Monthly Archives: January 2010

Movie Review: An Education

The beginning of “An Education” might throw you off a bit. For a premise that sounds so trite, the music is so upbeat and unexpected. It’s basically an indicator for what’s to come: a surprising, refreshing, and extremely entertaining British drama.

“An Education” brings us back to a time where many things were accepted and others rejected that we couldn’t even imagine today. Still, something about this time seems alarmingly relevant. The year is 1961, and the location is London. Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a 16-year-old with a love for French music and film. Her real ambitions seem to be to absorb all things cultural. However, she is ruled more by the ambitions of her strict father (Alfred Molina). Therefore, she attends an all girls private school with a goal of getting into Oxford.
Everything in Jenny’s life seems mechanical. Even the cello, which she loves so much, is meant simply as a means of getting her into college. This all changes one day when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard). David is a Jewish businessman about twice Jenny’s age. He breaks her away from her imprisoned life and introduces her to a world of jazz, gambling, and drinking, amongst other things. Once she sees this new life, she never wants to go back.
Much talk about the film has gone into Carey Mulligan’s performance. All of this talk comes for good reason. I cannot see any other actress stepping into the role of Jenny and doing as fine a job as Mulligan does. She conveys Jenny’s emotion and confusion with absolute perfection, letting both her emotions and her ambivalence guide the story. Mulligan also constantly reminded me of Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” It’s not just for her looks, but for the way she conveys her many complex feelings, and ultimately finds her purpose in life.
Mulligan might be front and center, but she’s not the only great actor on display. Molina is amazing when you think how drawn out his character could’ve been. Instead, he breathes life into his performance and even bring a good deal of humor into his character’s awkwardness. And in his sternest moments, he’s always convincing.
Sarsgaard performance is the most underrated in the film. He has a fascinating ability to be able to act in two different emotions at once, especially with his body language. His smile will suggest a calm amiability, while his cocked eyebrows can suggest a whole different man. This is a rare talent few actors possess, and for this, as well as his convincing British accent, Sarsgaard should be praised more often.
“An Education” does not solely rely on performances for greatness. To tell you the truth, the only thing that got me to see this movie was the Oscar buzz surrounding it. The story sounded like something I’ve seen many times before. However, “An Education manages to take this formula and bring a whole new dimension to it.
For starters, none of the characters are turned into caricatures. None of the adults seem to be putting Jenny through her miserable education simply to torture her. There is always a reason behind each motive. In the end, Jenny’s strict father ends up being as likable as she is.
The whole story is an ode to rebelliousness and non-conformity. This of course isn’t the first film to celebrate these things. What is so great about the story is that it doesn’t seem to be celebrating the wrong kind of rebelliousness. It wants Jenny to find freedom, and find it in the right way. Just as it makes the point that one can’t get an education until they realize why they’re being educated, one can’t truly go their own way until they understand why they’re going in the direction they’re headed.
Some film critics judge how much they like a movie by their emotional connection to it. I don’t do that too often but with “An Education,” I will take a big exception. Jenny’s coming-of-age story reminded me of events I’ve faced recently in my own life, and some words she hears sound a little like things I’ve been told as well. It’s not just what Jenny is told, but her reactions to it that I can relate to so much.
I think what made “An Education” such a unique viewing experience for me is its tone. It could’ve been a film that was darky, moody, and constantly angry. Instead, it remains optimistic throughout. Even when Jenny reaches her lowest point, there is always the reaffirming touch of life in every shot. It’s nice for once to see a film about the machine that is life which doesn’t approach it’s subject in such a pessimistic manner. “An Education” is a film that proves that it doesn’t just matter what story you’re telling, but how you tell it.

What J.D. Salinger Meant to Me

I meant to write this post on Thursday or Friday. Hopefully, this topic hasn’t lost its relevance yet.

As a blog that devotes exclusively to the moving image, it is only a rare, yet deserving occasion that I would devote an entire post to a book. This is one of those occasions.
On Thursday, J.D. Salinger, author of “Catcher in the Rye,” died of natural causes. He was 91. Salinger has become quite legendary for his extreme secrecy. However, his true claim to fame is his writing of the American classic “Catcher in the Rye.”
“Catcher in the Rye” seems to have become a mandatory read in this country. Every high school student is given a copy to read at some point in their lives. I am proud to say its one of the only required readings I’ve ever been given in my life that didn’t feel like a chore. For those who haven’t read it yet, “Catcher” tells the story of Holden Caufield, a teen who has just been kicked out of boarding school and now spends a few days aimlessly wandering through New York City before having to face the reality of telling his parents.
Holden Caufield hasn’t necessarily been an idol to me but rather just someone I look to to understand my own life. Over 60 years on, he truly resonates as one of pop culture’s greatest anti-heroes. He is someone who acts so mature yet ironically is extremely immature. He also is something of a representation of anti-establishment. For all these things, Salinger’s creation has never left our thoughts.
Surprisingly enough, there has still never been a film version of “Catcher in the Rye.” This is mainly because Salinger strictly guarded his story’s rights. It wasn’t out of pure stubbornness, but rather because Salinger never wanted us to see Holden. It was up to our imaginations. After Salinger died, there were random whispers on the web of a future film adaptation.
Not only would it be wrong to ever adapt “Catcher in the Rye,” it would also be extremely unnecessary. It would be unnecessary because in a way, Holden’s story has already been put on the screen hundreds of times, with amazing results.
One of the finest examples is “The Graduate.” Ben Braddock mirrors Caufield in his aimless wandering. Both of their unsure journeys from kid to adults seem like sort of dangerous purgatories. And both characters, despite lacking ambitions, are so hard not to root for.
Perhaps a film much more directly influenced by Salinger is “Rushmore,” which is the story of a teenager kicked out of private school for his failing grades. Like Holden Caufield, Max Fisher acts much more mature than he actually is. Perhaps the best way that Anderson imitates Salinger is the way in which we view his character. We don’t necessarily root for his immaturity but rather for his journey to maturity and the harsh way he is pushed around by society.
While most of my influences remain in the film world, there are only a few others from different mediums that I can say have truly influenced my life. Of those, all I can think of are Bob Dylan, Lorne Michaels and J.D. Salinger. Not only has he touched my own life, but he’s also shaped the way that films tell stories. We never need to see Holden Caufield on film because in truth, there is a Holden Caufield in all of us.

Movie Review: In the Loop

Some things are too ridiculous to be true. Other things, when put into the right context, are too ridiculous to not be true. This is the very case for “In the Loop.” Its a very relevant political satire about ridiculous characters and situations during a very ridiculous period in history.

“In the Loop” might be so brilliant because of its stunning realism, or just because of how funny it is. The film is shot in a mockumentary style and spans a wide range of characters across an entire ocean. It takes place in the days leading up to a major war with a Middle Eastern country (no name is mentioned, but the film is obviously alluding to Iraq).
The film follows the lives of incompetent bureaucrats as the US and Britain prepare for war. The British side is headed by the Prime Minister’s enforcer Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), a man who curses more than he thinks. The war plans are constantly compromised by Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) and his new assistant Toby (Chris Addison).
On the American front, Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky) writes an anti-war report. As the two countries try and thwart the invasion, the more they work together, the less they get done.
“In the Loop” works so well for so many reasons. For one, it does not encompass one single style of humor, but rather a very broad comedic range. The film seems to have a combination of humor from both sides of the pond, which is a perfect fit. At times, it embraces British deadpan and visual humor. At other times, it uses the American humor of awkwardness and slapstick.
The great thing is that it doesn’t restrict British humor to the British characters and American humor to the American characters. One of the best examples in the film is when Toby stumbles into a meeting late, and he uncomfortably tries to find a good excuse. Of course, he has no clue what he’s talking about.
“In the Loop” is also blessed by hilarious dialogue from writer Jesse Armstrong. At times, some of the lines seem too natural to be scripted; I would not be surprised if improv took place in this film. The lines contain many pop culture references, and a fair amount of cursing. However, the cursing is not just thrown in for the sake of being there. It seems to have a purpose. At times, it can reveal frustration. Other times, it shows abundant emotional immaturity. Mainly though, it just manages to make you laugh. Rarely has the f-word been used this creatively.
“In the Loop” is boosted by an incredible ensemble. No one actor dominates. Rather, each is given a moment to shine. James Gandolfini shines as a US general. He manages to be hilarious by being intimidating at some times, and at other times delivering lines about murdering kittens and puppies without sounding angry.
The strength of the cast lies not just in the strength of each actor, but in the way they all communicate with each other. While great chemistry between actors is usually defined by how convincing it is that they like each other, the great chemistry in “In the Loop” is defined by how well the characters fight with each other. The fact that this was passed on by SAG for the Best Ensemble Award is something of a crime.
“In the Loop” works not just as comedy, but as spot-on political commentary. Armando Iannucci has created a satire worthy of being mentioned alongside “Dr. Strangelove,” the greatest political satire of all time. Like “Strangelove,” “In the Loop” shows miscommunication as the most powerful starter of war. However, unlike “Strangelove,” “In the Loop” is based more off something that actually happened rather than something that could’ve happened. Both are inevitably about trying to stop a crisis that’s already started.
All joking aside, “In the Loop” does have a very serious message to tell. Of course, it does this through humor. It portrays a world in which everything we’re told is essentially a lie, and the real, dirty business goes on way behind closed doors. Also, by having pretty much every person working for the US and British government be way too young, Iannucci is saying that Iraq War might as well have been planned by children. This balance of humor and serious message is something we don’t see enough in modern American comedies.
I really hope in the next two weeks, Oscar voters take this film into some serious consideration. Mainly, a surprise nomination for Capaldi and a Screenplay nomination for the bleeding gums scene alone would be just fine.
In the end, there is really one reason you should go and see “In the Loop”: it’s the most intelligent comedy you’ll see involving diarrhea jokes.

The Hurt Locker: A New Frontrunner?

Well, I guess was wrong.

Just one week ago, all of the Oscar buzz was in favor of “Avatar.” After dominating the box office for over a month, the film picked up the Golden Globes for Best Picture and Director. From reporters to ordinary moviegoers, no one would stop talking about “Avatar.” It was riding an unstoppable wave to the top.
Then, one of the most important precursors to the Oscars, the Producers Guild of America, announced its pick for Best Picture: “The Hurt Locker.” While “The Hurt Locker” picked up nearly every major critics’ award, it went home empty handed at the Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Now, just one award might not mean “Avatar” is a total goner. However, the Globes are not known as a very good predictor for the Oscars (sorry, “Hangover” fans). The Guild Awards are usually much more accurate, as much of the voting body for the Guilds also vote for the Oscars. Meanwhile, the HFPA, who vote for the Globes, are an entirely separate voting body.
This news still stuns me. While “The Hurt Locker” is one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, its box office can’t help it much. “The Hurt Locker” made about $12 million domestically. That’s less than half of what “Avatar” made on its opening day.
Now, Best Picture winners don’t necessarily need to be blockbusters like “Avatar,” however I do recall people saying that the $54 million gross was too low.
Going beyond money, “The Hurt Locker” makes sense as a Best Picture winner. Not only is it a masterpiece, but it’s a defining film of our time. It is by far the best film made yet about the Iraq War. It’s a film that combines brilliant directing and technical mastery with fantastic performances and solid writing. Not to mention, it can go down as one of the most suspenseful films I’ve ever seen.
Also, awarding “The Hurt Locker” would be something of a brilliant move on the Academy’s part. In a year where the Academy extended the field to 10 movies in order to attract bigger movies (and more viewers), nominating a little seen independent film like “The Hurt Locker” would be a hilarious screw you to the American public. Well, at least I’ll be laughing.
“The Hurt Locker” might even have a bigger shot in the Best Director category. Kathryn Bigelow did an outstanding job giving her film a documentary feel and bringing out the highest level of tension in situations that involved absolutely no blood shed. This is the kind of work someone should win Awards for, and depending on which direction the DGA goes, I have a strong feeling that this could end up being the first year a woman picks up the prize for Best Director.
Then again, the Oscar nominations have yet to even come out. Who knows, maybe voters will shock us all and nominate neither. That’s highly unlikely. One thing is for sure though: after years of easily predicted frontrunners (“No Country for Old Men,” “Slumdog Millionaire”), we finally have little clue who is going to win. This could turn out to be one of the more exciting Oscar years in our lifetime.
Side Note: I can’t forget to mention that “Inglourious Basterds,” still my favorite movie of the year, one the SAG Award for Best Ensemble. Actors make up the largest portion of the Academy, and there is always a possibility that “Basterds” could pull of an upset like “Crash” did after it beat out “Brokeback Mountain” for the Best Ensemble prize. I can dream, can’t I?

Movie Review: Crazy Heart

There are some movie characters I really wish were real. Bad Blake is one of them.

“Crazy Heart” is a great movie propelled by an even greater performance by Jeff Bridges. Bridges plays Bad Blake. Bad Blake is an aging, chain-smoking, alcoholic country singer who’s seen better days.
Bad is long past his glory days and is now taking small gigs at bars and bowling allies. He doesn’t really have much a home, he just tours across the American West and does any show he can for money. Along the way, he gets interviewed by music journalist Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and falls in love with her. The film shows Bad as deciding between two life paths: either rekindling his career, or recovering from his problems and settling down.
Bridges has been receiving the most praise for “Crazy Heart.” Obviously, I’m going to spend a large portion of this review talking about him. But before I get into that, lets talk about the film itself. The movie seems something like “The Wrestler” for the world of country music. However, the film amazingly manages to steer away from genre conventions. Just when you think it’s going to turn in one predictable direction, it steers away and goes somewhere you wouldn’t have expected. And there are certain events that occur that just have to occur. However, writer and director Scott Cooper makes them less much less contrived than they could’ve been.
I think two things that impressed me most about “Crazy Heart” are two things you’d never even notice: sound and set design. These two elements make the world “Crazy Heart” takes place in seem so real. When Bad plays in a bar, it sounds like he’s really playing a concert in a bar. Even every little detail, from the lights to the behavior of the audience when Bad plays at a bigger venue is pitch perfect. Were these shot at a studio, or on location? I’d rather not know, I’d rather just be sucked in by the magic of movies.
I also must commend Cooper for creating such engaging characters. Beyond Bad Blake, all of his friends, acquaintances, and lovers are equally compelling to watch.
But of course now is the reason you’ll likely see this movie: Jeff Bridges. Yes, it is one hell of a performance. Bridges takes a whiskey chugging burn out and turns him into someone you’ll actually like. Mainly, he makes the character seem so realistic through the smallest mannerisms. Most hilariously, he always opens his belt before he drives. Small details like this might seem insignificant, but they ultimately bring humanity to the character. In this case, a loosened belt shows Bad’s carefree attitude towards life.
Bad Blake is the role Bridges was born to play, and the role that will win him an Oscar. This is the most Dudesque performance Bridges has done in years. It’s a testament to how much “The Big Lebowski” has shaped Bridges career that the first scene of”Crazy Heart”‘ takes place in a bowling alley.
Truly, the best part of a good performance is how it makes you feel in relation to how the film is supposed to make you feel. No matter how emotionally cold Bad can be sometimes, there is still this level of warmness that is projected from his character at all times. We only get a very short glimpse of Bad’s 57 years on earth, but we get a fully realized understanding of Bad’s amiable personality and amazing ability to form relationships with pretty much any human being he meets.
At times, Cooper’s film feels sort of like a New Age Western, as Bad travels across the west staying in motel to motel doing what he can to make money. Not to mention, Bad perfectly embodies the reckless outlaw spirit.
“Crazy Heart” also contains what is likely the best original score of the year. The songs by T Bone Burnett bring extra layers of meaning to the film. The last song we see Bad write, a song that shares its name with the movie’s title, shows Bad’s true nature: no matter how much he changes, he’ll always be that same outlaw. He might go back to his old name, but he’ll still always be Bad Blake. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Movie Review: Big Fan

Here’s a little gem that escaped audiences. “Big Fan” is a film that came and went without much buzz, but it’s a film deserving of praise.

“Big Fan” is a film that’s something of a genre bender. It can be defined as either a solemn drama, or an extremely dark comedy. That’s up to you to decide. Most importantly, it’s an amazingly deep character study of a character you’d usually never want to know. The character in question is Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt). Paul is like Rupert Pupkin of the sports world.
Paul has two sides to him: one side is a lonely, unmotivated man who still lives with his mother. The other side is the world’s most passionate fan of the New York Giants.
By day, Paul is nothing but a worker at a parking garage. By night, he’s “Paul from Staten Island,” a frequent caller to a local sports radio station. One day, he stumbles upon Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), his favorite quarterback. Paul follows him to a strip club, which results in a fight which sends Paul to the hospital. After the attack gets Quantrell arrested, Paul must decide between loyalty, and reality.
“Big Fan” comes from the mind of Robert Siegel. This is Siegel’s directorial debut. However, he did write the brilliant “The Wrestler.” This once again proves Siegel’s talent at making works of art examining what happens in the sports world from the inside out. While “The Wrestler” could be seen as something of a mockumentary following one man’s life inside the ring, “Big Fan” is a mockumentary about the man who always stands at the sidelines.
Siegel explores the twisted life of Paul Aufiero the same way he explored the twisted life of Randy “The Ram”: through an objective, almost apathetic, observer’s eye. Siegel is the rare filmmaker who realizes it’s not his duty to tell the audience how to feel about the character. Instead, he shows you everything the character does and you decide how to feel about them. Whether Paul is a pathetic loser who needs to get a life or just a lonely man who will only reach out in certain ways is up to the beholder.
What helps bring Paul into a three dimensional perspective is none other than the performance by Oswalt. Oswalt is just one of many renowned who have proven they have dramatic acting chops. What launches Oswalt into the ranks of other great comedians in serious roles such as Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting,” Adam Sandler in “Punch Drunk Love,” and Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation” is his ability to take comedic sensibilities and shape them into a fine, serious performance. Even though Paul is the kind of man most people would mock in disgust, Oswalt makes him seem more like a human being than a walking joke.
“Big Fan” feels like a story ripped right out of the headlines. It’s one of those films that feels like it shouldn’t work but in the end, it does. It’s one of those movies that never goes where you’re thinking it will. For example, there’s no montage set to hipster music where the character gets new clothes and finally gets a job. No, it’s much more brutally real than that.
“Big Fan” basically has only plot development and a lot of things don’t change in the end. However, in a film, two things matter most about a story: what is being told, and how it’s being told. The “what” here is interesting, but with the wrong direction, it would’ve been nothing. The “how” here is stronger than ever.
Perhaps what makes the “how” so strong is the fascination the viewer will have with the film’s main character. Paul is a man of incredible complexity. Sometimes, he comes off as a stereotypical fanboy idiot. Other times, he comes off as someone with much intelligence, and a man who lives the way he does simply because he wants to.
If there is one definite thing we could find out about Paul, it’s that he’s extremely lonely. Siegel’s film is one of the better studies I’ve seen of isolation. Paul always has chances to escape his little bubble and be a real member of society. However, he doesn’t want to. Perhaps he sees no other way, he is just another of “God’s lonely men,” as Travis Bickle would say. But the beauty of the film is in its ambiguity, and we’ll never know the answer. “Big Fan” might offer an extremely vivid portrait of Paul Aufiero, but to know Paul, you just have to be Paul.

Golden Globes: A Night for Blue Aliens. And Mike Tyson

Well, mainstream comedy certainly has something to celebrate.

2010 marked the first time in years that the winner of the Best Musical/Comedy category at the Golden Globes was not a musical or a sophisticated indie black comedy. Rather, it was “The Hangover,” a comedy that worked so well and basically earned* its award because it was just so refreshingly funny.
This might mean little for “The Hangover”‘s Oscar chances. It probably has a slim shot at Best Picture, but a Best Screenplay nomination is likely its best shot.
Still, I don’t see the Golden Globes as much of a predictor for the Oscars. I think it’s more of a way of seeing what people in the inner film circles are excited about at the moment. In that case my thinking was confirmed, “Avatar” is the official frontrunner for Best Picture. Yes, voters walked onto Pandora, and now they simply can’t seem to get away. Hopefully, they’re not as crazy as these people. I’m not necessarily happy that “Avatar” is stealing the thunder from several other more worthy films, but I have to hand it to James Cameron: never in a million years did I think the entire world would fall in love with a three hour movie about ten foot tall blue-cat-monkey people.
The other film I suspected as a spoiler for “Avatar,” “Up in the Air,” faired only decently tonight. It took home a well deserved Best Screenplay award, solidifying it as by far the front runner for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Meanwhile, the two best supporting actors were officially confirmed as the front runners. Christoph Waltz was the first thing on everyone’s mind from the second audiences first saw him ask for a glass of milk. Meanwhile, I knew Mo’Nique was the only imaginable winner from the minute I saw what was then called “Push” at Sundance.
Another big film, “The Hurt Locker,” went home totally empt handed. However, it has been gaining much momentum lately so I do expect it to do much better at the Oscars. Plus, it’s sweeping of the Critics Choice Awards were a very promising sign. That $12 million at the box office though, really isn’t.
The lead acting categories are a whole other story. Robert Downey Jr. should be happy with his win for “Sherlock Holmes” and expect nothing further. While George Clooney still has something of a shot, Jeff Bridges seems like the real man to beat right now. I haven’t seen Bridges’ performance in “Crazy Heart” yet, but to Bridges’ awards success I say: Dude Abides.
The most unpredictable category this year is the Best Actress category. There are four very possible candidates right now, and two who equally have a clear shot at winning. Meryl Streep has a good shot for “Julie & Julia” simply because, she’s Meryl Streep. Plus, her performance has gotten nothing but absolute raves. Sandra Bullock’s performance in “The Blind Side” also has a very good shot. Not only has she been lauded for her performance, but the film itself has become something of an underdog. Its amazing box office success was expected by no one. Perhaps this could play into votes.
Unfortunately, there still seems like little hope for “Inglourious Basterds” besides Christoph Waltz. I have a good feeling “Basterds” might’ve won Best Screenplay tonight if the Globes split it up into two separate categories. Only the WGA Awards will be able to answer that. In the mean time, Tarantino will have to wait another few years for his long deserved Best Director Oscar. If Scorsese (who was honored tonight) could wait 40 years, then so can he.
On a side note: am I the only one bothered by the fact that Best Drama always seems to be more significant to analysts than Best Comedy? Seriously, when will people start taking Comedies more seriously.
*I would’ve voted for “(500) Days of Summer.” “The Hangover” might’ve been the funniest comedy of the year, but it wasn’t the most brilliantly made.
Full List of Winners Here.

Movie Review: The Book of Eli

There are few films I’ve seen that are bad enough to remind me why I need to review them. Then I saw “The Book of Eli” and remembered this: I need to let you know when Hollywood is trying to make you pay for an inferior product of something you’ve already seen ten thousand times.

“The Book of Eli” takes a tired subject that has potential for originality and manages to make it even more tired. The film takes place sometime in the distant future. Humans are bad. Humans are selfish. Humans like to use more than they should and therefore a bomb goes off and destroys the world. Makes so much sense, right?
Well, despite what was probably a large nuclear fallout, people seem to be surviving just fine. Not only that, the future also seems to be lacking zombies. Eli (Denzel Washington) is a man who wanders through the desert waste of the United States. He fights off bandits and basically does anything to survive. The reason for his mission is to protect a very sacred book called the Bible. This makes “The Book of Eli” the first movie ever made to contain Biblical undertones.
Anyway, Eli wants to bring the Bible to a safe place on the western coast. However, a very bad man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman) wants the Bible for himself. He wants to use the knowledge in it to take over the world. This still doesn’t make much sense to me.
The rest of the film varies between sparse action sequences and long, dull expanses of meaningless dialogue. In between that is crammed horribly obvious product placement (most hilariously occurs during one scene involving a megaphone).
The film steals from the brilliance of “Fahrenheit 451,”* “Children of Men,” and “The Road”* without much guilt. It is one thing to be inspired by these classics, and another to just blatantly rip them off. The idea of the Bible as a guide to restoring the world was already done much more convincingly in “Fahrenheit 451″ and the idea of some guy traveling across a post-apocalyptic landscape has already been done too many times to count.
I am actually highly fascinated by films portraying the future. I like to see how artists use their visions of the future to show where the human race is headed. “The Book of Eli” contributes absolutely nothing to this idea. Perhaps the directors, the Hughes Brothers, didn’t intend the film to be this deep. However, it fails as good entertainment as well.
You’d think that “The Book of Eli” would have at least have some exciting action. After all, it is shot like a video game. However, the action sequences amount to maybe under five minutes. They are shot in an unreal, very unfocused matter. There’s no way to get any sort of joy out of the action if it’s shot like this. Also, action can’t be very intriguing if the hero never seems to be facing any sort of vulnerability.
Another part of the film that had potential was also sorely under utilized. During the film, the young Solara (Mila Kunis) follows Eli on his journey. With all the time they spend together, no sort of bond seems to form between them. The Hughes Brothers act like something forms between them but in reality, nothing does.
I would probably the call “The Book of Eli” more of a Western than a Sci-Fi film. I guess you could call it something of a dystopian western film. In that light, I wish the film had made Eli into a more complex western outlaw than a cliche Messiah type. Besides, how can any man be considered Jesus if he chops people’s hands off?
I will give “The Book of Eli” credit for one thing: a big end twist that’s actually surprising. It might turn into another lame Biblical metaphor, but I need to give the filmmakers credit for actually making one part of the film remotely interesting.
Perhaps the biggest problem of “The Book of Eli” is that while Eli’s motives make sense, Carnegie’s are never defined. Therefore, the entire plot just becomes irrelevant.
The overall message of “The Book of Eli” seems to be something along the lines of, “we will all be saved by the Bible.” I don’t know if I should be deeply offended or just flabbergasted at its unoriginality. Usually, when a film has Biblical undertones, they’re supposed to be much more subtle.
Some will probably want to recommend this movie just as an escapist form of entertainment. However, just because it has the label of action movie, why does that make it automatically entertaining? Any film with sparse action, poorly developed characters, and a weak storyline cannot formulate anything close to a true form of cinematic entertainment.
*I have not seen the film versions of either “Fahrenheit 451″ or “The Road.” However, having known the stories, I can still tell you how similar they are to the plot of “The Book of Eli” and how superior they both are.

Movie Review: Youth in Revolt

January is that time of year when the only movies people are going to see are December holdovers and Oscar contenders. So studios dump bad movie upon bad movie on us. It seems more like at this time of year, they release movies with so much potential, yet don’t even try. A perfect example of this is “Youth in Revolt.”

“Youth in Revolt” had the ingredients for a solid film: good cast, (supposedly) good source material, and great trailer. In the end, all of these adding up to only a decent product.
As the title suggests, “Youth in Revolt” is the story of teenage rebellion. The teen in question is Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), a sixteen-year-old virgin and an aspiring writer. His lonely existence is not helped by his cash-strapped mother Estelle (Jean Smart) and her loser boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis).
After Jerry gets into some trouble, the three hide away in a remote lake town. There, Nick falls in love with Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). In order to prove to her that he is more than just a good boy, he creates a destructive alter ego named Francois Dillinger. Then, Nick destroys some property and that’s pretty much it.
“Youth in Revolt” had two main problems: weak story, and weak humor. The problem with the story is that it hinges on to one plot detail and never seems to make any new developments from there. Why not delve deeper into Nick’s destructive impulses? While Nick is by far the most developed character in the film, why not show some depth on the other characters? “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” was able to tell a story for each character in its huge ensemble in under two hours, so why couldn’t “Youth in Revolt” do the same?
Also, throughout the film, Sheeni refuses to go all the way with Nick unless he does something really bad. However, director Miguel Areta makes absolutely no attempt to turn her into any sort of rebellious child. She seems more like the kind of girl who’d like a more civilized boyfriend than one who destroys his parents’ cars.
Other parts of the story seem very unfocused, such as the sporadic narration. Sometimes we see the story from Nick’s perspective, and other times we don’t.
Perhaps something I’m most upset about is the poor use of Zach Galifianakis. He’s given few funny lines (and practically no depth) here. They could’ve at least given him something funny to say but “The Hangover” did prove that Galifianakis doesn’t need a good one liner to be funny; all he really needs is a jock strap and a ridiculous laugh. Galifianakis had less screen time in “Up in the Air,” yet he still managed to make something hilarious out under two minutes of screen time.
Despite these flaws, the film does have a few redeeming qualities. It does manage to have a few funny scenes, not to mention that actors Fred Willard and Ray Liotta manage to steal every scene they are in. The main attraction here really is Cera. During his short career, Cera has turned himself into the nice, awkward teenager through his roles in “Arrested Development,” “Superbad,” and “Juno.” Here, he slightly throws George Michael out the window. What was so impressive about his performance was not merely that he was playing good as opposed to bad, but that he was playing a character with truly complex emotions. You never know when he’s going to be good, and when he’s suddenly going to snap. This unpredictability is a rare talent, and I hope in the future he sticks to complex roles like this. Next time, lets hope he does it with better material.
“Youth in Revolt” represents what happens when a massive heap of potential is given no effort at all. The film’s director and writer seem to treat it more like an ignored child than a baby that needs to be nurtured to grow. What the people of Hollywood need to realize is that even though moviegoers must realize that January isn’t the best time for movies, we aren’t suckers. So please, stop treating us like we are.

Movie Review: Synecdoche, New York

Some movies just seem too weird to explain. One might look at “Synecdoche, New York” and see a catastrophe: a giant, aimless muddle of a motion picture. But look closer and you’ll see something that’s giant, aimless, and nothing short of masterful.

Of course it’s confusing, and of course it’s amazing. “Synecdoche, New York” is the latest work by none other than Charlie Kaufman. While he’s no stranger to writing, “Synecdoche” is his directorial debut.
The film is about an odd theater director from Synecdoche, New York named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Caden is a theater director who also happens to be a raging hypochondriac, a man who believes that his whole life is constantly determined by death. He visits doctor upon doctor, hoping possibly for the diagnosis that’ll put him out of his misery.
Because of his constant self-inflicted suffering, Caden’s painter wife, Adele (Catherine Keener), heads of to Berlin with their four-year-old daughter. In his loneliness, Caden has a series of affairs and then creates an overly ambitious autobiographical play in a Manhattan warehouse which contains a massive replica of Manhattan.
With this towering set piece, which ultimately becomes the film, “Synecdoche, New York” becomes a story, within a story, within a story. This sort of mind-numbing self-reflexivity might just beat out the scene in Kaufman’s previous “Being John Malkovich” in which John Malkovich enters his own mind.
“Synecdoche” contains the kind of role that Hoffman was born to play, and he masters quite perfectly. In the first half of the film, he portrays Caden as a hilariously self-destructing mess. In the second half, as Caden ages, he tones this down a bit and turns him into a much more sad, mournful, and lonely figure. Hoffman is considered one of the best actors around today because he has the ability to not only bring a character to life, but make them three dimensional as well.
“Synecdoche” proves Kaufman as not just a rare talent, but as an auteur in the truest sense of the word. Not only can he write, but he can direct.
Kaufman’s directing style seems heavily focused on the surroundings, and making every little background detail come together to somehow actually become a part of the character’s mind. This makes sense as Kaufman seems most interest in exploring the weirdest innermost depths of the human psyche. What he seems to be looking for is what it is exactly that evokes certain strange feelings and desires. What’s most incredibly mind-bending about the film is how much Caden’s play begins to resemble, and then become, Caden’s own life. It is not merely confusing to the audience, but even to Caden himself.
“Synecdoche” is both a saddening tale of a depressed man and an affirming outlook on the meaning of life. A late monologue by a minister, one of the deepest and most moving in film history, shows Kaufman’s real message: life is too short to just be miserable all of the time. We all feel miserable inside, but why drag everyone down with us?
This film shows Kaufman as one of the most inventive directors working today. Somebody else could’ve told this story, but nobody would’ve done it with the confused complexity that Kaufman infuses into it.
“Synecdoche, New York” reminded me not just of Kaufman’s other mind warps such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but also a little bit David Lynch, and even a little Woody Allen, in their finest forms.
I can’t say I totally got everything about “Synecdoche, New York” after just one viewing. Then again, every great movie shouldn’t be totally understood after one viewing. Here is a film that I’m happy to say I’m eager to watch again.
If You Liked this Movie, You’ll also Like: Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Contempt, A Serious Man, American Beauty, Annie Hall, Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive