Apr 29, 2012

Wet Blog-a-thon: The Graduate

*This post is part of Andrew's wet blog-a-thon.

An hour into Mike Nichols’ timeless second feature film, after the affair between Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) is fully formed and Benjamin’s strange behaviour has begun to irritate his parents, he comes back flying high from his forced first date with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). Mrs. Robinson, of course, opposes the idea of the date and Benjamin seems reluctant at first, but when the date goes well, he plans for another day with Elaine.

Apr 25, 2012

Finding Pixar, Ep. 2: Forgotten Treasure

Welcome back to our Pixar retrospective, in anticipation for Brave, the studio's upcoming feature. I've posted the new episode over at The Film Experience. Pixar's second film, A Bug's Life, is not discussed as frequently as the studio's other works for several possible reasons. It isn't usually ranked as highly as the Toy Story films, WALL-E or Finding Nemo either but it's still a marvelous film and in fact, one of their finer adventure pieces.

Anyway, head over there and chime in with your thoughts. If you missed the first episode of the series, you can catch up here.

Apr 21, 2012

Toby Jones' Biopic Problem

Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock
A few days ago, the first picture of Anthony Hopkins in the film Hitchcock was released. The Sasha Gervasi-helmed film tells the behind the scenes story of the making of Psycho and Hopkins stars as the legendary director. I think the make-up team’s done a fantastic job, though one profile is not much to go by.

But here’s the interesting part: the announcement only came a couple of weeks after the first still of Toby Jones as Hitchcock from the TV movie The Girl. Normally, we’re used to getting two films at once about the same topic - Snow White being the most recent example. But this BBC drama will mark the second time that Toby Jones has played second class citizen to a bigger star in a biopic.

In Infamous, he starred as Truman Capote only a year after Philip Seymour Hoffman recreated the controversial author in Bennett Miller’s Capote and won an Oscar for it. Infamous didn’t generate as much buzz, and although I don’t think as highly of the film and its central performance as I do of Miller’s, I know people who think Jones gave the defter portrayal. Had Hoffman not won an Oscar so recently, could he have gained more acclaim? Who knows, but I think we can all assume that once again, the other Hitchcock portrayal will be the one with all the buzz – especially given the TV nature of Jones’ version.

Toby Jones and Sienna Miller as Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren
Maybe one day Jones can finally get a biopic all to himself? Abe Lincoln and Grace Kelly are out of the question, but there’s gotta be someone else he can play, right?

Apr 18, 2012

Short Take: The Raid

Grade: B

If you go into the theatre expecting a film with a plot, or any form of elaboration on the basic main storyline, or anything resembling human characters, you’ll be grossly disappointed. The nicest way to put this is to say that watching The Raid doesn’t involve any intellectual or emotional stimulation. But your nervous system? That’s a whole different story because all The Raid does is essentially force its audience into an eternal state of twitching and squirming and grabbing the armrests and groaning like the men who are being slaughtered in the film.

It would, however, be unfair to Gareth Evans to criticize his film for the weaknesses of its screenplay because he does so much else right that in the end, one wonders if a better script wouldn’t actually hurt the film. If we are to enjoy watching a man with a light bulb stuck in his neck do flip kicks, wouldn’t any emotional commitment to the characters or even any type of thinking just get in the way of our pleasure?

The Raid is, in a way, only a filmmaking exercise solely aimed at enticing the audience with intense action, careful camera work that alternates exquisitely between rapid pans and deliberate tracks, and engaging sound work that adds so much to the film beyond all the yelling and screaming. For an audience, too, it is an exercise to prove who can sit through more gore before they finally cave and cover their eyes at some point. It’s a ruler for guys to measure their dicks against each other – figuratively speaking, of course, though I’d wager that an overwhelming majority of the film’s audience is male.

The most surprising thing about The Raid is that it has actually stayed with me for a while. You might not feel like you’ve taken anything away from the film once the curtain closes, but if action films are your cup of tea, you’ll have a great two hours at the theatre and you’ll be thinking about its little details long after. This is the best action film to come since... oh, god knows when.

Apr 16, 2012

Poster of the Day (and apologies!)

Boy, am I not excited for this film. Audiard's last film (A Prophet) was one of my absolute favourites of 2009 and he's teamed up with Matthias Schoenaerts (who gave one of the best performances of 2011) and French superstar Marion Cotillard. So far, the trailer and the poster are both promising.

Meanwhile, I owe you apologies for the delay in posting the second episode of my Pixar retrospective. Personal life has gotten in the way of blogging, but I will be back with that on Wednesday and also a review of The Raid sometime this week.

Apr 14, 2012

Paul McCartney's My Valentine

I don't normally post music videos but this is one of the greatest songs of the year by one of the greatest musicians of all time starring two of our greatest movie stars, Johnny Depp and my beloved Natalie Portman. And the great thing is that the video actually lives up to the talent of everyone involved. Bravo!

Apr 9, 2012

Finding Pixar, Ep. 1: How Toy Story Started A Love Affair

Welcome to Finding Pixar, a new series that will serve as your guide through the studio’s catalogue in anticipation for their upcoming feature, Brave. We’ll be looking at each of their films chronologically every Monday. Now, I know what you’re all thinking. “But Amir, Brave is released in 11 weeks and there are 12 Pixar films.” That’s true, but since we’re starting one week late, we’ll have to cover both Cars films in one episode. Who among you really wants to read about the second one anyway?

Pixar’s status among studios is unique, both because of the specialty of the films it produces and because of their general quality. It is also unique because despite the relatively young age of the studio, the amount of writing on their work – academic, professional or otherwise – is outstanding. My generation – I was 7 when Toy Story came out – grew up with Pixar’s cinema and younger generations have actually been introduced to animation first through Pixar and then everything that came before it. It’s been a cultural phenomenon that has really become inseparable from the experience of cinephiles and kids in the past two decades.

Though their work really stretches all the way back to A Computer Animated Hand and their short animation repertoire is just as valuable, this series is focused on feature length films and their evolution. Kicking things off, of course, is John Lasseter’s Toy Story (1995), arguably one of the most influential films of its decade and the film that brought Pixar to the attention of a worldwide audience.

My Story

Foreign films are not released theatrically in Iran so the first time I was treated to a delicious Pixar dish on the big screen was in 2007 with Ratatouille. My first experience with Toy Story must have happened sometime in 1996 on a VHS tape. I cherished all the tapes I owned and I’d watched the likes of Beauty and the Beast (previously discussed here) and 101 Dalmatians hundreds of times. Toy Story was a whole new experience though.

It was beyond me to understand how that effect was executed but it felt like seeing my real plastic toys on the screen. Those effects look pedestrian today when you compare them with the same characters in Toy Story 3, but it was revolutionary at the time. Toy Story triggered my imagination like nothing else. I was blown away by the story and recreated endless plots in my head involving my toys and what they did when I wasn’t around. It was magical and I think that child still awakes inside me every time I watch a new Pixar film. Toy Story was just when my love affair with Pixar started.

Pixar’s real achievement has always been their successful integration of adult themes in the children’s universe. One can argue that the reason Toy Story holds up so well today is that it never feels like a kids’ movie. It is, above everything, a film about camaraderie, about how friendships are developed and how they evolve. Without a trace of didacticism and with utmost energy and playfulness, Toy Story subconsciously taught me everything about treating my friends right and sticking with them at hard times. It told me not to judge people based on their appearances; and I’d be hard-pressed to find another moment in my life that taught me that more thoroughly than when Sid’s terrifyingly dismembered toys help Woody and Buzz out in their escape.

Watching the film again for this write-up, I had the same feeling I had in the theatre for Toy Story 3: like these characters had never gone away from my life. The key is in the way the Pixar team treats them, not like toys, but with maturity and respect. The story is as engaging for adults as it is for kids because the toys transcend their plastic materiality and become relatable for anyone at any age. This respect for the story and for children has become a staple of Pixar's work, but it is epitomized here because the protagonists are not even human. Yet, Lasseter finds a way to make them human and worthy of our compassion. Toy Story may not be my favourite Pixar film, but it always holds a special place in my heart for kick-starting what I think is, along with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs, the greatest trilogy of all time.

Apr 5, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Grade: D

The greatest thing about The Cabin in the Woods is that the ending assures us there will be no sequels. It’s the film’s way of telling us that despite the chaos we have been through for two hours, everything will be fine at the end. But I’m genuinely disappointed. It’s been a long while since a good horror film came along and I had heard that this one would buck the trend; that it would be a surprise. The only real surprise is how terrible the film really is.

- Cabin’s biggest problem is its tonal shifts. The film hovers above comedy and horror, flirting with both but never fully committing to either. It eventually starts to move in the same direction that most horror flicks do with hot young students wearing their underwear around dorms in college getting together for a trip to a haunted house and all that jazz. And its banality is only concealed by an orgiastic finale that is intended to surprise but instead provides yet another confusing misdirection. The first half, which is full of gory sexuality and devoid of comedy, doesn’t justify the sudden transition to the over-the-top idiocy of the second one. And that’s not even to say that the second half is all that hilarious. It attempts to be and there are scattered chuckles, but then it gets lost in the shallow stiffness of its dialogue and decides to overcompensate with the cacophonic introduction of unicorns and mermen and a whole bunch of horror cliches. Had it started things off with the right tone – think of the opening of Zombieland, so beautifully balancing comedy and horror – or if its humor had been wittier throughout, I would have given it a pass, but I can’t over the fact that Cabin is incredibly self aware of how ridiculous it is and somehow imagines that it’s really, really cool to be so chaotic.

- The entirety of the film is spent waiting for a clever final twist. To be fair, the ending is not expected. It’s ballsy and it’s definitely not lazy. We know from the beginning that the main characters are essentially being manipulated from the outside, so that’s no surprise. What the film lacks in its final act is a justification for the whole ordeal, something that is smarter that what we get. It’s interesting to see so many familiar horror tropes re-imagined (particularly the really funny nod to Japanese horror) but sadly, it’s this surprise that works adversely to undermine the film. If one expected to see that final amalgam, it’d be easier to cheer on, but if you waited to see a thoughtful reasoning – say, properly explaining the audience that is alluded to – you’ll be disappointed by how messy everything gets.