Archive for October, 2010

Film Reviews!: Never Let Me Go

October 28, 2010

The next time that you find yourself in the middle of a movie, knowing EXACTLY what’s going to happen next and the exact beats that the screenwriter is cultivating to get you there, just take solace in the fact that every so often we are given a movie like Never Let Me Go.  I went into this screening knowing nothing at all about the movie beforehand.  I had abstained from trailers, internet gossip, the whole nine yards.  I knew that the movie was primarily produced in the UK and nothing in this movie relishes in that of standard conventions.

Mark Romanek is given the helm as director and this work marks his third foray into full-length feature films.  The hallmark of Romanek’s work is that it always manages to invoke a sort of gritty, heartless, almost cruel realism that few directors have the capacity to engineer in their productions.  One hour Photo, shot in 2002 and starring Robin Williams, is a perfect example of Romanek’s style and how he manages to make the film’s aesthetics as central to the story as the script itself.  Known primarily for his expansive music video catalog, however, further examples of Romanek’s creative touch as it transcends mood and tone are best referenced in Weezer’s El Scorcho,  Fiona Apple’s Criminal, and Johnny Cash’s Hurt.  His incredible eye for detail and attention to not only the undertones of the story, but the overtones and all the tones in the middle, are what guides the images he captures to broadcast such a heightened sense of understanding.  Romanek truly knows how to tell a story through images and an overall aesthetic, which is exactly how Never Let Me Go manages to accomplish so much with so little in terms of production or back story.

One of the greatest accomplishments of this film (and there are many) is it’s ability to instill an overall sense of dread and hopelessness in the audience. And while many movies have the capacity to instill an audience with the equivalent mood to collaborate with the tone of their film, few flicks do so in such a masterful way as Never Let Me Go.  For it’s not the story that creates such an ethereal sense of abandon in the audience (though the story IS quite bleak), nor the dialogue or the superb writing.  The unending tone of dismay that Never Let Me Go so successfully conveys is explicitly broadcast through the heartlessness and futility found in the day-to-day lives of the movies characters, and of the film’s alternate world’s atmosphere that it has completely fabricated.  Fair warning, a bit of background into the film’s plot and some spoilers will be required to further flesh out my analysis.

Never Let Me Go follows the lives of three clones in an alternate version of Britain in which, as early as the mid-sixties, clones were regularly grown and harvested for their organs.  The story follows this love triangle of clones as they are brought up in an orphanage through their adolescence and  into their adulthood as they begin to be harvested for their organs (clones are kept alive for as many as up to three ‘donations’ on average).  The story isn’t about rebellion.  It’s not even about passive resistance, or really any kind of resistance at all.  The characters make a single attempt at preventing their own demise only to be told calmly, cooly, and in a warm, open environment that there is no such thing as a delay or an extension on life.  Once your number is called, it’s called.  So, while the characters do eventually have a mental break down, they never actually attempt to escape the fate that is bestowed upon them.  This, amongst multiple other tonal impressions, is how the inescapable sense of despairing fate envelopes the entire film and manages to drape itself over the audience, by proxy.

And this overbearing sense of dismal loss and submission does so much more than simply play into the movie’s central theme.  It helps to elaborate on the symbolism and specific messages that the film looks to project in its alternative universe.  For example, despite the fact that the characters in Romanek’s most recent endeavor have roughly half the life-span of most people, they still experience the exact same trials and tribulations, still wrestle with the same concepts of life’s futility, of love lost and unrequited, and dealing with reality as you are confined to it.  The characters in Never Let Me Go blindly accept the life they have been born into with little to no grievances, much as most do.  The story, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, works as a beautiful metaphor for the short lease we all have on life, and the way most of us waste our lives striving for mundane things or blindly accepting our fate.  Had the main characters in the story ever ventured out farther than an occasional trek into town or if they had even questioned things more than once, perhaps they could have escaped the early deaths that awaited them.

Finally, it needs to be noted that the acting and directing in Never Let Me Go help to translate the story beautifully, as well, with Kiera Knightly playing one of the most unlikeable-yet-understandable, conniving characters in recent memory.  Her portrayal of the back-stabbing Ruth rings so true as one of her sole motivations in life is to keep from being lonely.  Andrew Garfield continually reminds me why I am excited for the Spider-Man reboot, with his calm and impassioned portrayal of Tommy.  And Carey Mulligan easily gives the strongest performance of the film as the demure and complacent Kathy.  It’s certainly worth noting, as well, that the child actors in this film put on excellent performances, in addition to the star-power inherent in Mulligan, Garfield, and Knightly.

Never Let Me Go’s expert discussion of some of the most existential, overarching concepts in humanity makes it a textual masterpiece that comes alive through Romanek’s exquisite ability to create an entire universe through tone and atmosphere.  Without wasting a minute of screen time and without adding any superfluous content, which, in effect, usually ends up taking away from the original story, Romanek  and screenwriter Alex Garland paint a beautiful, haunting, and discouraging portrait of how often life is wasted on complacency and fear.

Performances: 92/100

Cinematography/Aesthetics: 85/100

Score: 67/100

Script: 88/100

Final: 81/100

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Slideshow Sundays! 10/24/10

October 26, 2010

SUREEEEEEEEEEEE this Slideshow Sunday came on Tuesday, but I never said I was good at being punctual.  Onto the pics!

Conan comes back to television on November 8th on TBS and tickets have been on sale for the last few months for November and December.  Oh yeah, and when I say ‘on sale’ I actually mean ‘for free.’  Le sigh, I miss L.A.

I found this shot on Iheartchaos.com.  It’s the 8th version of Doctor Who, Paul McGann, dressed as HE believes the 8th Doctor SHOULD have, rather than how he actually did.  McGann also states that he would be more than willing to suit back up as the Doctor if the BBC ever had any desire to meet the 8th with the 11th Doctor in a multi-Doctor episode.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp doin’ what they do best, bein’ creepy.

I feel as though I should have a Bill Murray pic in every edition of Slideshow Sundays.  I’ll have my secretary get right on that.

A young Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green in My Stepmother is an Alien.  Who knew that these two would later reunite on Buffy?  Oh, and both be superstars in the industry.  That, too.

Alice Glass doing what she does best, rocking like a 200 pound man-o-muscle while actually weighing 90 pounds.  PS best fashion sense EVER.  SER-iously.

 

Slideshow Sundays! 10/17/10

October 17, 2010

Hello, chidlers!  I wanted to start assigning days to certain posts to keep me posting on a more regular basis.  So welcome to Slideshow Sundays!  Much like people-watching at the mall, the internet is great for viewing random images that will do you no good in the outside world.  Slideshow Sundays will be my showcase of my favorite images that I have found over the past week!  The pic above is easily my recent favorite, depicting Regis Philbin and Paul Reubens robbing the M&M’s store in Times Square.  Amazing?  Of course.  ANNNNNDDDD we’re off!

What’s the report on this? (See what I did there?)  I gleaned this from The Comedy Store’s Tumblr.  It’s everyone’s favorite fashionably-biased pundit, Stephen Colbert, in his early years.

Bill Murray at the Scream Awards.  I took this from Suicide Blonde’s tumblr.  It feels as though Murray is trying to make a statement, maybe about what a Ghostbusters union over twenty years later would look like…

I’ve got Matt Smith and Doctor Who on the mind.  The sixth season is currently in production and should be airing on the BBC in the Spring.  (!)

Russell Brand.  Oh the man-crushes I have.  There is a mish-mash of entertainers who I want to base my career upon.  This man, for his style alone, is in that category.

I honestly wish I could remember where this pic came from.  I THINK I found it on someone’s DeviantArt, but it’s easily one of my favorite fanpics I’ve ever seen.  Great representation of two of my ALL-TIME favorite antagonists.

I have often woken up to this picture when I open my laptop first thing in the morning, and it seems to always comfort me.  Alice Glass has become more of an enigmatic figure than an actual person in my mind, much like Audrey, only the exact opposite.  Alice reminds me to hustle, hustle, hustle, with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a total disregard for my body and/or future.

Film Reviews!: Let Me In

October 8, 2010

Despite the fact that I am an unabashed opponent of 90% of all remakes done in cinema, there is occasionally an actual, valid excuse for producing one.  Whether time has lapsed and a story of yesteryear feels as though it can benefit from being reincarnated in the present pop-culture landscape (Ocean’s Eleven), or a director has been saving a passion project for years that he feels can only be served best by his own, personal spin on the tale (The Fly), there are reasonable means for endeavoring a remake of a production.  Unfortunately, Let Me In does not contain a single one of them. 

Let Me In is an American remake of the Swedish film entitled Let the Right One In, which was an adaptation of the Swedish novel of the same name.  The best way one can describe the original is as the most dark, disturbing, and grotesque, yet PASSIONATE love story you will ever see.  The production is so smooth and engrossing, you don’t even realize the severity of the stakes and the absurdity of the entire nature of the story until long after you’ve left the theatre.  In the most succinct, secretive nutshell that I can keep it, a scrawny little boy, Oskar, befriends a young girl, Eli, who recently moved into the apartment across the hall from him.  She is shrouded in awkward secrecy and her only relative appears to be her much older father.  Throughout his blossoming relationship with Eli, Oskar comes to stand up for himself and learns to choose his own path in life, in regards to love, self-fulfillment, and destiny.

The story is fantastic and is further bolstered by the overall mood, tone, and acting styles of the cast involved.  An overbearing, depressing schematic is draped over the entirety of the production, making all the little beats of magic and wonder that coalesce between the two, young lovers all the more enchanting.  There is nary a negative word to be said about the picture, other than the fact that it tries to bite off a bit more than it can chew from the novel (Pun quota: filled).  However, one obvious detriment to the film’s success (not detriment to the actual film itself, mind you, but detriment to its financial SUCCESS) is that it was produced in Swedish with English subtitles.  Heaven forbid.

Flash forward to two, yes, I said TWO, years later when American director Matt Reeves decided to remake this literary adaptation for obvious reasons…obvious reasons, like…like the fact that the original isn’t in English…and that the original requires non-Swedish speakers…to read…Le Sigh.  While a bit snarky (believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, I CAN be snarky) it’s the honest truth.  Reeves’ remake is an admitted (Reeves has been quoted numerous times on his desire to ‘retain’ quintessential aspects of the film, “So my intention was to take the story and to, as much as possible, honor that story and tell it but in an American context.” (Bloody Disgusting interview)) almost-shot-for-shot rediscovery of the original which is an astounding TWO years old.  While I never condone ABSOLUTE, shot-for-shot recreations of past works (what, honestly then, is the point?), I will acquiesce that I would at least be able to see the merit in recreating an absolute classic shot-for-shot if it was decades old and the crew felt as though modern-day technology could truly benefit the new production.  This, however, is simply not the case in the example of Let Me In.  Modern cinematic techniques have SURELY not so-greatly surpassed those of the ancient era of 2008.  In fact, parts of this remake feel technically clunkier than it’s former.  The CGI in almost every scene that’s laden with it feels completely out-of-place and off the mark.  Rather than letting the film marinate in the simplicity and natural ebb and flow of the reality it has set up, just as the original did, Let Me In forcefully inserts scenes comprised primarily of CGI and effects that simply make the entire production come to a screeching halt.  In one of the first scenes in which we find out just WHAT Eli is (or Abby, in the American version, which is something else that will be discussed in a minute) the tone, the feel, and the entire gravitas of the film as a whole becomes completely stunted as what was a beautifully-paced production takes an immediate right turn and begins to jerk the audience around in what can only best be described as a cheap thrill-scare.  Further, every time that Eli’s ‘secret’ is expounded upon from that point forward (I’m doing my best to not uncover any full-on spoilers in this review, I feel like I can successfully vivisect this movie without ruining the first) some form of awful CG or some equally garish effect is utilized that feels completely anachronistic to the rest of the story’s flow.   It’s as though the studio saw the gorgeously crafted Swedish version and said “While we obviously HAVE to change this movie into English, another added improvement would be making it more DYNAMIC!  YEAH!  Why does everything have to be so blase and pouty?  ‘Boo hoo, I’m a little weak boy with no friends!’  We need more action, more epicness, more LEAPING!!!”  And that’s the stuff Hollywood failures are made out of.

All those past indiscretions aside, the few liberties that Reeves’ does take with his remake just act as glaring reminders as to how much better the original is and how frivolous this entire escapade was to begin with.  The few things that have literally been changed for American audiences are that the main characters names have been changed from Oskar to Owen, and Eli to Abby, and the story now takes place in Los Almos, New Mexico rather than Stockholm, Sweden.  That, my friends, is basically it.  There is nothing else to it.  And once you watch the two films back-to-back and realize that other than those facts, very little has been changed, you become very, very angry.

My largest arguments are not that the film, in and of itself, is bad.  It certainly is not.  Taking almost the ENTIRETY of its cues from its excellent Swedish source material, Reeves’ adaptation comes out as a fairly beautiful portrayal.  The acting is actually quite good in most areas (though not as strong as the original…I’m not gonna let this go) and the overall tone, pacing, and feel, when not broken up by unnecessary, ridiculous effects, is kept intact.  Additionally, there is one plot element that is left out of the American version that actually feels warranted, not because it doesn’t work, but because time simply does not permit its involvement (if I go any further, we will be in spoiler country, so I’ll just say that it deals with gender).  The film, overall, is ‘good.’  But the question that keeps plaguing me is how in the world ‘good’ merited a $20 million remake two years after the fact.  The subtleties and changes of the flick are so minute and redundant when aligned with the original that it hardly deserves the cash that it has been attributed.  What I’ve been wrestling with since this project was announced, was how something as trite as this was allowed to be produced when that $20 million (which I’m sure doesn’t take into account Prints and Advertising) could have been so much better allotted to either another lower budget, ORIGINAL flick, two VERY low budget flicks, or ten SUPER-LOW budget mumblecore movies.  In the grand scheme of things it’s all very disheartening, and I think I can sum it up perfectly with a direct quote from one of the producers of Hammer Films, one of the partners of the production studio responsible for the American version.  When asked by Fearnet.com what Matt Reeves was bringing to the table in terms of his adaptation of the film, Chief Simon Oakes spewed that:

I think the original is fascinating in its exposition, but at the same time there is a doggerel element to it in terms of the mood and setting. So I think it takes it out into a more accessible setting. I think perhaps there is a little more characterization in terms of the two central characters. To be perfectly frank with you, this is making an astonishing story – which however hard you might try or I might try to get people to go see the original, they’re never going to do it – more accessible to a much larger audience. I think perhaps, again, the roughness of the original is great – and when I talk about faithful, I don’t want to put words in Matt’s mouth, because he is the creative filmmaker here, and we very much protect that with our directors – but I think it’ll just have perhaps a little sheen to it that makes it a little more accessible I think.

So the ADMITTED intention of the production company of this film is to make the film more ‘accessible’ to a ‘wider’ audience.  They wanted to give it a ‘sheen’ so as to clean up the ‘roughness’ of the original.  And people wonder why I have so much hatred and cynicism towards the mainstream.

Performances: 78/100

Cinematography/Aesthetics: 62/100

Score: 68/100

Script: 80/100

Final: 78/100

P.S.  I realize that after that scathing review I am giving the film an incredibly high score.  This is because I disagreed with the film FUNDAMENTALLY, however, as a film, most of the technical aspects are still pretty tight, especially since it takes so much from the original which I would give an even HIGHER score.  Le sigh.

Film Reviews!: The Social Network

October 6, 2010

Hello all my shway-keteers!  (wow, that needs work).  I know it’s been a LONG time but I’m back in what I THINK is “the saddle” and I’m ready to start the bloggin’ once again.  I’ve decided to add reviews to the site for a very significant reason:  I think it’s all I have left to offer.  After I made the startling discovery of what the kids are calling “the Twitter,” I realized that anything that I could want to share or distribute over the internet could be done in 140 characters or less.  Film, however, my most lasting love in this life, yearns to be discussed.  Film and television and entertainment, as a whole, cannot be critiqued or evaluated in passing.  It needs elaboration.  So I’m going to start throwing the proverbial hat in the critic’s ring, in the hopes of expressing what I feel is (terribly) wrong with cinema (maybe even some things that are right.  Yay?)  My approach is simple.  I will discuss the piece in general, its flaws, positives, indifferent moments, then I will rate it on a scale of 100.  100 being a perfect movie, 50 being an average movie and 0 being one of the worst movies ever made, a completely inconceivable pile of filth that didn’t deserve the print it was delivered on.  So don’t think of it as a grading scale, think of it as a full, 100 point bell curve.  AAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNDDDDD we’re off!!!

David Fincher has a knack for making mainstream movies both beautiful and relevant.  This is a skill that is absolutely paramount to acquire in the industry as Hollywood generally ends up splitting the bill during the fiscal year, funding a plethora of movies geared solely towards profit margins, as well as a more meager slate of flicks designed to seduce the academy towards the end of the year in order to keep the studio in a ‘respectable’ light. His filmography reads of some of the most successful films (both financially and critically) in the past decade.  Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and now, The Social Network.  The through-line in most of his work, is an attention to pace and fluidity.  Fincher is nothing if not masterfully-kinetic.  He can take a dialogue-deluged script and shuttle it along at speeds reminiscent of Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, while STILL maintaining the story’s integrity, imagine that!

A fairly base hypothesis for why the man has such a mastery over his craft would lie in the years of time he spent as a music video director for roughly ten years from the late 80’s to the early 90’s.  Being forced to tell a story in around three minutes with little to no dialogue set to music is a task that will develop a sense of energy in your work.  Just ask any film school grad.  And while these are all simply wild hypotheses, I seem to be able to feel fully validated in them as The Social Network exists entirely almost as one long, beautifully shot music video.  That’s not to take anything away from the movie, necessarily, it just speaks to the overall tone that Fincher has set, and I want to believe that that tone is set from an intentional, psychological place.

My generation, one of the very first to basically grow up with Facebook (To date myself, I first signed on to Facebook my senior year of high school.  I was attending a university during high school so I had a .edu e-mail address, allowing me access), seems to have become defined by our succinct attention spans and constant yearning for diversity and multiplicity in all facets of life.  We work fast, we play fast, we rest fast, and if something isn’t up to our immediately-gratified standards, we have no problem trimming away the fat, throwing away the fluff, and digging in to something else, something more immediate, something more enticing.  The internet, the very overarching topic of discussion in The Social Network, has given us every bit of information and ability to create/interact with the rest of the world.

And this is precisely how Fincher’s latest endeavor feels.  It feels like a 120-minute-long music video hurtling along at a 3-minute video’s pace.  And yet, it never feels sloppy.  It never feels forced.  Fincher is able to fully realize his world, in his time, on his terms within this seemingly expanded frame.  Of course, he also had all the pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly together, as well.  Trent Reznor’s score is a spot-on parallel for the action onscreen.  Every feeling, memory, and discussion caught on film seems to be perfectly buoyed by Reznor’s techno-tronic score.  While they highlight the different moments of each beat perfectly, they also manage to retain a sense of universality and act as a thread throughout the entirety of the production in order to keep the pace marching forward.  The overall emotion and ‘feel’ of the film itself is, ironically, conveyed through one of the most mechanized, digital scores of all time.  And yet, it works.  It perfectly works.

The cast of this film is quite impressive, as well.  Jesse Eisenberg has yet to disappoint me as he plays an emotionally disjointed version of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg.  Eisenberg does a perfect job of bringing screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s interpretation of Zuckerberg to full-form as an emotionally misguided, driven, slightly misogynistic genius who sees the world in less than a three-dimensional sense but, instead, more of a binary code.   Andrew Garfield, our Godsend of a new Peter Parker, plays Eduardo Saverin.  Zuckerberg’s only true friend and the start-up CFO of thefacebook.com.  Garfield handles himself so well in the part of the ironically emotional and turbulent business end of the company, trying to act as a moral compass for Zuckerberg who he worries is simply getting swept up in the tides of the of fame as Facebook begins to become a larger and larger monster of itself.

And the supporting cast really adds so much to this film, as well, Rashida Jones works perfectly as the inevitable angel of reason to Zuckerberg’s beastly temperament.  Justin Timberlake continues to bowl over the competition by playing the greasy, snarky, but strangely-likable Sean Parker, founder of Napster, and one of the original entrepreneurs of the peer-to-peer revolution.  And Max Minghella, Josh Pence, and Armie Hammer respectfully play the suing trio behind Harvard Connection who look to profit off of Zuckerberg’s fortune.

The acting is absolutely spot-on, and is a testament to Fincher’s casting abilities and his artistic prowess as a director of actors.  Eisenberg shines the brightest in his highly nuanced, yet specified portrayal of Zuckerberg, yet this is perfectly acceptable, given the weight which Eisenberg is expected to uphold.  The glaring problem that The Social Network does run into is it’s slight emotional disconnect with audiences.  What is usually a monumental cinematic fault really becomes nothing more than a blemish on Fincher’s otherwise fabulous narrative.  In what may have been an effort, or even an after-effect, of producing a film centering on Generation Facebook’s digital dependency, The Social Network at times feels as though it is moving too fast or glazing over moments too casually that otherwise may desire to be fleshed out in other works.  And yet, that’s exactly what this entire parable of Fincher’s is all about.  In the age of instantaneous ALL things do move faster than we may desire them to, things may get lost in translation.  All we can do is sift through what we have and do the best to make moments of connection happen in an age where people feel much more comfortable giving out a webpage than a phone number.

It should also be noted that Sorkin’s script is not one for accuracy, in multiple facets.  While no one knows PRECISELY how the story went down, it should be noted that glaring inconsistencies have already been brought up with certain key elements of the film.  Zuckerberg has denied any wanted involvement of his own in attending any of the final clubs that the film almost seems to base his creation of Facebook on.  Zuckerberg is still with his Chinese-American girlfriend that was actually with him as Facebook was coming to fruition.  There is no failed relationship debacle with a one, Erica Albright, which caused Zuckerberg to spiral out of contral that one, fateful night.  Further, Sorkin seems to turn his girlfriend into a Facebook groupie, painting her as nothing more than a clinger-on after Facebook’s founder begins to reap the enormous rewards of his work.  While there are considerably others that I have been told of yet I am not adroit enough to have caught, it stands to be noted that Zuckerberg is painted in an increasingly negative light.  He is an anti-hero, at best, and the overall arch of the story is in the hopes that Zuckerberg will ‘see the light’ and realize the error of his ways.  It does an incredible job of making a story more fantastical, it just doesn’t seem fair to base a character off of an actual human figure and then paint in such a light with such distinct colors.

All that aside, The Social Network is an excellent cinematic achievement that manages to bring together all the filmic ingredients that best make a ‘good’ movie.  The flick’s tone, thematic construct, and score are among some of it’s strongest moments and give it an absolute edge over most of the other entries into 2010’s moviescape.

Performances: 88/100

Cinematography: Aesthetics: 84/100

Score: 94/100

Script: 80/100

Final: 84/100