Thursday, January 31, 2008
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
This isn't a political blog, but if you've checked it out, you've probably noticed politics ocassionally creeping in...I'm a Washingtonian, I can't help it. You may have also picked up on my generally left leanings...again, Washingtonian (the kind that actually lives in the District) - can't be hepled. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself agreeing with the sentiments of Mr. Homosexuals-Are-Deviants himself, former Sen. Rick Santorum, in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed of his.
Santorum, now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Institute in DC, addressed his belief that the newest generation of filmmakers, products of Baby Boomers, are creating work that can counter, or at least show the negative consequences of, the "free love" ideology closely associated with their parents' generation, and the attitude of relative ambivalence toward divorce and abortion it helped to create.
Now, I have little interest in e-debating the merits of culture war arguments, and I hardly think, as Santorum suggests, that movies like Juno, Knocked Up, and Waitress signify that the "recognition of life in the womb is going mainstream." (Is that not already a "mainstream" understanding?) But, as a product of divorce who has always at least struggled with abortion, those and other films by young filmmakers with similar messages have resinated with me for their positive themes.
As Santorum emphasizes, these aren't pro-life movies, with all the baggage and ambiguity that comes with that terminology. They are life-affirming stories, and, says Santorum, "There is lived experience, emotional understanding, hard-earned authenticity at the heart of these scripts. And pain." The strength of these films, as Terry Mattingly points out, is that they aren't preachy, as so many obvious, cloying message movies are. While such reactions might be "spoiling the fun" of pro-choice (with all the baggage and ambiguity that comes with that terminology) Juno almost-fans like Mark Harris, if any movie gets Rick Santorum and I to find common ground, I'd say it's culturally significant.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Ledger was breaking into the kinds of projects he'd been waiting for: the Times' Stephen Holden called Ledger's Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain as good "as the best of Brando"; Terry Gilliam said, "He's going to be a much better director than I will ever be" (Ledger was preparing for his feature-directing debut); those of us following Dark Knight news closely, initially skeptical of Ledger as the choice for the new Joker, had been proven wrong by the film's trailer, at least matching Jack Nicholson for iconic impact.
I might not be adding anything new to the remembrances already out there, but Dark Knight director Chris Nolan's piece in Newsweek about Ledger is worth sharing.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
As expected, there was substantial overflow, and as I am wont to do, I arrived late, but - evidenced by fellow Washingtonian, Jobless Girl in DC - Ms. Dawson kindly played a portion of the set in the chilly outside for all the kids who couldn't get in. (With the Moldy Peaches, it's all class - especially when, in some parallel universe trickery, they wind up on The View.)
And at least I was able to walk away with some promotional swag - namely, Juno guitar picks. Honest to blog.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
Well, after months of obsessive online speculation, 1-18-08 finally arrived this weekend, and with it came Cloverfield. Turns out all the viral marketing background setup - aside from possibly filling in some story gaps for viewers who've been following it closely - doesn't even come into play in the movie, as many expected. And the film is stronger for it.
The ingenious device of the picture is that the audience witnesses a Godzilla-like attack on New York through the camcorder lens of its protagonists, and experiences it as they do, with no explanation or idea of what's happening. The premise is obviously indebted to a fellow guerilla-style hit, The Blair Witch Project, but Cloverfield is a reinvention of the genre, and its framing heightens the panic and chaos required of such a story to truly make you feel like you're there.
The result is a kind of minimalist blockbuster, which, with its slight $30 million budget, relies heavily on sound and dizzying scene setups to create its constant, heart-pounding intensity (it has aptly been described as more theme park than movie).
Still, it's a bit cheesy at times, and the creature creepiness - which we do, in fact, see, if not much - looks a little SciFi Channel-CGI to be satisfying after all the hype (but, really, what could've met all those expectations?). The story is great, though, because the monster is really secondary; Cloverfield is about a group of friends struggling to make sense of a situation beyond their understanding or control. And it's one exciting ride.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Monday, January 14, 2008
Charlie Wilson effectively balances humor with poignancy, and just as everyone is championing the once-obscure congressman's cause (hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens of downed Soviet helicopters later), the same people return to ignoring him when he begins talk of rebuilding post-war Afghan society. The original ending of Sorkin's script, somewhat famously, had Wilson watching smoke billow from the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The picture didn't need it, as the implications hang heavily over its third act. "Sooner or later, God's gonna be on both sides," warns Wilson while a fellow congressman riles up a crowd of Afghanis in a refugee camp.
Charlie Wilson's War is a story of flawed people trying for great things, and the way the story is told snuck up and left me surprisingly stirred.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
John McCain used to spin Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" (guess he felt the Johnny Cash cover was a little lackluster) to get his crowds revved up - that is, until the Heartbreaker ordered a cease and desist. Still, great song, good theme. Which is probably why George W. Bush used it in his 2000 campaign (prompting a similar demand from Petty), and Democrat Jim Webb also employed it during his senate campaign (Petty made no such request in that case).
Cash is spun by Fred Thompson, who uses the Man in Black's "I've Been Everywhere," no doubt trying to convey that, contrary to popular belief, he actually, y'know, moves around and does stuff. Again, great song, but aside from pointing out that it's the nature of campaigns to travel - and, I guess, that he has experience - not really sure what it says about his bid.
Rudy Giuliani, apparently trying to appeal to 13-year-old girls (did anyone else just shudder?) and southerners, digs the good-time-pop-country of the Rascal Flatts. 'Nuff said. Mike Huckabee prefers standard rock request "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, everybody's favorite bigots. Bit of an odd choice, but dude's a rocker, and he wants us to know.
"Mess We're In" by Los Lobos - a suprisingly awesome and obscure choice for a presidential election - is Bill Richardson's pick, showcasing his Latino and southwestern roots. A unique tune for a unique candidate. John Edwards backer John Mellencamp is the obvious choice for the son of a millworker working for the working class (what, he's holding out for Bruce until the general?).
But from my point of view, the best campaign song moment - and indeed, the best thing Hillary Clinton's campaign has done, so far - has been the Sopranos finale-parodying video in which she revealed her theme. Too bad it turned out to be...Celiene Dion's "You and I" (cue trombone wah-wah here). Great idea, terrible song. In contrast, Barack Obama generally pumps in Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" over the soundsystem. And that pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Do you want Celiene Dion or Stevie Wonder? I rest my case.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Monday, January 7, 2008
Friday, January 4, 2008
To answer any initial questions, yes, everyone in the cast sings well, if much lighter and more airy than we're used to in its Broadway incarnations, where the show is basically an opera. And yes, some of the stageplay's flow is lost in translation to the screen (particulary, early on), but this is a decidedly different beast, and is as exhilirating as any version prior.
The color pallet and set design are pure Burton, and the director's considerable vision turns out to be a great match for the piece. While appropriately over the top at times, Sweeney is equal parts scary, pretty, and funny, as it should be. Although Burton mostly shows restraint, the film's first bloody scene is nearly ridiculous in its grotesqueness (I'm not complaining). Violence - even when larger than life - is essential to the story of Sweeney Todd.
Depp understands this, and while Helena Bonham Carter certainly looks the part of Mrs. Lovett (the owner of a struggling London pie shop), he inhabits the role, conveying with his eyes and body language what other actors have done with a house-shaking voice. Rounding out the cast are Alan Rickman, satisfyingly creepy as the judge who wronged Todd, and Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Borat), brilliant in his turn as Pirelli, Todd's would-be barber competition.
Ultimately, Sweeney Todd is one of those movies that gives one hope about Hollywood - that major studios and filmmakers are still willing to take risks to serve great stories.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
The meandering plotline involves the discovery of a standoff gone wrong, a suitcase filled with two million dollars left at the scene, and a psychopathic hitman on a bloody road trip to track it down, but the way the story is told is more important than what actually happens. From its initially baffling conclusion to its philosophizing protagonist and antagonist, respectively, No Country seems to try and say something profound about inevitability and chance, but mostly offers "the world is a bad place" as its statement - not that that's not a worthy observation. Still, the sparse atmosphere rendered so uniquely in No Country is the picture's real takeaway.