Tuesday, July 29, 2008

CHUD: The Wackness

I tend to not pay attention to Sundance as it happens. It hurts too much, knowing I can’t be there. I’ve never been, but I would love to.

So, the only film I’d really heard about coming out of Park City was The Wackness and some movie about a Cuban playing baseball, or something like that. Good reviews and buzz and a blurb on an NPR podcast etched the film in the back of my mind. So, one lazy Saturday morning, I ventured off to the nearest matinee showing.

Eh, it’s…it’s alright.

I feel like the one word to describe the film is uneven. But the film’s so well written at times, and nothing feels forced. It’s a shame it gets so much right, except the film couldn’t handle its own whimsy.

There are few moments of real whim that call attention to themselves, but when they arrive, they’re great. Josh Peck is absolutely awesome in the role, as he holds back too much at times and expresses too much at others. He’s incredibly convincing, and reminded so much of someone I’d met once before that it felt that much more grounded. And the moments when his character, Luke Shapiro, dictates to dance on the pavement like Michael Jackon’s “Billie Jean” video, you buy it and love it as it happens.

But the film never really finds that balance with the rest of itself. Dialogue steeped in the mundane, the poetics of teenage angst (although it calls itself on it; “That was real cheesy, what you said back there,” Ben Kingsley admits), musings on the era. That’s my other chief complaint: the film is set in 1994, and boy does it never cease to remind us. A Forrest Gump ad on a bus was all I needed, and the Cobain references and Notorious B.I.G. soundtrack works, but it crosses the line, I think, when Kingsley, having been spotted by the cops smoking a joint, pumps the pumps on his Reeboks.

But the film is raw in its truths and efforts, and I feel like it worked rather well most of the time. It’s funny and touching and knows its subject matter.

Now, I’m off to see The Dark Knight again, though I suppose I will have to atone for this later.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

CHUD: The Dark Knight

What with the near unanimous acclaim, what else can be really said about this film? I know that I need to see it at least two more times – once to take in all the details one more time, the other to bask in its 70mm IMAX glory. Which brings me to my first point…

Devin’s recent words on the film revolve around how well it did, and the seemingly gross amount of viewings fanboys took in over the weekend. His more cogent points revolved around people seeing this film multiple times rather than using those repeat trips to the cinema to watch something new, like an indie film.

That doesn’t make much sense. For one, an audience’s enthusiasm for a film that is actually good is kind of refreshing. I’ve often had similar thoughts to Devin where I think, “Why would ANYONE go see House of Wax when those funds could be given to me, fledgling filmmaker extraordinaire?” But The Dark Knight is actually quite the landmark, and, despite his rating, his review seemed to loathe many aspects of the film.

Now, I will not begin a rebuttal to his veritable dissertation on the film. It’s a very good review, and definitely had me rethink some of my initial feelings, but I doubt I’ll flip-flop on how much I loved this film. I mean, this movie had my friends and I completely blown away, and these aren’t sycophantic comic book droolers (though they do love comics, Harry Knowles they are not). We respect good, well-told cinema.

We are the ones seeing those films Devin would rather us see. But we get just as excited about There Will Be Blood on its opening day as we do The Dark Knight.

Please, see The Dark Knight. It’s a good film and, though it’s raking in the cash, it fucking deserves it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

CHUD: The Happening - Gone with the wind

This isn't so much a review of M. Night Shyamalan's most recent effort -- 'effort' is either sarcastic or ironic, take your pick -- as it is a eulogy to the man himself. The Happening is the nail in a coffin with many, many nails trying to seal it shut. In a way, I must have a sixth sense, because I do see dead people. It's you, M. Night Shyamalan. Well, your career, that is.

The Happening features a mysteeeerious airborne something that causes large groups of people to stop and kill themselves. The first sign is that it makes you talk in complete nonsense. Shyamalan's script is brilliant in that you are on the edge of your seat the entire film, wondering if the babble their speaking is the first sign that they're going to kill themselves, or if it's just more of the atrocious dialogue that's going to make me kill myself.

Wahlberg's performance is by now notorious for how stilted it is, but, you know, the forever cute Zooey Deschanel is honestly just as horrible here, riding the line between witty/sexy and fucking stupid. Wahlberg's science teacher is probably the most unevenly written character of all time, next to Zooey's. And John Leguizamo bites it with his one-dimensional shtick as a math teacher. Maybe that would have been a good advertising campaign for this film: "THE HAPPENING - Now in 1-D!"

When did it happen, though? This new kid comes along, as we all know, and The Sixth Sense knocks it out of the park. He's able to write character, insightful back story, and delicate relationships, all of which are moving and entertaining. And then, around Signs, he gets a douchebag haircut*, starts using wide-angle lenses for dramatic close-ups, and suddenly he's incapable of writing any humor into his script that isn't ham-fisted. This time, however, he completely fists himself with impeccably bizarre attempts -- efforts -- that have Wahlberg call himself a douchebag and the already infamous scene where he talks to a houseplant.

The sad part is that it's obvious what he was trying to do. The guy's consistent. He has these actors speaking throughout the film in this quiet, mannered way. Some directors understand acting and how to direct actors to achieve a mannered performance, but David Mamet he is not. He seems to be aping that austere, sublime quality from other films, but in the process he has completely ignored his characters and his actors.

You really have to see it for yourself. It's audacious and relentless in how unthought out it is.

And in a way, an M. Night script is kind of like the airborne ailment in The Happening. It comes along, no one's sure what it is. It makes his actors speak gobbledygook, producers walk/bend over backwards for him, and then they all kill themselves.

Their careers, that is.

*I'm not sure when he got this haircut, this is just speculation.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

CHUD: Wall-E

All I’d really heard about this film before I saw it was that the beginning was nearly silent, no dialogue. People love to point this out (such as with There Will Be Blood or 2001: A Space Odyssey, to which this movie pays considerable homage), which is funny given the origins of animation, and film for that matter.

They were all silent in the beginning, and I think Wall-E was so refreshing for me it embraces those basic elements of visual storytelling. We’re given so much to look at in Wall-E’s world he’s created, and that’s what makes him so charming – he’s creative and unique and enjoys his world, despite no one being there to enjoy it with him.

Wall-E looks a lot like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, but watching the film, he really resembles and has more in common with E.T. The innocence, curiosity, earnestness, and self-sacrifice. He’s easy-going about it all, too. If you break his eye, he’ll just replace it with a new one.

I loved Ratatouille, and, upon seeing this, I started to wonder if I had just seen my favorite Pixar film. Of course, it immediately hit me that it’s completely unfair. Ratatouille is more complex, more sophisticated, but that arises from the story. Remy rides the line between the art of creation and pretense. Wall-E’s life is grand and simple, but the implications of his adventure are, as Remy would say, very important.

Ratatouille revolves around the growth of the individual, while Wall-E contrasts the minimalist life he leads with the grandeur of restarting humanity. It’s amazing how Pixar creates such fulfilling stories on any scale. And most of their films deal with pint-sized characters filling very big shoes, but I guess that is what makes it that powerful.

Wall-E is just amazing. He's so cute, you will probably cry. It's hilarious and poignant, and the copious 2001 references weren't so subtle but absolutely brilliant.

After existing in that wonderful environment for two hours, we felt as if we had landed on another planet when we left the theater.