Archive for the ‘movies’ Tag

Film Report #2

Movies watched recently:

All The Real Girls (USA 2003)

There’s a scene about half-way through All The Real Girls which is so brutal in its naked honesty it transcends acting and the definition of character. You feel like you’re watching real people in a real situation.
This is just a culmination of the naturalistic, realistic vibe that runs through David Gordon Green’s small but impressive relationship drama. Shot in a measured, composed style, it hardly has a plot, only situations which revolve around a young couple in a small town in North Carolina and their friends and family. The movie eschews almost all kinds of sentimentality and cinematic traditions of portraying lovers, which creates a viewing experience that requires some patience and acceptance from the side of the viewer – we’ve been conditioned to see love portrayed in certain ways in movies – but if you go along for the ride you find a rich character study peppered with beautiful cinematography. Nature is a big part of the story: The behavior of nature and animals vs. the behavior of man. The movie seems to live and breathe between the dialogue, between the words, in looks and feelings and small gestures. It’s not the most flamboyant or flashy movie in the world, but as a story which depicts love and heartbreak it feels extremely real and genuine.

Ghost Town (USA 2008)

David Keopp is one of the most high-profile screenwriters in Hollywood. Among others, he wrote the scripts for Spider-Man, Jurassic Park, Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds, and the last Indiana Jones adventure. He’s also a director in his own right, and as a filmmaker usually creates thrillers such as Stir Of Echoes and Secret Window, which is a pretty neat adaptation of Stephen King’s scary novella. In Ghost Town he goes back to dealing with the ghostly world, which he first tackled in Stir Of Echoes (which I didn’t see), but this time, it appears, on a much lighter note. The movie is billed as a comedy, but it plays more like a drama. Much more Ghost than All of Me. Ricky Gervais plays a misanthropic dentist who, following a botched anesthesia, dies for seven minutes and subsequently gains the ability to see dead people, and that includes Greg Kinnear’s ghost who wants Gervais to prevent his widow from marrying a stuck-up lawyer. The first 30 minutes or so are pretty amusing, but once the romantic plot kicks in it all becomes a little too familiar, and the third act makes it very hard to keep the suspension-of-disbelief going, ending on a too-familiar note. The subject matter was handled much better (and with no ghosts) in the brilliant As Good As It Gets (also with Kinnear). Still, the performances are good (Kristen Wiig almost steals the show as a hilarious surgeon), the tone is whimsical at times, New York in Autumn looks great, and the film is an enjoyable, but ultimately slight, fantasy.
One thing: I wonder why dentists are always such SOB’s in movies (and on TV, like Dr. Whatley on Seinfeld). Anyway, from what I’ve seen of Keopp directorial work, I would say he’s much better in thrillers than in this kind of fluff.

The Big Lebowski (USA 1998)

Trying to describe The Big Lebowski‘s plot line (if you can call it that) is a meaningless gesture, and also a headache inducing one. This movie, one of the Coen Brothers’ most beloved, lives and breathes in its characters and dialogue, which comes to life through some fantastic performances, especially from Jeff Bridges who plays the ultimate slacker, The Dude, and John Goodman, who is his friend, a traumatized Vietnam War vet who insists on keeping the shabbos and have no control whatsoever on his impulses or mouth. All these characters inhabit a hyper-realistic world which is classic Coen brothers territory. The movie is peppered with some imaginative and fun dream/hallucination sequences, but  the entire film, with its weird kidnapping tale and bizarre characters, looks and feels like one big dream sequence. The story is scattershot and unfocused, but the dialogue is very funny for the most part and the characters are memorable. I don’t think it’s the Coen’s best work by far, but it’s certainly one of their most quotable and giddily insane. Also, the amount of profanity is so staggering it’s almost like poetry.

When saving the world was simpler

adventures-of-captain-marvelRecently I watched my first ever bona fide serial, Adventures Of Captain Marvel, which is actually the first time a comic book super hero was shown on screen. 12 chapters full of hair-raising adventures and ridiculous plot, and this serial, considered one of the finest ever made, sure gave me appetite for more.

Serials were short programs which ran in American cinemas during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s before the main feature, just to wet the audience’s appetite. They usually had between 12 to 15 chapters and each chapter ended with what came to be known as a “cliffhanger”, a situation which left our heroes in some nasty trouble, and if you wanted to know how they escaped it you had to watch the next chapter.  A synonym for a serial is a “chapterplay”.
Indiana Jones and Star Was were hugely influenced by the old serials, and those movies in turn gave rise to a host of imitators and countless other pop culture phenomenon like the Lara Croft game series, for example.

The Sylvester Stallone film Cliffhanger has nothing to do with serials, though.

I sit and ponder (as I am fond of doing) the naivety of the old serials. Just like a child, the art of film was in its infancy back in those days. Today, especially following films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, it’s hard to imagine a superhero story which concentrates solely on action and doesn’t bother at all with inner conflict of any kind or different shades of gray. AOCM tells the story of Billy Batson who, after a meeting with an old Siamese wizard (don’t ask) gets the power to turn into Captain Marvel in times of distress and danger. All he needs to do is say the word Shazam aloud and puff! Captain Marvel appears to save the day.
If this story would’ve been done today, surely the writers would have explored the way Billy Batson handles life with an alter ego about three feet taller than him and wearing tights. What does this do to his ego, to his social life? Does he see the world differently as Captain Marvel? What are the psychological ramifications of this new change in his life?

But do we really want to know all this? Let me quote Lt. Bookman from the classic Seinfeld episode “The Library”: “I remember when the librarian was a much older woman: Kindly, discreet, unattractive. We didn’t know anything about her private life. We didn’t want to know anything about her private life. She didn’t have a private life.”

This serial’s aim is to deliver escapism. In some ways, it makes it endearing and most importantly, fun. After being used to complex storytelling in film and especially TV, there’s something refreshing about it in a dated sort of way. Nothing is too complicated. There are one dimensional bad guys and one dimensional good guys and they all beat the crap out of each other. And the bad guys are great. Fantastic villain and superb evil henchmen. And when you’re doing a superhero adventure, it’s only as good as your villains. Some great stunts and effects in this one – this serial, done in 1941, preceded the famous Superman serial by eleven years – and Captain Marvel is no Superman, and I mean it in a good way. There’s a scene in which he grabs a machine gun from a couple of Bad Guys. When they turn to flee he… are you ready? Shoots them in the back! Yeah, he’s not superman. He’s mean and violent, he cracks their heads and throws them through windows. He’s almost like Superman would’ve been if he was Batman.

So I miss it sometimes. I miss simplicity. Really, being an adult is so complicated these days. Everything is so fucking complicated. One of the reasons I love old adventure films so much is because many of them were so straightforward.  In this day and age that wouldn’t fly (pun intended). We have become much more cynical, jaded and sophisticated viewers, just like the world we inhabit.

True, many of the old serials have retained their nostalgic value and not much else, but still, AOCM has a place in film history just for the reasons mentioned above. Its influence, and serials’ influence in general, can still be felt in current Hollywood popcorn movies.