Monday, March 31, 2008

No Country for Old Men

I am still trying to figure this one out.  One, what is the story really about?  Two, how did this film win Oscars?  Oscars as in four total:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem).  The Coen brothers have another hit.  It just may not be obvious to most.

There are several things the film has going for it.  The cast is definitely a good one.  Tommy Lee Jones is a justified skilled actor.  Woody Harrelson shows his serious side (which is actually good) in this film.  Even the younger generation, namely Josh Brolin and Kelly Macdonald, are fantastic.  

Comparing No Country for Old Men to the other nominees for the Oscars, I am not sure that the film deserved the clout it received.  Best Picture and Best Screenplay obvious go in one package.  A film doesn't earn one without the other and usually Best Director goes with it as well.  The Coen brothers have no doubt produced some amazing successful films.  Raising Arizona is one of my favorite films ever, and Fargo is also a good one.  Also, O Brother Where Art Thou? and The Ladykillers, both by the Coen brothers, were filmed in Mississippi.  No doubt they are talented, but this movie seems over analyzed by the Academy.  They expect the best from these two, and it is hard to believe that they might not have produced the best film.

However, the film does deserve some recognition for the brilliant performance by Javier Bardem.  The Coens' talent really shows in their casting.  Where they found this man, I have no idea.  He has mostly been in Spanish films, but his beginning in American film was Collateral.  This is definitely his best performance yet.  He is the perfect blend of blunt seriousness and horror.  As the serial killer, everything about him is creepy.  He absolutely deserved the Oscar.

The problem for me was that I did not understand the point of the movie.  It granted no satisfaction.  When it ended, I felt drained for nothing.  I sat through two hours of nonstop suspense and violence only to be confused to the point of frustration.  

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited

Quite possibly my favorite movie this year is The Darjeeling Limited, written and directed by Wes Anderson.  Wes Anderson has always been my favorite director ever, and this film could be his best yet.  Although he has been around a while, this is only his fourth film.  He writes and directs every one himself, so he covers every detail.

Anderson's films are not very mainstream.  They tend to portray quirky family stories with complex characters.  They all pay very close attention to detail, whether it be sets and costumes or lines and character traits.  The Darjeeling Limited follows the three Whitman brothers on their spiritual journey through India on none other that the train the Darjeeling Limited.

The one quirk about Anderson is his tendency to use the same actors in all his films.  Jason Schwartzman was in his first film Rushmore and stars in The Darjeeling Limited as Jack Whitman.  Owen Wilson has been in The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and he stars as the oldest Whitman brother Francis.  Angelica Huston and Bill Murray were also in Anderson's last two films.  The newcomer in The Darjeeling Limited is Adrian Brody.  His awkward stature is perfect for the unusual look Anderson goes for.  He is my favorite in this film as Peter Whitman.

What's interesting about this film is the collaboration with Jason Schwartzman.  He helped Anderson write the script but also a short film that prefaces The Darjeeling Limited.  Hotel Chevalier tells the story of Jack Whitman before he goes on the trip with his brothers.  It focuses on his relationship with his girlfriend.  It comes up often in The Darjeeling Limited with several references to his girlfriend and Jack's common practice of wearing his Hotel Chevalier bathrobe on the train.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Last King of Scotland

I know I am on a rant about James McAvoy, but I have found it is with reason.  On my flight home, even Delta's magazine featured him as the most talented rising actor.  I have talked a lot about his latest movies, which are all of the romance genre.  However, I am recently reminded of his earlier work of a different genre.  Over Spring Break, I watched The Last King of Scotland for a second time.  It had been a long time since I viewed the film, and I was amazed at my intrigue in the film the second time I watched it.

The film covers the dictatorship of the Ugandan president Idi Amin in the 1970s.  The film approaches the difficult subject from the perspective of his personal doctor, based on the fictional book by Giles Foden.  McAvoy plays Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor pulled into the web of Amin's political action as his doctor.  McAvoy was lucky to not have to work on an accent, as a Scot himself he was simply able to fall right into the role.  

McAvoy did amaze me at his level of talent so early in his career.  His emotional range and character meshing was unbelievable.  I am a fan of all his films, but he is most convincing in his most challenging role.  That proves to me his worth in the acting field.  To play such a monumental role in such a controversial film is truly an accomplishment.

The real talent in the film, however, is Forest Whitaker.  The man has been in many films of every genre and even graced television in several successful shows.  He is a very talented actor and blends into any role presented to him.  In this film, he couragously approached the role of Ugandan president Idi Amin, considered one of the most brutal rulers in history.  Whitaker makes this horrible man come across as a humorous, concerned ruler of his people.  He plays him exactly as the Ugandans and others viewed Amin in his time of power.  They were blind to his horrible ways as is the audience.  His excellent portrayal earned Whitaker his first Oscar.

The only way the audience can see this man's true character is through the perspective of the physician.  He is a fictional character but his position poses an interesting aspect on Amin's rule.  Initially, it is obvious that Garrigan is mesmerized by the president's extravagance and power.  Although Garrigan starts out his work in Uganda in a village clinic, he has no problem adjusting to the private house and convertible given to him by Amin.  Amin has a love for Scottish culture and military history, so grows very attached to him.  Garrigan is one of the only people to see almost every aspect of Amin's life.  For the purpose of exposing this dictator to the world, Garrigan works well as fictional eyes and ears in Amin's life.

The story of Idi Amin, however is very true. There is no doubt that he is one of the most horrible dictators.  In 1971, this man took power as a man of the people after a military coup against President Obote.  The Ugandan people loved Amin, but by the end of his rule in 1979 he was responsible for around 500,000 Ugandan's deaths.  After being kicked out of Uganda, Amin settled in Saudi Arabia until his death on August 16, 2003.  This movie was released only three years after his death.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Be Kind, Rewind

Be Kind, Rewind is a story of three unlikely friends in an unlikely situation.  The movie is a very unusual comedy about one man's dedication to his video store.

Jack Black and Mos Def star as the unlikely friends Jerry and Mike.  Jerry is a humorous troublemaker while Mike stays tied to the control and simplicity of the video store.  Once they begin making videos, Alma joins the crew.  She is played by newcomer Melonie Diaz, known only to me from A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.  The three mesh well together in a comedic form very unusual to such a diverse trio.  They all come from such different backgrounds, personally and professionally, so it is a surprise that their witty conversation and jesting screen presence blend well.

The flick even included old favorites such as Danny Glover and Sigourney Weaver.  She ironically starred in Ghostbusters, the first film Jerry and Mike remake. Perhaps the most surprising part was Miss Falewicz, played by Mia Farrow.  She is an unlikely but pleasant addition to the diverse cast.  Everytime I think of this timeless actress, I picture the elegant sleekness of The Great Gatsby.  It is very broadening to see her play such an original character.

Probably an unnoticed dynamic of the film is the racial diversity.  Not only is it evident in the choice of well-known actors, but in the story as well.  The town is very diverse, but interestingly, the three main characters represent the three largest racial groups of our nation.  The town comes together at the end to produce a masterpiece and if you look closely, the lines of racial tension fade away.  The film is more than just a humorous take on extenuating circumstances.  The movie is about togetherness and accomplishment.  The short films that Jerry and Mike produce begin to include the entire town.  No one has to solve a huge problem alone because people are always there when you need them.  Even if your problem is remaking movies on erased tapes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dear Frankie

Dear Frankie is the story of a mother and her son Frankie.  Frankie writes letters to his dad who works on a ship, but in reality, the mother pretends to be the dad and writes back.  Frankie's father left the family when Frankie was a baby.  When the boat comes to their town, Frankie's mom must find a man to play his dad, a man who changes their lives.  Frankie is so special:  very clever but deaf.  As his mother puts it, Frankie's deafness was a gift from his real father.  

Although this film is a wonderful, intriguing story, what is so amazing is its portrayal as a reality.  The movie is so cleverly crafted that it seems that the audience is there beside the characters as a part of the story.  The Scotland setting also plays into the beauty of the film.  The actors: Emily Mortimer and Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera, 300) are two of the freshest British actors out there.

The characterization of the film is very little.  There is not a lot of detailed history about the family or other characters.  It is as if this story was just picked up by a passerby and continued for all to unravel as they go along.  The incomplete characterization plays as role as one of the themes for the mother.  She does not want to know anything about the man who will pretend to be Frankie's dad and she does not want him to know about him.  They have spent their whole lives running from Frankie's real father that they don't know to stop.  They moved from place to place without explanation or settling down.

The presence of Frankie's "dad" changes everything for the family.  He is the first male figure to love and embrace Frankie and his mom.  They do not know how to open up and love, but this man fits so perfectly into there lives.   Even though they both know this man is not a real father for Frankie, they feel much closer to this father figure and he changes their lives forever.

One important feature of the film is the silence.  The movie is very reminiscent of everyday life, with reasonable pauses and moments that are often ignored in plot time.  Several scenes take a long time to unfold because they play out as real life.  Several times when the mother is picking up the mail, half a minute goes by before she receives the post.  Even the moment before Frankie's "dad" and mom kiss is painstakingly long, however it is a legitimate time period.

Also, many of the scenes unfold without much conversation.  The most significant moment is when Frankie watches his mom and "dad" dance.  The music fades away and becomes muffled.  This scene is meant only for Frankie, and the film depicts it from his point of view.  All of the silence is for Frankie.

Frankie is the narrator of the story, which is slightly ironic because in the film, everyone just wants to hear his voice.  They only way of communication is in his letters to his dad which his mom receives.  She continues her facade because she cherishes his voice.  In the end, she does regret that she carried it on so long in Frankie's life.  Frankie is smarter than everyone in the film though.  His last letter solves all of the mysteries for Frankie.  He figures out that his real dad was dead, his mom had been writing the letters, the man he met was not his real dad, and that everything was going to be okay.  Frankie is still happy to be where he is because he knows now he'll get to stay. 

Friday, March 7, 2008

Penelope vs. Atonement

Atonement releases on DVD this week while Penelope opens in theaters.  One film with numerous Oscar nominations tells a dramatic story of crime and distance, another excellent film with Keira Knightley.  The other a playful, fairytale-like story of a girl's search for acceptance and love.  Penelope is played by Christina Ricci.

Both films are on my list of movies to see, although they are quite the opposite.  What, then, do these films have in common with one another?  James McAvoy is the male lead.  

James McAvoy has quickly become one of my favorite actors out there.  He has suddenly become a sought after man for every genre of film.  He has not been so popular for very long.  His first big film role was Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia.  Since then, he has made film after film that has proved him a worthy subject of the screen.  

His next film and perhaps my favorite, is The Last King of Scotland.  He portrayed a doctor for a Ugandan dictator.  The film was amazing and no doubt Forest Whitaker earned the Oscar for best actor for the film.  McAvoy pleased the audience as well though.  He since then has starred in several romances, including Atonement and Penelope.  He has been in comedies, dramas, and romances and has yet to fail to shine.  

Becoming Jane, his first romance, was not a very good movie in my opinion.  The plot line was rough and characterization was lacking.  However, I loved to watch McAvoy interact with others on screen.  He has a presence that made me endure and even sometimes enjoy the movie.

Keep your eye on this rising star and this week enjoy Atonement and Penelope.  This is just the beginning of James McAvoy's budding career.  

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

I am confident that the book is always better than the movie.  I have yet to see a film that proves better than the film.  A few have satisfied me as justifiable renditions of the book.  Pride and Prejudice is about the only film that I really enjoyed as much as the book.  Books leave the pictorial story up to your imagination, which I always take that for granted.  I get some scenes stuck a certain way in my head, so when the movie comes out I don't like it.  The characters and plot lines are never developed in the movie enough to satisfy me.  It seems that the movie also takes out my favorite parts of the book.  I have gotten to where the movie ruins the book for me.  That is why I am apprehensive to go see The Other Boleyn Girl.  

The Other Boleyn Girl is one of my favorite books.  I am intrigued by English history, and Phillipa Gregory writes excellent historical fiction.  All of her books are based on real historical figures and events, but she flowers the stories with her detailed style of writing.  I was particularly drawn to this book because it addresses the story of Anne Boleyn.  She is one of the most fascinating women of history in my mind.  I just don't think any filmmaker could do the book justice.

The film itself has the potential to be an excellent film.  With a great cast and storyline, the movie will no doubt do well.  However, many people that I have talked to have never heard of the book.  Everyone I have talked to is excited about the film release, but I cannot convince them to read the book.  They just don't know what they are missing.
I am not saying that the film won't be good; I will just have to take it as a separate entity from the book.  Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman have yet to displease me, and newcomer Jim Sturgess, known mainly for Across the Universe, is brilliant as well.  
Perhaps the only thing I doubt is the casting of Eric Bana as Henry Tudor.  He has been in several movies that are popular and well made; Troy and Munich are two. However, he has always been outshined by costars or content.  Then there is Hulk, which was just terrible all around.  I think they could have picked a stronger actor to play the part of the king.  I don't think he is the best main character actor.

I find, however, that reading the book after the movie can be very interesting.  The pages of the book have much more space to fill in the details and expound on characters, relationships, or even plots.  I really enjoy filling in the gaps from the movie with the book.  It has become a hobby of mine to read the book before the movie, especially with Harry Potter, so I can analyze and compare the two mediums.  I will definitely have to go back and read The Other Boleyn Girl after I see the film.  I want to see what the movie left out.