Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, 2008) B+

A stoner comedy that is actually funny (unlike those old Cheech and Chong movies) and doesn't make you ashamed that you laughed so much (unlike Half Baked)- who knew it was possible? The plot is one of those ridiculous, only-in-the-movies types that probably wouldn't make much sense written down but completely works onscreen. The climactic fight at the weed processing plant was nearly as dramatic as the epic battle in Kill Bill Volume 1 (and just as improbable). I'm glad for the unusual casting of Rosie Perez as the bad cop, excelling at whatever comedic scraps she is thrown, and Seth Rogen is somehow still funny doing his fat schlub shtick, but the movie completely and utterly belongs to James Franco as Rogen's perpetually high-in-the-sky dealer. In a million years I never would have figured that this pretty but bland leading man in shit like Annapolis and Flyboys could deliver a performance this consistently funny and out there all while remaining perfectly true to the character. If Oscar went for comedic performances, this would be the hands down favorite as of right now.

The Savages (Tamara Jenkins, 2007) B

The Savages is not exactly the dark, dysfunctional family comedy that it was advertised to be, but I still found Tamara Jenkins' film to be, for the most part, worth the effort. The film is smarter than most dysfunctional family comedies because it doesn't have improbably snappy and witty dialogue and the relationship between Wendy (The Lovely Laura Linney) and her brother Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) feels completely natural and realistic. There's this wonderful scene that takes place towards the end of the film that I just can't get out of my head a couple of weeks later. The father (Philip Bosco) has just died and Wendy and Jon are standing over his body, not really sure how to react. Finally, Wendy speaks up and, in a tone somewhere between a declaration and a question, says, "This is it." The moment is so quiet and subtle that it's easy to forget, but I think it points out the major strengths of this film. I would love to rate this film higher, but there were just a few moments throughout the entire length that really dragged the film down and made it feel a tad bit too long. Still, a fantastic job from Jenkins, someone I will definitely be looking out for in the future.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Big Knife (Robert Aldrich, 1955) B-

For what it's worth, I don't think there's another director (besides Sirk in The Tarnished Angels) who used black and white photography in such ways like Robert Aldrich did with both Autumn Leaves and this film. The contrast is crisp and clear and ultimately beautiful to look at. I wish the same could be said about the film. The Big Knife is a solid picture and there are hints at what could have been in some of the performances (Jean Hagen and Shelley Winters do what they can with underwritten roles). The biggest problem with this film is that the screenplay acts like its some sort of formal authority about life in the 50's, "The Great American Screenplay," when in all actuality it's nowhere near as interesting or damning as it thinks it is. We learn from this film that studio chiefs are ruthless, cold people who will do whatever it takes to keep their stars in line and get the most money out of money. Even then, that wasn't exactly the most original thought in the world (The Bad and the Beautiful had been released three years previously) and I wish there had been some more creativity with its intentions.

The Barkleys of Broadway (Charles Walters, 1949) B- (x2)

I never thought I would ever find the occasion or need to re-screen this film, but Nick at Nick's Flick Picks had been praising Ginger Rogers to high heavens for her performance here, going so far as to say that she should have won the Oscar for it. I saw this movie a few years ago and I thought it was your average Astaire-Rogers vehicle with the same type of performance from Ginger Rogers that we had been getting since the 30's. On this viewing, I discovered the beauty of this performance and how it wasn't just another Rogers' performance. Ten years after the last Astaire-Rogers vehicle, Ginger came roaring back in with style and class. The role combines the best attributes of Rogers' previous Oscar-worthy work (the dancing and personality in Top Hat and the comedic chops from Stage Door) and showcases her in a way we had never seen before. My favorite scene is at the art gallery when the pretentious art is showcasing his new piece dedicated to the Barkleys and she gives these hilarious and subtle sideways glances to Astaire when the artist calls her the pancake batter. It could have been overdone, but Rogers finds a nice middle ground. As for the rest of the film, its generally pretty good, if a bit clumsily done. The musical numbers are great, especially the magical rehearsal scene where Astaire and Rogers simply tap dance together and remind us of how great they were together, but, in the context of the story, they really added nothing to the plot (even the "Top Hat, White Tails and Cane" number in Top Hat had a little purpose).

The Bad Sleep Well (Akira Kurosawa, 1960) B+

For me, Kurosawa is one of the those directors who makes engrossing, thoroughly fascinating films that are always worth look, but there's just something about them that I can't "love" them in that special way that you're supposed to love your favorites. The Bad Sleep Well, I must say, is another one of those films. As a mystery/suspense film, it's a notch lower than High and Low; however, The Bad Sleep Well has a certain allusiveness that kept me involved in the plot even when things slowed down a bit. And the downbeat, cynical ending was a welcome surprise. All in all though, like most Kurosawa films, this is one I don't think I'll ever need to see again.

Never Back Down (Jeff Wadlow, 2008) C

My random and distracted thoughts here.

The Girl Said No (Sam Wood, 1930) F

When you head into a William Haines picture, you almost always know what to expect. Haines always plays a cocky young fellow (usually an athlete, but not here) who falls in love with someone else's girl and then tries to woo her, all while learning a lesson about humility, during the rest of the picture. In The Girl Said No, we get all that but I was horribly offended and disgusted (and I don't do that easily) by Haines' character's treatment of the girl he chases after. She really does say, "No," quite emphatically, and when he doesn't listen and continues to pursue her, it takes on the form of rape and I definitely don't need to see that. Add to that the scene where Haines puts a bag over the girls head and kidnaps her away from her wedding and I nearly felt like vomiting. Haines' characters are usually cads, but they have a redeeming factor that makes up for it in the end; here, Haines is a complete prick the whole way through and still manages to get whatever he wants. The Girl Said No is a relic of a type of film that's better left in the past and with no redeeming factors to unearth it.

An Unfinished Life (Lasse Hallstrom, 2005) C

With such a talented, and eccentric, cast that Hallstrom has brought together for An Unfinished Life, it's such a shame that there's nothing really noteworthy about the entire picture. In fact, An Unfinished Life is so one-note and ordinary that I can't even think of anything to say about it, positively or negatively. The performances are decent, if a little disappointing since we've all seen the three leads (J. Lo, Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman) in better and more interesting roles/performances (and it's especially disheartening from J. Lo, since earlier that same year we had just seen her give her funniest/most relaxed performance since Selena in Monster in Law). The film looks nice, if a tad Hallmark-generic, and the script is your everyday, run-of-the-mill, disconnected family drama but doesn't turn into complete junk with an overly sappy conclusion. In the end, An Unfinished Life is a film that you will walk out of not exclaiming that your life has been changed or wanting the two hours you just wasted watching it back; instead, you'll get up, scratch yourself and wonder what's for dinner.

Jeanne Eagels (George Sidney, 1957) C-

Jeanne Eagels is nothing more than your average completely falsified 50's star biopic in which its only resemblance to reality is the name of the star and a couple of the plays/movies they did in their ascension to stardom. George Sidney is a competent director and makes everything go down rather smoothly, even when it probably shouldn't have, and the finale couple of scenes, highlight Eagels' descent into "alcholism" (she was a heroin addict in real life) surrealy and rather frighteningly. The main weakness in this film is Kim Novak, who plays Eagels. She isn't a good enough actress to make the Jeanne an interesting person outside of her addiction and her drunk scenes were so bad that I wasn't sure if she was being serious or not. She slurs her words so pronouncedly and overacts over drunken gesture that all I could think was that I've seen high schoolers deliver drunk scenes more believable.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller, 1953) A

My thoughts here.

The Last Metro (Francois Truffaut, 1981) C

There's a scene in The Last Metro in which the character of Jean-Loup Cottins, a theatre director, is discussing with the Nazi sympathizing theatre critic Daxiat about his latest play, Disappearance, and Daxiat tells him, something to the effect of, "This wasn't your best work...I couldn't see any of your direction in it." It's funny, because the same could be said to Truffaut about this film. For me, the whole film just felt completely flat and seemed entirely predictable 15 minutes in. Catherine Deneuve, with her ice cold personality, was used to great effect here but I was completely flummoxed by the casting of Gerard Depardieu as the womanizing actor who does a little moonlighting for the resistance. Maybe it's just because I love the way Truffaut works with him, but I kept wondering how Jean-Pierre Leaud would have faired in the role. I'll admit that he would have probably gotten eaten alive by Deneuve-- it's hard not to with an actress as dominating and fierce as she is-- but those early scenes in which the character is trying to pick up women on the street and in the theatre seem almost written for Leaud in mind. Depardieu is fine in the role, I'll give him that. I just wasn't wowed by him or anything. Of the many Truffaut films I've seen, this is by far his weakest (and somewhat ironic since this was his last big hit in France and probably last widely known film). Truffaut on a bad day, however, is 10 times more interesting than most directors at their very best.

Barbara Stanwyck Double Feature: Night Nurse (William Wellman, 1931) B/You Belong to Me (Wesley Ruggles, 1941) C+

Night Nurse and You Belong to Me are two very different types of films from two completely different time periods but have one common link: Barbara Stanwyck. Night Nurse is the better of the two and is actually one of the better Pre-Code films I have due to the fact that it has more going for it than raciness (like good acting and a decent, involving storyline). Stanwyck starts training as a nurse and one night she befriends a shot bootlegger who she doesn't write a mandatory report on. After she completes her training, she starts working at a household with two sick children, a drunken alcoholic mother, a crooked doctor and a scheming chauffeur. She uncovers a dirty secret and its up to her to prevent the death of the children. Night Nurse isn't perfect-- the beginning is filled with a little too much superfluous scenes that didn't add anything-- but it's undeniably sexy and quite a fun, racy time. You Belong to Me has the makings of a good romantic comedy-- a silly Henry Fonda performance, an unconventional (for the time) look at gender roles-- but is ultimate marred by the standards of the time. The only way Barbara Stanwyck believes that her marriage will work is that if she gives up her doctor practice, all of her dreams and goals and stays at home to take care of her needy, jealous husband (Fonda). It's a shame that You Belong To Me (kinda) comes to this conclusions, because, up to this point, Stanwyck had been such a beacon of independence and girl power in a way I hadn't seen in a film since the Pre-Code days.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933) A-

Fritz Lang's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, his last before fleeing Nazi Germany after being offered the position of head of film propaganda by Goebbels himself, is an exciting crime thriller that takes some time to get used to but is ultimately worth the effort once you do. The film immediately opens up with a completely silent scene in which one man, to whom we aren't introduced to yet, is eavesdropping on two other men. He listens for awhile and then, suddenly, the two men spot the man's feet sticking out. After playing it cool for awhile, the two men start shooting, prompting a chase down the street before the man breaks away. What I find most interesting about Dr. Mabuse is how we are introduced to three different storylines all in the beginning and it isn't until towards the last 30 minutes that they truly come together (brilliantly, I must add). They stand apart on their own and it's quite fun guessing how exactly they will all connect eventually.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Broadway Melody of 1940 (Norman Taurog, 1940) C

Certainly the best of The Broadway Melody series but that's not exactly hard, is it? One hundred minutes is way to long to go on this thin wisp of a mistaken identity story without the ridiculous only-in-the-movies humor of something Top Hat. I must admit that the dancing sequences are spectacular and Astaire and Powell have great dancing chemistry together. I just wish the rest of the movie had the spark that these two share when they are together.

When Ladies Meet (Robert Z. Leonard, 1941) D+

The day and night teaming of Joan Crawford and Greer Garson should have ensured When Ladies Meet greatness, or at the very least watchability. Unfortunately, the film's ridiculously stupid subject matter makes this hardly worth the effort to sit through this. Joan Crawford plays a writer who is loved by Robert Taylor but in love with her married editor Herbert Marshall. She's just finished her new book and begins an affair with Marshall while editing her book. The plot of her book mirrors her situation right now, but the section that needs improvement is the scene when the wife and the other woman meet. Cue Greer Garson, Marshall's wife, whom Taylor meets at a random party and, without either of them knowing the other's connection to Marshall, he gets them to meet and talk about her book. The main problem with When Ladies Meet is that it intellectualizes the issue falling in love with a married man so much that they make it sound like something as grave and serious as nuclear warfare or the war in Iraq. There's no doubt in my mind that the book Crawford is writing is probably nothing more than a trashy melodrama, but everyone in the film treats it as if the situation is unbearably unique and as intellectually stimulating as a new book by Freud. Crawford and Garson are fine in this film, but the sparks between them never ignite and they're too genteel towards each other when they should have been fighting for dominance.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut, 1960) B

One of the main ways in which Truffaut differed from Godard, another pioneer of the French New Wave techniques, is that, for the most part, Truffaut liked to stick to telling full and complete stories while Godard loved using situations to really explore something else (like the romance in Breathless or the couple's trip to her parents' house in Week End). Shoot the Piano Player is the first Truffaut I've seen that actually feels like it could have been done by Godard. The editing techniques aren't as jarring as something like Breathless; rather, it's how the plot comes second to the wild tangents that the characters seem to go on for minutes at a time that reminded me of Godard. The opening scene in which Charlie' brother is seen talking with a random stranger about women and love has absolutely no barring on the plot whatsoever (other than the fact that he's avoiding the two men after their share of a robbery) and is never mentioned again in the film, but it's still fascinating stuff. I especially loved the scene in which Charlie and Lena are picked up by the two men and their witty banter in the car. Did it move the forward in any way? Probably not, but it's fun, jazzy and everything we love about the French New Wave (or at least I do). Shoot the Piano Player is a pleasant, tasteful, well-made little film, although I just wish there was a little more to get excited about. The ending was absolutely perfect and a nice contrast to The 400 Blows, but that flashback was a little clumsily done and probably could have been tightened up a bit. All in all another solid little gem from one of my favorite directors.

High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941) B+

If The Maltese Falcon had been released a year later, in 1942, then I somehow think that we would all be talking about High Sierra as Bogie's breakout performance. Everything we loved about him in subsequent roles is present in this performance: the tough guy in The Big Sleep, the romantic in Casablanca, the slight maniac in The Caine Mutiny and the slightly funny everyman in The African Queen. The rest of the film is quite excellent as well. Bogie plays a recently pardoned gangster who is doing one more job before retiring. There are a couple of bumps along the way, but the robbery seems to go off without a hitch. That is, until someone in on the job snitches on Bogie and he is forced to run while the police heavily pursue him. Raoul Walsh, an old pro from the Golden Age, does a fine job keeping the suspense up. My only complaint is an awkward romance between Bogie and a clubfooted Joan Leslie which is a bit rushed and somewhat forced.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, 2008) C+

My thoughts soon.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cutie Honey (Hideaki Anno, 2004) C-

Cutie Honey is a completely retarded Japanese live-action film based off a popular TV show that I would have never sought out in a million years if my friend Ashley hadn't bought it herself and had me watch it with her. I must say that the opening scenes were fun, if completely ridiculous, and the entrance by Gold Claw (Hairi Katagiri), one of four members of the elite Panther Claw organization trying to retrieve the I-system from superhero/android/slightly lesbianic Cutie Honey (Eriko Sato), was both frightening and divariffic in the extreme. When Hideaki Anno first reveals her in a tight close up, I was in stitches, nearly rolling on the floor, laughing at the layers of thick make up and over the top expressions that she uses. It turns out that she's the most fun of any of the four Panther Claws and the film never tops the moment when she blows up the entire fucking bridge for about 90 seconds straight and still doesn't hit Honey. Eventually, Honey gets the best of Gold Claw and ends up dropping her in the river, presumably killing her. The film never recovers from this great moment because-- and I never thought I would say this about a movie-- it gets too bogged down with uninteresting backstory and narrative and doesn't have enough explosions. It also doesn't help that Gold Claw is the only cool villain and she only returns for two unimportant scenes (present a gift to their leader Sister Jill and then getting killed by Sister Jill for begging for another chance to kill Cutie Honey), leaving the audience wondering why they didn't just kill her in the beginning straight away. I also found it completely strange how random people just broke out in song for absolutely no reason (the random white haired girl introducing Sister Jill and Black Claw right before he battles with Cutie Honey). A completely fucked up movie that's not even good enough to be deemed "so bad it's good."

North Country (Niki Caro, 2005) D+

My thoughts here.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975) B

A completely devastating film about the mysterious vanishing of three schoolgirls and a teacher during a completely innocent St. Valentine's Day picnic in 1900 Australia. I loved Weir's style here and the strange and eerie atmosphere he sets up, from the almost Persona-like opening to the Michael's slight obsession with finding the girls after witnessing them go up the rock to the drunken decline of the headmistress (the fabulous Rachel Roberts) at the school the girls came from. My only problem with the film is that it occasionally slips into L'Avventura territory where it just seems to completely forget the fact that we're searching for these women and plays it off like it doesn't matter. Weir only lets this happen twice or so and then immediately draws us back in.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Seven Women (John Ford, 1966) B

Seven Women starts off innocently enough, acting like yet another The Inn of Sixth Happiness ripoff with American missionaries dealing with Chinese uprisings and invasions. Eventually, however, it evolves into an interesting meditation on religion and how far people will go to save others. Margaret Leighton runs a mission in China near the Mongolian border and when Anne Bancroft, a crass, chain smoking doctor, arrives to help a woman with a tough pregnancy, a subtle power struggle erupts between the two over a young innocent orphan living at the mission (Sue Lyon). When a Mongol barbarian invades the mission, the women are pent up together and Bancroft must sacrifice herself for the sake of the others. This sends Leighton off the deep end and she turns into this scary ass zealot, denouncing Bancroft as "the whore of Babylon." This film is no The Searchers or The Grapes of Wrath, but it's fascinating to see Ford work with this fine ensemble of women (Leighton, Bancroft, Mildred Dunnock, Anna Lee, Flora Robson) and direct a type of film he had never done before. A fitting last film if I've ever seen one.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gypsy (Mervyn LeRoy, 1962) B

From the minute I heard the Ethel Merman version of "Rose's Turn," I've been in love with the musical of Gypsy, but, somehow, I had never gotten around to hearing the whole soundtrack or seeing the film version (even though I've heard it's inferior to the original stage version). Now that I've seen a full version, I think I feel confident in proclaiming it one of the greatest musicals I've ever seen. Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim have created some of the most beautiful and memorable musical scores I've ever heard, complete with some grandiose, larger-than-life numbers for one of the most important roles in the history of Broadway: Mama Rose. It's been called the "King Lear of musical theater" and all of the greats have played her: Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Bette Midler (in a 1993 TV version). Considering the pedigree of the role, it may seem strange that Rosalind Russell, who reportedly only has a two-note range, was cast in this 1962 film version. Indeed, it was strange watching Russell lip sync to most of the songs and then warble through "Mr. Goldstone, I Love You" and parts of "Rose's Turn," but, musical gifts aside, I think she gives a great performance, grounding the sometimes larger than life Mama Rose into reality and really getting the stage mother aspect of the role. As much as I like Russell, I just wish that the producers had gotten first choice Judy Garland to star; she could have nailed both the singing and the acting and probably would have won an Oscar for it. Director Mervyn LeRoy is one of the best of the Golden Age "invisible" directors who can do any type of genre and deliver great results. This Gypsy is still a bit too stagy, but LeRoy keeps it much more cinematic and doesn't let the actors fly off the deep end. If Oscar was looking for a musical to nominate for Best Picture in 1962, why did it go for the dreadful The Music Man, which was a complete and utter disgrace and not Gypsy, which had better music, direction and acting? Natalie Wood was also amazing as the untalented Louise (later to become the notorious Gypsy Rose Lee) and, for the first time, I must say that I actually liked a Karl Malden performance. He's a complete doormat to the overbearing Mama Rose, but he isn't as annoying as you would expect from him or this type of role.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Politics (Charles Reisner, 1931) C+

Charles Reisner, the director of this Marie Dressler-Polly Moran vehicle, is listed as the sole director of my favorite Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill, Jr., but after this and Reducing, I'm beginning to think that the success of that film has more to do with Keaton than Reisner. I'm not saying that Reisner is necessarily bad or anything, it's just that it is hard to believe the laconic point and shoot method that he uses here can come from the same guy who set up such exquisite and hilarious gags in the Keaton film. This is just another average MGM dramedy that tells a simple story with a couple of jokes and gags thrown in and aims for nothing else. Dressler, as always, is a hoot and either Moran is growing on me or this is another fine, subtle performance (for her, anyways) of hers.

Cassandra's Dream (Woody Allen, 2008) B-

Watching Cassandra's Dream was one of the oddest experiences I've ever had while watching a Woody Allen film. The first act is like some kind of horribly written Mike Leigh drama that left me somewhat bored. The second act was thrilling as the two brothers (Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor) figure out how to murder a man their beloved uncle tells them to kill and you can see their true personas starting to show through. The third act was a bit stilted and the ending was abrupt as hell. Overall, I don't think Cassandra's Dream has the same type of flow that his much more successful Match Point did. There are a couple of surprises thrown in, but it's still your ordinary Woody drama with his usual themes-- luck, chance, fate, the existence of God-- all randomly and awkwardly thrown in to try to make this thriller more philosophical and introspective. The best thing about this film is Colin Farrell who takes the most showy character and doesn't go overboard with the anxiety and nervous breakdown (you all know he could have just been Woody for the last 30 minutes and who needs to see that yet again). Cassandra's Dream is further proof that, along with the success of In Bruges, 2008 just may be the year of Colin Farrell.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Prosperity (Sam Wood, 1932) B-

Sam Wood's Prosperity has all the makings of a bad MGM B-picture in the vein of Reducing with its cast (Marie Dressler, Polly Moran and Anita Page are all here again), really shoddy look and horrible editing. Somehow, none of these elements work against Prosperity and it becomes one of the finest films about the financial burden of the Depression I've ever seen. Marie Dressler is the owner of a small town bank and on the day her son is going to get married to Polly Moran's daughter, she steps down as president and hands the reins over to her son. After Moran inadvertently starts a bank panic, Dressler finds out that her son has invested the bonds that she held in security for the bank and can't get them back for at least six months, when the government building they were invested in is expected to be finished. Dressler is forced to close the bank but promises that they will reopen and even sells her house and all of her possessions to keep the customers happy until then. Dressler and her son's family is forced to move in with Moran and they all become miserable living there. The son leaves/is forced out and Dressler moves into a small apartment with him and starts working in a grocery store to support herself. Eventually, it looks the building they invested the bonds in won't be finished in time and it's left to Dressler to find a way out of this crisis. The early slapstick scenes are mildly amusing, but it's during the dramatic sections that Dressler truly shines. She rarely oversells the scenes or her reactions, which was her biggest tendency to do onscreen, and handles them like the old pro that she was. Even Polly Moran was tolerable (I'm excluding the scene where she's hollering like a banshee for her money in the bank) and was as subtle as I wager I'll ever see her.

Sahara (Zoltan Korda, 1943) C+

Sahara is an average, run of the mill WWII morale booster that were churned out nearly every other week by the studios during this time period. Where this one differs from something very similar like Wake Island is the fact that it doesn't take its inherent patriotism too seriously or spend way too much time philosophizing about the nature of humanity during war. Credit the great casting of Humphrey Bogart as the sergeant who leads these 10 or so army stragglers against a brigade of 500 Nazis. Bogart or his character couldn't give two shits about patriotism and his disinterest whenever one of the characters goes off on a tangent every so often is quite refreshing. J. Carrol Naish was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work here and I'm not quite sure why. He's not bad or anything, I'm just guessing that the nom had more to do with the fact that his character-- an Italian POW whom Bogart and company take along with them-- isn't a bad guy and actually helps out the Allies than with the fact that it was one of the best of the year.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Divine Lady (Frank Lloyd, 1929) C-

A completely trite and ordinary silent romantic melodrama that probably wouldn't have been nominated for it's Academy Awards if it wasn't a glossy period piece that probably spared no expense. Disputed Best Actress nominee Corinne Griffith plays Emma, the cook's daughter who, through fate and a scheming nephew, manages to marry an older English ambassador in Italy during the French Revolution. She eventually meets, saves and falls in love with naval hero Horatio Nelson. Since they are both married, however, a scandal erupts and they must decide what to do about their relationship. Everything in The Divine Lady borrows from some earlier and greater silent films: the forbidden romance was handled much better in The Big Parade, the naval battle was a lot more spectacular in the 1925 Ben-Hur and the tragedy of the whole situation felt much more tragic in any Greta Garbo vehicle of the 20's. Corrine Griffith was quite good in the early scenes, especially when she freaked the fuck out and started going off on the neighbor lady, and I was disappointed when that same energy and spontaneity all but disappeared by the end of the film.

Reducing (Charles Reisner, 1931) D+

A silly and completely stupid Marie Dressler vehicle that wouldn't be worth mentioning except for Dressler's performance. It's no Min and Bill, but Dressler does her best with the second-rate material and actually manages some laughs. Reducing is about a rich beauty salon owner (Polly Moran) who invites her poor country sister (Dressler) and her family to come live with her in the city. The two families start bickering right from the get go and eventually a love triangle between the daughters of Moran and Dressler and a rich man drives the two families apart. When something "unmentionable" happens to the rich daughter, she runs to Dressler and together they work out a solution that brings the Dressler and Moran back together. My main gripe with this film is that the scene endings feel completely abrupt and don't come to a natural conclusion. Lines are faded out and jokes are introduced but not fully explored or, worse, they cut a joke right in the middle.

Romeo and Juliet (Franco Zeffirelli, 1968) A-

My thoughts over here.

Time for Catch Up

Yes, I realize I haven't posted on here in quite awhile and I'm trying to remedy that situation. I'm ready to get back on track but in order to do that, I need to write about the 12 films I've seen in the past week or so. So, here are my quick thoughts about those films:

Funny Games U.S. (Michael Haneke, 2008): People either love or hate this film and I found it profoundly interesting in the way it played with our expectations. The basic message about it all being "only a movie" is not new, but the way Haneke presents it here is just as fascinating as when we first saw it in Sherlock, Jr. I loved the rewind scene and how Haneke's refusal in letting the audience get the revenge they want to see. Bold and imaginative. B+

The Hurricane (John Ford, 1937): Another excursion into overrated John Ford territory. Films about Pacific island natives were in vogue during the 30's, but The Hurricane doesn't have Mutiny on the Bounty's strong narrative and performances or Bird of Paradise's hott, shirtless Joel McCrea. The film's main problem is that it presents the rebellious jailed character played by Jon Hall as the hero; more than anything, he's a hopelessly annoying boy who can't take his minor six month sentence and just move on with his life. Ugh. Even the usually reliable Mary Astor and Thomas Mitchell (who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, the only reason I watched this film) are boring. D-

(Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955): For being considered one of the scariest films ever made, I probably think Diabolique is a tad overrated in that sense. However, I must admit that I was on pins and needles throughout the whole damn film. Just when you think the film is over and you're lulled into a false sense of security, Clouzot finds a new way to jolt you and make you worry for the main characters (a hard-as-nails Simone Signoret and a frail Vera Clouzot). That final scene when Clouzot's character wanders the boarding school in the dark is one of the most intense scenes I've ever seen. B+

The Battle of Algiers
(Gillo Pontecorvo, 1968): The story confused me at certain points, but it's hard not to deny the impact of Pontecorvo's directorial style. It can be seen as both a blessing and a curse since it's influence is felt in both the "cinema verite" style of independent filmmaking and the shaky cam action films. B+

Murder, Inc. (Bob Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg, 1960): Peter Falk is the whole show here as soulless hit man Abe Reles in this middling gangster film that is completely stuck in the Production Code despite being from the 60's. C

The Letter (Jean de Limur, 1929): The first version of Maugham's short story is quite an achievement for an early sound film: de Limur doesn't have too many scenes where the dialogue runs on for an unnecessary amount of time and the he does attempt to tell the story visually at certain points. I'm not familiar with the structure of the source, but I think the way de Limur's The Letter lets us in on the crime right away so we figure out Leslie Crosbie (Jeanne Eagels) from scene two eliminates nearly every reason to see this movie (Contrast this with Wyler's version 11 years later which slowly unravels Leslie's story until we realize her ultimate motives at the very end). Eagels was nominated for an Oscar for this performance and God know's why since most of it is a shrilly, over the top mess. She completely unnatural in front of the camera and has the most annoyingly theatrical voice I think I've ever heard. Her only redeeming scene is her final moments when she reveals the truth to her husband and her violent line readings hold the most impact. C-

The Most Dangerous Game
(Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1932): A stupid story and incredibly wooden acting dash the hopes of The Most Dangerous Game becoming the great lost classic of horror film. However, the editing is some of the crispest and most fascinating that I've seen in a film from this time period. The hunting sequences were spectacularly done and incredibly suspenseful even though you knew what the outcome was going to be. B-

Miller's Crossing (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1990): It's no Fargo or The Big Lebowski and I don't think the dark comedy is as funny or as out in the open as it is in those two masterpieces. As a 30's style gangster film, though, Miller's Crossing is still a pretty damn good film. There are so many characters to keep track of and so many double crossings that it probably needs a couple more viewings to get everything straight, but I still think it's a fun time trying to figure out Gabriel Byrne's character and loving Marcia Gay Harden and her immaculate hair. B+

On the Edge of Innocence
(Peter Werner, 1997): I'll admit that the only reason I watched this film was because James Marsden stars as one-half of the romantic duo in this teenage mental hospital patients in love and on the run TV movie. The film is pretty silly in it's depiction of bipolar disorder (in my experience with my brother, the highs and lows are never that high and low) and the ending is simply stupid, but it's fun cheering on this Bonnie and Clyde-esque couple and Marsden is never bad to look at. C-

(Doug Liman, 2008): What a complete waste of time. From the first voiceover by Hayden Christensen, I was completely over this film. How do you sound that unconvincing and just plain awful in the first 30 seconds? Jamie Bell and Rachel Bilson (whom I loved on The O.C. and actually provoked a couple of seconds of laughter from her reading of "Yeah, I don't speak your language") deserved more than playing second fiddle to Christensen and did the best they could with the completely shitty material. D-

Let Us Be Gay
(Robert Z. Leonard, 1930): The only point of interest in this completely average and horribly edited MGM light comedy is the pairing of Norma Shearer and Marie Dressler, two of the most respected and beloved actresses in their day but now nearly completely forgotten and misunderstood. The interplay between these two actresses was hilarious and silly, exactly what the nature of the film calls for. Dressler proved that she was ready for more challenging work and Shearer gives one of her most delightful early performances (and her best between The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg and Private Lives). C

The Cranes Are Flying
(Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957): Who knew the Soviet's could make a romance this tender, emotionally fragile and completely honest. Possibly the greatest straight war time romance since The Big Parade. The deep focus photography, straight out of Citizen Kane, was impossibly beautiful and the long tracking shots, which had to have been majorly difficult, were pulled off with ease. A

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

21 (Robert Luketic, 2008) D+

Robert Luketic needs to stick with romantic comedies. Legally Blonde and Monster in Law are both smarter than average rom coms with impressive comedic performances that still make me laugh the 10th time I watch them. 21, Luketic's first foray away from that genre, is an absolutely grotesque, 99 cent version of Ocean's 11 with unavoidable cliches, awful acting and a putrid script. Jim Sturgess (you might recognize him from Across the Universe and The Other Boleyn Girl) plays a freakishly smart MIT student who can't afford his tuition for Harvard Medical School. He meets a professor (Kevin Spacey) who teaches him to play Black Jack and count cards so, along with a couple of other students, they can make an assload of money in Vegas every weekend. Sturgess does his best with the role, but you know the trajectory of his character from the first 30 seconds: he will go from naive, to out of control in about 30 minutes and then will realize his mistakes and redeem himself just in time. The way Kevin Spacey's character chews him out after losing $200,000 is completely ridiculous; this was the only time Sturgess had done this and he completely goes apeshit while the other douchebag (the one who had been kicked out) had apparently done it quite a few more times before getting kicked to the curb for doing something else completely. Instead of Spacey, I would have rather liked to see Robert Downey, Jr. in this role. I think he could have played up the funniness better with his dry wit and he can be quite a bit intimidating if you give him the chance.

Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994) B

An all-around interesting documentary about underground comic book artist Robert Crumb. I heard that the main appeal of this documentary was not Crumb's work per se, but, instead, Crumb's crazy ass family. Call me the product of a strange family myself, but I simply didn't find them that dysfunctional or bat shit crazy. I will give in that they're a little odd and the one brother who meditates on a bed of nails was slightly disturbing. It's just that their childhood didn't seem that unusual to me as far as the 1950's go (the father was absent mentally, slightly abusive and got into long verbal arguments with the mother...that's out of the ordinary how?). I actually find Crumb as a nice companion piece to Herzog's Grizzly Man; two documentaries about offbeat, slightly megalomaniac men who have a hard time dealing with the real world.

Week End (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967) B-

On the DVD cover for this film, one critic described Week End as Godard's version of hell and there's no way I can possibly disagree with that assessment. There's a long scene that takes place about 20-30 minutes in which the main couple are rudely passing cars during a traffic jam and for about 10 minutes all we hear is the loud honking of car horns. The scene, which, I must add, was seen after a long day in which I dealt with car troubles, made me both queasy and gave me a headache; it certainly felt like hell to me. Even if Week End is too terribly uncomfortable for me to ever see again, I'm glad Godard went all out in making this experience as hellish as possible. This decision shows real balls and makes the film that much more interesting. I do love Godard's fascination with violence here in all the images of horrific car crashes and the unscrupulous main couple's constant comments to each other about how much they want each other dead. I also loved the individual scenes in which the wife, after their car gets wrecked in a huge crash, screams bloody murder about her Hermes scarf and the one in which the couple try to steal a car from a singing Jean-Pierre Leaud. The only thing I truly hated about Week End was the constant political monologues he gives to random characters that seem to go on for forever. I felt that there must have been a more creative way for Godard to mix them in with the rest of the film.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008) D

Full-length rant here.

Penelope (Mark Palansky, 2008) C

Everything about Mark Palansky's modern day fairytale Penelope, especially coming after the enormous success of Enchanted, seems unbearably average and ordinary. The film isn't bad per se-- the story is appropriately simple and child-like, the actors got their respective jobs done and received their paychecks, the special effects are Tim Burton-lite-- but is so inoffensive in it's refusal to take a point of view. The advertisements for Penelope really ruined whatever surprise the film had in story by showing Ricci's pig nose, but director Palansky does an even worse job of leading up to it. The unnecessary narration from Ricci reveals that she has a pig nose and then expects us to act surprised when it is shown a couple of scenes later. Ricci and dreamboat James McAvoy are merely adequate as the two lovers while Reese Witherspoon, whose tiny role really only amounts to nothing more than a cameo, is clearly having fun playing this fast-talking, "bad girl," but the miscasting is too obvious to even take seriously and Witherspoon just can't let loose and have fun. There's a short scene between her and the bar owner at Penelope's wedding when they're apparently supposed to be improvising about how they think the wedding is supposed to go down that plays really awkwardly because Witherspoon just can't get in the silliness.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, 1963) C- (x2)

I've never read the source novel by Henry Fielding (and I probably never will) but I suspect that, as with many novel to film adaptations, the screenwriters had a tough time condensing multiple story lines and subplots and a myriad of characters into a two hour film. Tom Jones feels oddly disconnected to me because none of the subplots seem to add up and are often dropped without a moment's notice. Plus, Richardson's stale British New Wave tricks, which I'm sure were positively retro-chic back in 1963, feel completely dated. I also couldn't get over how misogynistic the whole film was. Tom is allowed to roam the countryside, fucking whoever he wants, but someone like Molly is considered a slut for doing the same. It simply isn't right, especially when I'd rather be following these fascinating women instead of Tom. Albert Finney's casting here is a complete mystery since he isn't exactly the type of good-looker that would turn the ladies' heads nor does he really do anything interesting with the role. If nothing else, I would really love to see the women get more material to work with-- Susannah York especially, who was so good in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and definitely could have handled more oomph to her tireless romantic lead.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, 2008) C

Gondry has a great concept here somewhere buried underneath Be Kind Rewind, but the execution of said concept is extremely poor. The film should have focused more on the making of these "sweded" movies and less on the uninteresting backstory of Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) trying to save his video story and the weird friendship between Jerry (Jack Black) and Mike (Mos Def). Nothing about Be Kind Rewind is especially bad, per se, just completely disappointing. How is it the director of such visual and poetic masterpieces like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep not take advantage of the opportunities presented here. If he couldn't get lost in the silliness and fun of the sweded movies, then how is the audience supposed to care about anything going on on-screen? Let's just hope that this was one slip-up in the repetoire of Gondry and not the first sign of him showing his limitations.

Picture This! (Stephen Herek, 2008) C-

I must admit that I was nervous viewing Picture This!, my beloved Ashley Tisdale's first film after the wild success of the HSM movies. Would she be as good of an actress as I thought she was in HSM2? Would Picture This! give her something to do comedically or would the script and/or direction let her down majorly? The answer to the first question: a definitive YES. If nothing else, Picture This! proves that La Tisdale is a complete natural on screen and can make anything, and I do mean anything, funny. The answer to the second question: kinda. The beginning of Picture This! is rather predictable-- loser Mandy (La Tisdale) is in love with hott jock Drew Patterson and eventually gets him to notice how great she is after rescuing her when she nearly drowns-- and, after some gooey romantic crap was thrown in, I wanted to barf right then and there. Eventually, however, a clever comedic situation straight out of a Buster Keaton short emerges (kicking and screaming, I might add, since the screenwriters try their damnedest to hide it underneath teenage movie cliches and shitty romantic situations) and nearly saves the picture. After finding out about Mandy and Drew, her overprotective father grounds her- on the day of Drew's big party! To get out of the house, Mandy lies about having to study with a friend and her father only lets her go on the condition that he'll call every 30 minutes and she needs to prove, using her brand new video cell phone, that she's at her friend's house every time. Well, of course she's not going over to study and is instead getting ready for the party. So the next 45 minutes of screen time is spent with Mandy trying to fool her father while at the mall, at a battle of the bands concert, driving in her car and a few other various situations. This is where La Tisdale truly shines, proving her skills as a comedienne are top-notch. Why doesn't someone give her a role in a proper film instead of forcing her to slum it in this kind of dreck? The ending of this film is horribly shody, complete with a weird chanting from the mean girls trying to keep Mandy from the party that ends up with the Regina George vomiting for no reason and the most fucked up prom queen ceremony that was so surreal it should have been in a David Lynch film, and nearly destroys those precious 45 or so minutes of comedic genius.

The Music Man (Morton DaCosta, 1962) D+

Egad, this movie is painful. I'm not going to say that DaCosta's adaptation of The Music Man is the problem here since most of the trouble spots stem from the actual story itself. The people are complete caricatures, the jokes are hokey at best and the film is way too long to be stabilized on the one joke. By the 45 minute mark, I thought the townspeople deserved to be swindled because they were so stupid. Seriously, they were so retarded I swear I caught some of them with drool hanging off their chin; I don't know how they function in the real world. I understand that all musicals are fantasies by nature, but there are times when the suspension of disbelief is too great to bear. The only brightside are the Meredith Wilson songs up through "76 Trombones." I thought they were original and creative enough to keep me interested even when the story was leaving me numb (seriously, how could no one seen that juvenile delinquent put that firecracker behind the presenters at the 4th of July meeting? He wasn't exactly subtle or anything). After "76 Trombones," the songs got progressively worse and that's when the film became nearly unwatchable.

The Joy Luck Club (Wayne Wang, 1993) A-

The Joy Luck Club has a couple of minor problems, mainly in it's transitions from story to story and the overall depressing nature of each of the stories, but how can you quibble when such a fascinating story about the life of Chinese immigrant mothers and their Americanized daughters is being told and there's an ensemble cast so on the top of its game it's incredible to witness? I've never read the original novel, but I've heard it's nearly unfilmable, so you have got to give credit to the screenwriters who carefully adapted the novel and made it nearly completely cinematic. The cast is so good it's hard to choose favorites, but I have to say the best in show were Tsai Chin and Tamlyn Tomita as Lindo and Waverly, respectively. Not only was their story the most universal (to me, anyways) but their handing of the final scene at the hairdresser was impeccably done-- it could have come off corny, but it came out completely touching and emotionally honest. And that final scene between June and the twins made me sad and happy at the same time-- if I was more emotional, I probably would have cried during that scene.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Interiors (Woody Allen, 1978) A (x2)

The first time I saw Interiors I generally liked it but didn't think it was anywhere near the realm of Annie Hall. The second time, however, I was absolutely caught up in it and couldn't take my eyes off the mesmerizing images unfolding before me. I think it would take a few more viewings to definitively grasp what Allen is aiming for and eventually I will take the time to write something more in depth about this film. Let me first say that the muted, empty art direction and lifeless costumes were absolutely perfect. The sparse decorations and simple colors beautifully reflect what is going on in the lives of Eve (Geraldine Page) and her daughters Renata (Diane Keaton) and Joey (Mary Beth Hurt). Geraldine Page and Maureen Stapleton, as the girls' father's second wife, were nominated for Oscars and while Stapleton's was infinitely deserved-- she adds color and touches of humor that juxtapose magnificently with the coldness of the rest of the family-- Page, for me, just seemed somewhat miscast. She was good, but I think most of that was due in part to Allen's dialogue and not from what Page was doing as actress: Page's Eve is all cold, vacuous stares and not much else. Much better, in my estimation, were Diane Keaton, who knocked me out with her presence and sharp contrast from the previous year's Annie Hall, and Mary Beth Hurt, who I suspect was taking on the Woody Allen role but does it much better than Allen ever could have.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Thousand Clowns (Fred Coe, 1965) B (x2)

A fun, if slightly annoying, film about a middle-aged bachelor (Jason Robards) who is taking care of his nephew (Barry Gordon) after his sister dumped him at his place seven years previously. Two social service agents (William Daniels and Barbara Harris) show up at his place and tell him that he needs to turn his deadbeat ways around to keep his nephew. All in all, A Thousand Clowns is a very sweet film that was obviously influenced 60's British cinema (not exactly my favorite film movement) but still manages not to get caught up in those empty stylistics and develops a meaningful story about the relationship between Robards, Gordon and Harris. My only major complaint is that towards the middle I grew sick of Robards constant whining about not getting a job, how it's not for him and blah blah blah. He was too douchy during these moments and couldn't make me care one way or another if he actually got to keep the kid or not. Thankfully, the screenplay tones it down and he much more likable towards the end.

Craig's Wife (Dorothy Arzner, 1936) B+

Fascinating film about a woman (Rosalind Russell) so cold and obsessed with her home that over the course of 24 hours she manages to drive out her entire family and all of the servants. The most interesting thing about Craig's Wife is the fact that neither Russell nor Arzner tried to tone down Harriet's coldness or make her more likable: a brave choice indeed since this was one of Columbia's "tent pole" pictures of 1936 and supposed to appeal as many people as possible. Russell was a bit stiff in her early scenes, but she got in to the role as soon she got back to the house. I was most impressed by the way she uses her impeccable comedic timing for this drama. That look she gave when she noticed that the vase of roses was on her piano was nearly as frightening as Faye Dunaway's look when she first notices the wire hangers in the closet.

Grindhouse: Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez, 2007) B+

After seeing Rodriguez's half of Grindhouse, entitled Planet Terror, I've come to the conclusion that a grindhouse film is the heterosexual equivalent of a camp film like Strait-Jacket or What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. I loved the cheesy aesthetics that Rodriguez took deliberate care in making Planet Terror as grindhouse-y as possible, from the random jump cuts, the scratchy film, Rose McGowan with a machine gun for a leg (!!) and the whole "missing reel" segment (that end result was simply hilarious: how the hell did that house catch on fire?). If Planet Terror doesn't feel like a "good" film should in, that's the point. The brilliance is in the lengths Rodriguez went to recreating this sub-genre of film which isn't supposed to feel like anything being made today.

Camp Rock (Matthew Diamond, 2008) F

Full-length rant here.

The Paradine Case (Alfred Hitchcock, 1947) D

If Alfred Hitchcock's name hadn't appeared in the credits, I might have never guessed that he was the director behind this utter mess. Gregory Peck is way too young and entirely miscast as the barrister defending bad girl Alida Valli (doing a horrible imitation of Garbo) of murdering her husband. I never bought the fact that he was in love with Valli (a fact upon which most of the screenplay hinders on) since they had absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. Speaking of the screenplay, it's a pretty lousy one to begin with. The courtroom scenes seem to drag on and on with repetitive dialogue and long, winded monologues about the relationship between Valli and her dead husband's valet (Louis Jourdan). Just because you constantly switch back and forth between the "they love each other/they hate each other" facet of Valli and Jourdan's relationship doesn't make it dramatic or even interesting; get to the fucking point already. And what the fuck was up with Ethel Barrymore's performance here? How in the hell did she get nominated for that two-scene performance in which she stammers, coughs and recoils in fear of her husband (Charles Laughton, as sturdy and reliable as ever)? There was no acting going on in that performance- just a couple of dumb tricks that any half-ass actress could have done.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Roma (Federico Fellini, 1972) C-

Fellini, along with Bergman, Lynch and Coppola after The Godfather, is one of those directors who I probably should like a lot more than I actually do. True, he's done some very inventive things as a director and I respect him greatly. But, more often than not, I just don't understand what the fuck Fellini is doing or trying to say half the time. In Roma, I was with Fellini during the first half hour- a nice recollection of his younger years and what Rome meant to him at the time which is an obvious precursor to his well-received Amarcord two years later- but after that I was totally confused. Out of nowhere, Fellini turns the cameras on the people shooting the movie, narrating his various discussions with random people who told him what they wanted Roma to say about Rome, and it just goes downhill from there. There's a scene involving rowdy people in a low-end vaudeville hall that was meant to contrast with a section about current music, but that section never appears. Then there's a random scene involving people digging a subway and coming across a lost mural in a hidden catacomb that left me scratching my head. The ultimate in weirdness has to be that fashion show with priests and nuns modeling the latest habits and robes. I have no idea what was going on there. It wouldn't have been so bad, but it just went on and on for at least 10 minutes. The scene could have been interesting in a different film, but what exactly is saying about Rome? All in all, a potentially good film is ruined by Fellini's desire to go so overboard that no one knows what the hell his point is anymore.

WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008) A-

Finally- an American animated film that matches the visual beauty and poetry of Hayao Miyazaki's best work. I had my doubts going in (how are they going to make a story about the only robot left on Earth interesting?) but from the first thrilling minutes, all of my fears were put to rest. Seeing the lonely WALL-E wander around a deserted Earth, compacting garbage into small cubes and building enormous skyscrapers with them, made my heart ache for the poor little thing. All he wants is someone to hold hands with, but the only companion around is a little cockroach who follows him around. Then, the lovely robot Eve comes from the sky and WALL-E sees a potential companion in her. At first, Eve is rather cold towards him, but she eventually comes around and a relationship starts to build between the two. Unfortunately for WALL-E though, he shows her a plant he has found and she immediately snatches it and shuts off, waiting for a space ship to come bring her back to where she came from. WALL-E doesn't understand why she shuts off, but when they come back for Eve, he chases after her, not wanting to lose the only things he has ever felt connected to. The romance between the two robots- whether on Earth or in the space station that the two travel to- is one of the most pure and beautiful I've seen since maybe the silent era. This realization got me thinking: romances just work better when the two leads don't speak too much. I mean, which is more convincing- a couple who keeps repeating "I love you" over and over again (as they do in Wuthering Heights) or a couple who only needs to use their eyes and faces to communicate the same thoughts. My favorite scene in the entire film is when WALL-E and Eve are outside the space station, playing around in the vast emptiness of space, having fun and loving their time together. Even if the conclusion comes about too quickly and the science behind the plot is a little elementary (then again, this is aimed towards children), the central romance between WALL-E and Eve and Stanton's beautiful world that he has created is reason enough to see this film.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dragon Seed (Jack Conway and Harold S. Bucquet, 1944) B-

Dragon Seed, in my never ending quest to see every Oscar nominated picture in the Top 6 categories, is one I've been subconsciously avoiding for years now. Why? Because of the fact that my beloved Katharine Hepburn- unmistakable New England accent and all- plays a Chinese peasant in so-called "yellow face." Seeing various publicity stills made my stomach turn at its offensiveness. In the past couple weeks though, I manned up, taped this film and, lo and behold, imagine my surprise when I watched it a couple of nights ago that it's actually not that bad. In fact, it's quite good. Ignore the obvious yellow face and squirm-inducing makeup and you'll find that Dragon Seed tells quite a fascinating story about the Japanese invasion of China. Made during World War II, I find it interesting how well the film parallels what was happening in Europe concerning the invasion of the Nazis. The Japanese invaders in Dragon Seed don't work with the peasants to set up a government or even ask for their input- instead they take over everything, treat the conquered like shit and force them to take sides with a "you're either with us or against us" policy. The most interesting thing I see in this parallel is the Wu Lien character, played by Akim Tamiroff, and his decision to support the Japanese so he can live comfortably and not scrounging for food like the rest of his family. He sees what they are doing and knows it is wrong, but yet he says that it doesn't concern him and he needs to protect his own interests. Wu Lien constantly fears for his life and knows that one slip up will cause him to be killed by the Japanese. Boy, that sounds vaguely familiar. Thankfully, Katharine Hepburn doesn't hog the screen much here and thank the Lord since she's pretty much a bore here, spouting off academic nonsense and speaking in a horrible monotone. The real stars are Walter Huston and the Oscar-nominated Aline MacMahon as the parents trying to hold their family together while trying to adapt to the new China. MacMahon especially earned her nomination for that scene in which she holds Hepburn's new grandchild after the death of the rest of them.

In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008) A-

With In Bruges, McDonagh takes a tricky, overused subgenre- the remorseful hitman looking for redemption- combines it with the equally difficult dark comedy subgenre, switches between them mercilessly and at the drop of a hat and still makes it work. And not only does he make it work, it's simply one of the most original and fascinating films I've seen in awhile. Colin Farrell has never been this good- even in his Tigerland breakthrough- or more likable. He was funny when he needed to be (and boy was he- during some of his line readings and facial expressions I haven't laughed that hard during any other movie this year) and frighteningly serious and remorseful at other points of the script. The only thing I didn't buy was the fact that he was supposed to have trouble getting women. Riiiiiiight. Women are blinding themselves willingly just so they won't have to look at him. In the context of everything though, that's only a minor quibble. Co-star Brendan Gleeson was also equally fantastic, but probably won't get the same critical praise because he's not as big of a star. And Ralph Fiennes is hilarious as the foul-mouthed boss trying to teach Farrell a lesson.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fanny (Joshua Logan, 1961) C

A perfectly respectable and watchable romance in the "star-crossed lovers" vein, even though I'd hardly call it worthy of the Best Picture nomination it received in 1961. It's appropriately epic and audience-catering as most Best Picture nominees of the time were. My problem is that I just can't find anything interesting to even say about it. Nothing about Fanny stirred any passion in me whatsoever; it's hardly a classic, but I've seen far worse films in my time. The performances were amusing, especially the interplay between Boyer and Chevalier, although I've seen each of the cast members do better work elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Christine (John Carpenter, 1983) D+

Christine is, for all intensive purposes, an awful film. Its trashy, illogical and campy beyond belief, but its also quite a bit of fun and an easy way to spend a couple of hours. The first half sets up an interesting concept that could only work in a horror film- a car who gets jealous of her owner's girlfriend- and executes it as well as possible. Just when you think you're falling for it, however, you suddenly realize that it's a car that's killing people and it becomes ridiculous all over again. And that ending was the most anti-climactic and boring I've ever seen. Christine circles Leigh and the bulldozer that Dennis is driving for like two minutes straight- and it's not even suspenseful or anything. Just tedious. I also hated Arnie's transformation from nerd to cool dude. In the first scene, he's so blind without his glasses that he can't see them two feet in front of his face when the bullies knock them to the ground. Ten minutes later, his vision is so perfect without his glasses he can drive his car. What the fuck? Where's the explanation for that? Arnie's toast, just before the ending when he and Dennis are drinking a beer together in the car (that is so 80's), had me and my friend cracking up for about five minutes straight. In a serious and completely overdramatic tone of voice, he says, "A toast...to death!" Isn't that the absolutely worst thing you could toast to (besides flesh-eating bacteria, I guess)?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1946) B

A rather fascinating and creepy murder mystery done in the style of a film noir. The Spiral Staircase is about Helen, a mute servant (the underrated Dorothy McGuire) who everyone she works for is concerned that she'll be the next target of a murderer who goes after women with disabilities. The beginning gave me chills, especially when Helen is walking up to her employer's mansion and in the shadows you see a man moving around, getting ready to attack her. Just when he lunges she rushes into the mansion and you breathe a sigh of relief. A couple of minutes later though, when you see Helen walking around the house, you find the same man lurking in the shadows and your heart races again. The film quiets down for a bit, veering off into the world of melodrama. I just wish there had been a couple more hints in between then and when you discover who the murderer is (which is, admittedly, pretty obvious). Dorothy McGuire isn't given much to do in the beginning since Siodmak almost refuses to give her any close ups to let her act with her eyes, but towards the end she really shines. The terror and rising desperation is frightening to watch. At first, I was ambivalent towards Ethel Barrymore's performance- her first of two nominations acting in a bed- but eventually she won me over. Some of those sideways glances she gave McGuire were even creepier than the actual murderer. Barrymore probably only got the nomination because of her legendary status, but, for most the part, it was a worthy nomination.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Killing Fields (Roland Joffe, 1984) C-

I had high hopes for this one, really I did. Unfortunately, everything about The Killing Fields seemed emotionally disconnected, especially during the times when it really needed to rely on that, and besides that, more often than not, I had no idea what was going on. The first 30 minutes were totally confusing as Sydney (Sam Waterson) and Pran (Dr. Haing S. Ngor) ran from place to place in Cambodia, taking pictures and getting news stories. The screenplay didn't help, because it didn't explain what they were doing well enough and it also got repetitious after awhile. Most of the film consisted of the same three scenes over and over again: (1) Sydney and Pran go to some place to write an article (2) Some catastrophe (military coup, taken hostage, etc) happens and they are forced to stay (3) Sydney and Pran, using their smarts, eventually get out of the situation by the skin of their teeth. Pran's eventual escape still remains a mystery to me because I have no idea how he left the prison camp (was that what he was in?) or who that guy who got Pran to speak French was and what purpose he served (how did he get that American money and map?) I seriously have no idea what the Academy was thinking when they nominated this for so many awards in 1984. The Best Picture nomination is vaguely understandable (quality aside, it is a heartwarming film about friendship and survival and all that bullshit) but Waterson should have been embarrassed that his nomination caused Steve Martin to be denied one for All of Me. Nothing about the performance points in the direction that he was required to act. He yells, he talks with Pran, he gets emotional, he misses his friend....that's about all that goes on here. Any mildly competent actor could have pulled off this performance. Ngor's nomination (and eventual win) can be partly justified- that last hour does belong to him- but, again, nothing really required him to act that much. All he has to do is wear that same stone-face and recite some lines in broken English.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Vittorio De Sica, 1964) C+

Separately, the three short films that compromise Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow would be considered great films in their own right. Together, bundled up in one larger film, they don't work as well. Why? Because, as a whole, we are supposed to find the connections between the three stories and understand why they were placed together. Unfortunately, the only connection that exists between them is the superficial fact that Italian sex symbols Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni play the leads. The first segment, Adelina, lets its one joke run on a bit too long but its joke is quite humorous. Anna, the best of the three, works so amazingly because it suggests and hints at the relationship between Mastroianni and Loren rather than come right out and say and that ending is flat out genius. The third story, Mara, is the silliest of the two- hooker Loren and client Mastroianni must help stop a seminary student from leaving to go in the Foreign Legion- but it's a quite a bit of fun, Mastroianni has never been sillier (although Too Bad She's Bad is pretty close) and Loren's striptease was legendary. I wish these three short films had been released separately instead of lumped together in this film so I could possibly enjoy them more and make a stronger case for the film as a whole

Adelina C+; Anna A-; Mara B

Charlie Bartlett (Jon Poll, 2008) D+

Yet another film that started promising but quickly turned to shit mostly due to an awful screenplay. I thought the opening was great- charming, witty and exquisitely well-handed by Anton Yelchin and Hope Davis. Then, Yelchin's Charlie went off to public high school and it went downhill from there. I can't exactly pinpoint where I started to grow bored with the whole thing but eventually I just wanted the film to end. The screenplay is basically full of subplots with no main plot to guide them. And the abrupt changes in tone seem to suggest that the writer didn't know if they were going for a dark comedy or a slight teenage dramedy or what ever else. It's such a shame because the cast is pretty damn good: Yelchin, at least until the very end, guides his Charlie Bartlett well through the tedium of the script and he very nearly emerges a symbol of teenagedom today; Davis is as droll as ever as Charlie's mother, giving a fine comedic performance from a character that isn't given much to do besides be a kooky mother; Robert Downey, Jr., for most of the movie, is completely wasted since the screenwriter obviously didn't know what to do with his character (it isn't until the very end when he gets some good dialogue to work with that Downey is actually able to do something with his character).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Definitely, Maybe (Adam Brooks, 2008) C-

Definitely, Maybe has the beginnings of a very good romantic comedy. Unfortunately, there isn't enough imagination to sustain the greatness. Will (Ryan Reynolds) is in the process of getting divorced and his young daughter (Abigail Breslin) wants to hear the story her parent's relationship. Will doesn't want to tell her, believing the story too long and complicated for her, but after much persistence, he relents and shares the story with her. Basically, the story revolves around Will's relationships with three women: Emily (Elizabeth Banks), April (Isla Fisher) and Summer (Rachel Weisz). What I loved about the beginning was the fact that it kept going back and forth between the past and the present and Breslin was given the ability to comment on each of the women and what was happening. After awhile, though, the film stays stuck in the past, leaving out Breslin's hilarious commentary, and loses all pretense of being a comedy since nothing is even remotely "ha ha" funny. The 110 minute run time is simply too long to sustain the flimsy premise and by the last half-hour Definitely, Maybe becomes tedious to the point that I wanted to turn it off. Two other things I hated: (1) Breslin's (who's talent lies in portraying an ordinary kid) character being turned in to a smarter-than-the-parents, pretentious, Dakota Fanning type and (2) The utter disregard the costume designer had for dressing the actors in 90's fashion. Watch The Player again and you'll see that men weren't wearing those types of suits in '92. And the women's costumes were even more laughable because they were straight out of today and nothing about them resembled the 90's at all. It would be like doing a film about the 80's business world and not dressing the women in sport coats with shoulder pads. If you're going to set a film in the past. have the decency to get the clothes right. Besides Breslin, the shining star of Definitely, Maybe has to be Isla Fisher. I loved her in Wedding Crashers and here she proved that wasn't a fluke. She's still a little kooky, but she turns it down from that movie and crafts it so it fits her character here. Fisher could have phoned it in like Weisz and Banks, but that was some fine acting going on there.

The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet, 2003) D-

This movie is so awful, so painful, so poorly executed that it's almost indescribable. I sat there for 80 minutes just waiting for something interesting to happen or for a plot point to be explained and carried out and couldn't believe it when absolutely none of that happened. The film gets points for trying something different- almost no dialogue is spoken during the course of the movie- but there needed to be songs or title cards or something that shaped the plot and spelled out what was happening. The Triplets of Belleville is about a bicyclist who is kidnapped and his grandmother who, with the help of a group of elderly musical sisters, track him down and rescue him, but we are never told why the bicyclist is kidnapped or how the grandmother knows who the kidnapper is when she sees him in the nightclub. And that preposterous car chase at the end made me want to stab toothpicks in my eyes and lick a frogsicle; I understand it's a cartoon but those cars flipped over way too easily and the escape was nearly anti-climactic. After witnessing this horrific mess of a film, I can't believe this was so widely acclaimed back in 2003- more proof that sometimes movie critics are pretentious jerk-offs.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Caesar and Cleopatra (Gabriel Pascal, 1946) B-

Forget the MGM-lite spectacle and Pascal's tedious and uncinematic direction: the real reason to see Caesar and Cleopatra is for Claude Rains' and Vivien Leigh's dynamic performances. Just when you think you've seen it all from these two, they surprise you yet again with the depth of their skills. Rains makes his Caesar instantly likeable and charms us into understanding why Cleopatra falls under his spell. He acts as a sort of Henry Higgins, transforming the demure and innocent Cleopatra into the glamorous, authoritative Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. The beginning of Leigh's performance is a little strange. Seeing her as a naive waif after Scarlett O'Hara was a bit of a shock. It isn't until Caesar takes her under his wing, when she starts combining the naivity with the hardness of the older woman, that it becomes a full fledged performance. The way she combines these polar opposites and switches them on and off at the drop of a hat is astounding.

A Hole in the Head (Frank Capra, 1959) D

I'm not going to lie- I'm a huge fan of Frank Capra. For some reason, his cheesy, unashamedly uplifting "Capracorn" styles work on this little ole cynic. This, combined with the fact that this film boasts a magnificent cast including Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Thelma Ritter, Eleanor Parker and Carolyn Jones, should have assured A Hole in the Head greatness. Imagine my surprise when it didn't. A Hole in the Head tells the story of a widowed owner of a sleazy hotel (Frank Sinatra) with a son who he loves more than anything. He's behind on his mortgage payments and about to get thrown out so he tries to get money from his rich brother (Edward G. Robinson) and his wife (Thelma Ritter). They tell him that they'll give him the money if he'll settle down and marry a woman they set him up with (Eleanor Parker). A Hole in the Head is supposed to play like a comedy- the problem is that none of the jokes are even funny (I take that back, one is: Thelma Ritter's line reading at the end "I don't understand...they're so poor and so happy!"). The repeated gag of Robinson falling back on the low chair wasn't funny the first time, so why would I need to see it repeated five or six times? Frank Sinatra was never the greatest actor (even in his most acclaimed performances in From Here to Eternity and The Man With the Golden Arm something was missing), but A Hole in the Head reveals his limitations. He is the last actor I would have picked to play the father; his tough, man's man persona doesn't fit well into the role (I would have rather seen someone like Rock Hudson in the role). A Hole in the Head, in the end, completely wastes the aforementioned dream cast. The actressexual in me loves Ritter, Parker and Jones the most here, but they really aren't given much to do; it's Sinatra and that annoying kid's show unfortunately. Random rant: that "High Hopes" sequence was one of the most awkwardly handled musical scenes I've ever seen. I can suspend disbelief if the entire film is a musical, but it makes absolutely no sense when you have one musical number in a two hour movie.

Desire Under the Elms (Delbert Mann, 1958) C-

I'm not familiar with the original play by Eugene O'Neill that Desire Under the Elms is based on, but I believe that it deserves a far better treatment than what Mann delivers here. The story- a young man lusting after his aged father's hot new wife and their ensuing battle over the land they live on- should have interested me more, but writer Irwin Shaw and director Delbert Mann completely butcher the power of it by not bothering to adapt the play cinematically. The film looks as if it was shot from the audience point of view with absolutely no imagination: you can obviously tell how the different scenes are set up in the stage production. The scenery looks so shoddy and cheap that it could have been knocked over with a breath of air. Burl Ives basically does his whole Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Big Daddy schtick that comes across as hammy beyond belief this time. Sophia Loren is good, but not quite at her Two Women peak. Anthony Perkins, however, proves here that he was a good actor before Psycho and that it wasn't just a fluke. It's no Norman Bates but it's quite a fine performance.

Love Affair (Leo McCarey, 1939) B (x2)

Leo McCarey's Love Affair has the makings of one of the Great American Romances, but ultimately ends up just short of its lofty intentions. The main culprit here is the general uneveness of the screenplay and McCarey's direction. The film starts off fantastically with a charming introduction between Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne that's every bit as witty as anything in McCarey's earlier The Awful Truth. It completely sucked me in and left me wondering if I had underrated this film the last time I saw it. Then the film lost me when Boyer takes Dunne to meet his grand-mere Janou (Maria Ouspenskaya). The whole sequence doesn't really fit in with anything and those final lines between the two women which go something like "I can't walk very far. I have to stop at the edge of my sanctuary." "Well, thanks for letting me trespass into your little world." was super cringe-worthy. Just when I was ready to write the film off completely, Boyer and Dunne suck me back in with their chemistry back on the boat. It's a glorious couple of minutes, but then they are forced to split up again and McCarey can't seem to maintain the same momentum when they are apart. The next 20 minutes were decent, if not exactly noteworthy, which lead to a fantastic finale. The dialogue is a little over-written, but Boyer and Dunne are careful not to overdo anything. They keep the emotions grounded in reality, making their reunion all the more affecting.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007) B (x2)

Revisiting Ben Affleck directorial debut Gone Baby Gone was a bit of an interesting experience for me. This time around, the first half seemed a little sloppy; the editing was a bit off, the Casey Affleck voiceovers were a complete cop-out and totally unnecessary, the script rushed into doing too many things at one time. The only thing that really stood out in the beginning was Amy Ryan's performance. If I ever doubted the power of your work here Amy, I'm sorry because when I saw you again I quickly remembered how much I loved you. She's loud, abrasive, in your face and having the time of her life with that accent (I still can't get over her line reading of "Faaack Bea" at the end of the film- instantly iconic). If the first half was rough, the second half was golden. Cinematically it was much more proficient, thematically it was richer with the right vs. wrong motif coming into play and acting-wise everyone stepped it up a notch. Ed Harris is truly a joy to watch, especially during that scene in the hospital parking lot. And the ending, in which Casey Affleck contemplates if he did the right thing, is truly magical.

As a side note, if you watch this on DVD, make sure you check out the alternate opening in the extras. It's so good and so much more to the film (in such a short amount of time) that I really wish Affleck would have kept it in.

Jesse James (Henry King, 1939) C/The Return of Frank James (Fritz Lang, 1940) C+

In a million years I never thought I would be interested in the life and crimes of notorious outlaw Jesse James, but after The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford I'm now somewhat fascinated by his legend and murder. Unfortunately, since both Jesse James and The Return of Frank James are, to varying degrees, completely fictitious. Henry King's Jesse James is a solid, if not particularly interesting, crowd pleaser that gets muddled from the get go. The film can't decide if it wants to portray James as a dashing romantic lead, a Robin Hood-esque good guy or a raving lunatic. Jesse James tries each of these to varying degrees of success but in the end we are no closer to understanding the "real" Jesse James. Tyrone Power, proving here he was only a prettyface, definitely doesn't add anything dramatically to the film. He says his lines and hits the marks, but he doesn't evoke the feelings that Brad Pitt did so well in TAoJJbtCRF. The saddest thing about Jesse James however is the fact that the writers so blatantly changed James' life story to fit the story they wanted to tell. Zee never left Jesse after the birth of their first son; it only happened in Jesse James to heighten the drama and make that reunion scene so bittersweet. If Jesse James is a fudged biopic, then The Return of Frank James is a complete work of fiction because nothing that happens in the film actually happened in real life. I wouldn't have minded if the story was an original story, but it tries to pass itself off as history and that's just wrong. Let it be shouted from the rooftops: Frank James never chased the Ford Brothers after Bob shot Jesse and he did NOT kill Bob Ford, no matter what this film tries to tell you. With that little rant aside, let me just say that, cinematically, The Return of Frank James is a much better film thanks to legendary director Fritz Lang. Where King composed every shot of Jesse James like a pretty 2-D postcard, Lang adds depth, shadows and contrast to make every scene fluid and cinematic. It's not groundbreaking stuff (especially when compared with his Metropolis, M or Fury) but it's passable and a much better film than it would have been without it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Know Who Killed Me (Chris Sivertson, 2007) F

Was I Know Who Killed Me really the worst film of 2007? I'm going to be bold and say that it wasn't. It's without a doubt an awful mess: horrible acting, overdone cinematography, an immature script and aimless direction that tries way too hard. But I'd rather see a shitty film fly off the rails trying than watch shit like The Bucket List or Wild Hogs not even bother to do anything different. I Know Who Killed Me is actually so bad that it somehow becomes interesting, in the same way that people enjoy watching The Moment of Truth; theoretically, it's awful, but you can't help but stay involved. Lindsay Lohan plays Aubrey Fleming, an intelligent high school student who happens to be a talented writer. A crazy serial killer who tortures his victims is on the loose and one night he kidnaps Aubrey. Somehow, she is found nearly dead in a ditch and is brought back to perfect health- sans her right arm and hand. Everything seems fine until she doesn't recognize anyone around her and takes on the personality of a classless stripper Dakota Moss. The rest of the movie revolves around Aubrey/Dakota trying to figure out what happened. Most of I Know Who Killed Me was so ludicrous that I was either laughing (that scene where Dakota takes Aubrey's boyfriend upstairs to obviously have sex with him- right in front of the mother!) or completely confused (the last 10 minutes made absolutely no sense). When I read online a few hours later what it all meant, what the writer was trying to do was actually somewhat interesting. It's just a shame that everything (including his writing style) got in the way. You need more than just an interesting concept and the 90 minutes of crap that lead up to it is not worth it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Murder! (Alfred Hitchcock, 1930) B

Leave it to the great Alfred Hitchcock to make a sleek and adult talking picture in Great Britain when in America we were still trying to figure out how to make talking pictures work. Murder! is no classic, but it proved that talking pictures could be more than just people standing around talking and that Hitchcock was going to have a long and successful career. The story is pretty simple: a young actress is convicted of murder, but another actor on the jury (Herbert Marshall) has an attack of conscious and decides to help find the real murderer. It's obvious that Murder! was based on a stage play from the way the scenes are staged, but Hitchcock, as he usually does, tells the story more visually than most talkies of the period. The scene where the jurors are deliberating is pretty fascinating because a normal director would have filmed it mostly in a long shot with a couple of cut-ins. Hitchcock, however, has the camera flowing around the room, bouncing from juror to juror and hardly repeating the same shot more than once. My only major problem with Murder! is the fact that the sound balance hasn't quite been worked out. Whenever there was background music, it was usually so loud that it covered up the dialogue (which was already hard to understand because of the thick dialects). But I can't complain too much; American pictures of the same time could barely compete in terms of quality with this picture.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

All or Nothing (Mike Leigh, 2002) C+

Mike Leigh has a great eye (and ear) for the gritty and non-glamorous life of the working class, as he demonstrated so ably in both Secrets and Lies and Vera Drake. In All or Nothing, Leigh's eyes and ears are still in tune, but nothing else about the script or film really work. The main storyline involves taxi-driver Phil (Timothy Spall) and his wife Penny (Lesley Manville) and their marriage that has turned sour. When a medical emergency threatens one of their children, everything between the two comes to a head in a heated fight. This situation would be fine and dandy if we gave a rat's ass about either of the characters involved. Spall's Phil is an inane, blithering loser who couldn't form a complete sentence or look someone in the eye if his life depended on it. I don't know if I have something against Timothy Spall, but everytime I look at him I get annoyed. I thought Manville gives a good performance, but ultimately her character is just another shrewish wife that we've seen a hundred times before. There are a couple of other subplots going on in All or Nothing, including a potentially interesting one concerning a mother (Ruth Sheen) and her knocked up daughter (Helen Coker), but they are both dropped in the final half hour rather abruptly with no hints of a conclusion at all. A lot of people have attacked for All or Nothing for being "depressing," but I can deal with that (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, possibly the biggest downer of a film I've ever seen is also one of my favorites). What I can't deal with is a sloppy, aimless script that has the potential to be good.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007) B (x2)

Original rant here.

I have a lot of the same thoughts/problems with Michael Clayton that I did in my original rant. The film is pretty good, but I still have the "So what?" thoughts running through my head. It doesn't break any new ground to merit it's multitude of Oscar nominations and George Clooney was most definitely overrated. The film still belongs to Tilda Swinton- a genius performance I can't get over.