The rants and raves of a teenage cinephile who is just a little bit obsessed with Catherine O'Hara and Hayao Miyazaki.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Perfect Trio

The Oscars rarely have a category that is 100% perfect - but last year's Animated Film category has been on my mind lately and I can't help but consider it an anomalous example of this occurrence.

You all already know my adoration for How to Train Your Dragon, which was my pick for the winner last year (not that it had any chance). I rewatched it today, and while I was expecting it to drop in my estimation, I actually enjoyed it even more, especially John Powell's marvelous score.

Toy Story 3 was a wonderful winner, the perfect ending to a masterful trilogy. Really, it could not have been a more perfect ending to the long running series and somehow it manages to pack such poignance and emotion into an action adventure movie about toys. Pixar does it again.

And finally, there was The Illusionist, which I finally caught on DVD this past week. Had I seen it before I made my top 10 list, it surely would have grasped a spot on there and I'm even tempted I now prefer it to the other two for the win. What Triplets of Belleville lacked in emotional resonance, it made up for with sly humor - the opposite is true of The Illusionist. Though it doesn't sport the mocking humor of Chomet's previous work, it is instead full of beautiful animation and emotional resonance that carries through the entire film. Truly a beautiful piece of work.

So anyway, this is a rather random post but I had to pay homage to this great trinity of films. The Oscars are not always perfect but the past two years of animated films (don't even get me started on 2010) really have been worthy contenders.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011)

Yes, I did see this. Disclaimer: I watched it because my sister basically forced me too. At the same time, I went in willingly as I was actually kind of curious about the movie - and, not being truly familiar with Mr. Bieber or his music, I thought it would be at least fair to give the kid a chance. Color me pleasantly surprised - it turns out that Justin Bieber is actually extremely talented! Behind all the frighteningly obsessed fans and the glamorous production value, Justin is just a regular Canadian kid who worked really hard and got really lucky. The story is interesting enough, but as far as filmmaking goes the movie is acceptable at best. For its target audience I think it's obviously is a 10/10 - the director completely caters to the fanbase and that's fine. But for the rest of us it's a bit of sensory overload. Though the film touches on the more serious (and more interesting) aspects of Justin Bieber's career (such as the loss of childhood that all prodigies face or the pressures from fans) it never delves into the depth that it could, and that would create legitimately compelling cinema (not that it was going for that in the first place). It's no masterpiece, and I haven't been quite caught Bieber fever (*heh*) but it was interesting enough and its 1.3 on IMDb really is uncalled for.


Friday, May 27, 2011


This can't be happening!

My feelings on this news can be summarized with the following GIF:

A moment of mourning for "United States of Tara", the third season of which is really going marvelously (last week's episode? Brilliance. Rosemarie DeWitt's reaction to the revelation of Bryce was fantastic). It will be missed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Woody Allen's record hasn't exactly been spotless lately. For example, though I basically enjoyed his effort last year, I was certainly in the minority, and his other recent films "Whatever Works" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", though with their admirers, are certainly not up to par with Allen's earlier filmography. That's why "Midnight in Paris" had so much promise - with many at Cannes calling it a return to form for Allen. And though the film does deliver in many ways (especially in the charm that it's been repeatedly said to exude), it also fall short from being as good as classic Allen.

Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a screenwriter who is on a vacation in Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and who is also working on a novel which he hopes will solidify him as a legitimate writer - not just the shallow corporatized one he feels he has become in Hollywood. Feeling disillusioned by his modern life and with his fiancee's rich parents (Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller) and pedantic friend Paul (Michael Sheen), Pender yearns for what he considers the golden age of Paris - the roaring 20's. Gil soon gets his wish when a mysterious car comes to pick him up at the stroke of midnight, and transports him directly back to the time period for which he yearns, throwing him into the midst of great authors and artists like F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) along with an enigmatic beauty, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), with whom he soon falls in love.

As a continuation of Allen's cinematic love affairs with European cities (Barcelona in "Barcelona", London in "Tall Dark Stranger"), "Paris" is completely successful. Sure, it treats Paris like an unrealistic utopia, but that's acceptable considering that most Americans see it in that way. Plus, Allen never forgets the fact that the film is in essence a love letter to Paris, filling the screenplay with monologues about its beauty and even making the movie's first three minutes a montage of Parisian streets. For someone who's never been to Paris (like myself) this adoration of the city is perfectly welcome.

Also completely welcome is the lack of a narrator. This allows the film to work on its own behalf for the most part - a refreshing change from the plodding narration in other recent Allen films.
Though Wilson is given a few solo talking-to-himself monologues that could be effectively interpreted as narration, he sells them, and despite the fact that it doesn't quite allow the film to speak for itself as much as it could, compared to a bored sounding male reciting how excited a particular character was about architecture, it's tolerable and, occasionally, even a bit endearing.

What's absolutely not endearing about the film, however, is its complete lack of complex characters. Though it does make sense for the famous authors and artists of the past to be somewhat "fake", there's no excuse for real life characters like Inez and Paul, both of whom (among others) are devoid of any shades of interesting characterization. Problems like this make many of the plot points of the film more like plot nubs (because they're pointless -- ha ha, get it?).

However, that is not to say that the acting is poor, as the cast works very well despite the script's shortcomings. Wilson is probably giving his best performance to date (it helps his character is actually kind of interesting) and works perfectly as a stand-in for Woody. Mimi Kennedy, Adrian Brody and Alison Pill all shine in brief roles, and Marion Cotillard gives her potentially stock character the most interesting shades of humanity (not that this should come as any surprise - it seems like Marion is always doing more than the script's bare minimum). And even Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen do well considering what they're given to work with.

But despite the movie's fundamental problems, it still manages to be irresistibly
charming and utterly adorable. I couldn't stop smiling throughout - it's funny, it has clever dialogue, and the ending is almost perfect.
It's not necessarily the Woody Allen comeback some are claiming it is, but we're definitely getting closer. If Woody can mix the charm and fantasy of this film with the complex characters of his earlier work - perhaps we'll then have a new masterpiece. For now though, we can at least enjoy what he's giving us.

See it: If you have a yearning desire to go to Paris, if you like seeing a cast at its best, if you are a Woody Allen die hard, or if you've always thought that Owen Wilson could be taken seriously as an actor but he just never got the right role.

Skip it: If you like complex characters, or if you've seen "I Spy" and know that Owen Wilson can never be forgiven for that movie.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thor (2011)

The problem with a movie exceeding expectations is that it then warps your critique of that movie. Did I enjoy "Thor" as much as I did because it was a legitimately good movie, or was it just because it exceeded rather drastically my remarkably low expectations? Perhaps a bit of both. For me the most surprising aspect of the film was actually Chris Hemsworth's performance as Thor. The character Thor could have been so easily turned into a muscular lump of grunts and growls but Hemsworth nuances his performance with emotional ups and downs that turn Thor into one of the more interesting superheroes of recent memory. However, best in show easily goes to Kat Dennings who steals every scene she's in. The biggest problem I had with the movie was that it was far too reliant on CGI, which made it feel a bit artificial - for example, Asgard was not anywhere near as awe inspiring as it aspired to be because it felt so phony. Anyway, "Thor" is surprising - not brilliant or timeless cinema by any means but as a piece of entertainment it totally succeeds.

(It's tough for me to decide between a 6 and a 7. Hm)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - "Matador"

The following post (which contains some minor spoilers) is for Nethaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series at The Film Experience. Head over there to check it out!

Perhaps the most prevalent theme in Pedro Almodovar's film Matador is the relationship between the masculine and feminine side within each person. In fact, much of the action of the film relies on this relationship, through the parallel that Almodovar creates between gender and violence - a parallel that is brought to life through the strange love affair between the characters Diego (Nacho Martinez) and Maria (Assumpta Serna).

Thus, even though Matador is a visual feast, and there are many shots that can be singled out for praise, there was one that I kept going back to.

In this shot, we see Maria carefully applying lipstick while sitting in her car. At this point, Maria has already been established as both a murderer and as sporting a rather "masculine" public persona. Her short hair and her stark black and white business outfit are cold, emotionless, and unsentimental. In the film, mirrors are used numerous times as symbols of introspection and internal reflection and thus gaining such an intimate view (notice the closeup) of an indelibly feminine aspect of Maria feels almost voyeuristic. However, we're not the only ones looking...

Diego is spying on Maria as well, and again, through a mirror. It's interesting that the first time in the film that Maria sets her eye on Diego, whom she has idolized for years, it's through his secondhand reflection - there's already this disconnection between these two hopeless people on the path to destroying one another (literally).

And then, perhaps my favorite moment of this shot - Maria drops her lipstick onto her lap, shocked after realizing she was being spied on. The lipstick leaves a small, bright scarlet mark on her skirt. It's a fleeting moment, but so important - even though she's abandoning her briefly vulnerable femininity through dropping the lipstick, Diego has already exposed something hidden in her, and that small little mark is proof. Plus, this is an Almodovar film - the color red is obviously important.

The shot is short but it sets up the entire remaining duration of the movie perfectly. In fact, the trajectory of this introduction to Maria and Diego's relationship doesn't quite come full circle until towards the end, when Maria reveals her obsession with Diego to him.

It's a frightening and sinister moment, and it completes the arc that began with their first meeting, setting new events into action. Matador may not be Almodovar's most brilliant film but it is still a fascinating and daring piece of work that captivates its audience in a macabre manner, making us not so much different than the "despicable" characters onscreen.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Life in Movies

Andy over at Fandango Groovers is hosting a blogathon in which we compile a list of movies - one from each year since we were born. It was a ridiculously fun task and I tried to include movies that "affected" me in some way or another - go here to check out the other entries and read on for my life in movies!

1992: Porco Rosso - Looking over a list of notable movies that came out in my birth year, I was shocked to see that I have missed out on almost every single one - nope, I still haven't seen "Reservoir Dogs" or "Unforgiven", or even "Lorenzo's Oil". It's bad, I know. However, as many of you know, I have quite an affinity for Hayao Miyazaki and thus it comes as no surprise that I have seen his 1992 release, "Porco Rosso". As a whole, I've often thought of Porco as the lowest point in his filmography (even if the lowest point is miles above most other filmmakers high points) but the scene where Porco dreams of a legion of the spirits of deceased pilots is perhaps one of the most beautiful Miyazaki has ever put to film.

1993: Super Mario Bros. - Though it's infamous for its alleged horribleness, I'll be the first to admit that I actually did not hate Super Mario Bros. I've always been a bit of a video game fanatic, and so when I watched Bros. for the first time I was too busy geeking out about seeing the Italian plumber in the flesh to really worry about how terrible the movie was. Truthfully, it's not even a faithful adaptation of the game (perennially cute green Yoshis being portrayed as freaky looking dinosaurs, for example), but as a symbol of the 90's I think it will last the test of time.

1994: The Lion King - I'm proud to say that The Lion Kingwas the first film whose poster I had hanging up on my wall. It's also the first movie whose t-shirt I sported. Needless to say, calling it a "part of my childhood" is a bit of an understatement. In fact, it wasn't until I recently went and saw the musical adaptation that I completely comprehended what kind of impact it had on me - during the opening scene, I began sobbing, waves of nostalgia and beauty overwhelming me. It's a little bit sappy, I know, but it's the truth.

1995: Se7en - I saw Se7en about a year ago, but still, it often creeps its way into my thoughts, especially whenever I catch a glimpse of a modern day crime-investigation show that inadvertently pays homage to David Fincher's darkly frightening masterpiece. Brad Pitt usually satisfies, but in Se7en he's particularly sensitive, along with a surprisingly memorable Gwyneth Paltrow, both pawns in the film's sinister plot.

1996: Waiting for Guffman -You all probably already know that Catherine O'Hara is one of, if not my absolute favorite actress. What you probably don't know is the very moment I fell in love with her, which was during her 'minimalist acting' monologue in "Waiting for Guffman". Catherine is brilliance throughout, but this is also the movie where I fell in love with Parker I'll-Always-Have-A-Place-At-The-Dairy-Queen Posey, and Christopher Guest's acting and directing.

1997: Life is Beautiful -I suppose you could say that my seeing this was a major step forward in my development as a film buff, since it was the first foreign film I ever watched. As a middle-schooler I remember feeling like I needed to watch this film because if I did I would seem so smart and alternative. No, "Life" is a beautiful film and though it's been ages since I've watched it it was definitely a turning point for me.

1998: The Parent Trap -Whenever I see poor Lindsay Lohan being berated by the media, I always feel a pang of sympathy for her, no doubt instilled by my love for "Parent Trap". To say this movie was a staple in my childhood is an understatement - I watched it constantly and listened to the soundtrack nonstop. The movie even holds up to my more discerning eye, since I rewatched it recently, and it's hard to deny the acting chops that Lohan possesses. Not to mention a simply lovely performance from Natasha Richardson that makes her recent passing so much more saddening.

1999: Mystery Men - This cult classic is a favorite in my family since we used to watch it on every road trip we took. I just watched this a week or so ago and the hilarity is not fleeting. And the cast is AMAZING - this is the first film where I saw Geoffrey Rush, and William H. Macy, and Greg Kinnear (who does perhaps his career best work here, no joke) a hysterical Hank Azaria, and a spicy Janeane Garofalo. If you haven't seen it, go rent it now - it's awesome.

2000: Dancer in the Dark - Bjork is one of my favorite musicians, and the soundtrack to this film introduced me to her. Besides the fact that this is probably the saddest, most emotionally draining movie I have ever seen, Bjork is brilliant and for that reason I cannot thank this film enough.

2001: Spirited Away - I don't think my mind was quite the same after I watched this movie. It's not that "Spirited Away" is one of the most revolutionary or shocking or groundbreaking films ever - it's simply that, at the time I watched it, I had never witnessed anything so complexly beautiful and gorgeous before. Miyazaki suddenly became my favorite director and "Spirited Away" became what I called (and still call) my absolute favorite film. I've watched it countless times and I will never grow tired of it.

2002: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - I had to fit an installment of the Harry Potter series in here somewhere, since I have and always will be a huge HP geek. By the way, I'm totally a Hufflepuff.

2003: Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King -Really, what can be said about the epicness that is LOTR? I cannot even describe the emotions in words.

2004: Napoleon Dynamite - My twelve-year-old self was not quite prepared for the indie brilliance that "Napoleon Dynamite" brought to the table. Perhaps one of the most polarizing films of my seventh grade life, my classmates either loved it or hated it - personally I was on the love side of the spectrum. It's just so unbelievably quirky and yet, completely endearing. GOSH!

2005: Good Night, and Good Luck -When people are arguing over whether they're Team Crash or Team Brokeback, I'll always stand behind the fact that I'm team Good Night and Good Luck. When I first watched this film, I thought I was so cool because it was a Best Picture nominee, and it was in black and white, and it had jazz music in it. Even though I didn't really understand the political history behind it. Fastforward a couple of years and I realized how exquisite this film really is - it's marvelously directed and acted with a simply phenomenal soundtrack.

2006: Little Miss Sunshine - Though 2004's entry is also partially to thank for this, I give "Little Miss Sunshine" credit for getting me into indie cinema. Sure, it's kind of crossover between indie and mainstream, but it made for a perfect transition. Full of great performances and perfectly loveable writing, LMS became a personal favorite after I watched it.

2007: Ratatouille - I always knew Pixar was great, especially after "The Incredibles", but "Ratatouille" was where I first really fell in love. It helps that the film was followed with the amazing "Wall-E" and the heart wrenching "Up" but I really cannot describe how much I love the little cooking rodent. Michael Giacchino's soundtrack over the lush visuals of Paris make me swoon every time I watch it.

2008: Slumdog Millionaire - As far as firsts go, this is the first Best Picture winner that I ever saw in the theaters. It was rather a monumental occasion for me - it was a prestige movie and I watched it in a packed theater, excited because it had won BP about a week earlier. I know this isn't one of the most unanimously loved winners of the big prize in the past few years, but I personally find it to be the perfect celebration of why we go to the movies in the first place.

2009: Inglourious Basterds - I hope I don't make myself sound too stupid when I say that for about the first two chapters of my favorite film of 2009 I thought, who knows why, that it was based on a true story. Of course, I figured out that it was fiction but that misconception may have just made this movie ten times better for me. This is, probably, the movie that influenced me to become a blogger though - after watching it, I was obsessed and I began to read movie blogs, and well, the rest is history.

2010: Scott Pilgrim Vs the World - What better way to end a retrospective on the movies of my life than my recent number one film of 2010. It was simply a film made for me - countless video game and other nerd-friendly references, a fun rock-inspired soundtrack, and a hilariously brilliant cast full of powerful actressing. It wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but to say that I love it is an understatement.

So there you have it! I got a little long winded but it's hard not to when you're being nostalgic. Check out everyone else's posts as well and comment below on which of these movies you love too!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" Trailer

I've had a wary eye on this movie ever since it started getting early buzz for actress Elizabeth Olsen (sister to Mary-Kate and Ashley), and this trailer did not disappoint. It looks like this film will have that extra punch of grittiness and unsettlingness that I wish had been more prevalent in the impossible-not-to-compare-to "Winter's Bone". John Hawkes's presence is very reassuring (he looks sufficiently creepy but lovable) and as a proponent of the elder Olsens, it should be fascinating to see what their sister does in what looks to be a very actressy vehicle.

How about you? Are you yay or nay on this Sundance drama? Comments below!