Chinatown

The Roman Polanski film Chinatown follows Jack Nicholson as a private eye hired by a mysterious woman to investigate the death of her husband. At the same time, Nicholson’s character is looking into the activities of the L.A. Water Department.

Chinatown is one of those films that gets better on second viewing because of the ending of the movie (which is quite depressing). Once the mystery is solved, a lot of the puzzle pieces fall into the place and it’s interesting to watch. It’s disturbing to watch this film once you know what kind of things Polanski has done in his life. I’ll give you a hint; it involves minors. So, maybe the ending is not depressing to Polanski. Perhaps it’s a feel-good movie to him.

Jack Nicholson is (unsurprisingly) brilliant as the private eye. His screen presence is just a joy to watch. Faye Dunaway, however, is the real star of this movie. She plays her part so well. At first, you think it’s a one-dimensional character who just has one facial expression. Once you’ve seen the film, however, you notice how good Dunaway really is.

The film also uses its music sparingly. When it does use music, it is reminiscent of the film noir-genre. The whole film, in fact, has that quality. Jack Nicholson as the guy with no clue what he’s getting into. Faye Dunaway as the femme fatale with a twist. At the same time, it’s a movie grounded in the American pioneer-setting. Faye Dunaway’s character’s father is the typical American pioneer grown old. He’s all about money and family in a dark, perverted way. He confronts the new American (i.e. Jack Nicholson’s character) and there is a scene in which their values clash. Nicholson’s character even asks the father at one point “What’s the use of making even more money?”

Another interesting point is in how the car-scenes are shot. The camera is often set-up inside the car on the backseat. This gives us a close and subjective look at the scenes. Especially the chase- and/or escape-scenes become interesting to watch. The film also gives us a look at a different Los Angeles. No Hollywood signs here! We get to see the suburban Los Angeles, but the movie culminates in Chinatown where the private eye’s career once began. He cannot escape Chinatown.

In short, Chinatown is a radically interesting film, though a tad long in places.

Advertisements

Brave

Brave is the first Pixar-film after the disappointment that was Cars 2. I loved the first Cars. So, it was especially painful for me to witness. Thankfully, Pixar has rebounded with this film.

Brave follows Merida, princess of the Kingdom. She, however, is anything but the classic princess. Merida loves to hunt, shoot arrows and wield swords, much to detriment of her mother’s heart. One day, Merida is about to be forced into marriage. She escapes and enlists the help of a witch to change her mother. As usual in these stories, Merida gets more than she bargained for.

This is the first Pixar movie that stars a female character. We should commend Pixar just for that feat. We need strong heroines. The more, the better. The film is also just an example of what technical feats Pixar is capable of. The main characters have long, flowing hair. That is notoriously hard to pull off in animation. It is not a coincidence that Pixar started off with a film starring toys. Their hair is as simple as it gets. To make it even more impressive, there is a whole scene that combines water and hair plus wet hair. What a nightmare it must have been to animate this! Yet, Pixar pulled it off brilliantly.

The film also revels in non-verbal communication. The three princes, for example, barely say anything in the movie, yet their comical scenes come out perfectly. In the same vein, Merida has to communicate with a bear for a major part of the movie. This, too, works in the film. Once again, we must admire the animation in this film. It is through technical mastery that this non-verbal communication works.

This is also a film that revels in contrast between dark and light. The dark castle of the Kingdom, the ruins of the Ancient Kingdom and the forest are expressed through a darker color coding. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the outside exteriors in the daytime are expressed through a gentle, lighter color coding. The establishing shots in this film are also amazing. One can again only tremble at the sight of this mastery of animation. It kinda reminds one of The Lord of the Rings. That’s a big compliment, by the way.

In short, Pixar has made another classic in Brave. Considering that it grossed half a billion dollars, I can only hope this film becomes the first film in a trilogy. Maybe it could be about Merida finding her true love? I’m just spit-balling here…

Lincoln

Yesterday, I watched the Steven Spielberg film Lincoln. Man, was I impressed. A film that captures your attention from the first second on and doesn’t let go for the next two and a half hours. The film follows President Abraham Lincoln through the trials and tribulations surrounding the ratification of the 13th Amendment (the one abolishing slavery) by the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. All the while, the Civil War rages on and a peace is slowly being made.

The film revels in dark tonality. A lot of the film takes place in dark interiors and in dark color tones. This is a different White House from “The West Wing”. The color palette of the movie is clearly inspired by the baroque. The characters cast long shadows, and there is a lot of natural light.

The performances then. Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis shines as Abe Lincoln. His eery voice proclaims freedom and equality for all. More of a pragmatist than an idealist, Lincoln tells stories, convinces enemies and is truly superb. Even the small moves like the setting of a hat on the floor is so masterfully executed that you can’t help but be in awe of this kind of acting. Day-Lewis is unsurprisingly a maestro of acting.

The film is full of great performances and filled with great actors. Tommy Lee Jones, Jared Harris and so many more. There is not a weak performance in the film, including a brilliant Dane DeHaan as a nameless soldier.

Surprising for a Spielberg film, there is a delicate use of music in the film. There isn’t a lot of score in the film. Spielberg lets the actors speak for themselves. They don’t need music. Sally Fields can do just fine without a triumphant soundtrack. When it is used, however, it is pitch-perfect.

The only downside to the film is the contrast between the scenes in Washington D.C. and those on the battlefield. The battlefield scenes sometimes look as if they were shot in Technicolor. That cannot have been the intention. As I said, that is the only negative point I can think of. Lincoln is a film you just have to see.

Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn

Dane DeHaan has recently been cast as the iconic Harry Osborn in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. So, let’s take a look at what we might expect from Mr. Dehaan as a dark and edgy Harry.

Considering his awesome performance in Chronicle, DeHaan has already got the dark part down. He’s gonna be amazing as a brooding, living in the shadow of his father, setting out to prove himself Harry. Eventually, he’ll also own as a son bent on vengeance.

What I worry about is the comedic side of Harry Osborn. I haven’t seen that side of Dane DeHaan yet. Harry Osborn is simply not just darkness. He’s also hysterically funny. James Franco fucked the character real good. So, I don’t blame you for not realizing this side of the character. I have this vision of Harry going to dinner at the Parker house and uttering the words “Poor people are fascinating!” He might look at the food and say “is this edible?” He could refer to Gwen Stacy as “Get It away from me, Pete! Her working-class roots might catch on.” He could trip over a trash bag and say to Peter the following: “Peter, someone left a bag full of food and boxes on your doorstep!” “That’s a trashbag, Harry.” “A trash-bag? What’s a trash-bag?” Also, please make fun of Andrew Garfield’s beard in the following manner: “Beards are for poor people.”

So, Dane DeHaan: you must own this part and make the fans proud. Do it, and there might be eternal glory in it for you.

Christmas at the Movies

It’s Christmas Eve! Finally! Time to unwrap the presents and spend some quality time with your loved ones! What better way for us cinema-freaks to enjoy Christmas than by watching Christmas movies! Here are a few of my favorites:

It’s A Wonderful Life

 

You can’t escape this one. It’s the perennial classic: Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s by far my favorite. It allows us to delve into the Christmas spirit while still feeling like we’re satisfying our cinematic arty-farty impulses.

The story is well-known, but I’ll recap it for you quickly. George Bailey is a man who got stuck in his small town, while he only ever wanted to get out of said town. On Christmas Eve, as his world collapses around him, he delves deep into depression and eventually ponders suicide. His guardian angel decides to help him out and show him the difference he has truly made in people’s lives. A wonderful story and a true inspiration. No life is wasted. Every life made a difference in someone’s life.

Jimmy Stewart, of course, is the shining star in this picture. He shows us exactly why he is still remembered after all these years. Despite being derided for his acting at the time, we now know Mr. Stewart as one of the truly greats. Deservedly so. He lends a likability to George Bailey that is hard to pin-point. What we can say is that he makes us go along for the ride. Donna Reed also delivers a fitting performance as Bailey’s wife, including what might be the most romantic scene ever. I’ll give you one line: “What do you want? You want the moon?” ‘Nuff said. And how can we forget Lionel Barrymore as the evil Mr. Potter. Only a truly gifted actor could craft such an unlikable character. It’s harder than you think, folks.

Frank Capra is the director of this film. That’s all you really need to know. The quality of the film is still stunning after all these years. The camera work isn’t flashy, but just follows and serves the narrative of the film. It never gets in the way. Capra’s choice of music is also commendable. Who can forget the ending of the film? Once you’ve seen the film, it’s seared into your memory.

So, cuddle with your loved ones (if you have them). If not, go make some! Watch this 1946 classic and dream away to a simpler time.

Love, Actually

 

This is kind of my guilty pleasure. What can I say? I just love a sappy ensemble movie. Hell, I even enjoy Ashton Kutcher films. I know that that’s a capital offense.

Love, Actually is full of great performances. A rare, quiet performance by Liam Neeson who breaks hearts as the mourning father. Colin Firth. Hugh Grant. Gosh, need I say more. Who among us doesn’t love the moment when Neeson’s screen son rushes through the airport to say goodbye to the girl he loves? And that soundtrack! The victorious song is still etched into my memory. Yet, there are also moments of sadness, such as when Emma Thompson’s character realizes that her husband has been (emotionally) cheating on her. Accompanied by the haunting sounds of Joni Mitchell, she breaks down in her bedroom. Or the blooming love between the PM (played by Hugh Grant, when he was still good) and his secretary. A common British girl gets the most eligible bachelor in the nation.

Cinematically, the film is nice but not legendary. Who cares, though? It’s just a nice little film.

Of course, there are much, much more films about Christmas, but these are my two favorites. Enjoy your Christmas! Merry, merry Christmas!

Rise of the Guardians

The acclaimed animation studio Dreamworks Animation Studios has come out with a new movie, or rather a new universe. Collecting together the legends of Jack Frost, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, Tooth Fairy (the real one, not the sucky Dwayne Johnson kid flick) and the Boogeyman. Should be fun, right? Should be, but isn’t.

The story is as follows: the world is threatened by the ascent of Pitch Black (the Boogeyman) who wants to take out the Guardians once and for all. A typical good versus bad story. You shouldn’t expect anything original in Rise of the Guardians. It’s your typical hero-against-all-odds tale who ultimately rises to the occasion (spoiler alert!). Not that there’s anything to spoil.

What the film does succeed in is in creating a universe. It has all the best elements of a holiday movie. A cheesy score, equally cheesy plot and a couple of children wielding the power of belief. Isn’t that what makes the holidays great? The character of Jack Frost is endearing and easy to empathize with. The same goes for the other main characters, with an excellent Jude Law as Pitch Black. A truly excellent Jude Law.

Unfortunately, those are about the only good things in this film. The fact that Guillermo Del Toro was an executive producer on this gave me high hopes. So did the trailer. The film, however, does not fulfill the promise of visual splendor. Sure, there are some nice animations in the flick. I absolutely respect the countless hours of work that went into the making of this film, but I judge the end product. Frankly, the end product is quite disappointing.

I had high hopes for this film, but it seems the rise of the studio that gave us Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon has come to a sudden halt. These days, it revels in putting out mediocre stuff such as Puss in Boots (also executively produced by Guillermo Del Toro). I personally feel bad for Jude Law. The guy is voice acting his heart out in this movie, but it is all for naught. Too bad. Rise of the Guardians could have been so great.

The Campaign

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis face off in the summer comedy The Campaign. Two giants of comedy in one movie? I have to see this! So, I did. The film follows two rival politicians battling for the Congressional seat of South Carolina’s 14th district. Galifianakis’ character is funded by two giga billionnaires, the Motch Brothers (loosely based on the Koch brothers). They send a campaign manager (a hysterical Dylan McDermott) to set Galifianakis’ character straight. Galifianakis pretty much plays his Seth Galifianakis-character, and Ferrell reprises his George W. Bush-impersonation with a southern drawl.

The cinematography is pretty basic and without any real fingerprints. Fortunately, this film does not require fancy camerawork. Just roll the camera’s and keep the laughs coming! That’s exactly what Jay Roach did with this film. He just captures every hysterical moment of interplay between Galifianakis and Ferrell. There are many of those. Even the smaller parts are played by talented actors (especially so with Cam Brady’s wife).

The film only fails in its ending notes where it attempts to be serious and be a movie with a Message (with a capital M). Those moments are forced and awkward. It’s in the tying of the knots that the film fails. Putting those knots there isn’t a problem. It’s bringing them together again where the film fails. Take for example the painfully awkward moment of Galifianakis’ wife attempting to make amends for her adultery. The forced soundtrack. The awkward lines. It’s just so painful.

All in all, The Campaign is a great comedy. It has plenty of laughs to keep you hooked. Just ignore the forced ending, and you have a successful comedy. Galifianakis and Ferrell truly shine in this movie and show themselves to be Great Comics.