365cinema

365 films, 365 days, a year of cinema.

The Princess and the Frog August 23, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 3:23 am

 

Day 25

 

In 2004 when Disney announced that they were doing away with their traditional hand-drawn animation style, I remember thinking that it was a good decision.  They had already acquired Pixar and it just seemed like 3D computer animation was the wave of the future.  So in 2009 when the Princess and the Frog came out I didn’t really give it much of a chance.  To me it seemed like Disney wanted to grab some of the nostalgia market by going back to hand drawn animation and by having its first ever black Disney princess.  It also didn’t help that early reviews said the movie was racially and culturally insensitive to residents of the Bayou.  However, I was graving some old school animation and sadly The Princess and the Frog is the cream of the crop for Netflix Instant Play so I took the plunge and gave it a shot.

Was it as bad as I thought it would be? No.  Was it a movie fitting of the great Disney hand-drawn tradition? Also no.  However, I think the problem I had with the film is that maybe I was holding it to too high of a standard.  After all, as humans we have very strong brand associations and maybe at this point my opinion on Disney films has been too skewed.  After all, films like Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, and The Emperor’s New Groove were what I grew up on.  No matter how objectively I try to watch all four of those movies, I will never be able to isolate their merit from the feeling I get from watching them.  In contrast, a re-watch of the The Little Mermaid reminded me why I never really liked it in the first place.  It’s hard to describe, but in terms of how I feel about Disney films they just have to have “it”.  I know that makes me sound like a Hollywood talent agent, but it’s true.  I never knew if it was the songs, voice talent, or story, but some films just got to me on an emotional level when I was kid and I still can’t explain why.  Currently, I can even point out a lot of their serious flaws, but in the end I always overlook them.

The Princess and the Frog isn’t even a  bad film.  It has some good songs and interesting characters, especially Dr. Facilier the New Orleans’ voodoo priestess.  The film even moves into some darker territory that might have scared the seven year olds who saw the film, but appealed to my sentiments.  However, after finishing the movie I just wasn’t satisfied.  At first I though it was the hammered home theme of hard work and dedication leading to a better life, but as hours passed I respected how it fit into the main storyline.  Then I thought maybe it was the biased perspective I had on the film’s portrayal of New Orleans culture, but in reality The Princess and the Frog is a kid’s movie.  They usually present a narrow worldview that is easier for kids to digest and understand.  Nowadays people require the mature subtlety that Pixar provides in their animated films, but sometimes we have to settle for a film made mainly for children.  In the end, the conclusion I came to is that The Princess and the Frog just didn’t have “it”.

I know that is a very unscientific way to go about evaluating a film, but why can’t we use it.  After all film reviews are personal and opinionated to begin with, so who cares if you can’t put your reasons into words.  The nice thing about film is that it can reach anyone on an emotional or intellectual level for whatever reasons they choose.  It may be for the artistic quality of the aesthetics, the emotional weight of the story, or any other of the infinite responses humans have.  Kid’s movies are no different, even though the may lack the mature subject matter some people like.  Whether they move us to feel like we are eight again, or if they appeal to our adult tastes, children’s films are held to the same evaluative standard as other other movies.  Whether we can define our feelings or not, in the simplest terms, they either have “it” or they don’t.

 

Up Next: I witness the comeback of Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.

 

Brick August 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 7:44 am

 

Day 24

 

Sometimes lost in the shuffle of attempting to analyze a film’s cinematography, score, editing and all that other fun stuff that make up movies, is that at their heart they are meant for entertainment.  The use of the word film makes an attempt to elevate them to the status of art, and while a lot of the films I have seen so far fall into the category of film as art (Brick included), it’s still an awesome experience to watch a film that takes you on a wild emotional ride for two hours and that when it ends you wish you could linger in the story world for just a little bit longer.  Brick, a 2005 hardboiled detective story set in a high school, may not seem like the most likely candidate to be a “fun” film.  However, after finishing the film I couldn’t get away from the fact that I had so much fun watching it.  Yes, its story revolves around a murder, drug deals, and all sorts of deception, but Brick is so much more than its plot.  It has a unique style that is extremely well executed, and features great performances from relative unknowns, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt before he became a star.  However, more than that Brick  has a way of pulling you into the world it has created.

This is important, because on paper, Brick‘s concept is slightly odd.  It is a neo noir murder mystery filled with 1940s detective speak, but it also takes place at a high school.  I know America’s school system is floundering a bit, but most suburbs don’t have murders, serious heroin dealers or the type of freedom that these kids get away with.  Parents are virtually nonexistent, fights are commonplace, and as far as I could tell class attendance was optional, but I never thought twice about these issues because Brick sucks you into the story before you have time to doubt its validity.  Everything that happens is serious and the high school setting isn’t meant to be tongue and cheek.  This isn’t a commentary on what faces the modern high school student.  In fact the school portion of the film doesn’t really matter at all, its all about emotion.  After all, the noir crime novels and films are all about heightened emotions and the ability to keep your cool.  The detectives in novels like The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man had to navigate seedy underworlds all while acting like a chameleon.  They had to fit in everywhere and do their best to mask their emotions.  The books even had a signature dialogue style that separated that haves from the have-nots, and was unintelligible from the outside.  If you think about it those qualities sound a lot like what happens in high school.  People form cliques, slang varies widely, and the never ending quest to be cool requires you to fit in with the crowd, while keeping your own hormonal mood swings in check.  The two are a perfect fit, and its amazing to see the tropes and characters that Brick fits into the high school theme.

On top of the excellent noir elements, Brick is well acted, well paced, and well shot.  Despite its low budget it was shot on 35mm film, not digital, and its makes a big difference giving the film that subtle filter that actual film cameras provide.  Rian Johnson, the director, also shot the film with lots of non-facial close-ups and with dark, but vibrant colors helping to accentuate the ambiguity of motive in all the characters.  It’s really hard to believe the film was shot for only $450,000 in twenty days because the quality is excellent.

I know I have already said it a bunch of times, but I loved Brick.  It is a must see for any film noir fanatic, but is worth watching for everyone who enjoys a great story.  It may not be a happy movie per say, but it is a very enjoyable movie experience.  I feel like it’s a rarity nowadays that a movie successfully creates a vivid diegetic space that has as much nuance and emotion as Brick does.  This may be cliche, but from the first frame to the closing credits I was completely entertained, and even though Brick has far more to offer than just entertainment, it was nice to watch a movie for the reason they were originally intended for.

 

Up Next: Disney heads down to the Bayou, and I tag along with The Princess and the Frog.

 

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

Filed under: In Theaters — welch742 @ 6:39 am

 

Day 23

 

After ten years of books and ten years of films, fourteen years in total, the series that has touched billions of lives finally comes to a close.  I’m sure this is a sad day for all involved, but just remember that in 40 years or so someone will probably remake the films or make a miniseries out of them.  Seriously though, I don’t know if there has been a movie that has had this much hype since The Phantom Menace came out, and I will admit it is difficult to isolate the film from my own personal feelings about the book and film series.  If you have talked to me for any period of time about the HP films, you will know that my one word feeling on them is disappointment, and while Deathly Hallows Part 2 is one of the better movies in the series, it still has the same problems as many of the other films of the series.

However, before I get to what i didn’t like about the film, I thought i would start off positive and say that Deathly Hallows Part 2 was one of the best shot films in the series by far.  The mood of the film is dark and that is well complimented by the blacks and grays emphasized throughout the film.  Even the scenes that don’t take place have a noticeable lack of color that feels appropriate and helps to keep the tension throughout.  There aren’t many scenes in the film that don’t seek to push us towards its conclusion, but the few shots of the military like discipline and structure at Snape’s Hogwarts were awesome.  The sound of the marching coupled with the varying shades of black were a great combo and I applaud David Yates for finally discovering how to shot effective scenes in darkness (The Cave scene in Half-Blood Prince was very poorly lit).  Also this film is the shortest in the series, which keeps the plot progressing and the suspense heavy.  After all, by this part of the series the characters and settings are (or at least should be) already well-developed so we don’t need much filler.

Still, after leaving the theater I had the same empty feeling that lingered after watching most of the others in the series.  Outside of Prisoner of Azkaban the films just weren’t able to capture the magic (figuratively) that the books had.  They had amazing sets, Hogwarts was unbelievable throughout, and great actors but when push came to shove the big scenes just felt hollow.  In particular the final battle between Harry and Voldemort was very anticlimactic.  Seriously they had float away like burning paper. Really?!?  They almost salvaged it with a very nice scene between Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the bridge, but then just like the book they through in that awful epilogue.  It didn’t work in the book and was even worse here due to the terribly inconsistent aging make-up.  The film and series ends up being about the friendship of the three main characters above all else, and the touching sequence between the three after all was finished would’ve made the perfect ending to the series that was terribly uneven.

I can forgive Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets for being merely good due to the age of the main actor’s and the fact that they were more of children’s books in the first place.  Also the director had a lot of plot and background to fit into those films so it was inevitable that they would not feel as rich as the books.  However, after a perfect director switch to Alfonso Cuaron, Prisoner of Azkaban, finally found that blend of plot and style to make the book come to life.  That film is full of life from beginning to end, and gave a great blueprint on how to keep the series going strong.  However, the next four films fell back into being almost entirely plot advancement (Book 4 and 5 are long so I understand), but to me the series never had any more sequences where the feeling was the same as reading the book.  Sure I enjoyed them, but they just didn’t have the heart that I expected.  I’m sure to most of you this must seem like nitpicking, but all I wanted from the Harry Potter movies was to be transformed back to how I felt when I stayed up all night to finish the latest book.  It should have been easy, after all film is a more expressive art form, but instead I was treated to the words of the book in movie form, but with none of the emotion.

So in conclusion, I provide my ranking of the eight films in the Harry Potter series.  I enjoyed all of them, but was very rarely satisfied.

Best: Prisoner of Azkaban

2nd: Deathly Hallows: Part 2

3A: Goblet of Fire

3B: Order of the Phoenix

5th: Chamber of Secrets

6th: Deathly Hallows: Part 1

7th: Sorcerer’s Stone

8th: Half Blood Prince

 

Score: 7/10

 

Up Next: Film Noir meets High School in the 2005 film Brick.

 

Bob Roberts

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 5:59 am

 

Day 22

 

Before I make my peace about Bob Roberts, the folk singing conservative Senate candidate from Pennsylvania that is the subject of Tim Robbins 1992 mockumentary of the same name I feel it is appropriate that you take a look at one of his political ditties.   These two are called “Bleeding Heart” and ” Complain”.

 

 

I’m sure even if you didn’t get through all 4 minutes of the clip you can already see the problem with taking an objective look at Bob Roberts.  Tim Robbins, who wrote, directed and starred in the film, is a well known liberal and it is very clear that he is taking a serious potshot at what he thinks the biases of the conservative ideology are.  Bob Roberts is a fairly over the top caricature of the idea of a grassroots, populist republican and it’s hard not to let your particular political leanings affect how you see the film as a whole.  The whole conspiracy with the fake shooting that fake paralyzes Bob at the end of the film, and its subsequent cover-up is way over the top, and forces the film to a awkward and unsatisfying conclusion, but in the hour or so before it Bob Roberts works as an excellent look at campaigning, the media, and cult of personality.

The funny thing after watching the film is that outside of its specific political messages the film is actually pretty prophetic about how election coverage has changed, and the idea of a politician as celebrity.  To fill you in completely, Bob Roberts is a popular conservative folk singer who toured the country and sold millions of albums and used his popularity and money from shady business dealings to make a run for a Senate seat.  While at first it seems far-fetched, celebrities and politics have been becoming more intertwined and acceptable since Reagan became President in the 1980s.  We’ve had comedians (Al Franken), wrestlers (Jesse Ventura), actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger), football players (Jack Kemp, Heath Shuler, Byron “Whizzer” White), and Sarah Palin even has her own TV show.  After all people we are familiar with and like are people that we feel we can trust, and if we can trust Alec Baldwin to make us laugh, why wouldn’t we trust him to represent us in the Senate.  Obviously that statement isn’t completely true, but name recognition is important nowadays, and everyone running for office has to gain name recognition before they can win office.  While the hope is that they will do this through creating effective policy and being a faithful public servant, it’s far easier to do an interview in Esquire or make appearances on national news outlets.  As the news cycle becomes even more instantaneous, all facets of the public are under the microscope.  That is why Michele Bachmann is just as likely to trend on twitter as Kim Kardashian.

This point also brings me to the other aspect of the story that I found very relevant to today.  In the film Roberts is constantly berated by an underground reporter (Giancarlo Esposito) trying to uncover hidden drug crimes in Robert’s charity Broken Dove.  While in 1992 this kind of underground reporter would have difficulty getting his story out there and picked up by national news, the advent of the internet has given an outlet for anyone to make headlines.  All it takes is a post on a blog to be picked up by more and more sites until it could hit the front page on major news outlets.  In the film Espositio’s character actually has evidence for his claims and his story is picked up by local news outlets, but today even unsubstantiated claims can reach the masses and have serious negative effects.  Obviously the increase in media outlets means that we should not believe we read, but not everyone adheres to this rule.  This kind of negative campaigning isn’t present throughout most of bob Roberts, but it’s clear Robbins could foresee a future where there is a disconnect between traditional media and underground media competing to get their varying voices heard.  The only difference now is that it is far easier to make your voice heard.

This combination of increased news presence and celebrity for politicians leads to the type of fanaticism we now see during elections, and is a big part of Bob Roberts.  The film is full of adoring fans, screaming crowds, protesters, and the random public appearances that have become common place today.  To get the full effect you have to watch the movie, but outside of Robert’s over-the-top conservatism, it is an interesting look at the modern election cycle.  It may seem a little dated at first, however give it a chance to warm up and it is a funny and interesting take on the political cycle.

 

Up Next: IT ENDS!!!  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.

 

 

 

 

 

Dial M For Murder

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 4:37 am

 

Day 21

 

Back in the year 1899 on August 13th, the great suspense director Alfred Hitchcock was born.  There isn’t much more to say about Hitchcock that someone much smarter than me hasn’t already said, but I will add that in my few years studying film Hitchcock’s influences can be seen across all types of genre and national lines.  He was a master of suspense, and while that is a term I feel is overused, for Hitchcock it fits.  Outside of his memorable characters or twist endings, Hitchcock was excellent at using mood and space to intensify even the most mundane of sequences.  Take for instance the scene in Vertigo where James Stewart first starts following Kim Novak’s character.  The pace is slow and methodical, but by emphasizing distance and Bernard Hermann’s amazing score, the scene is full of tension and suspense.

Hitchcock’s 1954 film Dial M for Murder may not be as well known or as thrilling as Vertigo, Psycho, or North by Northwest, but the film is classic Hitchcock.  It is based off a play of the same name, and it is clear after watching the film that it had its origins on the stage.  The whole film, outside of one small scene, takes place in the apartment of the two main characters Tony (Ray Milland) and Margot Mary Wendice (Grace Kelly).  This is common for Hitchcock, he used small sets in Rope and Rear Window, but it never ceases to amaze how effective he is in small spaces.  The camera itself is not very mobile, but Hitchcock shots from every possible angle and fills every inch of space with action until that small apartment feels like our own home.  This may seem like an overrated quality to have in film, after all shouldn’t story be more important, but in my opinion for thrillers it is actually very important.  After all how can we be worried about what’s around the corner when we don’t even know where the corner is.  Also in murder movies the smallest details are often the most important and knowledge of the surrounding space allows for more astute viewing.

However, despite Hitchcock’s successes with the cinematography in Dial M for Murder, for me the plot causes the film to fall flat.  The theatrical aspect that makes the look of the film such a success is also the reason the plot seemed stale.  The murder plot and unraveling are both fairly complicated and well thought out, but instead of seeing it come to fruition with action instead the viewer is treated to long explications.  That isn’t to say explanation isn’t necessary in thrillers, but outside of the actual murder sequence, which is very suspenseful, the rest of the film is somewhat boring.  Hitchcock does an excellent job of putting all the pieces in place for us to analyze, but in the end instead of following things in action, the conclusions are just long scenes of dialogue.  If not for the excellent performances by Milland, Kelly, Robert Cummings, and John Williams, the movie would frankly be boring.  Still not even their well crafted reactions make the film as thrilling as it could be.  It’s a shame because Dial M for Murder has one of the most well crafted murder plots and endings of any Hitchcock film I have seen.

After Mrs. Wendice was sentenced to death for the murder of the man her husband blackmailed into marrying her, I though the movie was amazing.  That would have been a crazy twist to have the actual murder plot to fail, but for the bad guy to win in the end.  That would’ve gone against Hitchcock’s trademark style and may have been dark for the time.  However, a few scenes between Milland and Kelly before her execution and a scene of her dying with her actual lover and her deceitful husband watching would’ve been extremely powerful and shown the varying ways that evidence and stories can be misconstrued by authority.  That isn’t to say that I think I have the formula to improve upon a classic, but something other than the traditional ending would’ve made the film that much more memorable.  I’m sure Hitchcock would be rolling in his grave at my suggestions,  but that’s the best part of his films.  They are excellent works of art, and they are still relevant and exciting to talk about today.  So Happy Belated 111th Birthday Mr. Hitchcock, you truly were one of a kind.

 

Up Next: As Election season kicks into gear, I take a look at the 1994 political mockumentary Bob Roberts.

 

The Fighter August 13, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 10:19 pm

 

Day 20

 

Before I get into The Fighter as a film, I’d like to share some back story about my expectations for the film.  First off, as I’m sure most all of you know, I live in a town called North Andover in Massachusetts that is about 15 minutes from Lowell, where Micky Ward grew up and where the movie takes place.  Now North Andover isn’t nearly as blue collar of a town as Lowell is, but it does share many of the same characteristics.  Both places seem much smaller than they are (people know and hear about everything), residents tend to stay in the area their whole life, families are large, passionate, and sometimes not too accepting of change, and while most everyone is nice, they can also be abrasive and aren’t known for outward friendliness.  I haven’t always been a fan of some of these traits of my hometown area, and so while everyone was very exciting when The Fighter came out, I has hesitant to buy into the hype.  I love the North Shore and the story of Micky Ward, but normally I watch movies to get away from what I see everyday, and The Fighter didn’t exactly fall into that category.  Combined with my apprehension of Bale and Wahlberg being able to carry the film, while my friends all went to see The Fighter, I stayed away.  This probably had to do with my natural inclination towards dissension, but I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to like The Fighter, despite my friend’s protest that I was just being stubborn.

Well after actually watching the film, I will be the first to admit that I was completely wrong.  Not only was the film well acted and had a good A-storyline in Micky Ward’s boxing exploits, but I thought the best part was Bale’s portrayal of Dick Eklund and the accurate portrayal of Lowell personalities and life.  For me Christian Bale has been hit or miss during his career and while I respect him as an actor I’m never as excited as most to see him star in films.  I loved him in The Prestige and American Psycho, and think he is a good Bruce Wayne/mediocre Batman (no one can touch Kevin Conroy’s voice work); but I don’t think I will ever forgive him for ruining Terminator Salvation and egregiously overacting in Rescue Dawn.  He is a better actor when he has a unique or flawed character to play, and Dicky definitely qualifies.  He is a terrible influence and his crack addiction splits his family apart, but Bale’s goofy mannerisms and enthusiasm make him a lovable character despite his myriad of poor choices.  One scene in particular where Bale excels is when the HBO documentary on crack is being shown at the prison.  The quick shift from celebrity adoration to shameful anger shown by Bale is absolutely heartbreaking, and it is certainly one of his best performances.

The other excellent part of the film was its shot structure is consistent throughout the film and, in my opinion, matches the pace of an actual boxing match.  Despite what many people think boxing is actually much more like a chess match than an MMA fight.  It requires both strength and a whole lot of strategy as knockout punches are only achieved by preparation that starts rounds earlier.  If you have ever seen a boxing match you would know they are actually fairly slow with both boxers slowing trying to breakdown the others’ defenses until they can unleash a fury of punches that will actually land.  The Fighter mimics this by using a slower introspective pace, intercut with fast pace montage sequences that cover most of the action of the film.  In the slower periods the film is heavy on close-ups, which provide excellent shots of facial expressions and reactions.  This gives the viewer an opportunity to read the characters in their own way (similar to a boxer reading his opponent), and give the film even more of a personal family feel.  When the movie needs to pick things up, it does so through a series of montage sequences that although sometimes a little too long, are very effective.  This back and forth between slow and fast pace helps keep The Fighter fresh and makes it seem far less than 2 hours.

So despite my initial aversion to The Fighter, I have to admit that it is a movie worth watching.  Even if you are not a boxing fan, don’t worry.  The film is more about family than about pugilism, but make sure when you watch it you pronounce it with a Boston accent.  It’s The Fightah not The Fighter.

 

Up Next: 365cinema celebrates Hitchcock’s birthday with a look at Dial M For Murder.

 

 

The Prodigal Son Returns… August 11, 2011

Filed under: Misc Postings,Uncategorized — welch742 @ 10:39 pm

For all five of you who have checked this blog over the last two weeks or so you may have noticed that new content has all but disappeared.  First of all I would like to apologize for my extended absence, as a blog with daily content is worthless if it is not updated daily.  However, I had a good reason for my absence as I was tied up being the best man for my older brother’s nuptials last Saturday.  Obviously this entailed a few days of bachelor party activities, travel days/wedding set-up, along with the nervously trying to deliver a competent speech.  Along the way I caught up with pretty much my entire extended family, which was amazing, but also very tiring. After two days at home I have finally worked back into my normal routine and with that comes the re-activation of blog activity.

I’m sure that many of you are wondering how I will go about reconciling these lost days.  After all, the blog isn’t called 340cinema or 390withsomepausescinema, and I assure you I still plan on having post 365 done on June 24th of next year.  What that means is that the blog is going to be running on double and sometimes even triple speed for the next two weeks or so.  So prepare yourself because for the next 20 days, there will be posts flying everywhere at any time that I feel.  I’m sure I’ll be tired and over-caffeinated so expect more clips, pics, and grammatical errors.  So in honor of the return of the Prodigal Son of blogging I offer you the best comparison I can to how my best man speech went.