Comments on watching and making films.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Writer/Director Judd Apatow seems to have his name on everything lately, and now he has teamed up with Freaks and Geeks team mate, writer/director Jake Kasdan, to produce Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Apatow co-wrote the film with Kasdan, and Kasdan directed.

Walk Hard is a parody of the life of Johnny Cash, famously brought to the screen a few years ago in the James Mangold film Walk The Line. John C. Riley plays Dewey Cox, a country boy who accidentally kills his piano phenom brother, by cutting him in half with a machete. From then on, he makes a pledge to be as good a musician as his brother, and win back the love of his father, who continuously reminds him that "the wrong kid died". The story follows Cox from his first appearances in a band, through his initial success, his drug years, the destruction of his marriage, and his comeback. All of it is told with trademark Apatow "one step to far" humor, and Riley plays Cox completely balls to the wall.

Walk Hard is funny, like pretty much everything that Apatow has his hands in, but, it reminds me a lot of Knocked Up. It's the kind of film that you watch once, and think - "Well, that was funny", and then you don't really ever think about watching it again. Cox's whole life is thrown at you in an hour and a half, and, by the time it's all over, you feel tired and satisfied, but not wanting for more. With other Apatow-related films, Superbad, Talladega Nights, and The 40 Year Old Virgin, I was always ready to watch it again. Walk Hard, though, left me uninterested in a second viewing.

Tim Meadows, of Saturday Night Live fame, plays an amazing supporting role in the film as the member of the band who always seems to be getting Dewey into whatever his next vice is. They go through a couple of drugs, and every time Meadows, as Sam, is caught doing the drugs by Cox, he tells Cox - "You don't want to get involved in this shit", and then goes on to list all of the reasons he shouldn't do the drugs that Sam is doing. Oddly enough, all of the reasons Dewey shouldn't do them always end up coming off as reasons Dewey SHOULD take drugs. For some reason, this gag never ceases to be funny. 

Riley inhabits the role of Cox like a second skin. By the time the film is halfway through, you don't even question Riley as an actor playing a role anymore. You just, automatically, see him as Dewey Cox. Like Will Ferrel in Talladega Nights, Riley plays Cox as close to a talented moron as he possibly can. Jenna Fischer, of The Office fame, also does an incredible job as Darlene, the June Carter character in this Cash take off.

But, here's the question - With all of the great performances, all of the hilarious jokes, is Walk Hard worth seeing in the theater? I can't answer that question, because I prefer seeing everything in the theater, as opposed to watching it on a TV screen. But, if I was more fickle about my theater going, honestly, I would probably wait for DVD on this one. It is funny, but it's not a Superbad, or a 40 Year Old Virgin

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Margot At The Wedding

Margot At The Wedding is Noah Baumbach's latest film. Some of you may know Noah, primarily, from The Squid and the Whale, but he has several well made films in his catalog, including Kicking and Screaming, his debut, which is now available on Criterion DVD.

Margot (Nicole Kidman) is a New York writer who, along with son Claude, is on her way out to the country for her sisters wedding. She doesn't approve of the man she's marrying, and, honestly, doesn't care for her sister very much either, but is going to get away from her husband, whom she is no longer in love with. When she gets to the large, Cape Cod style house, we meet her sister, Pauline (played by Baumbach's wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh), Pauline's daughter, and her soon to be husband Malcolm (played by Jack Black), a "super smart" guy who, basically has amounted to nothing.

As the film clips along, the tension between Margot and everyone else rises substantially. Margot is one of those people who is eternally unhappy, and, not only completely unable to experience happiness herself, but she also seems to find it a necessity to make sure those around her are unhappy as well. Baumbach has written Margot with an acute awareness of how the character's personality is like a surgical instrument in the hands of a psychotic maniac - always slicing away at everyone else, while she's completely unable to focus on solving any of her own problems.

The film also shares a little bit of its focus with her son Claude, who, unfortunately, ends up being a bit of a cliche mash up of other indie film characters. We see Claude face a lot of situations, but he never really does anything beyond what you would expect him to do.

Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Pauline, delivers a fantastic performance as the sister who has never particularly accomplished anything, and simply drifts through life, attaching herself to whatever comes along, which, in this case is Jack Black's character, Malcolm. Black turns out a decent performance, considering he doesn't rely on any of his trademark schtick.

The film is quite amazing, really, in the way it portrays such a messy side of family togetherness, neurosis, and selfishness. My only problem with it is that Baumbach (or perhaps a studio exec?) doesn't always allow us to let it all sink in. Cuts are made VERY quickly in this film, to the point that, sometimes, a cut to the next scene happens directly after a punchline or a reveal. The film doesn't give you any time to take in what has just happened, and, in doing so, feels like it is moving at the pace of a bullet train. You feel that, by the time your done, you've been on a bit of a roller coaster ride, with your eyes closed, so you have no idea what just happened. It is taut, but maybe a little too taut...

All in all, I would definitely recommend Margot for Baumbach fans, but, not for Kidman fans or casual film goers. For instance, my Mom asked me if she would like it, and I told her no. The main reason I told her no was the fact that Baumbach's humor is extremely dry and razor sharp, but there's also other little Baumbach twists of the arm, like Margot's masturbation scene, that would probably make my mom feel incredibly uncomfortable. So, the verdict is, go watch The Squid and the Whale. If you don't like that, there's NO WAY you'll like Margot At The Wedding.


Juno is, probably, one of my most anticipated films of the year, behind Control. Ever since Arrested Development, I've been a fan of Michael Cera (who played George Michael Bluth), and Jason Bateman (some of you may be old enough to remember him from Silver Spoons and Valerie, as well). The film also stars Ellen Page, as the title character Juno, who I have a semi-embarrassing crush on (she's only twenty, and looks even younger than that, so, it just feels weird).

The film is the story of Juno MacGuff, a sixteen year old girl who, after having sex with her best friend (played by Cera), ends up pregnant. She decides to keep the baby, but only long enough to have it, and then give it up for adoption. Along with her best friend, the tragically cliche Leah, she seeks out a couple to adopt her baby from the local pennysaver, and stumbles upon a well to do couple who is unable to conceive (played by Bateman and Jennifer Garner). While Juno is going through the ordeal of being quietly ostracized by her parents, and openly ostracized by her peers, she's trying to reconnect with her best friend and the father of her baby, Pauly Bleeker (as always, played hilariously by Michael Cera).

I'm not going to talk too much more about the plot, because I'd hate to give away any of the most interesting subplots that go on in the film. I will say that Page, Cera, and Bateman excel in their art form, in this film. The script, written by newcomer Diablo Cody, was well directed by Jason Reitman (yes, the son of legendary comedy director Ivan Reitman), though, I will say that Juno suffers considerably from a case of self-conscious filmmaking. Reitman wears his influences on his sleeve, especially in art direction, and his indie sensibility, while sharp, never-the-less sometimes feels like it has been cobbled together from other directors Mise-En-Scene. For instance, the amount of detail in the art direction in Juno's room, or her house for that matter, almost hearkens back to the painful amount of attention to period detail in, say, a Wes Anderson film. 

And the wall to wall indie music soundtrack, while made up of great music, did get kind of old. I mean, how many Belle and Sebastian songs can you have in one movie! But Reitman is a newcomer, trying to find his place away from his father, and trying to find his own voice, so I'm sure as time goes on, he will develop his own style. 

My only other problem with the film was the way the characters (primarily Juno and Leah), would talk sometimes. The words and phrasing they would use at times just felt SO self-conscious and written, as opposed to spontaneous and real. Some of their interactions felt scripted, as opposed to natural.

Page really made me fall in love with Juno. By the time the film was over, I was crying, and wishing I was Pauly Bleeker, sitting there on some front porch in Washington state, singing Moldy Peaches songs with Juno.

Ellen Page and Jason Bateman at Juno Premiere

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


When I saw the first trailer for Atonement, I thought "Wow, there's a movie I'm not bothering with". I don't know, it just feels like I've seen SO MANY World War 1 and 2 era British love stories. Most of them tend to be long, drawn out, and boring, elliciting sympathy and romantic feelings for characters by using cliche's.

BUT, then it started getting all of these amazing reviews and garnering a bunch of advance awards, so, I became a bandwagon jumper, and bought my ticket. Well, it is safe to say that Atonement was considerably better than I thought it would be.

The story involves three primary characters - Celia Tallis (Keira Knightley), a teen/young adult from a rich family, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), one of the groundskeepers at the Tallis household, and Briony Tallis (played by multiple actors), Celia's younger sister, who has a talent for writing, and feelings for Robbie. Something has happened between Celia and Robbie, and, when Robbie tries to make it right, Briony realizes that his heart is for Celia, and not for her. Pierrot, Jackson, and Lola, the cousins of Celia and Briony, come to stay with the Tallis's, but their boredom and restlessness lead Pierrot and Jackson to run away. This leads to the evening's dinner party guests to have to break out and search the grounds for the young boys. Before they're found, though, Briony finds Lola being raped by a man who manages to get away before he can be identified. In her anger with Robbie, and his new found connection with Celia, she tells the police that she could positively identify Robbie as the rapist. 

Robbie ends up going to jail, being torn apart from Celia, and causing Briony to retreat into herself. Fast forward a few years, and we meet Robbie, Celia, and Briony in the midst of World War 2. Robbie has been let out of prison to serve England, but is MIA in France, Celia hasn't seen her family in years and is working as a nurse, and Briony is training as a nurse, and is trying to get back in touch with Celia to put things right. 

I can't really say anymore, otherwise too much of the plot would be given away, but, Atonement turned out to be a really well made, well acted film. There were several funny moments in it, which were surprising for this "sub-genre" of film, and the love story between Robbie and Celia was not completely un-original or cliche, though, the relationship between the three of them (Celia, Robbie, and Briony), can, at times, be a little cliche. The way the story is told, by telling Briony's version of certain events, and then showing a completely objective view of events was very interesting, and reiterates how subjective realities can destroy relationships and lives.

Atonement was well worth my two hours, especially at the matinee price. I'm not a huge fan of any of the actors in the film, but they all did a great job. The directing was superb, and the story, especially the last quarter of it, was very well written. Fantastic. And, you definitely want to see it on the big screen. Absolutely beautiful.


What better way to open this whole thing up, than to review the film that I have been waiting to see for almost a year now (It may, actually, be longer than that. For the life of me, I can't remember when I first heard about "Control").

To start this off, a little personal background. I admit to the fact that I'm not cool enough to have come to Joy Division on my own. I came to them through Interpol. I remember back in 2001, or maybe 2002, when their "Turn On The Bright Lights" album came out and changed my life. Everyone was screaming about Joy Division's influence on them, so, after a while, I finally broke down and bought "Substance", the closest thing to a "greatest hits" you can get. It didn't take more than a few listens to become a true believer.

Ever since then, I have always wanted to make a film based on Ian Curtis and Joy Division, and, imagine my surprise when I found out that someone else was beating me to it. I was angry, at first, when I found out that someone had optioned Deborah Curtis's book, and was planning on taking this thing all the way, but, then the bomb dropped - Anton Corbijn, Joy Divisions primary photographer, and possibly one of the closest people to the band, and to Ian, was the one directing it. My unhappiness washed away. Corbijn has never made a feature, and I don't really care for his music videos, but to know that Deborah and Anton's hands would be on this project, steering it... Well, that made it all worthwhile.

Control is fairly standard in its form. We begin with a teenage Ian Curtis, played with incredible passion and awareness by Sam Riley. Curtis is prime material for the punk explosion that is about to happen around him - he is a middle class kid who experiments with drugs, is heavily into music, and is burdened with the realization that he probably has no real future. After meeting and marrying his girlfriend, Deborah (played by Samantha Morton), he begins to get more heavily into the local music scene, dragging Deborah along with him. Ian and Deborah attend a Sex Pistols gig, which causes Ian to become very interested in the possibility of singing in the band that a couple of his old buddies have formed. Though they don't realize it at the time, this is the beginning of Joy Division, a band that changed the face of punk, is often credited as one of the seminal bands of Goth Rock, and was poised to be as big as The Clash and The Sex Pistols.

The film continues with the bands beginnings as "Warsaw", to their first gigs as Joy Division, their introduction to Tony Wilson (who was the driving force behind their record label, Factory Records), to Ian's epilepsy, his extra marital relationship with a Belgian writer, the slow dissolve of his marriage, and his inability to cope with what his life had become.

The film is shown in beautiful black and white, though I've read that Corbijn shot in color and went to black and white in post. The cast that makes up Joy Division, including Sam Riley as Ian, Joe Anderson as Peter Hook, James Pearson as Bernard Sumner, and Harry Treadaway as Stephen Morris, is pitch perfect, from their appearance, to their attitudes. When Pearson, as Hook, asks Tony Wilson if he "can say big dog's cocks" on national television, I couldn't stop laughing. When Morton, as Deborah Curtis, discovers Ian has been cheating on her, she has a way of making you, as an audience member, empathize completely with Deborah, to really feel her pain. And Riley, as Ian Curtis, makes your heart break for him, even though you know that he's brought all of his problems (except epilepsy) on himself.

Corbijn, honestly, could not have done a better job. And, while his source material is excellent, and his actors top notch, you can tell, in the tender loving care that he puts into every single frame, that Control isn't just another film, it's a labor of love. I don't expect that Corbijn will make another film after Control. This one came from the heart. He wanted to make it because it was a reflection of a moment in time that he got to share with Joy Division, and now, he's able to share it with the world. If he were to make another film, I would definitely go see it, but something tells me this was a one off project, a way to express his thankfulness for the incredible memories that this world has bestowed upon him.