Comments on watching and making films.

Friday, November 18, 2011

J. Edgar

Clint Eastwood has always been a hit and miss director for me. I think he's a great director, I just think some of his work is good, and some of it is... Not appealing to me. Mystic River, for instance, was difficult for me to get through, while I really enjoyed Gran Torino. Changeling was also not on my favorites list of that year, but I had held out hopes for J. Edgar, because I thought that, while also a period drama, the story was much more multi-faceted and expansive.

The story is fairly simple - J. Edgar Hoover's life from, roughly, the time that the FBI begins, until the time of his death, hitting on some of the bigger and more scandalous aspects of his career.

Now this is always where it gets hard. This is the part where I have to try and figure out how to justify the fact that I like certain elements of the film, while ultimately finding it slightly more interesting than watching paint dry. I liked the acting. The production design was exquisite. The film, though, was about as interesting as reading the wikipedia entry for Hoover. I think the main problem is that it tried to cover so much stuff, that it was always just touching on things, the way that a magazine article would. Don't get me wrong, I get that the point of the movie was to show how diluted this man was, how "in his own world" he was, but it felt like a long, hard trudge through a lot of mud to get to that point, leaving you wondering, by the time it's over, if it's worth it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Take Shelter

Jeff Nichols feels like the David Gordon Green career we should have gotten after Snow Angels (instead of the decent into mediocrity that have been his follow ups). His debut feature, Shotgun Stories, was a slow burning, southern gothic, "family" film along the lines of Green's Undertow. His follow up, Take Shelter, reunites him with Shotgun Stories star Michael Shannon, and gives Nichols the chance to create something with all of the environment and feel of his debut, but to have a much more reserved and psychological approach to it.

Take Shelter stars Shannon as Curtis, a joe-average guy who begins to have apocalyptic visions, much to the concern of his wife, Samantha (played by Jessica Chastain), who begins to worry about him when he starts acting strange. Feeling a necessity to finish out an underground storm shelter in their backyard, Curtis devotes himself to the task, risking friendships, his job, and possibly his family. The big question, though, is this - Is Curtis crazy? or is he seeing something that no one else see's?

Take Shelter is, like Shotgun Stories, a bit of a slow burner, but once you start seeing what Curtis is seeing, the movie starts to find its steam. The film really draws you into the experience of this man, who feels so strongly about what he's experiencing, that he takes severe action to save his family. One can't help but see the biblical Noah story as a parallel. While God doesn't tell Curtis to do something (he is influenced by his dreams and visions), you see the effects of a man who has a singular, seemingly insane, mission that he undertakes.

Michael Shannon is awesome, as usual. You can't beat that dude. Chastain kills it too, with a subtlety and plainness that draws out the middle America in her. Shea Wigham, who plays Curtis's friend, has some really great moments too.

Take Shelter was really enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to seeing where Nichols career goes.

Uncle Kent

I have a feeling that, one day, Joe Swanberg's work is going to be studied and written about. Not particularly because it's great work, but because of the way he seems to primarily focus on taking real life, fictionalizing it, and then trying to pass it off as real life again, which could make for some interesting research papers.

Uncle Kent stars Swanberg friend, and collaborator, Kent Osborne as a 40-something year old, single animator living in Los Angeles, which is, basically, what he is. We follow Kent through his daily life, which includes hanging out with friends, smoking weed, and work, until he meets up with a girl he met on Chat Roulette, who flies out to LA for some meetings. Things get complicated because she's not interested in being sexual with him (which he wants), but she does want to, essentially, act like they are going out. It gets really odd when they decide to take place in a "fantasy fulfillment" off of Craigslist.

There's never much you can comment with on a Swanberg film. People don't tend to act, but simply be themselves (but with talking points). I'm not sure how much any of his films are really scripted (sans, maybe, Hanna), so I always hesitate to comment on the writing. The majority of the time, with a Swanberg film, I find myself simply saying I either like it, or I don't. I liked Uncle Kent. I thought it was an interesting film about having gotten exactly what you wanted, but not particularly being pleased with it, and about being as lost in your early forties as you may have been in your early twenties. Uncle Kent ranks up there with LOL on the list of Swanberg films that are worth a watch, but will probably never be much more than that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Joseph Kahn wants you to believe that people still care about music video's, and record companies should too!

Saw this on twitter the other day -

Now, while I may agree with the sentiment of the top tweet (there are certainly more than ample outlets for videos of ANY kind right now), the lower sentiment I can't agree with. Why should record companies spend millions of dollars on videos? What sense does that make anymore? The last time I remember anyone being even remotely excited about a video was Arcade Fire's Suburbs video, and that was less a video and more an interactive experience. Before that, I couldn't even say.

Don't get me wrong, I think music video's are still very relevant in todays world, but for anyone to believe that a multi-million dollar video (especially the kind of mostly useless eye candy videos that Kahn makes) is meaningful, I think that is beyond the limits of being reasonable. The Halcyon days are over, Joe. No one cares anymore, at least not enough to drop that kind of cash, and record companies that do (unless it's for acts like U2 or Lady Gaga), are throwing away their money. Earlier this year, my friends made a gorgeous video for a musician for a few hundred dollars and a days work. My brother has made a few music videos for Alice In Chains, one around 10k, another under 30k.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the appeal of being able to make a great living and only having to work a few days out of the year, and on top of that, work with big name artists. I would love to do that, but, I'm pretty sure I can do all of that without pissing away the kind of money that gets spent on the kind of video's Kahn makes.

The days of bloated, epic, but incredibly pointless music videos is, for the most part, over, and I say good riddance.

Brent Montgomery's "The Pugilist"

yesisaidyes's "On Solid Ground, A Film About Renewal House"

John Ferguson's "That's Not Funny"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Style Wars

The Rum Diary

Based on Hunter S Thompson's book of the same name, The Rum Diary is the story of Kemp (Johnny Depp), a journalist who travels to Puerto Rico to take a job at a small newspaper that seems to be on the brink of shutting down. He meets a cast of unusual characters, and is hired by a mogul, Sanderson (played by Aaron Eckhart) to help spin a slightly illegal and somewhat immoral land and development deal into something positive. When he falls in love with Sanderson's girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), everything starts to go down hill...

The Rum Diary has its moments, but, as a complete film, is uninteresting. There never, really, seems to be too much at stake in the film. Kemp needs the job, but he seems to always get by when things happen. The deal that Sanderson involves him in seems to be going somewhere, but fizzles as a plot element, and Chenault feels like a red herring, but with nothing to cling to when she's gone. I haven't seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, another adaptation of a Thompson work with Depp in the lead, but I can only imagine, considering its rabid fan base, it has to be more interesting than this was.