Saturday, January 12, 2013

A few words on Hitchcock and The Impossible

Hitchcock (2012 - Sacha Gervasi)

Hitchcock tries to be part character study and part filmmaking docudrama, and never really comes together as either. Attempts are made to probe Hitchcock's psychology by showing him as a man haunted by visions of Ed Gein. In another scene, we see him eavesdropping on Vera Miles (a very unconvincing Jessica Biel) in her dressing room--a scene clearly intended to evoke Norman Bates spying on Marion Crane in Psycho. It's indicative of the movie's psychological insight that the Vera Miles character actually says outright, "The Jimmy Stewart character in Vertigo--THAT'S Hitch." Perhaps most ridiculous is the scene where he gets frustrated at the stabbing motions in the shower scene, takes the knife, and begins showing how it should really be done. At other times, the movie gives us Hitchcock The Character, with all of the traditional personality quirks on display, and still, at others, we get Hitchcock as one of those over-the-hill athletes trying to make one last comeback. We also get a look at his marriage: he obviously loved his wife, but he also openly flirted with his female leads in front of his her, and then was unbelievably jealous when she when left the house to work with a screenwriter to improve his script. (It's indicated that Hitchcock doesn't like her leaving the house, or doing anything, unless it's to serve a purpose for him. It's also indicated that she more or less accepts this and is okay with it.) It's not that a movie couldn't incorporate all of these things, but Hitchcock never incorporates them into any coherent vision of Alfred Hitchcock. They all feel like a bunch of separate character traits, instead of parts that make up the whole man. Hitchcock isn't really any better when it focuses on filmmaking. It doesn't offer anything beyond a bunch of in-jokes, and while Sacha Gervasi tries at times to imitate Hitchcock's style (something that could make for a fun approach), he doesn't do it consistently, so it never amounts to anything beyond a few meaningless visual flairs in an otherwise indifferently-shot film. You get a few moments here and there in the performances (mainly Mirren and D'Arcy) that may not make the movie worth watching, exactly, but at least deserve a bit of credit. Overall, though, Hitchcock is a waste.

The Impossible (2012 - Juan Antonio Bayona)

There's been a good bit of discussion about it, but I will say that I'm not mortally offended that a film about the 2004 tsunami has wealthy white tourists as its protagonists without any real minority "representation". I don't think anyone could argue against the fact that The Impossible only offers a very small perspective on the tsunami, but I do think a good movie could be made from the story of how this family--or any family--was affected by the tsunami. The problem here is that The Impossible just isn't a good movie. Too much of it is in poor taste: For example, Bayona's deicision to end the film with the protagonists flying away on an otherwise empty private jet. His buildup to the tsunami is in even worse taste, with its sense of impending doom laid on way too thickly, like something out of a cheap horror movie. Bayona establishes a sense of family dynamics early, and the opening scenes are not bad, but Bayona ultimately skips on any familial observations, because he is way too eager to get to The Good Stuff. Once the tsunami hits, it's clear that Bayona is a decent technician, but through these scenes it's clear that he's quick to fall into suspense and disaster genre traps. He also makes the unwise structural decision to tell the story from the point-of-view of the mother and one of the sons, then to go back and tell if from the point-of-view of the father and other two sons before bringing it together with after a series of near-misses and chance encounters. The performances are decent, but Tom Holland as the oldest son is the only character who gets anything close to a real dramatic arc. I don't get why everyone's going on about Watts, but then again (aside from Mulholland Drive), I never do.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

10 Points on Les Misérables

Les Miserables (2012 - Tom Hooper)

I couldn't really count this as any type of formal "review"--more a collection of thoughts I had during and after the film. It allows me to put the thoughts out there without trying to make them cohere into an actual review.

1. I like the musical. It's no masterpiece, and I recognize that, but I like it, and I can think of many worse ways to pass an evening than by seeing a production of Les Miserables. I really like a lot of the songs, and I find it easy to get swept up in the big emotions of the piece. I also liked The Kings Speech, although more in the framework of a BBC-type biopic than as any type of major film. (I also liked Hooper's TV work from the 2000's.)

2. The musical is not at all well-served by the film, which only seems to highlight the weaknesses of the musical. Trying to bring a sense of realism to the film adaptation only highlights how much the musical simplifies Hugo's novel. A lot of the complexities get reduced to more simple emotions, and you can really feel the emotional button-pushing here. The female characters, especially are weak links. They never really register as anything, really. They weren't strong in the musical (a lot of that due to compressing Hugo's novel) but I don't remember Lea Salonga's Eponine being such a non-entity in the 10th Anniversary Concert. 

52 in 52

This is inspired by a thread at The Backstage. The idea is to pick 52 movies you haven't seen and watch them throughout the year. A few tweaks to the system for my own purposes: Yeah, I have more than 52 here. Some depend on availability issues, etc., and those that I don't get to this year might get rolled over into next year. Also, a few of these I've seen, but it's been awhile, so I just wanted a new look. 

Apart From You (Mikio Naruse)
Design For Living (Ernst Lubitsch)
History is Made at Night (Frank Borzage)
I Was Born But... (Yasijuro Ozu)
Judge Priest (John Ford)
M (Fritz Lang)
Mayerling (Anatole Litvak)
The Plough and the Stars (John Ford)
The Spy in Black (Michael Powell) 
The Story of a Cheat (Sacha Guitry)

21 Days (Basil Dean)
Beyond the Forest (King Vidor)
Crisis (Ingmar Bergman)
The Diary of a Chambermaid (Jean Renoir)
The Long Voyage Home (John Ford)
Major Barbara (Gabriel Pascal)
Monsieur Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin)
Paisan (Roberto Rossellini)
Remorques (Jean Gremillon)
The Southerner (Jean Renoir)
Swamp Water (Jean Renoir)
To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch)
Tobacco Road (John Ford)
Women of the Night (Kenji Mizoguchi)

Along the Great Divide (Raoul Walsh)
Le Beau Serge (Claude Chabrol)
The Big Country (William Wyler)
Il Generale Della Rovere (Roberto Rosselini)
Gideon's Day (John Ford)
The Idiot (Akira Kurosawa)
India Matri Buhmi (Roberto Rosselini)
Kapo (Gillo Pontecorvo)
Letter Never Sent (Mikhail Kalatozov)
The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi)
The Long Gray Line (John Ford)
M (Joseph Losey)
Story of a Love Affair (Michelangelo Antonioni)
Street of Shame (Kenji Mizoguchi)
War and Peace (King Vidor)
The Woman in Question (Anthony Asquith)

All My Good Countrymen (Voytech Jasny)
Before the Revolution (Bernardo Bertolucci)
Calcutta (Louis Malle)
Courage For Every Day (Evald Schorm)
Donovan's Reef (John Ford)
El Dorado (Howard Hawks)
Fists in the Pocket (Marco Bellocchio)
Leon Morin, Priest (Jean-Pierre Melville)
Phantom India (Louis Malle)
Rapture (Jean Guillermin)
Wings (Larisa Shepitko)
Woman in the Dunes (Shohei Imamura)

The Ascent (Larisa Shepitko)
The Birch Wood (Andrzej Wajda)
The Confession (Costa-Gavras)
The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci)
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Elio Petri)
The Lacemaker (Claude Goretta)
Lacombe, Lucien (Louis Malle)
The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman)
Man of Marble (Andrzej Wajda)
Mikey and Nicky (Elaine May)
Mon Oncle Antoine (Claude Jutra)
Silence (Masahiro Shinoda)
Tess (Roman Polanski)
Violette (Claude Chabrol)
Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff)

Another Way (Károly Makk, János Xantus)
Atlantic City (Louis Malle)
Blind Chance (Krzystof Kieslowski)
Blow Out (Brian De Palma) 
Enemies: A Love Story (Paul Mazursky)
Insignificance (Nicolas Roeg)
Love Streams (John Cassavetes)
La Nuit de Varennes (Ettore Scola)
Rendez-vous (Andre Techine) 
Shoot the Moon (Alan Parker)
Under the Sun of Satan (Maurice Pailat)

After Life
(Hirokazu Koreeda) 
An Angel At My Table (Jane Campion) 
The Best Intentions (Bille August) 
A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang) 
The Double Life of Veronique (Krzystof Kieslowski) 
Lamerica (Gianni Amellio) 
La Promesse (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) 
Madadayo (Akira Kurosawa) 
Through the Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami) 
What Happened Was... (Tom Noonan)

12:08 East of Bucharest (Corneliu Porumboiu)
About Elly
(Asghar Farhadi) 
Afterschool (Antonio Campos) 
All About Lily Chou-Chou (Shunji Iwai) 
Eureka (Shinji Aoyama)
Fireworks Wednesday
(Asghar Farhadi) 
Jaffa (Keren Yedaya) 
Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho) 
Sweet Rush (Andrzej Wajda)
Ushpizin (Giddi Dar)

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Remembering 2012

This is inspired by Nick Davis's remembrances of his many trips to the movies through the 2000's. One thing I am going to do differently though, is to include some notable home-video viewings as well. Some of my most memorable movie moments this year were home-video viewings, and some of my theatre viewings weren't worth blogging. It wasn't my most active year of movie-watching (due to a full-time teaching position that I had for several months) but it was a fun one, and this gives a small representation of what I watched, and how I felt about it.

January 14, Rave Valley Bend 18, Huntsville, AL
Who gets up, leaves home by 9:00 AM on a Saturday morning, and drives to a movie theatre almost forty miles from home just to see The Artist and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? That would be me. I was teaching full time then and I didn't have time for weeknight movies, so this was pretty much my only bet. I caught a 10:30 showing of The Artist, and maybe it was because of the early showtime, but I was shocked that there were less than ten people in the theatre. I was also shocked that the audience really didn't seem to fall in love with the movie the way I had thought they would. I myself liked it, okay, but it was nothing like the full-on coup of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at 1:30. Even though I had read the book, I went into Tinker Tailor..., fully expecting to be confused and frustrated, but it turned out to be as good of an adaptation of a novel as one could hope for. From the perfectly moody atmosphere to the tricks it plays on us--especially by making us wonder when the "plot" is going to really kick in, only for us to realize that it kicked in from the minute it started--I totally, completely fell for it, and to my surprise, the audience did as well.

Best of 2011

Based on US Release Date

Best Film: 

1- The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick) 
2- A Separation (Asghar Farhadi) 
3- Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami) 
4- Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois) 
5- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson) 
6- Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols) 
7- Like Crazy (Drake Doremus)  
8- City of Life and Death (Lu Chuan) 
9- Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog) 
10- War Horse (Steven Spielberg) 

Runners-Up: J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood), Higher Ground (Vera Farmiga), How I Ended This Summer (Aleksey Popogrebsky) 


1- Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life 
2- Asghar Farhadi, A Separation 
3- Abbas Kiarostami, Certified Copy 
4- Xavier Beauvious, Of Gods and Men 
5- Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 


1- Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- Michael Shannon, Take Shelter 
3- Michael Fassbender, Shame 
4- Grigoriy Dobrygin, How I Ended This Summer 
5- Michael Sheen, Beautiful Boy 


1- Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy 
2- Maria Bello, Beautiful Boy 
3- Vera Farmiga, Higher Ground 
4- Yun Jeong-hee, Poetry 
5- Olivia Colman, Tyrannosaur 

Supporting Actor: 

1- Armie Hammer, J. Edgar 
2- Shahab Hosseini, A Separation 
3- Norbert Leo Butz, Higher Ground 
4- Jeremy Irons, Margin Call 
5- Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March 

Supporting Actress: 

1- Jessica Chastiain, Take Shelter (and The Debt, The Help, Coriolanus, and The Tree of Life) 
2- Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus 
3- Sareh Bayet, A Separation 
4- Carey Mulligan, Shame 
5- Jeannie Berlin, Margaret 


1- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- A Separation 
3- Higher Ground 
4- Margaret 
5- Crazy Stupid Love 

Adapted Screenplay: 

1- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- Higher Ground 
3- Moneyball 
4- One Day 
5- Incendies 

Original Screenplay: 

1- A Separation 
2- Certified Copy 
3- Take Shelter 
4- J. Edgar 
5- Margin Call 


1- The Tree of Life 
2- City of Life and Death 
3- Mysteries of Lisbon 
4- Like Crazy 
5- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 


1- The Tree of Life 
2- Certified Copy 
3- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
4- Moneyball 
5- A Separation 


1- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 
3- Take Shelter 
4- City of Life and Death 
5- War Horse 

Production Design: 

1- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- City of Life and Death 
3- War Horse 
4- Shame 
5- The Tree of Life 

Costume Design: 

1- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- J. Edgar 
3- Mysteries of Lisbon 
4- Crazy Stupid Love 
5- Higher Ground 


1- Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 
2- City of Life and Death 
3- Contagion 
4- The Ides of March 
5- Higher Ground 


1- The Tree of Life 
2- How I Ended This Summer 
3- City of Life and Death 
4- War Horse 
5- Drive 

Sound Effects: 

1- War Horse 
2- Drive 
3- City of Life and Death 
4- How I Ended This Summer 
5- The Robber 

Visual Effects: 

1- The Tree of Life 
2- Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol 
3- Rise of the Planet of the Apes