This trailer for 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, which opened Friday in New York and expands at least to Washington this Friday is really one of the most expert ones I have seen in a long time. (I saw it at THE SAVAGES last weekend.)
It’s incredibly effective at selling the movie, without simply aping the movie (in fact, stylistically, it’s nothing like Mungiu’s film). The short shots, the sharp cuts, the sudden blackouts, the flash edits, the constant motion of both the camera and the things within the frame (amped up by the shortness of the shots) and the “zzzzmmmmppppp” sound effect really wind you up for a tension-filled thriller — what the film is, in many respects. But the trailer does this in the only way you can in 2 minutes. And then there’s hose musical thumps on the soundtrack that you realize eventually become … the sound of a heartbeat.
I’ll try to have something to say in the next few days about some of the reviews I’ve read. But in the meantime, here’s what I wrote back in September about 4 MONTHS, which I thoroughly recommend and would be perfectly happy to see atop my 10 Best list this time next year. (I see that Peter Chattaway and Steve Greydanus agree with me, so this isn’t a case of “Victor’s iconoclastic tastes setting him apart from other Christians.” Can there be a better recommendation for an abortion movie than that the Academy snubbed it for Best Foreign Film?)
Hopefully, this won’t be too much of a regular feature, because the day after I put up my Graham Greene post, I read his review of BLACK LEGION and was absolutely floored. The film (Greene accurately calls it “intelligent and exciting, if rather earnest”) stars Humphrey Bogart as a man who loses his job to a foreigner and so joins a group that’s about equal parts American Nazis and the KKK (this is 1936). Anyway, here is Greene on one of the film’s strengths.
It is an intelligent film because the director and script-writer know where the real horror lies. The real horror is not in the black robes and skull emblems, but in the knowledge that these hide the weak and commonplace faces you have met over the counter and minding the next machine. The horror is not in the climax when Taylor shoots his friend dead, but in the earlier moment before the glass when he poses romantically with his first gun; not in the floggings and burnings but in the immature question at the inaugural meeting “if we join up, don’t we get a uniform or something?”, in the secret accounts read to the Managing Director: so much from the sale of uniforms and regalia, so much from the officers’ commissions, so much from revolvers at wholesale rates, total profits for the months, $221,049, 15 cents.
Keep in mind … not only is Greene writing 25 years before Hannah Arendt’s famous “banality of evil” in Eichmann in Jerusalem … he is writing a half-decade before Eichmann committed his crimes. Talk about prescient.
1. Pick a single person past or present who works in the film industry you would like to have dinner with. And tell us why you chose this person.
2. Set the table for your dinner. What would you eat? Would it be in a home or at a restaurant? And what would you wear? Feel free to elaborate on the details.
3. List five thoughtful questions you would ask this person during dinner.
4. When all is said and done, select six bloggers to pass this Meme along to.
5. Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre, so people know the mastermind behind this Meme.
Every year since 1998, I have been invited to participate in Mike D’Angelo’s Retarded Movie-Nerd Survey™ (I am the Pinochet-Admiring Lunatic, in case there was any suspense). This ballot shapes my movie-going and defines the end of the year — here is last year’s survey and my ballot; I’ll put the other years up on a page here overnight.
Mike is counting down the survey’s eight categories (Film, Director, Script, Scene, the four acting categories), starting with Number 20 earlier today (ATONEMENT should have been way higher folks). I spent last weekend putting my ballot together, and I will reveal its contents later, in deference to Mike’s standing request that voters sit on their individual ballots until after the countdown is over.
The less said about HILLARY: THE MOVIE the better. The film by Citizens United, directed by Alan Peterson and co-produced with David Bossie, is basically a talking-heads negative campaign ad extended to infomercial length. Just about everything I wrote about CELSIUS 41:11 a couple of years ago applies here too — nothing wrong with it substantively, but really not very good as a movie.
The film is worth noting for one reason, described in a colleague’s Washington Times articles here and here: it illustrates the basic absurdity of so-called “campaign finance reform,” which attempts to ration political speech during elections, i.e., exactly at the time when it is most needed. Judge Lambeth was right to laugh at the claims that the film is not electioneering and thus ads for it would be covered by campaign-finance restrictions.
“Hillary Clinton is a European Socialist,” Bopp replied. “That is an issue.”
“Which has nothing to do with her campaign?” U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth interjected.
“Not specifically, no,” Bopp replied.
“Once you say, ‘Hillary Clinton is a European Socialist,’ aren’t you saying vote against her?”
Bopp disagreed because the movie did not use the word “vote.”
“Oh, that’s ridic…” Lamberth said, trailing off and ending the line of questioning.
But then that’s what absurdities anti-First-Amendment laws from the post-Watergate rules to McCain-Feingold force political speakers to do — mouth patent sophistries in the name of protecting their free speech rights to their megaphone. When you look at an ad, it will never say “vote against Candidate X” or “tell candidate to vote against Bill Y,” it will say “X is a loathesome, child-molesting deadbeat who hates mom and apple pie?” or “call Congress about Bill Y that would end freedom as we know it and make all our pee smell.” And speakers and judges have to pretend there’s some difference between the two sets of statements, inevitably coming across (see the Michael Moore counter-examples) as arbitrarily as the East German judge in Olympics. Determining permissible speech is exactly what the First Amendment says the government should NOT be in the business of doing (other East German judge examples aside).
Besides, the best Hillary Clinton movie already has been made: Alexander Payne’s ELECTION, as re-edited here (thanks Mark … and no, I hadn’t seen it):
The Oscar nominations were announced earlier today. And here’s my quick reactions.
● Three of the 5 Best Picture nominees are among my 10 Best for the year, and 1 of the 2 that aren’t heads my list of runners-up. Four of 11 — NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, ATONEMENT and THERE WILL BE BLOOD, plus JUNO. And of the other 7 favorites of 2007, 3 are foreign films that one cannot expect to be top dogs at the US industry honors (which is what the Oscars are). And while I don’t think the fifth nominated film (MICHAEL CLAYTON) is that good (5 grade), it’s no CRASH and I don’t think it’s considered widely to be a front-runner to win anyway. So I am almost guaranteed to be reasonably happy on Oscar night — the Best Picture winner is near-certain to be a worthy film.
That. Does. Not. Happen.
My tastes are not the Academy’s and I don’t discriminate against comic clowning (see the film at #2 this year), small-studio/indy films and foreign films. In fact, this has never happened. I did a quick glance over the Best Picture nominees for the last 20 years earlier today, and found that that never in the entire period where I can say I have followed movies closely had 3 of my Top 10 been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.¹ In most of those 20 years prior to today, it’s been 0 or 1. Depending on how you slice my lists, the 100 films nominated for Best Picture Oscar, just 22 (or 24 … see footnote) have grabbed one of the 200 available slots on my 10 Best list — an average of barely 1 per year.
So I congratulate the Academy on my tastes. I hope it’s simply that the best English-language films of the year so clearly declared themselves, that there was no denying them. But undoubtedly part of the reason is that some of the fall prestige or semi-blockbuster films that might have looked like potential Oscar-Baition™, fizzled at the box office and/or generated poor or little critical buzz. After all, it’s not as if the Coen Brothers and PT Anderson have been big AMPAS locks in the past (this is only Wright and Reitman’s second films). I’m thinking most of THE GOLDEN COMPASS and the ELIZABETH sequel, and to a lesser extent SWEENEY TODD and BEOWULF, plus such potential breakout films as BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD and all the anti-war films, from RENDITION and LIONS FOR LAMBS to REDACTED and GRACE IS GONE.
● PERSEPOLIS received ample compensation for its snub in the Foreign-Film race (more on that below) by getting a nomination for Best Animated Film. It’ll lose to RATATOUILLE, of course (not that I’m saying that would be a travesty of judgment). But the nomination at this moment will help PERSEPOLIS, since it was released just a couple of weeks ago in the top few cities and is now spreading around the country. I hope Sony Classics has gold-statue emblazoned posters ready. This is a case of the principal reason the Oscars matter to me … as a way of raising the public profile of small films (even small English-language films) that are good enough and accessible enough to satisfy a broader audience than the one that habitually keeps abreast of such movies. PERSEPOLIS is such a film.
I AM LEGEND (Francis Lawrence, USA, 2007) — 7
I AM LEGEND is 2/3 of a great movie, hence the 7 grade, 2/3 of 10, rounded off.¹
When it’s just Will Smith, a dog and a near-deserted Manhattan, the film is surprisingly enjoyable for someone like myself who rarely goes to gazillion-dollar summer blockbusters² (the genre, despite its mid-December release, into which I AM LEGEND seems to fit at a glance). Smith plays the last man on earth — the remaining homo sapiens having either died from a virus created as a cancer treatment or been turned into flesh-eating beasts who disintegrate in the sunlight. He puts out signals for remaining humans, tries to find a cure and rents videos by day, when it’s safe.
The great pre-credits scene was so economical in setting up the story premise and the setting, that it put me in mind somewhat of Michael Haneke, who made a similar-in-premise film in TIME OF THE WOLF. Director Francis Lawrence uses downtown Manhattan mostly as negative space (like in this photo) and of darkness, at once isolating and oppressing Smith — an unusual strength for a music-video director. Indeed, not until afterward did I realize I was basically watching a vampire movie.
There are moments of shocking recognition and existential loneliness, like Smith in a video store, that you don’t see in splosionfests but mark I AM LEGEND as something different. For most of the movie’s length, Smith only has a dog and mannequins to relate to, but he does a magnificent job of portraying half-sanity, half-insanity without obvious “cue/switch” moments. He feeds his social nature as man in the only unsatisfactory and unnatural ways available, like Chaplin making a gourmet feast out of a shoe. Smith is the film, really; and I hope AMPAS and Skandie voters [PLUG] remember him.
My favorite moment was from this scene, where Smith has just escaped a trap but fallen on his knife and stabbed himself — while his dog, relieved to see him, licks up a storm on his face. The contrast among the dog’s joy, Smith’s agony, Smith’s keeping face and the objective threat of the moment is brilliantly achieved. And who ever thought you’d see an action scene in which the chief protagonist is a sunset? Indeed, other than the Gradually Expanding Flashbacks of Smith evacuating his family, I AM LEGEND never steps wrong in its first hour (the scenes are fine in themselves, but the cliched structuring device is not). But then it does.
SPOILER WARNING: If I AM LEGEND had ended with the scene of a kamikaze attack where Smith goes out at night to avenge his dead dog, armed with lights just to kill as many of the mf-ers as he could and ended with his finally being overwhelmed by sheer numbers, we’d be talking a Top 10 Contender. But as that scene ends, the film goes to hell, courtesy of a Braga Ex Machina. My issue isn’t adaptation-itis, because I went in ignorant of the eponymous source novella (though I understand this is where I AM LEGEND deviates from it). But rather that these new characters betrays the premise that Smith is the last man alive; it’s like having Sisyphus’s rock stay at the summit. Worse, I AM LEGEND then goes on, with a quick diversion into a silly rant about theodicy, to contrive a happy ending that doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Ask yourself: how would it be possible for this isolated community to use this “cure.”
¹ Actually, not really. The start isn’t a 10 and the end isn’t a 0, but it did work out that way.
² I only went to see I AM LEGEND because I owed a friend. My alternative, given what was playing after 11pm, was ALIEN-v-PREDATOR 2.
ITEM! My site gets results. At TIFF 2006, I wrote in a review of Patrice Leconte’s MY BEST FRIEND:
One more thing. Patrice … I am recommending your latest film. Now can we please get MONSIEUR HIRE (the movie that won you my eternal esteem) out on North American home video in something other than an out-of-print pan-and-scan VHS. thanksbud
I therefore officially take credit for MONSIEUR HIRE’s coming out on North American DVD in November, which I had long been waiting for because it was the first foreign film I saw more than once in a theater. I bought it first day it was available and watched it a couple of weeks later. I remember being utterly beguiled back in 1990 by the notion that a snooty subtitled movie in an incomprehensible language could be such an accessible, watchable, tense thriller. So tense indeed, that it gave me an entirely pleasurable lesson as a young cinephile about patience (it obviously wasn’t a thrill-ride like THE TERMINATOR). But I hadn’t seen HIRE for more than a decade but, I found, it stood up, as good as ever (and Leconte has never since come close to it).
The comparisons with Hitchcock and REAR WINDOW were obvious (both movies center on a man who looks out a window and witnesses a crime, though Hire is a suspect while LB Jeffries is not), but HIRE didn’t suffer by the comparison, rather it was enriched by it. Indeed, to use the REAR WINDOW template, HIRE begins (so to speak, not literally) with the shot when Thorvald breaks the 4th wall and looks at Jeff/the audience. This is one of the most unsettling moments in movie history, but HIRE takes it for granted. WINDOW is about voyeurism against someone unwitting; HIRE is the post-modern remake, about voyeurism on someone who knows, and Sandrine Bonnaire knows how to play up her beauty without coming across slutty or affected.
Michael Nyman’s score, which is not as ubiquitous as the trailer below makes it seem (my memory was faulty on that count), remains one of my all-time favorites, ideal for this kind of subtle low-key, and ultimately sad movie about a psychologically-downtrodden man who gives up everything in a bid for love. If you can resist this trailer, you are hereby banned from reading this site:
ITEM! I hope to get more results from recommending another French movie from the early 90s that I fear may go down the memory hole. Back in 1991, I saw this twisted, black semi-comedy three times in theaters and it topped my Ten Best list. I have never even seen it crop up on TV since, and it was only released on North American DVD this past summer (with a very misleading box … this picture I put up here is the theatrical poster from back then). None of the principal name credits at the IMDb page here meant anything to me. Director Jerome Boivin has worked near-exclusively on French TV since. And the lead “actor” has had a hard time getting roles since … because he is a dog. C’est BAXTER … mefiez-vous du chien qui pense.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2007) — 9
Paul Thomas Anderson wears his influences and inspirations on his sleeves. His previous three films have all operated under the heavy shadow of Martin Scorsese (BOOGIE NIGHTS), Robert Altman (MAGNOLIA) or Jonathan Demme (PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE). His latest film, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, though it has other antecedents, seems like Anderson’s attempt to do a remix job on Stanley Kubrick. Ya gotta say this much for PT — he only steals from the best.
And right from the very start. The very first shot of BLOOD plonks us into 2001 territory — a rocky landscape in untouched nature, accompanied by music that so sounds like Gyorgy Ligeti’s famously-strange dissonant modernism (You can hear it as the film’s Web site starts to load) that I was surprised to learn later that it was not Ligeti. Instead, the virtuoso score is all-original work by Jonny Greenwood, who just as often turned out themes in completely different styles like Bernard Hermann with the high-pitched fast strings here, Michael Nyman with the legato weeping-strings passages here and here, and some of Giovanni Fusco’s work for Antonioni here. (The soundtrack is an obvious steal at any price here.) Other sound touches that Stan the Man would have been proud of include the impressionistic use of silence on the soundtrack. The explosion that deafens a character in BLOOD reminded me of the deadness of space in 2001, and its blending into sound as Dave comes back into Being and re-enters creation on the Discovery.
Like in 2001, a lengthy, wordless sequence of maybe 20-25 minutes begins the proceedings, only instead of apes escaping nature through the discovery of tools, we see a man, Daniel Plainview, prospect for oil. He starts out as a tradesman, a genuine wildcatter before he really becomes a “businessman.” In this sequence, the basic threads, setup and motifs are laid out. The trailer at the film’s site gives you more of an impression that Day-Lewis is imitating John Huston in CHINATOWN. But that’s mostly voice — it gives no indication of either pitch or body language,where the primary influence is Jack Nicholson from THE SHINING, particularly when he cracks up near the end, something Noah Cross never does in CHINATOWN. And appropriately, Lewis in the dialog-free beginning also had more of Nicholson and also the feral quality of the 2001 apes. Kubrick always wanted Big, conceptual performances from his actors and Day-Lewis can do that without collapsing into caricature better than anyone today (I weep to think what he could have done under Kubrick’s direction). It’s no surprise to me than Dan Sallitt, with whom I’ve butted heads on “Kubrick acting” before, didn’t care for this movie.
JUNO (Jason Reitman, USA, 2007) — 8
JUNO began as an at-festival add to my Toronto schedule (based on sky-high buzz filtering in from the Telluride Festival) and the subject of conflicting advice — Noel Murray was convinced I’d hate it, based on my famously low tolerance for Indiewood emo quirkfests; Josh Rothkopf thought I would like it, noting that I’d loved Reitman’s THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and adding that he’d want to discuss the film’s portrayal of abortion with me. But the only time I could see it was only one hour after the start of ATONEMENT. I got a ticket anyway planning to leave ATONEMENT midway through if it wasn’t working. Well … that plan to see JUNO didn’t work out. So, I saw it last week … and Josh is correct. I even upgraded the film from a 7 to an 8 sitting in my memory and after a conversation with a colleague at work (more on that shortly).
To state the obvious stuff: Diablo Canyon’s script about an unexpectedly pregnant teen girl who searches for the perfect parents for her unborn child is more than just very funny. It’s also smart in how teens talk — constantly smart-alecky, but also self-deprecating, i.e., smart-aleckness applied to oneself. And that’s the other key to the film’s success. Juno (unlike, say, Enid in GHOST WORLD, the kind of movie Noel knew I hate) is a *lovable* character because her wit isn’t just bile directed out at a world she looks down on as beneath her.
In fact, Juno may be the most memorably lovable character in an American movie since Marge in FARGO, another pregnant woman (though pregnancy is merely a fact about Marge, not the movie’s (surface) subject like here). Like Frances McDormand, Ellen Page’s open-faced performance creates a fundamentally good person, albeit a very sassy one, and Page’s ease in tossing off all the sarcastic barbs in Canyon’s script erases all hint of Hallmark saccharinity. Nothing here about motherhood as a sacred calling or anything like that, but I would go so far as to say Juno is what Generation Y virtue looks like.