Saturday, January 24, 2009

News: Independent Spirit Awards So Much Better, Anyone?

Having just watched the brilliant Rachel Getting Married, and remembering there is only one nomination for that film in the Academy Awards, and remembering that The Wrestler wasn't up for the awards I've caught wind it should have, and remembering that Synecdoche, New York was nominated not once, not twice, but zero times at the Academy Awards, when it should sweep house, makes me want to give you a list of wildly better films getting the recognition they deserve in the ways they should:

Best Feature:
Frozen River
Rachel Getting Married
Wendy and Lucy
The Wrestler

Best First Feature:
Medicine for Melancholy
Sangre De Mi Sangre
Sleep Dealer
Synecdoche, New York

Best Director:
Chop Shop's Ramin Bahrani
Rachel Getting Married's Jonathan Demme
Ballast's Lance Hammer
Frozen River's Courtney Hunt
The Visitor's Tom McCarthy

Best Male Lead:
Vicky Cristina Barcelona's Javier Bardem
The Visitor's Richard Jenkins
Milk's Sean Penn
The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner
The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke

Best Female Lead:
Towelhead's Summer Bishil
Rachel Getting Married's Anne Hathaway
Frozen River's Melissa Leo
Ballast's Tarra Riggs
Wendy and Lucy's Michelle Williams

Best Supporting Male:
Milk's James Franco
The Hurt Locker's Anthony Mackie
Frozen River's Charlie McDermott
Ballast's JimMyron Ross
The Visitor's Haaz Sleiman

Best Supporting Female:
Vicky Cristina Barcelona's Penelope Cruz
Rachel Getting Married's Rosemarie DeWitt
The Take's Rosie Perez
Frozen River's Misty Upham
Rachel Getting Married's Debra Winger

Best Screenplay:
Vicky Cristina Barcelona's Woody Allen
Sugar's Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Synecdoche, New York's Charlie Kaufman
Savage Grace's Howard A. Rodman
Sangre De Mi Sangre's Christopher Zalla

Best Cinematography:
The Wrestler
Medicine for Melancholy
Chop Shop

Best Documentary:
The Betrayal
Encounters at the End of the World
Man on Wire
The Order of Myths
Up the Yangtze

Best Foreign Film:
The Class (France)
Gomorra (Italy)
Hunger (U.K./Ireland)
Secret of the Grain (France)
Silent Light (Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany)


- Eric T. Voigt, Eh.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Rachel Getting Married: Rachel Gets Married in Rachel Getting Married

Anne Hathaway is a completely different actress. Or, Anne Hathaway is in a completely better role than I've ever seen her in before. As Kym, a recovering drug addict getting out of rehab just in time for her sister Rachel's wedding, she plays an attention whore, a scared little girl, a raving lunatic, and a chic as hell accidental murderer. Excellently. I know she's not going to win the Best Actress award, but she deserves the nomination.

Rachel Getting Married was great. Being about a dysfunctional family and a wedding, I couldn't help but compare it to Margot at the Wedding, Noah Baumbach's 2007 feature. I compare it to that, but instead of showing the horrible, self-centeredness of humanity, it showed the humanity of humanity, touching equally on the caring and uncaring, and creating very true feeling relationships between the characters.

The entire cast is fantastic, really. Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, one of my favoriter modern bands, adorables as Rachel's nerdy, nervous fiance. Rachel herself is also very good. Bill Irwin as the girls' father should be up for a Best Supporting Actor award, because he is the most believable portrayl of a father desperately in love with his grown-up-too-fast daughters. I felt for him. I felt for them. I'm noticing more and more how important acting is to me, and when it's good, it makes the film for me.
These days it seems like a third of all movies coming out are making huge bounds in the use of handycam. This whole movie appeared to have been shot without a tripod. Everything is very shakey, very slight zooms are in abundance, and the best racking focus shot I've seen outside of the trailer for 500 Days of Summer is employed. The hand-heldness of Married made the film feel very intimate, almost like the audience was being shown an actual wedding video. I approve.
Also, this was directed by the guy that did The Silence of the Lambs AND Philadelphia. Talk about street cred. Jonathan Demme. That's the name. Good work, Demme. Good work.

Finally my 'best of 2008' list is able to flesh out. The great films of last year almost completely passed me by. I think I'm exaggerating. And Alex, sorry to have typed all this up after discussing basically all the same points with you. You're one of the only readers. Also, now there are more recent reviews. Enough of that musty old French.

- Eric T. Voigt, Not a Hath-Hater

Thursday, January 22, 2009

News: Oscar Nominations, Anyone?

I'm sorry to bump the first installment of "I Respectfully Disagree", which I feel is going to become a much loved feature, but the official nominations for this year's Oscars just came out, and I want everyone to take a gander. When you get this gander, bring it to the computer screen, and show it the list. Feel free to look along with it. Fellow writers, how should we go about handling the major upsets this list is going to cause?

Actor in a Leading Role:
The Visitor's Richard Jenkins
Frost/Nixon's Frank Langella
Milk's Sean Penn
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button's Brad Pitt
The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke

Actor in a Supporting Role:
Milk's Josh Brolin
Tropic Thunder's Robert Downey, Jr.
Doubt's Phillip Seymour Hoffman
The Dark Knight's Heath Ledger
Revolutionary Road's Michael Shannon

Actress in a Leading Role:
Rachel Getting Married's Anne Hathaway
Changeling's Angelina Jolie
Frozen River's Melissa Leo
Doubt's Meryl Streep
The Reader's Kate Winslet

Actress in a Supporting Role:
Doubt's Amy Adams
Vicky Cristina Barcelona's Penelope Cruz
Doubt's Viola Davis
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button's Taraji P. Henson
The Wrestler's Marisa Tomei

Animated Feature Film:
Kung Fu Panda

Art Direction:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Costume Design:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Documentary Feature:
The Betrayl (Nerakhoon)
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

Documentary Short:
The Conscience of Nhem En
The Final Inch
Smile Pinki
The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306

Film Editing:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

Foreign Language Film:
The Baader Meinhof Complex
The Class
Waltz with Bashir

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Music (Score):
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire

Music (Song):
Wall-E's "Down to Earth"
Slumdog Millionaire's "Jai Ho" and "O Saya"

Best Picture:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Short Film (Animated):
La Maison En Petits Cubes
Lavatory - Love Story
This Way Up

Short Film (Live Action!):
Auf Der Strecke (On the Line)
Manon on the Asphalt
New Boy
The Pig
Spielzeugland (Toy Land)

Sound Editing:
The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Slumdog Millionaire

Sound Mixing:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

Visual Effects:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Iron Man

Writing (Adapted Screenplay):
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Writing (Original Screenplay):
Frozen River
In Bruges

So, I have to run out and see The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and The Reader, and maybe a few more of these before the actual screening of the Oscars, lest my decisions be un-informed. But I can tell you right now, even having not seen every film on this list, or this year, the Academy is making a number of huge mistakes. May God have mercy on your souls.

- Eric T. Voigt, Can't WAIT For the Oscars!

I Respectfully Disagree: Blade Runner

A new "weekly feature." My weekly feature. That's right. Kevin Kern respectfully disagrees:

I hear you like Blade Runner. I don't. Not one bit. Blade Runner bores me. The premise of Blade Runner is alright, but I think it was executed in a really uninteresting, and poorly scripted way. Harrison Ford? Just terrible at acting in this. And that's his craft. He's terrible at his craft. The blonde girl? With the black streak across her eyes? Also terrible at acting. The woman that wanted to play Catwoman? She was in Ace Ventura, too. Yeah, she's terrible. I couldn't care less about any of the characters, and believe me, I tried really hard to care less. A few droids get killed, but in really quick, un-important fashion, the love story they try to convey doesn't plausibly grow, the futuristic sets make everything look cramped in a really unpleasant-to-watch way, and everything looks smokey, which got really annoying. Ridley Scott's direction is as subpar as I find it to be in all his other films. There are so many better futuristic, almost post-apocalyptic films, and I'd personally rather watch the Schwarzenegger in The Running Man again than watch Blade Runner. Running Man is another 80s sci-fi. It's terrible. But not as bad as Blade Runner. I've said my peace. Burn in hell, Blade Runner, you worthless pile of budget.

Forever and onward,
Eric T. Voigt

Dear Eric, 

I respectfully disagree. Harrison Ford. Terrible in this? I'd say..."subtle." I'm sorry he didn't strut around in a pink spacesuit, whoring for your attention. Are you also referring to his attempt at narration, which everyone loves to balk at? Watch the Director's Cut (of which there are now approximately one million versions). Narration removed. Problem solved.
Eric says, "Burn in hell."

And what did Daryl Hannah, everyone's favorite "blonde girl with the black streak across her eyes," do to incur your wrath? What about Sean Young (thanks for the name-check, by the way), the alleged Catwoman wannabe? What did these women do that was so wrong? I don't understand why you deemed their performances "terrible." Was their behavior off-putting? Did their actions seem synthetic, maybe? Oh, right, because they're not playing humans; they're playing androids.

You "tried really hard to care less" about the characters? Really? Seems like a waste of effort, but I won't try to change your mind. I'm sorry you didn't at least care about Pris (Hannah) and Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and dear, sweet J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), all of whom I feel deserved sympathy. That's all I'll say about that, because I'd rather talk about the droid deaths, which were really entertaining.  But I guess I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say this: Daryl Hannah seizuring. And that's all I'll say about that.

Kevin says, "You're beautiful, baby."

I'll give you the bit about the love story, but the futuristic sets? Masterful. They're supposed to look unpleasant, to make you feel uncomfortable. It's not a pretty future. Everything looks smokey because they're in a futuristic Los Angeles. And I think you may have confused Ridley Scott with Tony Scott. I haven't seen The Running Man, but I suspect you're exaggerating. 

Kevin Kern

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Band's Visit: Which Won 35+ Awards

To say "The Band's Visit" was a bad film would be to start my review off with a lie. And what would ever drive me to do something like that? A film that can manage to be quirky yet poignant, remain engaging through a number of slowly paced sequences, and look as amazing as this, deserves more than 35 international, esteemed awards.

Eight members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra find themselves deserted for the night in the Israeli village Bet Hatikva, a ghost town with a similar name to where they're supposed to be, Petah Tiqva. A few kind strangers offer up their homes to the men, and through roughly three main stories touch on issues of loneliness, regret, and true happiness.

The film flows so elegantly between the separate story lines, it feels near magical. The humor and tenderness of the actors never once comes across as forced, and the writing makes the scenarios seem completely realistic, even when they shouldn't. The mingling of English, Hebrew and Arabic sounds like shear music, and what music is actually in the film is always right on the edge of sadness, almost beckoning for tears to be shed.
Photographically this film was incredible. The colors are very pastel, muted in every case. If Bresson is a master of framing within frames, Eran Kolirin is a master of framing without. Shots feel like some divine symmetry is being enforced, and those that don't are framed with all the action extremely to one side. I normally can't stand when something is out of focus, but the balance of deep focus, and distant out-of-focus shots is superb. Dazzling sequences of barren desert, too. Everything is crisp and sharp, but at the same time soft. And the way they handle close ups? Don't get me started on the way they handle close ups.

I want the cast of "The Band's Visit" to be in everything else. Absolutely everything else. They're... they're just so good. It's like they were forced to bear their very souls for the camera, at gunpoint, and with their children dangling over a pit of venomous snakes, because that's how good they were. The way they handle minute gestures, and all body language, is so precise, so stressed in the most subtle way. A lot of this review is oxymoronic... but it needs to be.

"The Band's Visit" is one of the best I've seen. Though it came out in 2007, and should have won the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture, it was rejected by the Academy for being in English more than half the time. Which is an absolute insult. If it comes from another country, doesn't that make it foreign? It boggles the mind. "The Band's Visit" should win every award forever. No questions. Especially no questions.

- Eric T. Voigt, Felt A Little Shmaltzy On That One

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Alex and Eric Hate Trailers: Episode I (Wolverines, Proposals and Horror)

Alex and I hate trailers. That is, we often find ourselves watching trailers, and discussing their merits at great length. Greater length than we should. Greater length than any person should. Now we lay it all out for you, in what I hope will become a weekly feature. We tackled Apple trailers' latest for this fine episode. The titles are linked to the trailers.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li -

Alex: Street fighter. Duh, dumb. Perhaps some cool stunt work, but nothing extraordinary past that. Dumb.

Eric: Really well shot. Actors look meh. Action looks not terrible, but I don't see the value of the movie as a whole.

Alex: Same same. Pretty much what you would expect a high budget Street Fighter movie to be, honestly.

All About Steve -

Eric: A trainwreck of a Sandra Bullock piece of shit. Everyone looks pink. It uses all the worst sort of trailer things, like deep voiced narrator, speeding up clips, that awful swoosh sound, then a crash swoosh, those little tings, lame pop music, and a clip from what is obviously the ending monologue about why he falls in love with her.

Alex: Yep. Just awful. No need to really elaborate.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine -

Alex: Action looks superb, some really awesome shots and set pieces, ending with the obviously stressed "jump off motorcycle on to helicopter" scene, which looks pretty damn cool. Brings in Gambit, which is a plus, along with some other awesome X-Men characters. In terms of story line, probably not a lot to rant about, and the acting was kind of wooden at times. Overall, looks pretty entertaining, but it's no marvel (In the definition sense of the word, not the comic book company).

Eric: Mmm, good pun. I loved the first 2, and this one reminded me of X2 in feel, and acting, and etc. Slow-mo annoyed me. Liev Schreiber as Sabertooth? I like that. Lots of explosions. Too many for my taste. And how the hell do you grasp a helicopter.

Alex: I don't quite know, but he does it. And yes, too many explosions, BUT it could be all the explosions merely crammed into the trailer. Might not be TOO overwhelming for the entire length of the movie.

Friday the 13th -

Eric: Well, I'm a huge fan of slasher films for the fun of laughing at the terrible acting, and gruesome deaths of the bad actors, so this is just my thing. The audio is ripped straight from the original, which was a little lame. HOT HOT 20-somethings is always nice. Michael Bay's producing? Really? The deaths you see in the trailer look hilarious. "What are you doing?!" as the boat runs over her is the single best shot in any film ever. You?

Alex: Agreed. Shallow entertainment, forgotten the next day. Good fun, not much else, obviously.

Medicine for Melancholy -

Alex: ALRIGHT, now what we both want to talk about, Medicine for Melancholy. Shot beautifully, acted wonderfully, modern love story minus the cliched setbacks for "love" stories. Wonderful location, interesting characters, delicately scripted, looks pretty incredible, we're seeing it when it comes out.


Alex: Mmm mmm MMMM! Love me some mumblecore!

Eric: Exactly.

He's Just Not That Into You -

Alex: Errrg. Maybe, MAYBE has some redeeming qualities, but otherwise looks sloppy and stupid.

Eric: I ask why they turned a nonfiction book into a romantic comedy. Looks like lots of major minor talent. Cutesy. Slightly better looking than the other romantic comedies I've seen.

Alex: Mhmm. Slightly.

Coraline -

Eric: Focus Features never fails to rock my shit. Henry Selick is an amazing animation director. The book was great. Button eyes. Want to see it.

Alex: Yes yes and yes. Imaginative, interesting, good story, holds up past its initial "eww kid movie"-ness. Kinda creepy, even. Which is what Henry Selick does well.

Tokyo Sonata -

Alex: Looks pretty great, I think. I love the music set to it, so that helps. The acting and cinematography in it are pretty entrancing, and the direction looks crisp and consistent. Hopefully the "broken family" conflict holds up under scrutiny and doesn't seem trite during the full film.

Eric: Mmm. It has a few laurels, which is good. And by a Kurosawa. Looks like its shot hot, but I have no idea what its about. Family struggles. People struggling. Fuck! A kid gets hit. It uses the song from the end of Ocean's 11.

Fired Up -
Eric: I liked the blonde guy in Not Another Teen Movie, but not in this. Ugh. Teen sex comedy = FAR past prime. I liked the part about 'pounding' it, but other than that, so terrible. Uses a car wheel squeal, too, a familiar trailer convention.

Alex: Stop making these movies. They are a plague.

The Proposal -

Alex: I think it looks awesome. Really? No. It looks awful. Sandra Bullock doesn't fail to fail. Slop. Hollywood blubber. Terrible movie, shaved off the underside of Hollywood's pube-ridden scrotum. Disgusting.

Eric: Harsh. I say what the fuck is this? Sandra Bullock looks to be trying to make a comeback of sorts. Why? Ryan Reynolds is a pretty hot guy, and is a guilty, or not so guilty, pleasure of mine, but what a dumb, simple story. So contrived. A fun summer comedy. Couples welcome.

I Love You, Man -
Eric: Who wrote and directed this? I found out. The guy responsible for Meet the Fockers and Along Came Polly. John Hamburg. And those were awful. The cast looks lke a Judd Apatow crew, but not. Lots of different comedy backgrounds represented. Unfortunately this is a little lame looking.

Alex: Mhmm. I like Paul Rudd and Jason Segal, and got excited for the trailer, but the comedy just doesn't seem up to par. Ew.

The Last House on the Left -

Alex: Last House On The Left. Is he microwaving that guy's head? FUCK! What the fuck? AHHH. This looks awful.

Eric: Very intelligent.

Alex: I know.

Eric: A good companion to mine: Rogue Pictures suck. I love the deputy from No Country For Old Men, Garret Dillahunt, who is in this. It looks like it's shot like balls, and really, it showed us everything thats going to happen in this damn movie. I like the song juxtaposed with the horrible things happening, though. Wes Craven is still a part of it, too, so... might be good.

Earth -

Eric: James Earl Jones. That's nice. Amazing shots of nature. I'd rather watch Planet Earth. Is this a compilation of the best shots from that?

Alex: Hah! I know! It even uses Hoppipola, the Sigur Ros song, which was used in the Planet Earth trailer.... Rip off? Completely. Disney should stop. Just stop. Nooooo Disney, that idea has been done, and most likely done better. Noo Disney! Stop it, Disney! That's plagiarism, Disney! Stop!

Eric: I think it uses shots from Planet Earth, dude. The little bird hopping around with the blue smiley face on its wings? That's from Planet Earth.

Alex: Hmmm. Theives.

Eric: Said it was with BBC's collaboration. BBC produced Planet Earth. I'm pretty sure this is some sort of 'best of' thing.

That's all for this week. Tune in next time where we'll probably cover "500 Days of Summer", and "The Informers".

Monday, January 19, 2009

Diary of a Country Priest: Second Consecutive 1950 French Film Review

"Diary of a Country Priest" follows closely Claude Laydu and the tormenting personal crises that come from the burden of dealing with a mistrusting, angry congregation. He is a physically ill, socially meek boy of a man. His pale skin and deep black cloak give him a Death-like appearance as he runs, stumbles or rides across the countryside. He constantly struggles to maintain his faith, and convince the townspeople that his convictions are truly the words of God. He is a highly sympathetic figure. This film has given me reason to rethink the role religion plays in my life, and the potential good a healthy dose of faith can do in the world. "Diary" is moving. It is important. It is somewhat of a masterpiece.

Robert Bresson is an oddity of a French director in that his name is not Jean, or Jacques. He is also masterful at using frame-within-frame to convey a character's emotional strife. Laydu is framed by almost everything imaginable: doorways, hallways, house windows, door windows, roof windows, roads, gates, walls, darkness of a confessional booth, you name it, he used it.

Laydu is trapped by shame, doubt, guilt and confusion throughout the film. He tries to steer others away from drowning their lives in revenge plots and bitterness. He is considered weak for stating his mind. He has very few confidants, and with every lesson he preaches, seemingly a new enemy is formed. His successes very quickly become failures. Through it all, even though it gets shaky at times, his faith is maintained. He gives one of the most humbling performances I've ever witnessed, putting to shame many actors playing characters straight out of the Bible.

Sound is something Bresson wields with gusto. Much of the film is devoted to the narration of Laydu from his diary, and his dialogue with the minor characters, so when a scene is given over to silence, or the score alone, the affect is startling. All is given an air of suspense, and it's really a matter of unheard dissonance. And, when the screen dissolves to black, but speaking is still heard, the words are given unbelievable power.

There was so much to enjoy about this film, and it left me feeling more fulfilled than nearly every other film I've watched over winter break. That's a lot to compete with. Robert Bresson is one of my absolute favorite French filmmakers, and he reiterated why in "Diary" with flying colors. That wasn't a funny note, but, he doesn't need it.

- Eric T. Voigt, Enough French for Now

Les Enfants Terribles: Another Melville, Another Post With a Colon in the Title

There's a shot early in Les Enfants Terribles (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1950) that, hours later, keeps appearing in my head: Elisabeth (Nicole Stephane) hovers over her bed-ridden brother Paul (Edouard Dermithe), attempting to engage him in yet another one of their secret "games," this one involving hypnotism. The viewer watches this over Paul's shoulder, through the bed frame; with this shot, Melville has transformed his audience into spies privy to the workings of the siblings' highly exclusive world.

Melville's film, which was adapted from a novel by Jean Cocteau, who also wrote the screenplay and even serves as narrator, concerns these young siblings' unusually close relationship. (If you're thinking incest, you're wrong.) They share a room, play what they refer to as "the game" (though all the rules are never clearly defined), and constantly bicker like an old couple. Stephane and Dermithe are both captivating and believable as brother and sister. The catty banter between them never feels stale, and although they carry on like this for virtually the entire film, Melville makes it very apparent how much they mean to one another, not simply through the plot (which I'll explain in more detail very soon), but also through brief, rare, but nonetheless meaningful encounters.

The siblings let precious few individuals into their lives. Gerard (Jacques Bernard), Paul's friend from school, stays with them sometimes, but they treat him like an outsider and often order him around with little regard for his feelings. The real source of tension is Agathe (Renee Cosima), a woman Elisabeth invites to live with them. Agathe looks almost exactly like Dargelos (also played by Cosima), the boy who injured Paul in the first place but also whom Paul had a huge crush on.

Complications arise, and drama, of course, ensues. But it never feels overdone. Melville opts for a rousing classical score, and it works well, frequently heightening the film's sinister tones, especially in the eerie final scene, which for me redeemed a plot that seemed somewhat far-fetched towards the film's end.

This film was vastly different than this blog's previously touched-upon Melville film Le Samouri (see a few posts below), but I noticed similarities in mood. For instance, Paul's wanderings throughout the siblings' cavernous second home echoes Samouri's Costello's lonely journeying through darkened streets. I found Les Enfants Terribles more entertaining than Le Samouri and felt more drawn in by the former film's characters and story, but so far I've enjoyed both as an introduction to Melville. Maybe this blog will see more Melville-centric posts in the future.
Kevin Kern

Gran Torino: "Wasps' Nest? That's Terrible."

... And in the end Clint Eastwood sings as young Thao drives alongside the strait of Lake Erie with the elderly man's dog, off to no one knows where, a chillingly goofy moment in a silly sweet film.

The title quote is sarcastically growled by Eastwood, and I think it does a fine job summarizing the film as a whole. It was a goofy movie. Not as serious as I expected, but not irreverant enough to have left me unhorrified by some of the senseless violence, and well-replicated common racism that actually plagues our fine land, the U.S.A.

The growling of the Eastwood got to be a bit much at times. I know: He's a cantakerous old man who doesn't much care for the way the world is running these days. His grand-daughter's right-out-there navel is baffling and upsetting for him. People talking at his wife's funeral isn't as off-putting for him as the whipper-snapper priest's take on life v. death. The Hmong from the Far East living next door couldn't irritate him more, for their flashy parties, unkempt lawns, and violent gangs.

Of course, by the end of the movie he has managed to make peace with the Asian American culture that clashes so thoroughly with his own, if not with the impoliteness and general brattiness of all American culture. He's also managed to become a Christ figure. A really apparent, obvious one at that. It wasn't a bad thing, just uber-noticable.

One thing I learned from this film is the Hmong are naturally gifted at acting poorly. If I were allowed to pinpoint exactly where this movie went wrong, and I am, I'd say it was the acting of Thao (Bee Vang), which was unrivaled by the tour-de-force of bad acting from his sister Sue (Ahney Her). "Shut up, stupid". What teenage girl says that? Without a Valley girl accent, I mean. Give her a line, and she will gladly strip it of any and all believability, and dignity. I guess the acting is a reflection of the directing on Eastwood's part, but seeing what he's been able to pull off in the past, I'm wondering just how much of this he was responsible for.

Terrible, terrible acting aside, "Gran Torino" was a pretty good film. I thought it was shot near-flawlessly, and pleasing for the eyes, by Tom Stern, the director of photography for other Eastwood-directed films "Mystic River", "Million Dollar Baby", and all those war pieces that came out in '06. Everything technical was quite nice, and the story wasn't bad, if not always executed so hotly. I laughed audibly at some of the dialogue, when it was and wasn't appropriate, but again, I mostly blame the acting for this.

"Gran Torino" taught me the importance of putting aside prejudices, and of becoming a man in my own right. I wish Clint Eastwood all the best of luck with his future ventures. I know "Changeling" didn't do as well as people hoped, but I hear word that his next project is a Nelson Mandela biopic, co-starring Matt Damon. One can only hope Mandela will be handled by Damon.
- Eric T. Voigt, Growls at the Teens Any Old Time

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Armond White

Ahhhhh, Armond White. Just recently, Kevin sent me a link to Armond White's year-end list that was so baffling in its phony intellectual absurdity, so bemusing in its unbalanced presumptions based on such little concrete detail, so frustratingly constructed as some sort of "out-of-the-mainstream-'non-artsy'-film-critic-year-end-list" in such a pandering, inconsistent manner, I felt compelled to write a large post dedicated to removing the false pedestals holding up Armond's pitiful excuse for a career as a film critic. After posting this, I will e-mail it to him repeatedly until I get a response.

I read some more reviews of his. My hate festered. His review of The Wrestler was slop. He referred to the main character, played by Mickey Rourke, as "Ram Jam" throughout the entire assesment. This is pathetic. "Ram Jam" is the name of Rourke's signature move in the film, not one of his names or nicknames (The Ram, Randy, Robin). Was he actually watching the movie? Or was he too busy glossing over the screen with re-imagined images from "Transporter 3"? (Which, by the way, he commended as the best film of 2008. Seriously.) 

I couldn't believe it. Is this man truly touting himself as "controversial" and "the only film critic willing to go against the grain"? Honestly? C'mon, Armond! There has to be some satire behind this! Please?

But it isn't. His idea of controversy is simply selecting the most disliked, sloppy films of the year, and dangling them above the better movies in some sick, ceremonial, badly written dance. His reasoning behind disliking such technically and emotionally superior films is usually culminated in a one sentence squalor, lashing out at the movie's supposed "negativity" and "cynicism" compared to his favorite's much more "lighthearted" and "uplifting" look on life. What a poor way to assess films. Their happiness meter? If a movie gets to be even remotely depressing, does Armond run out of the theater, eyes filled with tears and guns blazing, ready to type up another gem? What a despicable and immature method to film reviewing. Unacceptable.

Now to address the man himself. Armond White, you are a phony. Can you even make a complete sentence out of your own deranged scribbling? Your writing, in all its post-auteuristic flourishes, is but a reflection of your own auto-fellative hubris. You seem little more than a sterile, self-important buffoon with a highly decomposed sense of cinema, surely picked apart by your vapid brand of pseudo-intellectualism. You are a parody. A working joke. Someone who values the appearance of knowledge more than the possession of it. Someone who fawns over the idea of becoming a wise man, but is just as content gluing on a beard and posing on a boulder. Your despotic, blathering commentary is an impediment to cinema. A blight upon the face of intellectual artistic criticism. You deserve to be fired. With fire. Literally set on fire. Doused with kerosene, then set aflame. Like the raging imbecile that you are, sent scorching into the night, a human torch, until your remains are ash, and your filthy, useless tongue reduced to dust beneath my feet. You, sir, are an utter travesty.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: The Little Cliché That Could

Danny Boyle went home a very, very happy Brit at the Golden Globes. His latest film, the absolute media darling "Slumdog Millionaire" won every single one of it's nominations: Best Original Score, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and the pièce de résistance Best Motion Picture (Drama). That's a lot of awards, and a lot of really respected awards at that. And I couldn't be less pleased.

I knew when I saw the trailer that this was going to be the 'feel good movie' of the year. I even said so. When I saw the film with my fellow Cousins Jonas my hypothesis was proved correct: "Slumdog" was a cute, pleasant movie that touched on a number of generic, leave-you-feeling-warm-at-the-very-end notes. I couldn't see what everyone found so remarkable about it. I tried to convey the triteness of it all, but my words fell on deaf, ignorant ears. So, let me analyze bit by bit every tried-and-true, boring method I saw in the film.

The very beginning I liked. Dev Patel getting the hell tortured out of him. It sparked my interest. And then, a high tension chase through the slums. This really had me fooled. But then the story started evolving, and my expectations were arrived. Jamal's brother Salim was like plenty of other characters I've met in the past. He's hotheaded. He's unwilling to trust Jamal's love-interest Latika... at first. He's loyal to his brother, but too tied up in his own life. He also thinks it's no sweat to reconcile with Jamal ten years after leaving him to fend for himself, completely alone in the world. What a reasonable guy.

That's just one of the characters. Let me take a broader look at the film. There are a few events that really got me going. Jamal and Salim are taken in by a band of thugs, who send children out to beg for money. Is it just me, or does every orphan hang out with criminals for at least a little while? I got a very Oliver Twist-vibe out of this.

I was willing to let that go when I was watching, but then, the scene that was the beginning of the end for me: Jamal, working for a telemarketing company, tracks down his brother, years after having seen or spoken with him, and is immediately recognized. "Jamal?" his brother asks, cheerfully ready to go back to the days when they were seven, running around, scrimping and scrapping to make do. From what we've seen, Salim should either be begging on his knees for forgiveness, or unwilling to speak to his long discarded brother.

The love story in this also follows the path it feels like I've witnessed hundreds of times. Jamal doesn't see Latika for years and years, but he harbors a crush on her the whole while, presumably having fallen in love with her as an adolescent, and ignoring any other potential suitress through his life, and then, upon meeting her again, he acts like her running away with him, getting married and starting a new life, would make perfect sense to her. They haven't seen each other. For... forever. But oh, how his love burns strongly. Of course, Latika is married to your conventional semi-abusive, fat husband, who also happens to be a crime lord. So, it's a no go.

Until she runs away with Jamal, and they live happily ever after. Like in any other fairy tale romance.

I didn't hate "Slumdog". I thought it was a good movie. I still think Danny Boyle is a great director. It's... it's just... there were so many movies that defied these conventions this year. There were so many better written, originally plotted and charactered films. What comes to mind, especially now that I know "Slumdog" is probably set up for more praise at the Oscars, are "Synecdoche, New York" and "Let the Right One In", neither of which are being given any notice at the Oscars, much higher in esteem than the Golden Globes are.

"Synecdoche" was the most original, and funny, and well-acted film I saw this past year, and was definitely my favorite of 2008. "Right One" is an original, heart-wrenching take on vampire myths, and has a number of breath-taking shots, while "Slumdog" is any old romance with an Indian twist, and was shot competently, but not spectacularly.

I think people are willing to allow some originality into their life, but not any great amount of it. They see "Slumdog", take away the interesting cultural references and sweet moments, and think they've seen something incredible, because it doesn't look like something they've seen before. But it is. Danny Boyle says he set out to make a modern day love fantasy, and he did, not that it was at all different in message than every pre-modern love fantasy.

What I want from critics, and voters, is not a willingness to appreciate what they've appreciated once before, but to take a chance on liking something original.

- Eric T. Voigt, Worn Out Over This

Le Samouri: One Viewing, Two Reactions

I did something I'm not proud of. Midway through Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouri (1967), I stopped the film and fell asleep. I know, I know. How could I? But at that point, after watching about fifty minutes, I was feeling seriously underwhelmed.

Melville's film features little dialogue; the central character, the ice-cold hitman Jef Costello (Alain Delon), speaks maybe ten times (you'll have to check me on that, but I can't be far off). And when the characters do talk, it's often with a level of cool detachment. Here Melville lets his scenes stretch, sometimes in near silence. Watch as Costello drives a stolen car into a garage and waits as the plates are changed. Watch as policemen break into and bug Costello's apartment. Watch as Costello eludes his pursuers in a lengthy subway chase. Again, watch all this in a frosty quiet bordering on silence. At the risk of sounding like a whiny scumsack with his fingers languishing half-way up his asshole, viewing this film became a trying experience for me.

But wait! I can redeem myself. A few hours later, I returned to this film. I didn't start from the beginning again (though I should have), but I did enjoy the remainder of the film. A lot. I mellowed out and, for want of a better phrase, allowed every scene to "wash over me." Suddenly Costello was too cool for words. Good thing, because he still didn't say much at all. Suddenly the long sequences I once found arduous became tense and exciting. Had I not been lying down, I would have been on the edge of my seat during a scene in which Costello suspects something amiss in his apartment. And when the final scene came, I found it immensely satisfying.

So why the change of heart? Could it be that I watched the rest of it in a different room? Could it be that I was simply too tired to enjoy it on my first attempt? I guess it doesn't really matter. I guess if there's anything anyone can learn from this, my first and admittedly amateurish post here on this blog, it's that a film's quality or content may not be enough to inform your opinion of it. In most cases, it's the attitude you, the viewer, bring to it.
--Kevin Kern

I Can't Tell The Difference: The Woody Allen/Diablo Cody Effect

Yesterday I watched Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda". Because it came out back in 2005, instead of 1975, Woody Allen doesn't actually star in the film. Or does he? It's come to my attention, perhaps a little late, that Woody decides to use Woody-substitutes. In "Melinda" squared, Will Ferrell steps into the elderly Jew's shoes, delivering his instantly recognizable neurosis and adorable one-liners. In "Match Point" the Woody role is filled by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Meyers is an Irishman, which covers up some of the more obvious Juda-isms found in American actors, but the speech pattern, and content inside the speech, is straight from Woody's mouth.

It's almost as if Woody Allen has discovered a way to speak from beyond the grave. Just... behind the camera. I'm normally a proponent of seperating self from character, because you can get a little preachy, or lose an objective perspective or whatever when you write strictly from your own mind, but with Woody Allen his presence is powerful enough, and wit sharp enough that I can't see why he shouldn't create these stand-in characters now that he's grown too mature for the roles.

Unfortunately there is another writer who does the same: "The Satan" Cody. From the second Juno, from "Juno", opened her mouth, I knew I was hearing into Diablo Cody's head. Juno comes across as a 30-something in a 16-year-old's body for a reason: Diablo can't seperate herself from Juno. Juno is Diablo, Diablo is Juno. What irks me about this that doesn't irk me about Woody Allen doing the same is that Diablo manages to get preachy. The segment devoted to jock's actual love for nerdy girls, the sequences of Juno serving the grossly older people with her Gilmore Girls-quick tongue, and just the out-and-out air of being the hipest thing in the room all reek of Diablo Cody.

While Woody Allen uses his characters to be effectively funny, Diablo uses HER characters to be effectively annoying. I'm sure if Diablo's smart-alleckness was at all as clever as Woody's I wouldn't have any problem with her. But it isn't. It points out the folly of her writing abilities. The other night I watched the pilot for 'The United States of Tara', her new Showtime series, and was met again by an obnoxious Diablo doppelganger, this time being Tara (Toni Collette). I respect Collette far more than Ellen Page when it comes to actresses, so it truly and deeply disappoints me to hear Collette spouting the drivel of Diablo Cody.

What was the point of this article? Well, I suppose to vent some bottled up steam on Diablo Cody, and honor Woody Allen. The latter? Terrific writer. The former? God awful writer. And both for the same reasons.

- Eric T. Voigt, Likes Me Some Woody

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I spend too much time ranting and raving about film that not having a public place to vent about it, or at least a way to read what I rant and rave about in public places, was ridiculous. This is necessary. I figure the rest of my fellow film students, being Kevin Kern, Alex Deaton, Daniel Unser, Miles Robinson, and Nate Daab, in addition to former film student David Sjoberg, wouldn't mind having a place to speak themselves. Thus, here's a blogspot for members of The Cousins Jonas production company. I'll write an actual article once everyone else has accepted the invitation. As for now, Monopoly.

- Eric T. Voigt, Admin By Default