Month: November 2011
Cinema verite is a style of documentary filmmaking which is usually characterized by its naturalistic style. It is, as its translation suggests, “truthful cinema”. Primarily telling the truth about life, cinema verite is often used in documentary filmmaking. While there have certainly been revolutionary films made in this style, such as Gimme Shelter, Hoop Dreams, and Woodstock, never has the scope of the style, or in documentary filmmaking in general, been so huge as Life in a Day. Culling together 80,000 entries and 4,500 hours of footage, this community made documentary is a stunning look at life.
All of the footage, submitted by YouTube users, depicts life in one day, July 24th, 2010. It seems interesting, albeit a rather simplistic concept. Large and daunting, but again, a bit simplistic. But Editor Joe Walker has taken these images and gave them power. I am sure that individually, they would have been fine and they each would have had their own meaning and what not, but together, they are harmonious and powerful.
It is interesting that instead of portraying the vast differences in our various environments and ideologies and even thoughts that the editors and overall style of the film took the approach to show the homogony. While the singular events that shape our lives are all different, generally, we do the same things. We all wake up in the morning (or don’t) and we all have breakfast of some sort and we all have some sort of routine.
The steady flow of images, so seamlessly edited, is one of the best parts of the film. The film never ceases to hold the viewer’s attention. This is less due to the scattershot and chaotic style of editing that’s permeated filmmaking since MTV first aired, but merely because the images are so interesting. They all have their own individualistic meaning, as well as a collective one. Comparing and contrasting shots that are obviously staged for aesthetic reason against those that are truly spontaneous and off the cuff is fun and interesting. One is reminded of Jean-Luc Godard’s revolutionary jump cuts in his debut Breathless. Not because they’re simply jump cuts, but because each splice is about the passing time of meaning and nothingness, as each fragmentary moment passes by.
As daunting as the task probably was, just putting the film together is nothing. Putting it together and actually creating memorable moments is something else. The intimacy one is able to perceive from many moments throughout the film is astounding. Throughout the film, not only does the audience get a slice of life from someone, but a real taste of their life. Touching moments filled with emotion. While these may seem maybe a little routine and mundane, they take on a new meaning in the film.
Life in a Day is an impressive feat for a documentary. The scope and scale is monumental. The film is packed with emotion and grabs your attention from the very start. Each story and each frame has meaning and its visually arresting style make it one of the best documentaries of the year.
Watch the full film here.
In the film Midnight in Paris, Michael Sheen’s character, a delightfully pedantic, probably insufferable archetype in the Woody Allen vein, says that nostalgia is essentially “denial of the pains of the present” or something. He continues to pretentiously rag on Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and his wish to write a novel about a nostalgia shop. A desire for the past. This is something Gil holds very close to his heart. He is about to get married to Inez (Rachel McAdams), someone who is obviously not very right for him. And then, as he traverses through Paris in the late hours, he manages to find himself in Paris…only, in the 1920’s. And there, he falls in love with Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
Woody Allen, whose films have a distinct taste about them (they all kind of feel the same for some people) presents the dilemma in an admirable fashion. Falling in love not only with a woman from another era, but the era itself. The subject matter, its existential roots, is something Ingmar Bergman may have tapped into if he had wanted too, but would have been burdened by its art house style. Here, Allen presents and explores this kind of existentialism without beleaguering the viewer. It explores the subject like an art film without feeling like one.
Enough with the existential gibberish. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is literally perfection. No, it is not under the technical way “perfect” but it is nearly impossible to find anything in the film to dislike. Even Michael Sheen’s pedant is likable in a bizarre way. Each frame is struck with gold, the cinematography perfectly portraying Allen and Pender’s love for Paris.
Wilson finds himself in 1920’s Paris. This statement alone is nothing compared to what he actually finds there. Paris during the Jazz Age was the home of artistic geniuses like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Cole Porter, and Ernest Hemingway. And they all make an appearance, each played pitch perfectly by their respective actor. Not only do they capture the essence of the people they’re playing, but they capture Wilson’s romanticized version of them. So, F. Scott and his wife Zelda are kooky drinkers, Hemingway speaking in that broken but eloquent language, Stein is smart and kind of a mother to them all, Dali is insane and obsessed with rhinoceroses, etc.
Adriana is played by Marion Cotillard. Early in the film, Stein and Picasso argue over Picasso’s portrait of her drenching in sexuality, but Adriana having a significantly subtler beauty than he portrays. Cotillard, who is as gorgeous as she is versatile, is the personification of Paris. She is Paris in all her overt beauty and all her subtle perfection. She is the light of the Eiffel Tower. As much as she is a representation of that, Cotillard is marvelous in the film.
Owen Wilson plays struggling writer Gil Pender perfectly. Yeah, a lot of Allen’s films involve a struggling someone who is sarcastic, acerbic, and a bit self-deprecating, maybe even self-pitying. If that’s not yoru style, you already do not care for Woody Allen’s films or his style of comedy. Even so, with that in mind, you should definitely give Midnight in Paris a chance. As opposed to other actors (including Allen himself) who’ve just used the Allen persona and not done anything with it, Wilson makes the character his own. What he says is refreshing and funny. It is no surprise that he is essentially playing that persona, and those who are not really fans of Wilson in general will actually be impressed. This is undoubtedly one of Wilson’s best performances. He hits all the right notes and delivers Allen’s lines perfectly.
I cannot articulate how much I love this film without sounding stupid. I have been asked several times to what era I would time travel if given the chance. Without fail, I have answered each time with “I would go back to the 1920s and live in Paris”. One can try to imagine my excitement at the notion of the film. With the sense of humor I have and the things I’m interested in, this would have been the film I would have made if I were a director. Every element, every frame, and every character is perfect fodder for my interests. Seeing Cole Porter at the piano croon “Let’s Do It Let’s Fall in Love)”, seeing Adrien Brody as Dali blather on about being Dali and seeing rhinoceroses, and seeing Tim Hiddleston and Alison Pill as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald drinking all garnered the same infectious reaction form me: complete glee. Rachel McAdams also gets props for being the bitchy fiancée. It is kind of amusing, because, if you think of it, she’s channeling her inner Regina George.
The feeling the film creates is infectiously wonderful. It is romantic. Despite it being a Woody Allen film, it is practically devoid of real cynicism. Yes, McAdams and Sheen are “cynical”, but the film itself is nothing but optimistic and romantic. Every actor and every character looks like they are blessed to be there. It is rare to see a film that emulates and radiates pure romance and joy. Midnight in Paris does so perfectly.
Midnight in Paris is without a doubt my favorite film I’ve seen this year. With its pure joy, its exquisite cinematography, and its delightful performances, it is an exceptional movie going experience. Never have I desired to live and fall in love in Paris more than having seen this film. Adriana said it well when she wrote, “That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.” However, my feelings for the film can be described astutely by some wonderful Cole Porter lyrics: “I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.”
Well, guys, this is my 200th post. That probably equates to something like 195 review or something, but 200 is certainly an intersting benchmark to reach. I’ve had this blog for a few years now. I just want to thank everyone who’s supported me in my passion and everyone who reads it. I’d also like to thank my best friend and movie buddy, Joe Brady. Also, Cory June Vigants, Aasya Koliya, Julia Sisson, Seneca Rasey, Mrs. Kent, Ian Pettigrew, Green Miller, Justin Mills et al.
Anyways, there was a snow storm recently. Nearly everyone was out of power….except me. So what did I do with my time? I watched movies, of course. In the course of about 3 weeks (people got power after 8 days) I watched 50 films. I decided against writing a review for all of them and instead I wrote a few sentences for ones I thought needed it.
- The Shining (A)
- Scream 2 (B+)
- Scream 3 (B-)
- Scream 4 (A-, see review)
- It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (A)
- The Silence of the Lambs (A)
- The Sixth Sense (A-)
- Sleepy Hollow (B+)
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (A-)
- Repulsion (A)
- Carrie (A-, A stunning, sympathetic tragedy. Sissy Spacek is triumphant.)
- Planet Terror (B+)
- Death Proof (B+)
- Frankenstein (B+, Your traditional Gothic horror tale, but filled with an integrity and heart that even other Universal Horror films can’t match.)
- Bride of Frankenstein (A+, Better than the original, as it shows an incredible amount of depth into the Monster’s character. The yearning of the heart is obvious and painful.)
- Creature form the Black Lagoon (B, fun and campy)
- Antichrist (A-, Lars von Trier’s onslaught of visual abuse is stunning and horrific. An interesting and at times hard to watch examination into guilt and depression. Visually breathtaking. The most heart wrenching performance I’ve ever seen from an actress in Gainsbourg.)
- Cronos (B+)
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula (B+, I had to rewatch this one after years of resentment against the film. But it’s a visually sumptuous adaptation that, while maybe not doing justice to the original nove [no film ever has in my opinion], at least sufficiently explores the sexuality of vampirism.)
- Island of Lost Souls (B+, An interestingly scary and campy movie that does a good job of exploring human-animal abuse.)
- The Exorcist (A+)
- Hocus Pocus (A-)
- Pan’s Labyrinth (A)
- Vivre sa vie (A, The most heartvreaking character study you will ever watch. Visually captivating, with a classic performance by Anna Karina. Godard does an excellent job directing.)
- Freaks (A, One of the most horrifying films ever. Despite the hour running time [over 30 minutes were cut from the original edit], it is not only coherent but powerful, scary, and repellent.)
- White Material (B+, The film is made by Isabelle Huppert’s role as a woman driven mad by her own stubbornness and unwillingness to change. Nonlinear narrative is clever. Though, not as powerful as I had hoped.)
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (A-, Hadn’t seen this one in years, so I thought it deserved a rewatch. Fun John Hughes film, making playing hookey seem all the more fun.)
- Breathless (B+, The hallmark of the French New Wave, the film works in a historical and technical context. Jump cuts, voice over, etc. are all perfect, or not perfect, but the storyline is dated. Its refusal to actually have a moving story is frustrating. The static plot set in a bedroom reminds me of Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.)
- To Be or Not to Be (A, Jack Benny is perfect. The comedy is flawless. But the subject matter is incredibly disconcerting for someone who lives in a very PC world. Nevertheless, despite the jarring Nazi jokes, excellent film.)
- Big Fish (B, Imaginative fodder for Burton, but very slow and McGregor’s accent is kind of annoying. It’s one thing intermittently in Down with Love, but for the whole film? No thanks.)
- Kuroneko (A, Seriously one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. The lighting and cinematography are gorgeous. The chiaroscuro is mind boggling. An expressionist masterpiece.)
- Galaxy Quest (B+)
- Blood Diamond (B+, The storyline is kind of weak, burdened by its non-fiction subject matter. But purely on the subject matter, it’s stunning and frightening. Filmed with realism that is, in its nature, saddening.)
- Taxi Driver (A, One of the most shocking and brilliant films I’ve ever seen. A noir, a character study, whatever it is, it is a piece of artistic genius. Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster are exceptional.)
- The Pink Panther (C+, Didn’t think it was that funny, lost interest.)
- Atonement (A, Perhaps a film made in the most classical of ways, a romance like Gone with the Wind. A wonderful film with exquisite cinematography, a great score, and fantastic performances.)
- Midnight in Paris (A+++, review to come…)
- Finding Neverland (A, Marc Forster directs a delightfully theatrical film about imagination. Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are perfection.)
- 8 ½ (A, Fantastical and beautiful. Fellini’s vision of…director’s block is a classic in cinema for a reason. Only complaint: White subtitles against white backdrop. Really, Criterion?)
- Fanny and Alexander – The Theatrical Version (A-, Already watched the television version, but wanted to see the theatrical version for a taste. Television version is more fulfilling and a lot is cut out, but it’s a gorgeous film nevertheless. Bergman really touches the heart.)
- The Third Man (A, The story is interesting, a guy dies and there’s a third guy involved, but it’s the cinematography and score that make the film. Awesome juxtaposition of light and dark.)
- Le Cercle Rouge (A-, If Ocean’s Eleven were more philosophical, longer, slower, and more…French, it would be this Jean Pierre-Melville masterpiece.)
- The Maltese Falcon (A, The perfect noir.)
- Sweet Smell of Success (A-, Fiery dialogue and sinfully excellent performances from Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Curtis just spits out the dialogue like it’s his bitch.)
- The Pianist (B-, Slow, languid, and depressing. Made with technical integrity, but depressed me. Depressed me, not moved me.)
- Manhattan Murder Mystery (B+, If Annie Hall and Alvy Singer had gotten together and we went back twenty years later and watched them solve a muder-mystery, it would be this. Which is to say, it’s good, not great.)
- MASH (A, Black as night comedy with the omnipresence of an allegory on the Vietnam War. Sutherland and Gould are great. Funny, but moving as well.)
- Rabbit Hole (A-, Even if the plot is weak at some points, the performances from Kidman, Eckhart and Wiest more than make up for it.)
- The Virgin Suicides (A-, Impressive debut from Sofia Coppola. Interesting examination of adolescent male obsession and female insecurity. Though, I wonder if its subversive message on teen suicide is intentional.)
- Chinatown (A, Jack Nicholson is a fantastic private detective. A prime example of neo-noir, with its layered storyline. Also, interesting exploration of corruption.)
Hey, guys, just want to let you know I have a real writing gig! I’m now a news contributor to VeryAware.com. Here’s my first article, which is about the Criterion Collection debuting on iTunes! (And I’m the first to write about it!) So, please take a look! Hope you like it!
And, yes, I will still be maintaining my blog here! No worries! 😀
Stranger Than Fiction is a film about storytelling, perhaps the purest film about storytelling and its construction that has ever been made. Its cast of characters, its narrative structure, its visual design, and its flowing style all emulate that of a pure story. It is not only a film about a writer with writer’s block, but it is also a story about a man who is trying to place himself in his own story, trying to make sense of the surrealistic events surrounding him. This is a story about life. Life being stranger than fiction.
Introducing the character in a fashion much more than reminiscent of a novel, the unseen narrator, the voice of God, gives us the character in specific detail. “This is a story about a man named Harold Crick and his wrist watch,” the narrator says. We learn about his daily routine through the narration, the visualization of the writer’s novel being apparent and aiding the viewer in the understanding the of character form that Will Ferrell takes. When he realizes he is hearing a voice, he seeks aid first from a psychiatrist and then from a literature professor, Prof. Jules Hilbert. It is then that Harold must place himself in a tragedy or a comedy. B y following a specific set of conventions, like any genre, Harold keeps track of the occurrences in his life and how they would fit.
Charlie Chaplin once said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close up, but a comedy in long shot.” Marc Forster and writer Zach Helm utilize this structure throughout the film. When Harold and his object of desire, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) barb each other verbally, the camera looks at them typically with medium shots and long shots, having the audience concentrate more on the words than the reactions specifically. However, in one particular scene where Ana’s offer of cookies is unknowingly spurned by Harold, it is seen in close up. We see the change in facial reaction, the disappointment in Gyllenhaal’s face, and the tally marks Ferrell makes in his moleskin. Besides the mise-en-scene of Stranger Than Fiction, this aspect of the film just begs the question for everyone: Are we in a comedy or a tragedy? Harold has no idea how to deal with the sudden change in his life. As he slowly adjusts and adapts to accepting the narrator as someone who is merely reciting his life in a disconcertingly omniscient way, he is able to liberate himself from his obsessive compulsions and neuroticisms. This liberation from the constraints of anxiety is comedic, though not in the extremely broad sense one is used to. Forster refuses to use the typical, schmaltzy montage that usually plagues feel good movies about liberation. Instead, like a story, he and Helm give us one scene in which we can observe closely the gradual development of the character. Harold Crick can finally live his life, in a comedy or tragedy.
In another world, seemingly distant and separate from that of Harold’s world, is that of Karen Eiffel’s. Emma Thompson’s flawed and idiosyncratic author will go to almost any means to write her novel. The visualization of her struggle is hypnotic and reeks of realism. As she considers the various ways to kill her main character, whose name is Harold Crick, she places herself in the shoes of the victims and imagines herself in the tragedy. It is one of the truest statements about being a writer brought with integrity to the screen. To create situations in fiction, writers imagine what it is like to be that character and to experience what that character must experience. She stands on top of a building and jumps off, the viewer almost feelings the same “rush of winder against their face” as Ms. Eiffel. We are then transported back to her standing on top of a desk, trying desperately to feel the same depression and same yearning to jump as her would-be victim. This imagination and visual construction occurs elsewhere in the film, through car accidents in “inclement weather” and such. We are there struggling then to finish the story, just as Ms. Eiffel.
The visual design of the film is the most intriguing. Aside from the fact that Harold’s immaculate environment is similar to his creator’s and thus juxtaposed with the free spirit he falls in love with, the visual GUI, Graphic User Interface, is inherently part of the film itself. There would be a severe lack of understanding of Harold’s pathos without the animations on the screen. The animations portray his thought process, his idiosyncrasies, and his routine. It is a purely unique way of letting the audience inside the brain of the protagonist. The film is filled with the GUI animations at the beginning, but as Harold slowly becomes freer and looser, the animations disappear. The animations are representative of the anxiety and its constraint that Harold feels. The environments that Harold and Karen inhabit are clean and without clutter. They say you write what you know or infuse parts of yourself subconsciously in your characters in one’s writing, and that is shown with how very similar the two people are. Although the habits that both characters have are vastly different, the way that they restrict them from normal socializing is painfully similar.
The romance between Harold and Ana will remind one of Shakespeare’s comedies. It starts off with Ana telling Harold, who works for the Internal Revenue Service, to “get bent”. This structure of deepest loathing and witty banter, almost a pre-requisite for classical fictitious love, is constructed meticulously, not only by Zach Helm and Marc Forster, but by the story’s author, Karen Eiffel. Though we learn that she only writes tragedies, Eiffel fashions her story using similar conventions to that of screwball comedies and the Shakespearian comedies like Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This plot device of romance is utilized by Harold himself. There’s a slightly post-modern, self-examination of those conventions that have become so normal. That normality and the proceeding twist of the conventions was used, in a much different way, in the slasher film Scream. Although those characters know what kind of film they inhabit, Harold does not. He uses this to distinguish what novel he is exactly in. He keeps a moleskin book to tally the repartee between them, and, with much melancholy, concludes, “…I think I’m in a tragedy.”
The film gently satirizes literature theory every so often. The self-examination of conventions and clichés is used as a key plot point, but Jules Hilbert epitomizes the self-serious literature theory professor. However, the McGuffin is, in and of itself, a satirical poke at literature theory. Harold learns about his impending death in the most unpleasant of ways: through narration. “Little did he know that the simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.” Going to Prof. Hilbert about this act of third-person omniscient narration, he is stunned and Hilbert proceeds to explain the importance of “Little did he know…” and the various classes and papers he has taught on that one line. Helm pokes a little fun at how self-serious literature theory can be, analyzing the slightest lines and mild imagery, expounding on the ideas and using them to represent even larger abstract philosophies.
Although its novel structure is important, its examination of life makes the film resonant and beautiful. Harold’s willingness to accept his death, despite his struggle to acknowledge it and accept it, is one of the true pieces of beauty in film. Through his struggle of accepting that he is a character in a book, that he may be perpetuating the plot, there is a transformation in his character. It is like a well written book, one that has a versatile protagonist who, instead of remaining static, is a round character. The film is about the little moments in life meaning the most. It does not ask the pretentious question about the meaning of life, or even try to answer it. Instead, Forster gently persuades the viewer, and Eiffel persuades the reader, to notice that the little things do count. She writes, “And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives.”
And thus, Stranger Than Fiction is one of the most underrated, quietly brilliant films of the last decade. Its romantic and slyly philosophical content, its satire and screwball sensibility, and its dynamic characters are all utilized to create a gorgeous tapestry of fiction. The examination of structure and story are wisely used throughout the film. It is a winning formula, meticulously directed and smartly written. Truth is stranger than fiction, but film is transcendent of it all.