January 20, 2004

Seabiscuit (2003, Gary Ross) 28

Show, I guess. A shockingly flabby follow-up to Pleasantville; where Pleasantville was (whatever else you might think about it) narratively tight, this thing lumbers through forty minutes of beginnings before starting where it should, with Jeff Bridges meeting Chris Cooper. Until that point, we have to suffer through a tiring succession of "dramatic" events that are supposed to tell us "who these characters are" and what's "at stake for them", and failing at each of these tasks. Ever taken a writing class where, as an exercise, the class creates a character, and throws a bunch of life story on the blackboard? Well, here's what it looks like when it's filmed. Screenwriters, do me a favor: cut this backstory shit out of the first draft, or incorporate it into the story in a way that doesn't slow it down. You're killin' me.

Once it starts, though, it's enjoyable enough, if unremarkable. I mean, sure, I can sympathize with a character who likes to sleep all day and eat twice as much as anyone else; who can't? But don't tell me this horse was more important than the New Deal. Director, please.

Finally, call me cynical or just over-sensitive, but I can't help but feel queasy when a rich character completely unaffected by the depression gives a series of bullshit press conferences and the reporters nod furiously and jot down every word like it was gospel. Guess I'm just funny like that.

Posted by kza at 01:47 PM | Comments (3)

January 17, 2004

ce n'est pas une mise à jour

Hey hey, thirteen days of complete, uninterrupted service. Not bad; in fact, better than I would've wagered.

I've been sidetracked by a number of projects, thus the absence. I recently fired up the engines for a re-write of a screenplay that I've been working on for 4 years (!) now, and I'm gearing up to take a stab at the (possibly) upcoming Project Greenlight 3, heaven help me. It would be easier if those two projects were one and the same, but, alas, they are not.

Also, tomorrow is the NFL playoffs to determine the Super Bowl contenders. If you don't have a preference, give a little cheer for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts (cuz dammit, if Tampa Bay can't be there, may as well be Tony Dungy's new team).

Coming soon (hopefully): Irréversible, The Butterfly Effect (Starts in a week! Very excited!), and I might see The Station Agent this weekend.

Posted by kza at 02:55 PM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2004

From Hell (2001, The Hughes Brothers) 8

Oh, why am I even bothering? If you've never read the book, I don't see how it could be comprehensible; if you have read the book, you can only shake your head as the plot rushes by, like twitchy semaphore, while the point is completely missed. (For the non-readers: Everything that's kept as a secret or a plot twist is revealed in the first couple chapters.) Filmmakers: if you don't have the guts to do the skyscraper scene, why are you bothering to use the title "From Hell"? If you just wanted to make a stupid serial killer movie, why set it in 1888 London? Set it in modern day L.A., cast a Busey or a Hauser, be done with it.

Posted by kza at 10:56 PM | Comments (2)

January 12, 2004

Elizabeth M. Tamny

Who is she?

Cuz she just wrote an excellent review of Mona Lisa Smile for the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum's paper. (Click here for the review.) It's equal parts witty and insightful, and it makes me want to see the movie (which probably wasn't Ms. Tamny's goal, but with writing this engaging, one can't help but want to be "in the know", as it were).

Fantastic stuff. I hope to see more of her work in the future.

Posted by kza at 12:10 PM

January 11, 2004

comments on top ten (#1)

Gerry (Gus Van Sant)

[Click here for the complete Top Ten.]

Huh. 11 days into the blog, and I'm starting to run out of steam. Well, perhaps that's not completely true; I think I can muster up something interesting for Irréversible and for the 29 (!) DVDs I managed to get over the holiday. But I haven't seen Gerry since January of last year, and I've only seen it once, and I just can't think of anything to say that hasn't been said better.

If you've never seen it (or even heard of it), Gerry is the story of two guys (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck), both seemingly named Gerry, and what happens when they get lost in the mountains. It's slow. Very little "happens" in the conventional story sense.

Why #1? Well, if you're willing to give into it (which may be difficult to do on video), it's hypnotic. The entire thing is consists of bravura camera work: the tracking shot that follows Damon and Affleck getting lost, almost like a third person goading them into their fate; the extreme close-up of the Gerries as they hike further into the void, their faces bouncing madly up and down; the shot near the end, what must be a near-ten minute take, of Damon trudging, step by step, through the salt flats, with Afflect mimicking every step, as the sun slowly rises in front of them.

But I named this movie #1 not just because it's an amazing achievement in cinematography, yet I'm having difficulty expressing what exactly I liked about it. I'm not comfortable using words like "existential", and it's a word that gets used a lot in discussions about this film. But there is something very strong and primal about it's construction and presentation, and in the way it strips away with the normal artifices of storytelling. In other words, it's an experience, not entertainment in the usual sense, and while I know Gerry isn't the first film like this, it's certainly one of my favorites.

(Here's where I make the obligatory reference to Béla Tarr, the incredible Hungarian director that Gus Van Sant was inspired by [some would say completely stole from], and whose Werckmeister Harmonies is worth finding.)

This probably sounds like a back-handed compliment, and isn't intended as one, but here goes: Gerry is the art movie you can take home to your parents. Seriously. It's got a name actor, amazing landscapes (Argentina and Death Valley, CA), and a very basic story (two guys get lost in the wilderness). If you can introduce your family members to this, it might be a gateway drug to Béla Tarr or Andrei Tarkovsky. And then the revolution can begin.

EDIT: If I'd known that all it would take for the Eagles to beat the Packers was for me to finally post on Gerry, then, crap, I woulda done it sooner.

Posted by kza at 05:02 PM

January 10, 2004

message to the bluntman

Put down the fucking weed and get your ass to the editing room.

Now.

Please.

Thank you.

Posted by kza at 04:32 PM

January 09, 2004

this is not an update

Hey folks. I'm kinda busy with some stuff today, so the promise I made myself (to update the blog everyday) is being kept on a technicality. I hope to have, in the next week, entries on #1 movie of the year, Gerry and the #0 movie of the year, Irréversible, an entry on Mystic River, some thoughts on Elf and Bad Santa, and, since I watch too much TV for my own good, maybe some stuff on the Upright Citizens Brigade DVD set and a cartoon that's more interesting than it lets on, Totally Spies!, currently showing on the Cartoon Network.

(No one on the Cinemarati Roundtable has even raised an eybrow at putting a movie in a #0 spot. Not that I expect anyone to pay attention to me or anything, but I've never seen it done before. I have a very specific reason for using #0, but I was reminded of a liner note in the first X-Files soundtrack: "Nick Cave wants to remind everyone that zero is a number, too.")

Posted by kza at 03:29 PM | Comments (1)

January 08, 2004

Dreamcatcher (2003, Lawrence Kasdan) 60

Wow. Dismissed by most critics as simply a bad movie, Dreamcatcher deserves a second chance on DVD. Not because it's actually a good movie; in fact, it's utterly terrible. But this kind of awfulness, this kind of bone-headed wrongness should be seen by anyone who loves movies.

It starts out promisingly. We learn that four buddies share some kind of ESP, and in an interesting, quirky scene, one of the buddies, a car salesman, helps a woman find her missing car keys. During the course of the scene, the woman goes from intrigued, to mystified, to totally weirded-out. It's a close parallel to my reaction to the film.

About ten minutes in, the buddies go to a snowy cabin in Maine, and it's here where it all goes to hell. I don't want to reveal too much and spoil the pleasures to be found. And by pleasures, I mean the jaw-dropping, slap-your-forehead choices made in this movie.

I've never read the Stephen King book it's based on, but there are several concepts and scenes that simply cannot work in a film. It may work on the page, since words force the reader to be a partcipant in creating the scene. But film is too literal. Yes, a director and a crew can create an image that is suggestive and ambiguous in meaning, but some things, like farts, are just that -- farts.

That was a bit of a spoiler, I'm afraid, but it's really only the tip of the iceberg. The next two hours is filled with silly, unworkable ideas, stuff that might've made Ed Wood pause. But please understand: this is why I like this movie. It brings some truly out-there ideas to the table, and the filmmakers try to meld them with a serious SF thriller; they don't try to be funny with it. (If they did, it would be very, very Python.) In fact, a Dreamcatcher played for laughs would've been a better movie, but it would never be as interesting as this one.

I want to single out Damian Lewis, who plays Jonesy, who gives a fantastic performance. Seriously. The role of Jonesy is unplayable. (To explain why would be spoiler country.) Yet, a more established actor, I think, would've recognized the futility of trying to make the part work, and would've given a performance that undermined the serious tone of the movie, one that winked at the audience. Mr. Lewis never winks; he takes a deep breath, rubs his hands together, and grabs the role, desperately trying to make it work the best he can. As a result, Dreamcatcher transcends mere badness, into something enjoyable.

Posted by kza at 12:52 PM | Comments (6)

January 07, 2004

comments on top ten (#3-2)

Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino)

This could've been merely an exercise in fight choreography, severed limbs, and choice soundtrack cuts. (And to some, that's all it was.) But with one shot -- The Bride realizing her baby is dead -- it becomes something, well not deeper, really, but more moving. Yet her revenge, which should be so simple, is complicated by the fact that she cuts down her enemies when they're at their most happiest. (We see this happiness, and not in an abstract form, either: a nightclub, a friendship, a house, a child.) Unlike some movies I could mention (oh, you know which one I mean), revenge is the opposite of happiness, the destroyer of happiness, and no one gets away from its whirlpool of violence. Oh, and it's amazing to look at, to boot.

The School of Rock (Richard Linklater)

I think formulas (as in movie formulas, you know, as in, "it's such a formula picture") exist for a reason: because at their genesis, they aren't really formulas but archetypes. They work not because plot A and character B and situation C are lazily filled in by hacks, but because the archetypal form, when engaged honestly and with imagination, shines and dazzles us. This is exhibit A in that hypothesis. Not a single unpredictable moment, really, but also not a moment that doesn't buzz with life and energy. I'd love to see this get nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor; I mean, if freakin' The Full Monty can get the first two...

Posted by kza at 01:21 PM

January 06, 2004

slate's movie club

Slate started their Year In Movies edition of the Movie Club yesterday. This year features Manohla Dargis (Los Angeles Times), J. Hoberman (Village Voice), Sarah Kerr (Vogue), and A.O. Scott (New York Times). This is my favorite Slate feature, and although Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) and Roger Ebert aren't participating (like previous years), it's been pretty interesting so far.

Posted by kza at 01:23 PM

January 05, 2004

comments on top ten (#6-4)

I'm sick today -- head cold, it feels like. I mention this so that in 2024, I can look back on this blog and say, "Why the fuck would I want to remember that?"

X2 (Bryan Singer)

I might be overrating this. I only saw this flick once, and I don't remember a damn thing about it. Well, not totally true. I remember Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler being pretty cool, and his rescue of Rogue at 30,000 feet was very exciting, but other than that...zip. But after I see a movie, I immediately enter it into my handy-dandy Excel database and, if warranted, place it in my Top Ten. (I believe this sucker entered in at #2, originally.) I'm gonna go with my original instincts on this one, but I really need to see it again.

Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton)

I might be overrating this one, too, possibly letting it coast on the Pixar name, a name good enough to get tattooed on your ass. (Not my ass, mind you, your ass.) My main beef is the feeling that a lot of action scenes felt like they were developed simultaneously with the inevitable video game. That is, it was difficult to watch the Albert Brooks fish and the Ellen DeGeneres fish hide from sharks, or jump on the jellyfish, or try and find something while that flashlight-fish was chasing them, without thinking how these scenes could be translated into a video game without any difficulty. That's probably a strange thing to say, as every Pixar movie has been turned into a video game. I think the indefensible stance I'm getting at is that in other Pixar action sequences, the action feels too chaotic; there's a sense that there is a goal (get to the back of the moving truck, cross the busy downtown street), but no rules -- anything could happen. The action in Finding Nemo feels like it's guided by rules, the kind of unbreakable rules you find in video games, where you complete the task in the only way deemed possible by the programmers before you can move on. Maybe this feeling has to do with the infinite-looking blue sea, which has the paradoxical effect of making the world feel small and linear. Or maybe I should just shut up now.

Anyhow, there's obviously something to this movie, or else I wouldn't have put it at #2 on my then-Top Ten, knocking out X2. I'll post follow-up comments when I buy the DVD (it's Pixar, maaaaan.)

Down With Love (Peyton Reed)

Fizz! Pop! Bang! There was only one movie that was funnier, and only one that was more fun visually, than this kooky ode to the fluffy romantic comedies of the 50s and early 60s. Although it isn't a musical (well, there is a musical number, very well done, but it's during the end credits), it's presented like a musical, with large, fantastic sets, goofy colorful costumes, and a broad, to-the-rafters style of comedic acting that I found refreshing (in this context, at least). There's a great moment when Renee Zellweger and Sarah Paulson enter a restaurant and drop their coats simultaneously, and swagger to their table -- a bit of unneccessary yet totally wonderful choreography that expresses the spirit of the movie. If you avoided this in the theater, thinking it silly piffle, please, check it out on DVD. Silly, perhaps; piffle, perhaps not.

Posted by kza at 11:54 AM | Comments (3)

January 04, 2004

comments on top ten (#9-7)

The Trilogy: On The Run (Lucas Belvaux)

At SIFF this year, I saw (in one sitting) Lucas Belvaux's The Trilogy , three stand-alone films (including An Amazing Couple and After Life) that have overlapping characters and situations. They were all excellent, but I liked this one (about a revolutionary who escapes from prison) just a little better, if only for the final shot, which is both horrific and heart-breaking. But if you get a chance, catch 'em, catch 'em, gotta catch 'em all.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson)

The main beef some people have with the final installment is that it mostly rehashes a lot of the stuff from The Two Towers; i.e. Theoden = crazy mixed-up koo-koo king of Minas Tirith, Helm's Deep = Minas Tirith, Frodo-Sam-Gollum = Frodo-Sam-Gollum. And in general, I agree, which is why it comes in at #8, instead of #1 like the last episode. But leftovers of, say, filet mignon, is still filet mignon, and it's still yummy. And "you bow before no man" is a goose-pimply, instant classic moment.

Now that Jackson's done his epic storytelling thang, though, maybe he'll inject a little of his juvenile gross-out humor into King Kong....

The Secret Lives of Dentists (Alan Rudolph)

Also seen at SIFF (same day as the entire Trilogy in fact), this was the most impeccably acted film of the year. Sure, Denis Leary does his Denis Leary schtick, but he's an imaginary character most of the time anyway. But Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, those three kids...Seriously, if you haven't seen this movie, you haven't seen what a good child actor under good direction is capable of. It's not a big movie, of course; in fact, it's intentionally small and fragile. But I like a movie where there are no villains, really, just conflicting desires and conflicted hearts.

Posted by kza at 03:19 PM

January 03, 2004

comments on top ten (#10)

For someone who claims to loved him some movies, I really didn't see a whole lot this last year. According to my records, I saw 39 movies dated 2003; I've seen 65 that are dated 2002.

Admittedly, I didn't necessarily see all 65 in 2002; I saw François Ozon's 8 Women, a 2002 release, in 2003. (I don't keep a daily log of what I see, cuz I'm just too lazy, although this blog may change that.) But even so, I'd estimate I saw 55 to 60 films in 2002 in the theater.

I don't know the reason for the drop-off, although I suspect only seeing 4 movies at SIFF would be the prime suspect. (2001 was my big SIFF year, which bumped my 2001 total to 95.) Also, my good friend Mary went to live and work in the U.K. in 2002, and she could always be counted on to drag me to see something I wanted to see but didn't want to take a bus across town for.

So, anyway, I hope to see at least 50 movies in the theater this year and get back into the swing of things. I want to take the art of films (and thinking about films) more seriously than I have in the past. I started a website back in 2001 after SIFF, but it was more ambitious than I could maintain, and I let it lie fallow. Hopefully, this blog, which, by its very nature is less ambitious, won't suffer the same fate.

So now some quickie, not-really-thought-out comments on the top ten:

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski)
Johnny Depp is the main reason, of course; but how about a little love for Geoffrey Rush? He's a natural ham, and he hasn't had a role recently that lets him channel that porcine energy effectively. (Shine doesn't count.) More fun than a crass and heartless exercise in brand extension had any right to be.

One thing that's bothering me, though. I've been a 'Binski Booster since his debut with Mousehunt, which was a shitty movie, sure, but I saw hints of poetry there, particularly in a quiet sequence with Nathan Lane standing in the snow. And I think he's terrific with actors, as James Gandolfini in The Mexican and the aforementioned Depp and Rush demonstrate. But ever since The Ring, as the budgets increase, I feel his distinctiveness (or potential distinctiveness, at least) as a director wane. This is the old, old story, of course; big money has a way of sapping idiosyncrasy. Yet somehow David Fincher manages to retain an individual stamp on his movies, and I had Verbinski pegged as the next Fincher. But with each picture, that seems less and less likely.

More later.

Posted by kza at 04:27 PM | Comments (5)

January 02, 2004

top ten of 2003

For my first movie-related post -- a quickie -- here's what I thought were the ten best films of 2003, plus one anomaly:

(note: (f) means I saw it on film, (v) means on video/DVD.)

0. Irréversible (Gaspar Noé) (v)
1. Gerry (Gus Van Sant) (f)
2. The School of Rock (Richard Linklater) (f)
3. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino) (f)
4. Down With Love (Peyton Reed) (f)
5. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton) (f)
6. X2 (Bryan Singer) (f)
7. The Secret Lives of Dentists (Alan Rudolph) (f)
8. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson) (f)
9. The Trilogy: On The Run (Lucas Belvaux) (f)
10. Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski) (f)

An incomplete list of other movies I liked (in alphabetical order):
28 Days Later (Danny Boyle) (f), Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff) (f), Dreamcatcher (Lawrence Kasdan) (v), Elf (Jon Favreau) (f), Hulk (Ang Lee) (f), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir) (f), The Trilogy: After Life (Lucas Belvaux) (f), The Trilogy: An Amazing Couple (Lucas Belvaux) (f)

Critical favorites I haven't caught up with yet: Capturing the Friedmans, Elephant, Spellbound, The Station Agent, All The Real Girls, Bus 174, Dirty Pretty Things, Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary, The Son, Shattered Glass, The Company.

Some of my least favorite movies of 2003: The Eye (Pang Brothers) (f), The House of the Dead (Uwe Boll) (f), The Hunted (William Friedkin) (f), Identity (James Mangold) (f), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Stephen Norrington) (f), Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) (f), The Matrix Reloaded (The Wachowski Brothers) (f), Mystic River (Clint Eastwood) (f), Run Ronnie Run (Troy Miller) (v), Spider (David Cronenberg) (v)

Hopefully, I'll follow this up (sooner rather than later) with some explanations, like why there's a #0 in my list, why I didn't care for Mystic River, and maybe even why I liked Dreamcatcher more than Lost in Translation.

Posted by kza at 08:07 PM

January 01, 2004

imitation is the sincerest form of laziness

Okay, so I choose this cool looking template called "Stormy", right, cuz it's dark and suggests mystery, you know, like a darkened theater. Not to mention the row of squares at the top that look like sprocket holes. Seems perfect for a blog about movies. And I get it up and running, it looks great, but a bit...familiar.

Well, yeah it's familiar, jackass, it's the exact same set-up Bryant Frazer has for his Deep Focus weblog.

*sigh*

By the way, Dear Reader (or is assuming even one a bit presumptuous?), Deep Focus is a great site. Soon as I figure out how to put links in the sidebar over dere, etc.

Lessee if I can summon my eensy tiny bit of HTML knowledge and put a link in here (and let's see if it works).

EDIT: Nope, that didn't work. I'll have to consult the guru. Hey, ever thought about talking about movies in your movie blog?

Posted by kza at 11:05 PM

clever introductory heading

I hate introducing myself. So I'm not gonna. This is a.... *choke* *sputter* "blog" *cough* *cough* about movies, or at least, that's what's intended, although I suppose time will tell.

I don't know what I'm trying to accomplish, if anything, with this, and I have no idea if I'll be able to keep it up either. It's going to take me months just to figure out this damn program. I mean, I can't even get the template changed to "Stormy", even after following the incredibly simple directions given to me.

Oh, but let me give a huge thank-you to Martin, for setting me up with this thing in the first place. I was all ready to give away $5 a month for the privilege of using a blogging program for dummies; now, I can fuck up for free.

Okay, let's post this thing and see what happens.

EDIT: Okay, that Stormy whatsit is working all of sudden. Whatever, dude.

Posted by kza at 10:47 PM