Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Never Let Me Go by Mark Romanek

Anyone who knows me will tell you I love science fiction, and I especially love science fiction when it is clever, new, and refreshing. This brings me to Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go. Now I may have started this wrong by classifying Never Let Me Go as a sci-fi, but to a certain degree I have to admit that part of it makes me love it slightly more than I already did. As this review continues, I am not sure how much will be a spoil and how much won't.

Never Let Me Go is the delicate tale of an alternate history where cloning was discovered early in the 1900s and the clones were used to save the lives of the naturally born. The film follows three of these donors as they go to a school specifically for donors, fall in love, grow up, have hearts broken, and move towards completing their donations. It is a story about characters whom the audience at first feels sorry for, but goes on to realize these characters are living life the same way any other person does. It is a beautiful and tragic and intelligent story.

The film stars Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley as the three leads. Each actor has grown into their own since breaking into cinema, but, as she did in An Education, Carey Mulligan pulls the film along. It is rare to find an actress so in control of her performance, of every inch of her body that she can control every scene with a flick of the eye or tweak of the lips. Her Kathy H is the both full of hurt and beauty and complexity, it is another great performance. Knightley and Garfield are both incredible in their performances and support the head performance of Mulligan perfectly. This is definitely their film and relies so much on their interactions, and they delivery beautifully taking the audience on a personal journey of heartache and discovery rare in any sci-fi these days.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World by Edgar Wright

There is this great misfortune in the world of cinema that the greatest entertainments are often overlooked. People tend to watch relatively tasteless and awful films and a great film like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World suffers at the box office. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the story of one boys journey through the deadly baggage of his new girlfriend. In this film the baggage happens to be seven evil exes who fight and try to kill Pilgrim in video game styled fight sequences.

It is the great joy of this film that it is so informed by our contemporary culture with references to games like Street Fighter to sitcoms like Seinfeld. The film becomes an inventive exercise in style that maintains its large heart and delightful story. The strength beneath all of this is, of course, the direction. Some movies are writer's movies, some are actor's movies, and some are very much a showcase of directorial style. Scott Pilgrim displays Edgar Wrights typical flair for fast cutting, clever dialogue, and performances that are perfectly skewed to capture character. As mentioned before there is a brilliant reference to Seinfeld in which the entire scene takes place in a kitchen, has the soundtrack of Seinfeld, and even the sitcom laugh track which results in one of the more inspired and hilarious scenes in modern movies.

Something must be said, too, about Michael Cera in this film. Often seen as a one note player, it is refreshing to see someone pulling the right amount of quirk and heart out of Cera in the way Wright does. Michael Cera is perfect in the role of Scott Pilgrim and brings a great center to the character allowing the audience to relate and empathize with him even through all the over-the-top wacky antics that happen in the film that might take away from a weaker film. All in all Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a great, often perfect, film that represents all the silly fascinations of our generation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Inception by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan is one of those few directors who consistently makes inventive, bold films while still working within the studio system. Nolan is the man who has brought us such high concept studio films as The Prestige and the blockbuster The Dark Knight, and here with Inception he continues to wow audiences by crafting an audacious, wild, and original film that dares to remind you why we watch movies at all.

Inception is a film about a world where we have figured out not only how to infiltrate dreams, but to create them and share them in order to steal secrets from the unconscious mind. The film follows Leonard DiCaprio as Cobb, a man who cannot return to America for a crime he claims to not have committed and uses the dream sharing espionage in order to hopefully find a way home. The rest is a wonderfully detailed web for you to unravel and I will leave you to it if you are one of the six people who hasn't seen it.

The wonder of Inception is the way it weaves a seemingly convoluted narrative into something wonderful and fresh. It uses its characters and wondrous uses of montage to deliver exposition while also detailing and building its world and characters. What many people will continue to talk about is Nolan's visuals within the film, which granted are some of the most astounding and breathtaking things seen on screen since The Matrix came about. People will talk endlessly of the "hallway scene" as shown above or the way the world of paris seems to roll upon itself. Inception delivers on its promising premise by building all of its spectacle on the grounded performances of its actors, most notably to me are Marion Cotillard and Cillian Murphy, though many will point of DiCaprio, not unjustly. Go see it and figure out what the hype is about.

Toy Story 3 by Lee Unkrich

The Toy Story series one of those truly special franchises in film history much like the Lord of the Rings franchise or Back to the Future franchise. It is a series that has been made better with each addition, with each new character it has added depth. Now here we stand at the third and presumably final film in the series where we get to rejoin some of our most beloved film heroes in a story that will bring them to the edge of their lives and force them into the deepest and most profound place Pixar has dared to go with its child friendly stories.

The story goes that Woody and his pals are coming to terms with Andy growing up and now moving out when it dawns on them that without him they have no purpose. Through a series of mishaps the toys wind up donated to a daycare center where they are welcomed with open arms, that is, until they are booted to a toddler playroom where their days can be counted as torturous. Woody leaves to find Andy, the others stay and are forced to fight against the other toys as they fight to accept what their lives are and what it means to have purpose. The film eventually builds to a big reunion and one of the darkest, but philosophically satisfying climaxes in any childs film to date. Don't worry though, it is still a Pixar film.

I have grown up with the Toy Story franchise, I still remember seeing the original film in theatres with my mom and getting one of the toy story toys from Burger King right after. I remember empathizing with Andy as he cherished his toys as his best friends. I remember watching Toy Story 2 and feeling appalled that Jesse's owner would leave her like she did. Watching Toy Story 3 I remember the first day I left my parents home to move into college and had to say goodbye to all my childhood memories. I get Andy, I get his story, and I get his toys' story because in the end it is also our story. What makes Toy Story 3 great is that it uses a childs plaything to comment on our culture's constant desire to find "purpose" in life in lieu of being with the ones we love. I dare you not to tear up at the end of this film as you see your entire life played out by these plastic things we so carelessly cast away when we are "too old" for them. Easily one of the best Pixar films and definitely one of the absolute best of the year.

Welcome to 2010

So it has been awhile since I have posted on here, but I will be updating with reviews of the films I have truly loved so far this year and hope to maintain my reviews through the remainder of the year.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Surprising Performances in Surprising Places: Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns

In the early part of the 90s visionary director Tim Burton tried his hand at adapting Batman to the big screen. He brought to life two films that, sadly, have been forgotten in the presence of Christopher Nolan's gritty reboots. Burton created two films brimming with gothic vision a whimsy that he seemed to really understand what a comic book adaptation is before the big superhero fad of the past 10 years, it's a shame that people dismiss his films so easily. This all to bring attention to Burton's second Batman film. Batman Returns is the continuing story of Bruce Wayne in his self proclaimed mission to save Gotham City from the wretches who inhabit it. This time, however, instead of one villain in The Joker we have two in Penguin and Catwoman. The film itself is a delightful and wonderful adaptation, but the real gem here is Catwoman, or should I say Selena Kyle, or better yet Michelle Pfeiffer. Catwoman as a character has always been one of the more innately complex villains in Batman's rogues gallery. Catwoman has never been a real enemy of Batman, just someone working in opposition to, a foil to him if you will, but in this incarnation her alter ego Selena Kyle is falling in love wth Bruce Wayne, thus the true drama of Batman Returns. While in many cases Catwoman, and more importantly Selena Kyle, could have been played as a sex object who seduces Batman it is Pfeiffer who gives true life and depth to Kyle. Pfeiffer plays Kyle and Catwoman as a conflicted woman slowly losing her grip on the person she wants to be. Pfeiffer has those wonderfully revealing eyes that capture every inch of emotion so that no one can miss it without her saying a word, and in those eyes she brings so much to the screen. In this film Pfeiffer becomes the definition of a scene stealer, there isn't one moment of her screen time that the viewer isn't infatuated with her over anyone else, including Batman. While Batman Returns is a good film, in many ways its wonderful, its still a superhero movie with all of its comic book-ness intact, there is no reason to expect a performance at the caliber that Pfeiffer delivers. There is one scene where Bruce and Selena are dancing and they both realize they are also batman and catwoman, Pfeiffer whispers to Bruce "Does this mean we have to fight now?" and in that one whisper she devastates the viewer with the sudden twist of her heart as she deals with this revelation. Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman is a surprising performance in a surprising place.

Surprising Performances in Surprising Places: Rosie O'Donnell in Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy is a nickelodeon film from the 90s that rode on the success of children's novels by the same name. The film itself if very typical childrens fare, but what it lacks in invention it gains in a myriad of able child actors and a surprisingly grounded performance by Rosie O'Donnell. O'Donnell here plays Golly, Harriets nanny of sorts. Golly is the kind of mentor character we see in most movies where she is given lines of insight to speak into young Harriet's life and the two have an endearing exchange of the poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter." While many of these lines and much of this character could have been sacrificed to triviality, it is O'Donnell that gives her character presence. Ms. O'Donnell looks at young Harriet with such undying parental affection that if you didn't see Harriets mother you might think that Golly was her mother. She is more than a mentor and we see this in just how O'Donnell carries her character and how she delivers her lines. It is also O'Donnell that takes what could have been a tirelessly sappy character and makes her a strong person who, even to this day, I wish was my nanny to guide me through the trials of elementary school. Is her performance oscar worthy? Perhaps not, but she takes a childrens movie filled with fluff and gives it a sense of gravitas, she gives a surprising performance in a surprising place.