lengths to impress her.
"I'm in Iraq, covering war stories," he says in a comfortable American hotel. "I've seen things you shouldn't. "Bang-bang-bang!" He kicks the head of the bed and exclaims, "I've got to go." He then decides that it would be best if he actually did some research there, forgetting just walking into a war-torn country with a camera is not worth it to win back a girl who's clearly gotten over him.
Then he meets Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney,) who's unlike anyone he's ever met- impulsive, smart, and completely convinced the minority he follows is in the right. Sound like somebody you know...? And he says he's a psychic spy, trained by the millitary to read thoughts, drive blind folded, and dissapate clouds with the power of his mind. Hmm.
This takes Bob back to meeting Gus Lacey (Stephen Root,) a member of the same group Lyn joined that he interviewed for a piece in the paper. Gus lives with his who-knows-how-old mother, who serves him drinks, and speaks of his military job in the New Earth Army whimsically. "We were trained to kill animals," he says. "With our minds, that is correct." Bob is shocked. He is serious, in that deadpan way Stephen Root is good at. Gus then shows Bob a video, to prove it, of himself telekinetically killing his pet hamster. What Bob sees is... the hamster acting wonky, yes, but hardly dying.
Lyn takes Bob on a sort of adventure (if you can call it that,) thanks in part to random fate and in part to Lyn's total belief in his psychic powers. Finally they find the New Earth Army base and meet stoned out Bill Jango (Jeff Bridges,) who ran the place for some time, and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey,) who took over. Interspersed with the journey are flashbacks so you have met the characters before you actually met them.
In the end, The Men Who Stare at Goats (with it's abundance of deliberate quirky-isms) is not an epic achievement, but it is funny and witty, and though a streak of oh-so-dark humor pervades, admirably entertaining. In this day and age, I think we kind of need New Earth Warriors, who strive to 'fight without killing,' minus those poor goats. You'll see what I mean (Rated R.)
Thursday, 14 October 2010
One of the most interesting things about Todd Field's In The Bedroom is the way it slowly unravels, not discharges with a bang, a downward spiral of grief and hopelessness. It is so easy to portray life as a utopia before tragedy strikes- in this, the said event reveals hidden repressions and resentments, and tears the lives of the victim's families apart. It is based on the short story The Killings by Andre Dubus, a former captain of the marine corps who eventually wrote about gun-related tragedies and the double sided nature of revenge. This film permeates vengeance- each time, some body gets hurt (or killed) and not a single person wins.
I see In The Bedroom tagged as 'melodrama' on Imdb. According to my film-based book 'melodrama' is 'bold and passionate drama, with distinct lines between good and evil' (not a direct quote.) Although the film is made up of victims, perpetrators, and passive bystanders, with a victim inevitable turning the tables on the perpetrator, it's anything but simple, armed with a certain ambiguity that sets it apart from the others. No one is selfless, and the dimwitted, impulsive killer, though not with much going for him, is not the typical unkillable Halloween psycho.
The film follows two families, the Fowlers and the Strouts, living in contemporary Maine, whose lives are going in very different directions.Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) is a doctor, and is concerned about a job for his son Frank (Nick Stahl) that reaches his full potential. Frank is an affable young man whose ambiguous attitude towards his future are causing Matt and his wife Ruth (Sissy Spacek) some headaches. He is gifted at architecture, with elaborate drawn structures all over his walls, but he includes working on a boat catching lobsters
This is partially because he is unsure if he wants to be what his parents want him to be, partially because of Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei,) an older woman and well-intentioned mother of two boys, who he has fallen for. Natalie has just suffered a violent break-up with Richard (William Mapother.) The is an implication that Richard has physically abused at least one of their two sons, Jason and Duncan, and Natalie wants out of that relationship.
One day Frank is beaten, and he comes home with black eye. He doesn't want to call the police, says Frank. It will just scare Natalie's boys. The next time Frank encounters Richard, the Fowler parents are thrown into a guilt-ridden nightmare that will strain, bend, and perhaps break them. Matt halfheartedly continues to participate in life, whereas Ruth sits quietly, almost comatose, smoking cigarettes on the chair. Ruth mistakenly confuses Matt's attempts to reacquaint himself with life with not grieving, and the event unearths discontentment and suspicions.
There are only a few faulty scenes One involves claustrophobic close-ups and buzzing sound effects seem to have come straight out of Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead, which served it's purpose of slightly surreal humor in the latter. Here it is odd and uncomfortable in a not remotely riveting way. The acting, on the other hand, is very good. The commendable performences and realistic rappor t between family members make one care about the characters and where the plot is going, which you know, thanks in part to me, is nowhere good (rated R)
Saturday, 25 September 2010
The sight of a homeless person can inspire many reactions. One is immediate sympathy and maybe class guilt, coupled with the jangling of spare change. The other is reprehension, with the assumption that these people are coke-heads and crack babies born of the gutter, out to steal the workingman's well earned pennies. The Soloist is out to beat down the latter assumption, telling the story of a mentally ill man who had his hard work as a musician at Julliard hindered by Paranoid Schizophrenia. He wants no alcohol or hard drugs, just to play his music and for his life to work itself out. This portrayal is commendable. It's the presentation that can occasionally get a bit dodgy.
Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.,) not the character mentioned on the first paragraph, is a writer for the Los Angeles times, whose career is struggling. One day, biking and trying to come up with a article, Steve takes a topple off his bike onto the pavement, giving him halfhearted inspiration. His disgruntled boss, Curt Reynolds (Stephen Root,) complains that Lopez's injury is the first thing the public has responded to in weeks. Yes, most days, people can't be bothered to read the paper, and TV is replacing the written word fast, leaving Curt, Steve, and Steve's divorced but rather awkwardly co-working ex-wife Mary (Catherine Keener) out of luck.
The man Steve meets and befriends, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr. (and he won't let you forget that that is his name,) has given up on luck. He grew up in a loving family during a hard time and turned out to be sort of an isolated genius on the violin. His mother ecstatic at his big chance, she sends him off to Julliard with the best wishes, not looking for a moment over the question of his sanity. Unable to express his true talent and consumed by internal voices, he finds himself on the streets, which is particually hard as he is an almost obsessive-compulsive neat freak who dodges traffic to throw away cigarettes.
Steve is puzzled more than moved at their first meeting, but he finds it intriguing that someone allegedly from Julliard could turn out on the streets with his personal belongings in a shopping cart. He has now turned to a cello with only two strings, which he never the less plays magnificently, and Steve decides to write a newspaper article about his life. This turns out to be somewhat beneficial for Nathaniel, as an old arthritis-ridden woman donates him her full stringed cello, but to protect the instrument from looters, Steve moves him to Lamp, a mass homeless shelter that's even grubbier and more run-down than the corner he's learned to call home.
The performances are markedly good from the two leads-Jamie Foxx radiates desperation as Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr. (the compulsive spelling of his name and other's is very Babbitt-esque.) Steve Lopez, smart-alek and sharp, isn't the traditional bleeding heart, and that's all well and good. The problem (and one thing that weakens the film) is the persistent feeling that the side characters could be doing more and the actors being more. The way the plot is developed, the characterizations are very ambient, as well as Stephen Root (who actually showcased his talents to better effect as the ill-fated Eddie Gauthier in a couple of episodes of True Blood.)
His role consists of complaining about his job and getting drunk, recreating the workplace discontent of Milton Waddams in Mike Judge's Office Space without the pathological mental disturbance. Catherine Keener has a questionable role as Steve's ex-wife who, motivated by the growingly genuine friendship between he and Nathaniel, hooks back up with him without much segue. I kept waiting for Root or Keener to be developed beyond a half-hearted afterthought, but that didn't happen.
Nathaniel's story is quite involving, but The Soloist lays it on thick by uncarefully administering a social message about the homeless, ending with an overwrought, wordless scene panning over people in the shelter. The disturbing statistic near the end credits probably does just fine. Anyway, the film should administer a light touch so that the audience doesn't stop to think it's being manipulated. Sme issues (like Nathaniel's reliance on Steve) are looked at but not handled entirely satisfactorily (Rated PG-13.)