365cinema

365 films, 365 days, a year of cinema.

Mystery Team June 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 10:43 pm

 

Day 6

 

I actually watched Mystery Team, Derrick Comedy’s first feature film, a few days ago and I still have no idea what to think about it.  It had its moments of solid humor, and the plot was better than I expected, but there was nothing that really stuck with me, except of course the great performance of Donald Glover.  For those of you who already watch Community, I’m preaching to the choir, but I’m pretty sure he could have made the role of Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List) funny.

If you are college-aged you may know Donald Glover by his rapping name Childish Gambino, and if that’s all you have heard of him by, you are missing out big time.  He is an up and coming comedy star, so I guess I shall take this post on Mystery Team to give you my reasons why.

1.  He’s the best in the business at acting with his whole body.  Facial expressions and body language are extremely important in comedic acting and Donald Glover is amazing with both.  Remember how Will Ferrell used to be before he exhausted all of his move types?  That’s the impression I get when I watch Donald Glover at his best.  He’s not merely about reciting his lines, but about truly acting them out for the viewer.  He can stretch his face to ridiculous angles and he is not afraid to sacrifice his body for a joke.

2. He’s a master of disguise.  By far the best scene in the movie is when Glover’s character, the group’s disguise man, goes undercover to gain access to a Gentlemen’s Club.  I don’t want to ruin the scene, but I will say it involves a driving permit, top hats, and monocles.  He wears many different hats during the film, and while each disguise is grounded in his character’s youthful naivete, he is able to make them all different.

3. He’s actually very smart.  Glover makes a living playing slightly dimwitted characters, but one listen to any of his songs and you can tell that he’s nothing like who he plays on TV.  Glover graduated from NYU in 2006 with a degree in Dramatic Writing.  While this doesn’t seem like something important for a comic, it means that when needed to, he can be serious and emotional.  In any type of film emotion is important, and although he acts aloof most of the time, Glover has no trouble playing the straight guy. His intelligence also brings an added level of subtlety to everything he does.  While a lot of that is due to the excellent writing team on Community, Glover takes their material and elevates it to another level.

4. He works well with others.  If you’ve seen Community you know that it may have the best ensemble cast on television, but even in Mystery Team everyone does well together.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the two supporting characters by themselves, but together their personalities meshed well and made the film genuinely funny.  Also Glover’s awkward love interest in Aubrey Plaza’s (Parks and Recs) character worked very well.  Glover’s high energy was a good foil to Plaza’s extreme dead pan timing.

So if those four reasons aren’t enough reason to love Donald Glover (and I’m sure they’re not), watch Mystery Team.  It’s not the best movie, but it doesn’t try to be, and if anything I really enjoyed Glover’s character Jason Rodgers.  He almost looks too comfortable playing an emotionally stunted teenager, but his performance makes the movie more passable than the standard dumb comedy.  This post wouldn’t feel complete without at least one clip so here is Donald Glover, as Troy in Community, when he finally gets to meet his idol, Lavar Burton.

 

 

Up Next: D.A. Pennebaker’s look at the world of French pastry competition Kings of Pastry.

 

High Noon

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 1:22 am

 

Day 5

 

By my estimation at least 75% of the films people watch nowadays they already know the ending to.  This does not mean that people watch movies where the know the entire plot, but most movies have typical themes and archetypes that strongly foreshadow their ending.  Good triumphs over evil, the good guy gets the girl, family issues are resolved, these are the types of endings we see again and again, and yet it does not matter that they stay the same we love them anyway.  Now I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, there is a reason why these types of endings work, but if the ending isn’t the reason why we love movies then what is?

This was the question that I dealt with after watching the 1952 western High Noon.  I loved the movie, but the basically tell you what will happen in the song that plays over the opening credits.  That would be the famous title song “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin”, and while it does an excellent job of setting the stage for the film, the lyrics spell out the plot of the film.  In an nutshell the film is about the town Marshall, Will Kane, who on his wedding day is challenged by four outlaws who plan to kill him.  The movie takes place in the hour before the noon shootout time and it goes through Will’s difficulty in trying to round up a posse to support him.  Now that plot doesn’t sound overly exciting, especially if you know the ending, but High Noon is very suspenseful and the key to that is Dmitri Tiomkin’s excellent score.

Until the final shootout, the film is fairly slow and it deals with the emotional drama of all the townspeople.  The movie is filled with cowardice, anger, shame, and much more nuanced emotion, and while that does not exactly scream suspenseful, Tiomkin’s score brings the build-up boiling to the surface.  Like the film, the score is subtle (it shies away from using any violins) and it does an excellent job of mirroring exactly how the characters feel.    The despair and pain felt by Marshall Kane, as the town around him leaves him to fight (and presumably die) by himself, is made all the more heartbreaking by the quiet dignity of Tiomkin’s score.  Still, just when the score forebodes terrible things for Marshall Kane, Tiomkin goes back to the theme song to remind us the bravery Kane shows to put his life on the line.

This combination comes to a head during the titular shootout where even though the outcome will be familiar to Western fans, the score keeps everything interesting.  It also helps to remember that High Noon was one of the films that helped usher in the the Western archetypes that have become commonplace.  Even the titular idea of a noon showdown, a concept that has been copied several times over, would’ve have felt far more fresh when the film actually opened.  Yet, everything culminates in a final scene that feels well earned.  Nothing was a surprise and yet the strong emotional tie I had to Marshall Kane gave a sense of satisfaction that I don’t normally get watching movies.  Some of that has to do with Gary Cooper’s great performance, but most of it was through Tiomkin’s magnificent score.  It’s subtle, yet powerful and it perfectly captures the theme of bravery prevailing amongst a bunch of anti-heroes.  So to end I leave with the film version of the opening theme song.  It may tell the story, but it still leaves out all the best parts.

 

 

Up Next: Derrick Comedy’s first feature film Mystery Team

 

Get Over It June 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 3:46 am

 

Day 4

 

Can anyone guess the identity of the man in the picture?  I’ll give you a hint or two; you may remember him from his time spent in the R&B group Dru Hill, or from his hit singles “Incomplete” and “The Thong Song”.   Actually let’s be realistic, you almost certainly only know him from “The Thong Song”.  That would be early 2000’s Pop Superstar Sisqo, and at the height of his powers he also took time to play a major role in the 2001 teen comedy Get Over It.  Now, he’s not the star of the movie by any means (that would be Ben Foster and a pre-Spiderman Kirsten Dunst), and to be honest his part in the film is about as forgettable as his singing career. He has a decent amount of lines, a forced romance with Mila Kunis, and a couple of awkward dance sequences but more than just his small role Sisqo represents everything that went wrong with Get Over It; there’s not enough of him in it.

Now I should probably preference this post by saying I love teen movies from the late 1990s/early 2000s. I was in elementary school at the time and  movies like American Pie and Road Trip always perfectly represented the carefree attitude that I thought high school and college would bring. My actual experiences were far different, but   certainly aren’t the best movies of all time, but I know every time I watch them that I can feel like I did in the early 2000s.  Get Over It promised to do the same thing when I chose to watch it, after all what is more 2001 than Sisqo, but sadly what I got was a movie that lacked an identity.  It tired to wear too many hats (modern Shakespearean retelling, early 2000s teen comedy, weird late 1960s references).

Yes you read that right, Get Over It is a loose modern retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it’s not really that subtle about it.  The main character, Berke, gets dumped by his childhood sweetheart, Allison, for a former boy band member and in an attempt to win her back he joins the school’s musical production of, you guessed it, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Along the way he gets involved with his best friend’s sister (Kirsten Dunst) and a true love rectangle is formed.  The movie is very standard and I think the problem is that tries to do too much.  For one take a look at the bizarre opening credits of the film.

For those who don’t recognize the singer there, that is another early 2000s one hit wonder artist, Vitamin C (she sang that damn graduation song).  Now at the time people seeing this movie would recognize her, however they have her singing a Captain & Tennille song and the whole sequence is very trippy and has a late 1960s theme feel to it.  Yet the next twenty minutes of the movie pretend like this never happened and function very similarly to a normal 2000s comedy.  The film was already running hot and cold and that was before they added a third theme in the form of the Shakespearean musical.  In the end I don’t think the director of the movie had any idea what type of film he wanted this to be so we get a mixture of generic party/school sequences, flashbacks to the 1970s in thought bubble form, and dream sequences that play out in Shakespearean form.  There is just too much going on and the character development suffers for it.

This brings me back to my point about Sisqo.  His music is not very good, but I know what I’m going to get when I listen to it.  He has a clear identity and he doesn’t change it song to song.  For me films have to be the same way.  They need a clear identity or consistency that carries through from scene to scene.  Now this doesn’t mean that films can’t have a variety of themes or allude to different periods of time, but there has to be consistency in the way they do it.  Whether that is done by having developed characters, by shooting scenes the same ways, or by effectively using cross cutting techniques, it does not matter, but random variety can’t come out the blue unless it is intended to make a larger point.  In the case of Get Over It, sometimes it was just weird for the sake of weird, or weird for the sake of a shallow joke.

It’s disappointing because if Get Over It had focused on just one of its themes, it could have been a much better film.  I especially enjoyed the tongue in cheek terribleness of the actual musical, and Swoosie Kurtz and Ed Begly Jr. were funny as Berke’s 1960s era progressive parents.  The film could have shifted more of the focus onto either one of these plot lines and had more success.  The early 2000s were saturated with these types of comedies and the they could have found a nice niche if they simply added a late 1960s feel or had had committed to being a funny spoof on a Shakespeare comedy.  Instead they went for it all and the overall quality suffered because of it.  In the end, they needed to be more like Sisqo, although its safe to say they didn’t actually need more of Sisqo, and try to find a stable identity.  It may not have led Get Over It to worldwide fame, but I’m sure it could’ve found a niche audience that would have made it far more popular and long-lasting.  So in honor of Sisqo I present to you the equally as awkward ending credits with him bastardizing the Earth, Wind & Fire classic “September”.  Enjoy.

Up Next: The Western that gave us the climactic shootout, High Noon

 

The Hangover: Part II June 27, 2011

Filed under: In Theaters — welch742 @ 2:14 am

 

Day 3

 

Author’s Note: Today is the first installment of “In Theaters”.  As a reminder these will serve more as standard film reviews with a traditional rating at the bottom.  There are some minor spoilers included so if you don’t want anything in the movie ruined, then don’t read it.

The Hangover: Part II  was pretty funny.  Unfortunately, pretty funny just isn’t good enough when Part II was the EXACT SAME movie as the first.  Seriously, I know this has been said already by everyone, but the film had the exact same plot structure as the first one down the smallest details (e.g: their running times are two minutes off).   If you are going to make a sequel to a movie that didn’t need one in the first place, you need some changes to the basic formula, but Todd Phillips and Warner Bros. just wanted to cash in.  So instead they chose a new locale, shuffled the characters a bit, and cut and pasted new jokes.   It had none of the heart of the first movie, and while the situations were definitely darker, they had no emotional weight because I had already seen it all before.  Todd Phillips is one of my favorite contemporary comedy directors (Old School, Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch) and I was pretty disappointed that he has nothing creative to add to The Hangover: Part II.

The worst thing about it is that The Hangover: Part II did have its moments and definitely could have been just as good as the first movie.  This film showed just how crazy and effed-up the three main characters are, and I appreciated the undertones that maybe these two incidents weren’t just crazy booze and drug filled nights, but actually the manifestation of their inner demons.  At the end, when Stu said that maybe the best thing that could happen would be for him to stay in Bangkok, open up a dentistry, and to give in to his love of hookers, I thought that that would’ve been the perfect ending for this film.   This movie tried to up the stakes and I can’t think of anything bigger than the night actually having a major impact on one of their lives.  He wouldn’t of got married, but no one sees these movies for the love story.  In the first movie I actually got the feeling that Doug truly wanted to marry his wife, but in this one Stu’s impending nuptials seemed completely forced.  Although that will happen when you focus more on his relationship with her dad and have him get railed by a tranny prostitute.  In the end, I was happy that he could realize that maybe these inner demons might be who he truly was and it would’ve given the movie some serious emotional weight had he stayed and abandoned the wedding.  However, that would never have happened because it wouldn’t have been the Hollywood ending everyone expected.  So instead we were treated to a stale sequel that kept me laughing throughout, but also constantly disappointed.

On a completely unrelated note, why the hell didn’t they use Doug more.  I understand why he was gone in the first movie, but they really wasted having Justin Bartha in the film by leaving him at home.  His presence would have been a nice shake-up to the dynamic of the “wolfpack” and his character has a calming presence that would have been hilarious opposite Ed Helms.  The same goes with Paul Giamatti.  Why bring in an excellent character actor and give him maybe five minutes of screen time.

However, one part of the movie I did actually like was the use of the monkey.  When I saw in the trailer that they were throwing in a monkey, I expected the worst, but he was actually one of the highlights of the film.  The monkey brought out the best in Alan (Zach Galifianakis’ character), and their weird relationship seemed far more real than anything else in the film.  The scene outside the veterinary hospital where they said goodbye was quite touching.  The monkey never dragged down the pace of the film and definitely made it funnier.  So I at least have to give the film credit for producing perhaps the least annoying animal sidekick of all time.

Still, if I were you I’d save your ten dollars and wait until The Hangover: Part II comes out on DVD.  The only things you would be missing are some beautiful helicopter shots of Thailand, and some funny jokes.  I hope if they make another sequel they really do shake things up a lot.  I for one love the idea of them breaking Alan out of a mental hospital.  It would be a creative breath of fresh air for a series that has grown stale.  Frankly, this franchise needs it if it wants to have any sort of positive legacy.

 

Score: 5/10

 

Up Next: The long forgotten 2001 Shakespearean teen comedy Get Over It

 

Wristcutters: A Love Story June 26, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 7:02 am

 

Day 2

 

I chose the film Wristcutters: A Love Story because I absolutely loved the concept.  The movie takes place in a weird limbo world inhabited by suicide victims that is a lot like the real world except just a lot shittier.  It’s like the main character Zia (Patrick Fugit) says, “Who could think of a better punishment, really?  Everything’s the same here, just a little worse.”  The idea that the punishment for offing yourself is that you get to continue to live life in a crappy place seemed just weird and bleak enough that I could get over it being a film about suicide.  However, at the same time, Wristcutters  is not just a film about suicide victims, the title says it’s also a love story.  Suicide and love usually do not go hand and hand, so I was intrigued to see if the film could really make the two work, and to be honest, through the first twenty minutes of the movie it didn’t.

The film just kinda throws you into this out purgatory world with no character development or important plot details.  So when five minutes into the movie the main character is playing a game based around guessing how people killed themselves, I was dreading how many more awkward suicide jokes they could make.   However, the plot quickly picked up and the movie shifted towards being a road trip film.  The plot revolves around Zia trying to find his ex-girlfriend, who also committed suicide, an endeavor he takes on with his Russian friend Eugene.  Along the way they encounter a hitchhiker named Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), the titular love interest, who believes she has been wrongfully sent to suicide purgatory.  The plot is your fairly standard “Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Meets New Girl” that you see in many films, although it is taken to an odd surreal level.

For me the film shined because of its commitment to creating set pieces that fit this idea of a lower quality world.  The shots are excellently composed, and they fill the frames with desolate desert, broken down cars, and buildings that could fall over at any minutes.  On top of this the film is shot entirely in daytime, and the overabundance of light gives a washed out feel that makes the settings feel more desolate and remote.  The shots are subtle, but beautiful and the film never actually hammers home the point that they story world is a shitty version of real life.  The characters do not complain or lament their situation.  They live their life the same way, which allows the film to stay upbeat despite the dark subtext.

In the end, the film isn’t really about suicide at all.  It’s a film about the small things in life and in my opinion, depression.  The human brain is a very complicated entity and everyone has times where they feel like everything around them sucks (South Park actually just had a great episode about this).  Whether it is due to your job, family, health, or for almost no reason at all, there are times when everything looks and feels like the world presented in Wristcutters.  The film does not attempt to answer any definitive questions about why this happens to people, which I really liked, and instead it shows us that life is complicated.  Often times it is life’s random occurrences that are the only thing that bring us back.  In the film these are represented through minor miracles (car headlights finally working, matches flying into the sky) and although at the time they seemed odd, in hindsight they were appropriate.  Often times the best things in life happen when we don’t try.

Wristcutters is many things, a love story, a film about depression/suicide, a road trip movie, but most of all it’s a film about the subtleties of life.  It immerses you into its odd world, and doesn’t let you go until the end.  It sometimes drifts a little far off kilter, but overall it’s a movie that grows on you.  It ponders the small questions in life without being heavy-handed, and in the end it has something for everyone. 

Up Next: “In Theaters” starts with another visit from the wolfpack.  Will The Hangover II be as good as the original?

 

The Hudsucker Proxy June 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 12:00 am

Author’s Note: After publishing my last post, I noticed a large hypocrisy in the way I chose to do the blog.  My whole goal was not to review the movie, but to take the time to think about the film critically and assess its strengths and flaws accordingly.  However, I have since realized that to do this effectively the best way is not to write a post immediately after watching the film, but to wait a few hours to let it soak into my brain, then to take another look at my notes and then finally to write.  So all this means for you is that Day 1 of posting is now today, 6/24, instead of yesterday, 6/23, the day I actually watched the first film.  Now on to the movie…

 

Day 1

 

I have a love/hate relationship with period pieces.  On one hand it is breathtaking to see scenes of yesteryear played out in immense detail, but on the other, I often find it distracts me from the story at hand.  The Hudsucker Proxy was definitely more effective at merging aesthetic and plot, but in the end it felt like capturing the look and spirit of the late 1950s was more important than tying up some of the loose ends the plot provided.  However, any plot problems I felt the movie had were more than made up for by the stunning visuals of 1958 New York City, and the fidelity the actors had towards the old Hollywood acting style seen in His Girl Friday and Sullivan’s Travels.

The basic plot of the movie centers around Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins), a simple country boy from Muncie, Indiana who comes to the Big Apple to live the American dream.  Barnes gets a job at Hudsucker Industries, where due to the death of the previous CEO and the hope that the appointment of a new idiot CEO will kill the stock price,  he is promoted by Sidney J Mussburger (Paul Newman) to the position of President.  Also along for the ride is Jennifer Jason Leigh as a fast talking reporter trying to uncover why Barnes shot to the top of the company, and a whole host of other recognizable actors playing bit parts.  The plot follows the general rise and downfall arch that you may have seen in any of Frank Capra’s films (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), but ultimately the thing that made the film interesting is that it’s all about the dichotomy between vertical lines and circles.

The vertical line  in the movie is the business environment of the late 1950s the film presents.  It is full of yes-men executives, ruthless efficiency, and a cold contempt for those who do not follow their complex set of rules.  What really stood out for me were the set pieces used to reinforce this theme of rigid lines.  Tall, art deco skyscrapers, huge offices, long tables abound, and in almost every room is an old-school stock ticker constantly producing long thin strands of paper.  It also helps that the Coen brothers used narrow lenses to emphasize the depth and length created by these objects.  For example this is a shot of the table used by the board of Hudsucker Industries.

There is a clear emphasis on verticality and consistency, as evidenced by the stock old business men surrounding the table. In addition, the Coen’s use several excellent montage sequences to show the slow, grinding, bureaucratic processes that run Hudsucker Industries.  In one scene they jump back and forth between areas of Hudsucker Industrial, watching how Norville’s idea goes from from prototype to mass production.  It is an amazing sequence where we are move from the gray, linear old-school side of the company to a finished product of multi-colored circles.

There circles represent Norville Barnes, the antithesis of the elderly men in the above image.  Fresh out of business school in Muncie, his down home nature makes him appear like an imbecile to those around him.   Even his big idea to the board is simply a circle on a piece of paper, “you know, for kids,” however when it turns out this circle is actually the hula hoop, it throws a nice wrench in everything.  Hudsucker Industries starts to make more money than ever, and while Norville’s rise to fame eventually makes his own hubris betrays him, it is his belief in the circle that separates him from the rest of the characters in the film.  Another circle that is not as important to the plot, but it used beautifully throughout the movie  is the large clock located on side of the Hudsucker building.  The clock shadow looms large in many frames and it creates some beautiful scenes with the illuminated clock hand moving in the background, in contrast to the square verticality of the rest of the Hudsucker building.

These excellent set pieces and character tropes made The Hudsucker Proxy different from most of the period pieces I have seen, because once you get used to the fast talking and old-school phrasing (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character took me around 45 minutes to take seriously), you realize that everything is a comment on how characters in these types of films are portrayed.  Evil or neutral characters live on the vertical line, a rigid life where once they fail they have no hope of getting back up, and good characters are circles, free to experience the ups and downs of life like normal humans.  Essentially everyone in this film is a caricature because that’s what they are supposed to be.
Still while I very much respected how well the plot and message of the film matched up to the mis-en-scene, in the end The Hudsucker Proxy still felt like it was missing something.  The reason that the films of Capra and Sturges could get away with having very one-dimensional stories and characters is that they were sincere and they earned there sentimentality.  When a movie like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ends happily we don’t care that the characters were essentially lines and circles because we can relate with them.  In the The Hudsucker Proxy the characters feel detached from the viewer and because of that, the happy ending feels forced and lacks sentimentality (this also may have something to do with the fact that the ending includes an awkward good vs. evil higher power struggle and a magic clock life saving clock).

The Hudsucker Proxy is a beautiful, well composed film with some excellent performances.  It’s funny, fast paced, and entertaining throughout, but after watching it I felt a bit hollow, and couldn’t help but yearn for another viewing of Sullivan’s Travels.  

 

Up Next: A romantic comedy about suicide?  I take a look at Wristcutters: A Love Story

 

A note on Posts and Spoilers June 23, 2011

Filed under: Misc Postings — welch742 @ 4:05 pm

So after Tuesday’s soft opening for my 37 Twitter followers and general family, today June 23rd marks the official start date of 365cinema.  If you read my introductory post, I plan on posting my take on The Hudsucker Proxy later this afternoon.  Before that I just wanted to provide some quick notes on the posting schedule and spoilers.

Posts:  I have finally settled into my 40 hour a week work schedule, however the only constant seems to be that each week is 40 hours.  I was hoping to have a set time each day when I would post new content, but unfortunately for the first few weeks I can’t guarantee when posts will pop up.  I plan on alerting people of new posts everyday on Twitter (@RCDesto), with weekly updates on Facebook.  So for those of you out of touch with social media, it will be a shot in the dark as to when I post.  Also I’m very open to suggestions for films s0 feel free to comment on any post with film ideas.  I’ll do my best to work them into my monthly film schedules.

Spoilers: It seems nowadays that every piece of writing on TV or Film needs to include some mention of how they deal with spoilers.  Due to the free-flowing format of the posts, I cannot for certain say how I will deal with them, but I will tell you this.  Any true discussion of a film has to take into account the entirety of the movie.  This means that I will almost certainly be discussing the endings of each film I watch, although it will probably be in more general terms and not a full plot synopsis.  So if I write about a film that you have not seen and don’t want to ruin, I would suggest waiting until you have seen the film to read the post.  Also if a film has an important plot twist that is not already widely known (For example: If I wrote about Se7en I would expect people to already know the ending since it is ingrained in movie culture), I will do my best to provide a spoiler alert before discussing it.  The only exception to these general spoiler rules would be the movies that I watch in theaters.  Since these films are current it would be a disservice if I ruined them for anybody.  For these films I plan on doing a more traditional spoiler-free film review.