In Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 at 9:26 PM
Movie #128 The Bourne Supremacy
(2004, US, d. Paul Greengrass)
One of the first great action films of the last decade, The Bourne Supremacy is praise-worthy not only for being a wonderfully scripted (or not scripted if you know the backstory of production) but also for being an incredibly taut thriller anchored by a strong lead performance by Matt Damon. Luckily when the film was released in 2004, it already had a very solid market share from the success of its predecessor The Bourne Identity, which was a milestone in own right. Its director, Doug Liman, did not return for the sequels and instead was replaced by Paul Greengrass, who turned the series on its head and put out two of its sequels, which in a rare event in film history, were each better than the last. The Bourne Supremacy, I would argue, has spurred more replicas, rip-offs, and serves as a template for inspiration for more action movies than any other film has in the past 20 years. The shaky camera, “gritty” feel, realistic touch, and fast-paced editing has been replicated in nearly every decent to very good thriller in the past 6 years. But apart for what it did to cinema, Greengrass’s masterpiece is a very solid thriller on its own. We are back to watching our favorite screen amnesiac as he struggles to recount another important memory from his past just as that same past is catching up with him to often violent repercussions. The story also has all the trademarks of writer Tony Gilroy, who infuses nearly every script he writes with a dense level of subtext that the audience can never really dissect and an almost impossible plot to follow the first time that still manages to engage the audience fully. John Powell’s score is fantastic and all the supporting actors (especially Brian Cox and Joan Allen) bring a life to roles that could easily have been very two-dimensional characters. Though (thankfully) not as good as the third installment, The Bourne Supremacy is a wonderfully written, acted, and directed piece of cinema that whether or not conscious, will serve as inspiration for years to come.
In Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 at 9:27 AM
Movie #127 The Bicycle Thief
(1948, Italy, d. Vittoria de Sica)
Containing arguably one of the greatest child performances of all time, The Bicycle Thief is a very realistic portrayal of a man’s search for a lost possession during a time of economic recession. The film’s greatest strength lies in its anonymity of style and character. We are not watching a hero who will struggle against all odds to come out victorious. We are not watching a technically complex film that draws attention to its style. Rather we are watching an Everyman in search of his bike. Long takes create the sensation of a heightened duration in this film and often the film takes us places where we expect an incident to occur but in the end, nothing really happens. A prime example of the Italian ne0-realist movement, this film not only utilizes film as a more realistic “window” to reality, but also serves as a commentary on government and public institutions in Italy at the end of WWII. But only one weakness of the film comes to mind: Neo-realism prides itself on not drawing attention to any part of the frame but rather letting it exist for what it is. And while The Bicycle Thief accomplishes this a lot, it does use its music cues as aural attention markers and I thought that should be considered cheating for the most part. Finally, the last shot of the film is also a beautiful and haunting metaphor for the Everyman’s plight through everyday life. As our protagonist gets swallowed up in the crowd, we cannot help but associate his problems with those of his peers. Perhaps everyone is going through a similar struggle. Perhaps.
In Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 at 9:12 AM
Movie #126 (500) Days of Summer
(2009, US, d. Marc Webb)
This probably is on my shortlist for favorite romantic comedy ever, if it doesn’t already take the crown. Blending original filmmaking techniques with a very unique story, (500) Days is the perfect example of a perfect movie, in my opinion. I’ve always considered a story to be only as good as the way it was told. Since most stories are just deviations off other ones, it usually depends on the filmmaker/screenwriter to grasp the audience in fresh ways. Through musical interludes, shatterings of the fourth wall, fairy-tale narration, non-linear narratives, and a fantastic soundtrack, (500) Days of Summer is an inventive and creative film about a relationship breaking down like you’ve never seen before. Marc Webb directs the wonderfully cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in this romantic comedy that has all the same parts of a conventional romcom but fails to use them in a conventional manner.
In Uncategorized on January 22, 2011 at 9:08 PM
Movie #125 The Hangover
(2009, US, d. Todd Phillips)
What can I say? Everyone has seen this film. I’ve seen this film at least 7 times. Everybody knows it’s the funniest comedy of the past few years, but what I think people actually miss out on is the ingenuity of the movie’s structure. Sure, most of the movie was in the ridiculous situations the characters often found themselves in and the crazy characters we met, but apart from that, when you actually dissect the structure of the screenplay, you can find something really brilliant there. The film plays with time wonderfully and I couldn’t help but recall a certain Indian film with a similar structure that (prior to seeing this film) I had wanted to replicate one day. Memory is always a great thematic utility to employ in a film but it must be done right otherwise it comes off like you’re cheating the audience. This film did that perfectly. Part 2 hits theaters this summer and here’s to hoping it’s just as good.
In Uncategorized on January 22, 2011 at 12:12 AM
Movie #124 Election
(1999, US, d. Alexander Payne)
Election is a movie about dirty democracy, corrupt politics, morals vs ethics, and the dark personal agendas that can come to ruin our lives. Oh yeah, and it’s also a high school comedy. Payne’s dark satire manages to be a commentary on class division and the nasty over-achievers that you can’t do anything to but let them pass by. Payne manages to tell a hilarious and snarky comedy about Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon’s best performance to date), an overachieving high school student trying to get elected Class President. Most of the antagonism, from her perspective, comes from Matthew Broderick’s character of a high school teacher who is so annoyed by Tracy he tries to play the election to his own favor. The production design captures the feel of a Midwestern high school perfectly and the writing is so impeccable you can’t help but feel for every anti-hero depicted here. Here is a story that beyond everything knows its characters and is able to allow the audience to feel for every one of them, despite the high number of sub-plots this film contains. The debate of morality and ethics is well integrated into the story but all this is just an embellishment. The bottom line is: the movie is freaking hilarious, and you should go watch it.
In Uncategorized on January 19, 2011 at 7:31 AM
Movie #123 Blue Valentine
(2010, US, d. Derek Cianfrance)
I must first confess that I am currently five movies back in this movie a day challenge. It feels like an eternity since I last posted. It’s just because I have been so busy lately. That frenzy does not look like it is about to cease but I’ll try my best to get my movies in. Now to the review: Blue Valentine is (500) Days of Summer for audience members looking for a gritty and realistic story. At times hard to watch, it’s one of the most realistic and harrowing films about real life relationships that really brings the style of John Cassavetes to mind. It’s a heartbreaking tale about a true love and the reasons it doesn’t work out (I’m not ruining anything here). Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are at their best. I read in a recent interview that a lot of the scenes were improved. Once the actors had a grip on their characters, Cianfrance would let them know what each of the characters wanted and the actors would improv their way to a final product of sorts. There’s one scene in particular on the Brooklyn Bridge that implements this style and really adds a cool layer to the film. Williams plays Cindy, who just found out she was pregnant. Gosling plays Dean who wants to figure out what she’s not telling him. Before shooting, Cianfrance tells Williams that no matter what she should not tell Gosling that she’s pregnant. He goes to Gosling and tells him that no matter what, he has to find out what she’s keeping secret. Cameras roll. It’s this sort of realism that cannot be scripted and must be trusted to truly great actors to create in the moment. This is a film that would make Cassavetes proud. This leads us to the best part of the movie: its complexity. Cianfrance never really puts the blame on Gosling’s or William’s characters. He just shows how both of them respond to the situations they are in. Instead of using easy sub-plots of adultery or child abuse, Cianfrance lets drama unfold through a glance of the eyes, a dialogue uttered mistakenly, or just through silence. I thought it was easier to side with Gosling’s character but I think it’s Williams who is a little denser, mysterious, and realistic. If you’re looking to get your heart broken, watch this film. Stylistically, it’s pretty strong as well. The pre-marriage shots are all shot on 16mm while the post-marriage is shot on RED (a state-of-the-art digital camera). This adds a really cool “vignette” feel to the times that could never be and a very grim and harsh pound on the head to the reality that actually is. The last shot, captured on this RED, has such a powerful subtlety to it that it captures the theme of the entire piece without even flinching. And then come the fireworks.
In Uncategorized on January 17, 2011 at 6:54 PM
Movie #122 The Green Hornet (3D)
(2010, US, d. Michel Gondry)
Before Christopher Nolan’s venture into the superhero world, there were a lot of films that came and went in this genre. What was wrong about those films is that they all tried to mimic the style of the comic on screen. Nolan discovered that the best way to make a superhero film was by setting in a completely real world, where the presence of a caped crusader is not a supernatural one but a very real threat. Finally, two decades after the first, here I think The Green Hornet is the best “adaptation” of a comic book feel onto a screen without relying on captions and coloring effects to signal this to the audience (a la Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). This movie utilizes beautiful 3D and a slew of incredible slow-motion sequences to place the audience in this fictional world of real life masked men. Ironically enough, it took a movie based on a radio series to do so. But all that said, it is only because of the overflowing imagination of director Michel Gondry does this picture really come to life. With its creative imagery and wacky cinematography, The Green Hornet becomes an action hit. Its star Seth Rogen, who also co-wrote the film, is more of an asshole than anything else in this film. He’s funny and smart, sure. But he’s an asshole. And strangely enough, he makes for quite a good action star. The real scene stealer, though, is his “partner” Kato, played by Jay Chou. His action sequences are impeccable, his comic timing is near-perfect, and even the dramatic moments carry significant weight. I think this is my first favorite movie of 2010.
In Uncategorized on January 13, 2011 at 8:09 AM
Movie #121 Death at a Funeral
(2010, US, d. Neil LaBute)
Considering the collection of films I’ve seen for the MAD Challenge this year, Death at a Funeral belongs on the bottom three. Death at a Funeral is the American remake of a fantastic and hilarious British film of the same name. In my opinion, it is one of the funniest films ever made. Neil LaBute, a fantastic and profound playwright, decides to direct a terrible and soulless comedy that takes every joke and manages to make the funniest ones cringe-worthy. Apart from being terribly cast from lead to extra, Death at a Funeral does nothing for itself by being a Black comedy, other than give itself excuses to throw out Black jokes, which did absolutely nothing to the movie. The script is nearly the same but the direction ruins everything. My biggest question though is “why did they remake this in the first place?”. In this modern day and age, access to international films have exponentially increased as have the tastes of filmgoers. In fact most of the people who saw this poor excuse of a movie had already seen the original. But more than analyzing the layers of the film, the bottom line is that this film is everything but funny. Death at a Funeral is so bad that the redeeming factor of the film was the closing credits. Death at a Funeral is so bad I’d rather eat at my college freshman cafeteria for a month. Death at a Funeral is so bad I closed my eyes during the movie because it felt better. Death at a Funeral is so bad I keep refreshing the Rotten Tomatoes page to see if the rating goes down.
In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 11:16 PM
Movie #120 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
(1948, US, d. John Huston)
I was very affected by this film. It did two things for me: give me an idea as to where the modern adventure roots back to and prove to me that John Huston was a fantastic filmmaker. The story is about the power of greed and the negative repercussions it can spur. Three men with nothing to lose head to the Sierra Madre to find gold and make a profit. What they discover there though is that there is a far greater supply than expected. One of the men named Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart) becomes greedier and greedier. That soon manifests itself into a paranoia and then an eventual craze that directly leads to his demise. One of the first films shot completely on location outside of the US, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a fantastic and original treasure movie that is more concerned with the substance of the film than the exotic locales and visual exposition most of its modern counterparts tend to obsess over. A scene in particular, when Curtin (Tim Holt) reads a letter aloud from the now widowed wife of James Cody (Bruce Bennett) to her husband comes to mind. What would seem like something that would never fit in the regular adventure movie instead becomes a testament to the film’s ability to allow painfully touching moments such as these to invade our hearts and remind us that this story knows itself more than anything else. As he did in The Asphalt Jungle, John Huston crafts a film out of its plot and the characters that live within it. Though I wish the characters of the film were developed a little more (they all felt like sort of extreme variations of the same person), the story is fascinating and can easily stand the test of time.
In Uncategorized on January 11, 2011 at 7:21 AM
Movie #119 Roshomon
(1950, Japan, d. Akira Kurosawa)
I watched this film in the context of my new course at USC: History of International Cinema II, which screened this film as an introduction to art cinema. Therefore, my perspective of the film was oriented to that train of thought. But had I not heard anything about the film, this Kurosawa gem would still have amazed me. It’s about the innate selfishness in every human that leads to their inability to be trusted. It tells the story of a farmer who must uncover the truth from three various accounts of the same event. It’s provocative and though very minimalistic in design (the film only has three locations), will hold you in absolute suspense. Spurring an artistic and cultural phenomenon, Roshomon‘s formal techniques of filmmaking (i.e. “triangle” framing of shots) is something to noteThough I did not expect the actual events to be discovered, Kurosawa’s very close account of the actual events near the end of the piece provide a solid climax to the film though it is nothing close to effect of the ambiguity of the message.