Sylvester Stallone’s latest directorial effort, Rambo, is, simply, the greatest action film I have ever seen. With a runtime of 93 minutes, the film’s breakneck, skullfuck, brainbash pace makes it seem like half an hour. The film, Stallone’s second recent visitation, from behind the camera and in front, with one of his iconic characters (after the solid Rocky Balboa) is an absolute masterpiece of thrilling, shocking, hot-blooded, and vibrant filmmaking. On par with Paul Greengrass’ The Bourne Ultimatum, Rambo is a return to REAL action filmmaking, without any sort of bullshit political polemics and overt self-conscious insecurity. Rambo is about the Iraq war without ever telling you that it is about the Iraq war. It is about post-war psychology and impacts without the self-importance that results in spoon-feeding the audience tear-stained diatribes about war-induced feelings of nihilism, moral confusion, and terror. Rambo simply IS nihilism, moral confusion, and terror. Stallone has made a film in the moment, not after the fact. The audience is in war. There is no lengthy training or acclimation, nor any post-carnage philosophizing. The film expresses the conflicting moralities, difficult realities, and necessary violence humanity is faced with when confronted with war and diplomatic impossibility. That is not to say that conflicts with Iraq, Iran, or any other country is bereft of diplomatic hope, but Rambo reveals the harsh actuality of a conflict past diplomacy, or perhaps pre-diplomacy, if diplomacy can only really occur after a conflict had been decided, which is a whole other issue unto itself.
One of the most startling things about Rambo, amidst its intense carnage and violence, is the minimalism and sparseness of its form. Although there are reportedly 236 deaths in the film, Rambo is a film without excess. Every shot, scene, and rare portion of dialogue is necessary. In fact, every death is necessary. Rather than films abiding by taste by showing graphic violence in far shots or editing around the more brutal elements of war, Rambo and Stallone understand that war is not tasteful. War is severed limbs, brutality, act-or-die circumstances, and, perhaps most importantly, lacking any sort of transcendent oversight that edits out the nasty parts. The film’s premise is even remarkably simple: a past-his-prime John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is hired by a group of Christian do-gooders seeking to give medicine and care to the people of rural Burma, to guide them through the country’s dangerous and claustrophobic jungle. After delivering the naïve missionaries to their desired village, in which many of them are slaughtered by the ruthless Burmese military in perhaps the most intense, terrifying massacre ever filmed, Rambo is asked by the group’s American-based leader to go on an expedition with a small band of mercenaries to discover their whereabouts and retrieve them. Like a hemorrhaging, rippling, vein-popping version of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), Rambo progresses with blistering intensity and cinematic gusto oozing from every frame.
More visceral, challenging, and horrifying than any piece of journalism I’ve seen regarding the Iraq war, Rambo details a situation in which force is necessary and must be used. It is not a liberal fantasy of hocus-pocus speeches converting entrenched rebels or miraculous deeds of trans-cultural kindness bringing people into their right minds, nor is it a masturbatory imagining of patriotism, traditional morality, and Western culture correcting a perceived wrong. Instead, Stallone’s film is a clear-headed depiction of the Darwinist realities of violence, power, and authority. In fact, Rambo is as detached from conservatism as any of the pseudo-intellectual “I read serious articles in serious newspapers about serious issues” films that flooded cinemas last year, such as Lions For Lambs, Redacted, In the Valley of Elah, and Rendition. John Rambo is not an American hero. He is a bitter, tattered expatriate drowning is disillusionment from his country’s grand pants-shitting known as Vietnam. In one scene, Rambo is asked by the female leader of the Christian group, Sarah (Julie Benz), why he hasn’t moved back to America; Rambo replies that he doesn’t need to because nothing ever changes. This prompts Sarah to comment that many things have changed – but, have they? Aren’t we still in a bullshit war that’ll probably create more Rambos than we need? Rambo’s stance is ultimately a rejection of America, perhaps rightfully so.
Likewise, the film espouses a rejection of God-given entitlement and morality. In one particularly abrasive scene, the most cynical member of the mercenary group, Lewis (Graham McTavish), comments to the recently rescued Michael (Paul Schulze), a man who earlier in the film condemns Rambo for killing a group of pirates, claiming that killing is never right, “God didn’t save you, we did.” The statement is a brilliant summation of the film’s fantastically understated nihilist themes, which sidestep, rightfully, the extraneous presence of morality in the struggle for survival. Survival is an act of self-control, autonomy, and individual agency that is liberating in its ability to deliver to people responsibility for themselves and potential control of their own destiny. The film is, in a very sly way, a proponent of the American dream, of individuals taking charge, without sugar-coating the difficulty of actualizing the American dream. Rambo is an American film at its core, despite its searing criticism of America’s shortcomings. It is a film of pragmatism and flexibility, essentially about adaptation. Discarding the limited, strict philosophies of political correctness and clean-cut liberalism or conservatism, the film is about dealing with situations as they happen, without the overtly-theoretical responses posed by knee-jerk right-wing or left-wing absolutists who might, like Michael, stand on a shiny pedestal and say that killing is never justified or acceptable. Rambo is a film smart enough and in-touch enough to realize that all war, Iraq included, and all life, is unfair. Those who survive are those who adapt. The film’s most stunning example of this is the transformation experience by Michael. Formerly a black-and-white thinker, when faced with a life-or-death predicament, Michael rises to the occasion and, with astonishing ferocity, defeats a deadly attacker by bludgeoning his face in with a rock. Michael is thrust into the reality of war and of humanity, like this stunned and overwhelmed reviewer was.
by Brandon Colvin Continue reading...
Monday, January 28, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Forethought: Heath Ledger's performance in Brokeback Mountain was one of the best male leads of the decade, right up there with Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York , Ken Wantanabe in Letters From Iwo Jima, and Russell Crowe in Gladiator. He did good work with what little time it turned out he had, and that counts for an awful lot as far as I'm concerned.
Now then. Oscars.
* Regarding the special effects nominees The Golden Compass, Pirates, and Transformers: Has anybody seen that episode of South Park, "Imaginationland," in which cartoon Michael Bay describes an invasion plan he's cooked up, "And then it'll be like POOOWWWRRGGHH!!!! And then these trains will fall off the tracks and it'll be all GGRRRAAGHGHGHGHGH!" That sums up my feelings toward the three nominees, and it made me a little nostalgic for the simpler yet infinitely craftier innovation of, shit you not, Death Becomes Her.
* Atonement did not surprise me. Juno did.
* What do Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, and the number 8 have in common? They are all nominations received by No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. This, you may be surprised to realize, is one exciting and close race.
So does either film have an edge? Well, lest I misread the scent in the wind and/or the New York Times be lying to me, "I... drink... your... milkshake!" is hurtling toward "Show me the money!" catchphrase ubiquity, and your one friend who still says "Call it, friend-o" may now be regarded by some as if he'd let loose a world-historical "Who let the dogs out?!" But that's only the way of the wind this morning. Keep in mind that had Jonny Greenwood's score not been ruled ineligible (much more on that later), it would have surely been nominated and TWBB's nomination tally would have been brought to nine. Bam, front runner status. I'm not the only numbers cruncher drawing this conclusion by a damn sight.
That's all the prognosticating I'm going to commit to print for the Best Picture dogfight at this juncture. I was very wrong about The Departed last year, and I'd like not to break my foot off in my mouth again.
I will say with great certitude that Anton Chigurh would own Daniel Plainview in a steel cage death match. Feel free to discuss.
* I said back when I saw it that Sarah Polley's beautiful, touching script for Away From Her should be remembered come Oscar time. Honestly, I didn't think it would be. This was the nicest surprise of my morning.
* You, the naysayers, the cynics, the haters. It was released too early in the year, you said. The Academy typically shuns comedy, you said. The fat suit was inferior to that of Hairspray, you said. Or Big Momma's House, you added. Well saddle up for your heaping helpings of crow, hipster douchebags, because as I write this the ink is barely dry in the history books proclaiming the DGA, PGA, WGA, and SAG-lauded Into the Wild as having only one more Oscar nomination than Norbit.
Norbit managed to score its single nomination for, let's face it, a fat suit. It's the kind of movie whose makeup could have been credibly nominated had Dogme 95 been a trend that not only outlasted the popularity of Pogs, but had mushroomed from its quiet beginnings into a stable mainstream genre. Meanwhile, the Academy snubbed the widely acclaimed Into the Wild and nominated it only for editing and supporting actor (Hal Holbrook).
This side-by-side comparison means nothing, but it's just one of those things that makes me a little sad. If only Sean Penn had put Emile Hirsch in a fat suit.
* Ruby Dee is the only black acting nominee this year and as much as I love her, she absolutely will not win. Ha ha, Jesse Jackson.
* Bad news: Amy Adams was stiffed out of a Best Actress nod. (Cate Blanchett again? Really? Anybody who makes a career out of doing that many impressions and isn't a stand up comic is not worth my time.) Good news: Three - three! - songs from Enchanted were nominated for Best Original Song. If God wants to take one opportunity to smile His brightest smile down on the Oscars, then He will fly straight down from Heaven and whisper into Gil Cates' very ear the idea to do a "Happy Working Song," "So Close," "That's How You Know" Amy Adams Good Old Fashioned Production Number Medley!
I know that I don't have much credibility as a critic or Oscar prognosticator. But I also know that I have more than most of you readers. That said, I would like to squander it right now by offering the following assessment of any potential Amy Adams song medley: Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!
* You know what? Getting back to fat suits, Hairspray's fat suit should have been nominated simply by virtue of it having a better actor stuffed inside.
* This year there are four nominated feature documentaries roundaboutly or notsomuch roundaboutly condemning something the United States is doing. Last year there were five. (Progress!) It's bad enough that as far as Best Documentary goes, craft has taken a back seat to incendiary current events. But what really, really, really chaps my ass? We're not dealing with challenging subject matter, here. At all. War, sick 9/11 workers, and starving Africans are sad, unpleasant things. Every decent person on earth can agree with this. We all get it, and we have always gotten it. But where was the fearsome and meticulously crafted Lake of Fire this year, which forced us to stare down both sides of the abortion debate for almost three unblinking hours? Where was In the Shadow of the Moon, a stirring story of America's space race triumph? Whither Bukowski: Born Into This, Grizzly Man, 42 Up of years gone by? What of them, Academy? Sigh. And all they really had to do was feature a Dixie Chick calling the president a fucking idiot.
* All of the nominated directors are first time nominees. (Remember, it's "The Coens," not just "Joel Coen.") Cool!
* Where's Jonny Greenwood, you ask? Sidelined for reasons with the "oh come on!"-ness of not answering in the form of a question.
The music of TWBB is a meritage of Greenwood's original work and cuts from Brahms, Arvo Part and others. But as Variety informs us, "The disqualification has been attributed to a designation within Rule 16 of the Academy's Special Rules for Music Awards (5d under "Eligibility"), which excludes 'scores diluted by the use of tracked themes or other pre-existing music.'" Parst plays over a single long sequence if I remember correctly; Brahms over the credits. Thing is, Greenwood's work did not lead the pack screentime-wise. Something like 45 minutes unoriginal music, 35 original. Sorry Jonny, it was just too "diluted. " Ugh. This on top of lethal procedurals that KO'ed 4 Weeks, 3 Months, and 2 Days and Persepolis' eligibility in the foreign film category, the aircraft carrier still stuck in my craw from the Golden Globes telecast, and the fact that Greenwood's score really was so good that I devoted one sentence of my two sentence TWBB top ten list blurb to it... well excuse me for reacting like a bastard in a basket.
The Best Original Song category has lately been notably unforgiving to benders of the by-laws. Just in the last five years, two infamous instances. Moulin Rouge! saw its signature "Come What May" kicked to the curb because despite its originality, it was originally written for William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, and "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" from Brokeback Mountain was disqualified when it appeared in only one scene and didn't play for long enough. Both of these songs, had they been nominated, would have very likely won Oscars. Greenwood's work is no different. When thing like that happen, you'll find cheerleaders like me wandering around like Shi'ites at Ashura. (Google it. There will be blood.) But be that as it may, the notion that the rules should be changed if a potential nominee that many see as inevitable, owed, anointed, whatever, is edged out of the final cut for reasons other than vote tallies is absurd. Certain circles are squawking about the need to do just that following the foreign film category debacle, but the voting system is the issue there as opposed to eligibility requirements. (Angry Lust, Caution boosters definitely have a thick side of beef to bring up concerning the latter, but that's another story.) It's a shame that the Academy didn't spring this technical violation on the TWBB folk earlier so that they could properly appeal it, but that appeal would be likely have been stopped dead in its tracks by little more than a stopwatch. So now what have we learned from all this? Same thing we learn every time. Follow the damn rules, folks.
As a bonus travesty, at the same time that Broadway's version of The Little Mermaid arrives on the express train from hell, Alan Mencken's score for Enchanted was also deemed inelegible at the eleventh hour because - Variety again - "both were disqualified due to the 'predominant use of songs.'" I know he just had three songs nominated but still, doesn't that just sound like your friend's petty, nasty mom that everybody hates?
Okay, writing that got me pissed off again. Academy, I know you're just doing your job, but with all of these mealy-mouthed, HR-sounding reasons for disqualification you're throwing around, are you trying to get me to watch the Oscars telecast like my own sainted mother watches it? Do you want me to watch every second of the Joan Rivers pre-show but read People Magazine during the technical categories? Do you want me to go to the bathroom during best director? Do you? I want to love my gloriously stupid annual Oscar party. I want it to be so good that I wake up the next morning on a bowling lane surrounded by the remnants of my steak dinner, and then make my hair of the dog a one-swallow couple pints of gin. I want this, Academy, and you need to do your part to make it happen too, but you're just not gonna make it easy this year, are you?
* At least Tyler Perry's fat suit didn't get nominated. I would give Osama bin Laden a nuclear bomb before I gave Tyler Perry an Oscar.
by Andy Hobin Continue reading...
The monster-as-metaphor method of filmmaking is a time-tested practice, dating back to the original Gojira (1954) and spanning to the very recent, The Host (2007). While giant creatures usually wield an arsenal of biting (ha!) sociopolitical commentary on such varied topics as atomic energy, war crimes, sexuality, nationalism, and pollution, the J.J. Abrams produced, unconventional box-office smash, Cloverfield, takes the monster metaphor and shrinks it down to a very personal, almost interior allegory. Though the relationship between the film’s dazzlingly special-effected action sequences and the attacks of 9/11 is obvious and much discussed, it takes a back seat to the original and fresh use of a monster-movie to detail the trajectory of a romance that isn’t particularly witnessed on-screen, except in the symbolic havoc created by the truly horrifying beast.
Cloverfield begins with a home movie of a couple, Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) and Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman), playfully talking as a post-sex glow illuminates their hot-ass faces. The footage, helmed by Rob, eventually morphs to display a different event, a going-away party for Rob held a few weeks later, who has recently received a high-level job in Japan. Constantly inter-cut with the footage of the party (and the rest of the film) is the continuation of the Rob and Beth home movie, which involves a trip to Coney Island and other pleasantries. During Rob’s party, his friend Hud (T.J. Miller) is put it charge of the camera and remains the film’s cameraman and commentator throughout the visceral destruction that crashes Rob’s party. Not surprisingly, Beth has grown distant from Rob as a result of his leaving and seeming lack of concern for her needs, and the tension mounts throughout the party, culminating in a heart-to-heart-to-heart between Rob, his brother Jason (Mike Vogel), and Hud on the balcony. As the conversation comes to a close, Jason gives the significant brotherly advice that Rob should stop thinking about his job and start worrying about the people he cares about, presumably Beth. Immediately after Jason finishes speaking, the shit hits the fan and the crazy-armed, spider-demon shedding monster starts whacking Statue of Liberty heads across Manhattan and stomping buildings.
Aside from the incredibly scary and sensationally effective non-stop action that follows, Cloverfield is notable for the metaphorical link between the monster’s arrival and Rob and Beth’s relationship. Most important in this allegory is the permeation the Japan/Godzilla association into cultural mythology. In a fascinating, possibly unintentional move by screenwriter Drew Goddard, Cloverfield seems to use this associational mythology to relate, through an exciting action film, the impact of Rob’s move to Japan on his connection to Beth. Revealed in the final shot of the film, a flashback to the Coney Island trip, something falls from the sky, hardly visible, that is presumably the creature, notably the monster arrives as the two kindle their romance. Their fated separation seems star-crossed and comes in the form of an alien creature, which apparently matures during the period of their estrangement before Rob’s party. The creature finally attacks at the angry collapse of their relationship, just after Rob’s brother nails it home that Rob is making a mistake. Does the monster then come to symbolize Rob’s misgivings regarding Japan and the negative impact his move will have on his love for Beth? The remainder of the film seems to suggest so.
After the monster-thwarted attempt by Rob, Hud, and assorted other hipster party friends to leave Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge, Rob realizes that he must save Beth, who is trapped in her apartment building in the heart of Manhattan. As Rob ventures to save Beth, it becomes clear that the monster (the physical representation of his move to Japan) has inspired him to repair his romance with Beth. The allegory is continued throughout the film, although I’ll not detail exactly how for spoiler reasons, forming an interesting and complex take of monster metaphors, told through the most personal of visual media, the home movie. The film displays the personal both in form, style, and content in this way, creating a large, involving narrative that is really, just about two people in love, rather than using two people in love to relate a huge social issue, as in many tragic romances. The use of a single tape, constantly recorded over and spliced into other footage also creates an excellent memory aesthetic, furthering the film’s deeply personal significance. The editing used to merge all of the footage in Cloverfield, as well as to uphold the film’s blistering pace, is phenomenal, and editor Kevin Stitt deserves as much credit as possible for making Cloverfield as intense and cohesive as it is. Likewise, Michael Bonvillian’s inventive, at times insanely tough to watch, cinematography is remarkable in its energy and avoidance of redundancy.
With competent performances and mature direction by Matt Reeves, Cloverfield explores the power of the personal in its thrilling, fresh monster allegory. A masterpiece of digital cinematography and impeccable in its editing, the film is engaging and challenging, like an 84 minute Godzilla film directed by Stan Brakhage. Most importantly, the film is a narrative experiment, utilizing symbols and imagination to carve a romantic arc that never allows viewers to leave the edge of their seat.
by Brandon Colvin Continue reading...
Monday, January 21, 2008
Here they are at last! Out 1's First Annual Top 10 Lists. This year we should possibly give them a subtitle of "No Country For Different Opinions" as 3 of the 4 lists have the same #1 film and a certain film ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th on the different lists. The quality of films this year has been much discussed and we have to agree. All we can do is hope for as strong of a year in 2008. If so, the 2000's are shaping up to be one hell of a decade for films.
JAMES HANSEN'S TOP 10
Honorable Mention (alphabetically): 12:08 East of Bucharest (Corneliu Porumboiu), Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg), Enchanted (Kevin Lima), Into Great Silence (Philip Groning), Lake of Fire (Tony Kaye), Lust, Caution (Ang Lee), Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy), Once (John Carney), Regular Lovers (Phillipe Garrel), Ten Canoes (Rolf De Heer)
Best experimental film that didn't qualify for the Top 10 since it only had one showing: At Sea (Peter Hutton)
The worst thing that happened this year that should have been the best: The Oprah/Cormac McCarthy interview
10. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton)- What’s the deal haters? Queasy about the blood or not, Burton creates such a perfect atmosphere with subtly inspired performances (especially by Bonham Carter) it is easily his (second) best film. Burton, nor Depp, will never top Ed Wood.
9. No Country For Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen)- Maybe I bought into some criticism as this slid down here, but as far as using pure filmmaking technique to maddeningly toy with viewer’s expectations, this is as great as it comes.
8. Zodiac (David Fincher)- Second to #6 for being the successfully variant film of the year. Mystery, crime drama, character study, period(s) detail...”all over the place” has never been so good. Fincher is some kind of genius to make this so insanely effective.
7. I’m Not There (Todd Haynes)- I couldn’t pay my friends to go see this with me. They are all fools.
6. The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik)- Quite the opposite of #8, this film climbed the most on my list with expanding admiration post-viewing. I loved it when I saw it but Casey Affleck’s incredible performance and the daring storytelling tactics and pacing that work so perfectly made this unforgettable.
5. 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)- The entire Academy Awards Foreign Film selection committee should be: a) fired and subsequently tortured by those guys in Hostel 2, b) forced to watch Bratz: The Movie over and over until they die, c) sent as peacekeepers to Darfur (why not?), or, d) very, very ashamed of themselves for overlooking the best foreign language film (submitted to the Academy) of 2007.
4. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)- Although “I drink your milkshake” may already be the most irritatingly quoted line of the year, nothing can take away from the perfection that was this film, especially in the highly debated, transcendentally magnificent ending.
3. Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa)- Totally draining and pretty damn slow paced, but this poignant, meditative film becomes totally mystical and rewarding beyond comprehension.
2. Southland Tales (Richard Kelly) - A wonderful collision at the end of the world. Brilliant pastiche of post-9/11 anxieties and impending madness that bleeds into hysterical comedy. The Rock is a pimp.
1. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)- Do you believe in magic?
BRANDON COLVIN'S TOP 10
Honorable Mentions: Knocked Up (Judd Apatow), Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy), Juno (Jason Reitman), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney Lumet)
Most Unendurably Boring Artsy Film: Lady Chatterley (Pascale Ferran)
10. Superbad (Greg Mottola)
An exceedingly hilarious and beautifully vulgar depiction of high-school man-boy myth-and-reality, the Apatow produced film hovered above Apatow's Knocked Up as the ultimate comedy of the year.
9. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik)Brazen filmmaking at its finest, Dominik's confident direction is amplified by the gorgeous cinematography of Roger Deakins. The formerly underrated Casey Affleck churns out the most nuances performance of the year.
8. Zodiac (David Fincher)
An infinitely huge step forward from the masturbatory Fight Club, Fincher's masterfully paced meditation on technology and epistemology is elegant and powerful, a promise of things to come.
7. No End In Sight (Charles Ferguson)
A frustrating, detailed analysis of the bureaucratic inefficiency and political missteps that pummeled the Iraqi people into a state of anarchy and tragedy.
6. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (Ken Loach)
If you're looking for a dramatic example of the unavoidable problems involved in nation-building, look than further than Ken Loach's heartbreaking, wonderfully intelligent analysis of the formation of the IRA and the impact it had on Irish society. It should be required viewing for any government official.
5. Ratatouille (Brad Bird)
Like Bird's brilliant film The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille sets a new standard in animation. Bird helms a lively, dense (yes, I said it) investigation into passion, elitism, and the nature of criticism. Anton Ego's perfectly scripted monologue brought tears to my eyes.
4. Lake of Fire (Tony Kaye)
The most pathetically unseen film of the year, Kaye's stark black-and-white documentary is perhaps the most complete and important cultural document regarding the subject of abortion yet created.
3. Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach)
Baumbach's follow-up to the superior The Squid and the Whale is nearly as emotionally-complex and unnerving. Full of immediacy and imperfect characters, Margot features dazzling performances and a deft script.
2. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Recalling the cinematic bravado of early Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman, PTA's powerful, subtly crescendoing character study is not to be missed. Oh, there's also this actor Daniel Day-Lewis. He's pretty good too.
1. No Country For Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen)
A perfect film.
ANDY HOBIN'S TOP 10... OF DOOM
10. Hairspray (Adam Shenkman)An exercise in genre that succeeds without need for pop covers, fantasy sequence, or other explanations for the presence of music. That total absence of irony propels this utterly lovable film.
9. Away From Her (Sarah Polley)
Saying Away From Her is about Alzheimer's is about saying Sideways is about wine. Sarah Polley's deeply affectionate adaptation of Alice Munro's short story is a heartbreaker.8. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach)
Ken Loach's Palme D'or winner about the ragtag beginnings of decades-long Irish wartime keenly focuses on the conflict's divisive impact on family. A small war film of Private Ryan impact.
7. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Domminick)
A beautifully lensed metawestern featuring the performance of a lifetime by Casey Affleck.
6. Once (John Carney)
The best love stories are the ones that find new ways to tinker with the notion of happily ever after, and this little musical rocked me to my core. "Falling Slowly" is the song of the year.5. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney Lumet)
A modern Greek tragedy directed with Tarantino-esque energy by Sidney Lumet. It's hard to believe that Kelly Masterson is a first time screenwriter.
4. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Daniel Day-Lewis gives a towering, thundering performance in P.T. Anderson's epic story of madness and greed. Jonny Greenwood's score is a star unto itself.
3. Eastern Promises (David Cronenburg)Not as strong as History of Violence, but David Cronenburg's thriller of smothering intensity secures his reputation as a truly visionary filmmaker.2. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy)
Tony Gilroy's directorial debut is easily the best legal thriller of the last ten years. Special mention is due for the pants-poopingly cathartic ending.
1. No Country For Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen)
The Coens' clear-eyed portrait of dread is equally funny, scary as hell, and expansively sad. Javier Bardem's portrayal of Anton Chigurh - the very diplomat of gathering darkness - has cemented its place in any future discussions of the screen's best villains.
JACOB SHOAF'S TOP 10
Preface: There were approximately thirty more titles I wanted to see before making this list, but a deadline’s a deadline. This may (and probably will) be updated in the coming months. Also #2-7 are more or less interchangeable as to their order. This is just what I settled on at the time of composing this list (the same can be said for #10 and a few of the honorable mentions).
Honorable mentions (alphabetically): The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet), I’m Not There (Todd Haynes), Into Great Silence (Philip Gröning), Juno (Jason Reitman), The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck), Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumach)
Best repertory film: Pierrot le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard)
Most awkward opening shot: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet)
Moviegoer I most wanted strangled: The idiot that kept saying “Show us the gooch!” in reference to Anton Chigurh performing surgery on himself. Are you friggin’ twelve?!
10- Superbad (Greg Mottola) – Those who know my usual taste in movies are probably somewhat disillusioned to see this on my list. “What’s this? A populist comedy?! Where is he going to put Transformers? I think I laughed more during this film than any other film I’ve seen in the theaters. It’s crass and crude, but Michael Cera is brilliant and the humor is so outrageous and constant that I can’t put this title to the wayside.
9- Atonement (Joe Wright) – Keira Knightley and Joe Wright team up for another fantastic period piece about a young woman looking to amend a wrong she inadvertently made as a child. This film also has the best tracking shot I’ve seen since Van Sant’s Elephant (or possibly even Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies).
8- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton) – This movie is all over the place. A maniac barber, a cannibalistic chef, a street urchin, and a young couple in love all come together to sing while London eats its own. I’ve never laughed so hard at a child being sentenced to death by hanging.
7- Once (John Carney) – This touching romance/follow-your-dreams film has a lot going for it, most notably one of the best original soundtracks I’ve ever heard. The interaction between the two leads is amazing.
6- The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach) – Though the brogue takes a little getting used to, this proves to be quite a powerful film. The execution scenes are devastatingly sad. Truth be told, I teared up twice during this film.
5- Zodiac (David Fincher) – I’ll admit that this film is so massively sprawling and detail-oriented that I recall very little of what actually happens. However, what I do remember is being in a complete state of paranoia by the time the credits rolled while simultaneously being floored by an amazing movie.
4- Away From Her (Sarah Polley) – This is another of the year’s emotionally draining films. Julie Christie gives an amazing performance as an institutionalized Alzheimer’s patient. And while Christie seems to be the Oscar shoe-in, the complimentary performance of her husband by Gordon Pinsent has been dreadfully under-praised. There’s also some fantastic editing in this film (the “abandonment of the elderly” montage is particularly noteworthy).3- There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson) – I don’t think that this wunderkind is capable of making a bad movie. Or even an average movie. And though he thins his usually Altman-esque cast down to just a few key players, this film still resonates with the same power and possibly even more intensity than his previous work. PS-Sweet Lord, Daniel Day-Lewis is crazy.
2- Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy) – Despite the notable handicaps of being involved with the scripts of Armageddon and The Cutting Edge, Tony Gilroy proves to be a skilled director. Watching Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) spiral out of control when Clayton (George Clooney, as if you didn’t know) confronts her is priceless. And the expression on Clooney’s face as he drives is the closest I’ve seen to a visage of death since Ingmar Bergman started a chess game in 1957.
1- No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen) – This movie is mind-bogglingly good. The countless accolades and critical boners are deserved. The Coen brothers have crafted their most spot-on film since Fargo (though this time the Coens may well take home the best picture statue that eluded them in 1996).
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Announcing our new poll for the greatest English language director never to win an Oscar. We have decided to limit the voting to those who have never won anything, honorary Oscars included. This limits the choices much more and even though Honorary Oscars are throwing a bone to people, it is better than nothing.
Also, get ready for Out 1's Top 10 Films of the Year coming out at some point (likely late) tomorrow! We will have four different lists from each of our writers. Get excited! And as always, if you vote 'Other' on the poll, please write some comments on what your choice was. And make sure that they have not won an Oscar before your 'Other' vote (a quick IMDB search oughta do it!)
Thanks so much for voting! Keep on telling your friends about us! Continue reading...
Thursday, January 17, 2008
There are some major issues that must be addressed concerning Julian Schnabel’s highly acclaimed new film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. With wins for Best Director coming from Cannes and the infinitely more mainstream Golden Globes, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly looks to be a crossover hit from the festival circuit. “Foreign” films that play well at Cannes never seem to be international “hits” in the United States (note specifically 4 Months 3 Week and 2 Days and Persepolis failing to make the Oscar shortlist) so maybe something is to be said for Schnabel, an American painter/filmmaker, making such an utterly French film with a universal message that has led to the appeal of such a film in the minds of critics and the public. However, having seen the film twice now, I have to pose the question, what in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are people responding to? Is it merely the “inventive” cinematography displayed in the film’s successful first half hour? Is it the story of Jean Dominique Bauby’s “overcoming” of his situation that people attach to? What, then, is to be said for the character of Bauby that Schnabel and his screenwriter, Ronald Harwood, present us with? All I have read on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has done everything it can to simplify Bauby’s story as one of an unimaginable circumstance, making something out of it, and they applaud Schnabel’s ability to make Bauby’s “locked-in syndrome” the human condition. The film has been called “uncompromising”, “a masterpiece of sensual cinema”, “inspiring”, “emotionally charged”, it “salutes the firepower of imagination”, and “is the life force at its most insistent, lashing out against fate with stubborn resolve.” Once the film is observed closely, however, the issues quickly become confounded and illustrate why The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a negligent, irritating, and problematic experience.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly tells the true story of Elle Magazine editor, Jean Dominique Bauby, who has a stroke and is completely paralyzed except for his eyes and retains complete brain function. The film’s first half hour is without a doubt its strongest. With the camera being used as Bauby’s eyes, there is a first person account of the confusion and terror that comes with the realization that modes of communication are completely gone. Although the blurry imagery, inner dialogue, and swaying camera quickly become passe, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly establishes its difficult premise with an overly stylized ease. Just as its visual “dynamics” are cemented, Bauby has a pessimistic attitude that is the root of many of the problems later in the film. However, in the opening sequences, his feelings toward his situation are understandable. When a doctor tells Bauby to think of him as a friend, Bauby responds, “just be a doctor” and, later, when the doctor tells him that Bauby should be able to continue with this way of life, Bauby retorts with the questions “This is life?” and asks for “please no miracles.” Starting out with this pessimistic attitude is what is expected and, indeed, it is highly likely that this material came out of the real-life Bauby’s memoir. It is shortly after these responses that Schnabel shifts away from Bauby’s perspective and uses the metaphor of the diving bell trapped and, literally, locked-in underwater.
It is here that The Diving Bell and the Butterfly begins to veer from its provocative opening. Bauby opens his eyes to discover two new doctors, Henriette and Marie. Marie is focused on Bauby’s movement while Henriette has come up with Bauby’s alphabet and they ket to his immediate communication with others and ultimately, the way Bauby dictates his book. It could be argued that the beautiful doctors are what help lift Bauby’s spirits, as Bauby comically thinks “am I in heaven?” when he opens his eyes to see the beauties. Henriette tells Bauby that he is the most important job she has ever received and is determined to succeed. Though his sex drive and wit and apparently active, Bauby’s pessimism persists upon introduction to his soon to be “life-changing” alphabet. When Henriette introduces this new means of communication, Bauby merely thinks “good for you” and refuses to think that it will work. He would rather be left alone to die. From this moment on, everything about the film’s emotions, stylization, and basic storytelling is incredibly forced and works to restrain what could have been a riveting film experience.
While there are some important scenes early on that have not been mentioned (specifically a scene in which a friend compares his being held hostage to Bauby’s situation and tells him to cling to what makes him human), the scene where Henriette introduces the alphabet and what ensues illustrate what is Bauby’s attitude throughout and a major weakness in the development of his character. After he tells Henriette he wants to die, Henriette, rightfully, tells him that it is very disrespectful to think that given the amount of people who care about him. Henriette leaves the room and quickly comes back and apologizes for being out of line. With all the internal dialogue of Bauby’s that is heard, there is little remorse coming from Bauby for what he had done. Suddenly though, there is the diving bell with its arm spread like Christ and Bauby talking about how he will stop pitying himself and begin to rely on his imagination and memory to make him human again.
Where is the turning point for the Bauby character? It feels like Schnabel and Harwood know that the change must come in Bauby’s attitude for the film to gain its resonance, yet it all feels very sudden. Although Bauby tells Henriette “thanks” for her help, it seems like Bauby is responding to the tears. Maybe he decided he did not want to let Henriette down, but does it take this woman crying over him to make him want to persist? Why does it seem like Bauby is manipulating every woman he comes into contact with? Bauby’s character is constantly thinking about sleeping with the various nurses, his wife, and his mistress. When he says that “disaster made him find his true nature,” what nature is he talking about? His nature of wanting to sleep with every woman he comes in contact with? The nature where he makes the mother of his children, who has been with him constantly, leave the room when his mistress, who refuses to see him in that state, calls? Bauby needs to make an elemental change in attitude for the film’s life affirming status to be comprehensible. However, when Bauby says that disaster makes him find his true nature, there is no noticeable difference in the way he acts or feels. There is a flashback of a trip Bauby took to Lourdes where he is asked to buy a Madonna statue. Later, after his stroke and assertion to not pity himself, he returns to Lourdes with the same amount of resentment and claims that the prayers will not work. Whether Bauby has decided to be religious or not is not the question. His fundamental attitude towards life has remained the same. His attitude throughout the last half of the film often times seems more upbeat, but why then does he bemoan the prayers of monks and their unremarkable results? Why does he pick out the most pessimistic section of his favorite novel “The Count of Monte Cristo,” be read to him on a boat?
While these fundamental flaws are rampant, it has to be mentioned that the performances and direction are so sure handed that it masks many of these issues based on pure emotional response. Mathieu Amalric manages to make Bauby’s “locked-in” character very much alive and infinitely charming. There is a brief scene of the pre-locked in Bauby strolling through an Elle photo shoot with confidence and grace that collides with the pessimistic attitude in his afflicted condition. Max Von Sydow plays Bauby’s father, Papinou, who you would swear has a crucial role to the film although he is only in two essentially unnecessary scenes, yet both scenes are executed so well that they are crucially poignant. Schnabel has said that the film was a way for him to deal with all he went through while his own father was dying. It could be for this reason that the scenes between father and son ring so true while the rest of the film never approaches the power of those scenes. If Schnabel were able to take a step back and see how strained The Diving Bell and the Butterfly becomes by the time it reaches its ineffective conclusion, the problematic aspects could have easily been turned into gold by a less arrogant director. But maybe it is this arrogant, unbending version of Bauby that Schnabel creates that can be seen as a Christ-like figure in his mind and his film.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly likes to talk about imagination and repetition. Bauby mentions several times that his imagination is what helped set him free. Hopefully more imagination is found in the late author’s novel than in the version presented in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The story of the real life Bauby is a remarkable one, and this article in no way has meant to condemn the man, complain about his lack of a character arc, and to make the assertion that the disaster of his life did nothing for him. It is just for those reasons that Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an unfitting film for this tale of survival, communication, and imagination. If the Bauby presented is less concerned with his imagination and communication than with complaining about the people who love him and letting beautiful women fight over him (all this aside from feelings, emotions, and imagination seeming forced and false) then all that Scnabel has created is a crashing iceberg that can never be pieced back together.
by James Hansen Continue reading...
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Out 1's poll for the most overrated film of the year has officially ended. There seems to be vast disagreement over what the most overrated film is with none of the films thoroughly running away with the contest. Nonetheless, the year's most "acclaimed" comedies have taken the cake. Thanks to everyone for voting! We had more than twice as many people vote in this poll than our first poll, and our hits have continued to go up. Thank you all so much for spreading the word for Out 1! Let's keep that going! Also, for those of you who voted for other...let us know what those films are in the comments section. Always important to get all the different perspectives!
What was the most overrated film of 2007?
No Country For Old Men
Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
The Apatow Train (Knocked Up, Superbad, Walk Hard)
No Film Was Vastly Overrated
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The 63 submitted foreign films for best foreign language film were narrowed down to nine today. My only question... is this really the best list Oscar voters could come up with? Certainly some directors that are recognizable to the Oscar voters (Arcand, Tornatore, Wajda (!), Mikhalkov) but really...this is it?
Austria, The Counterfeiters, Stefan Ruzowitzky, director
Brazil, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, Cao Hamburger, director
Canada, Days of Darkness, Denys Arcand, director
Israel, Beaufort, Joseph Cedar, director
Italy, The Unknown, Giuseppe Tornatore, director
Kazakhstan, Mongol, Sergei Bodrov, director
Poland, Katyn, Andrzej Wajda, director
Russia, 12, Nikita Mikhalkov, director
Serbia, The Trap, Srdan Golubovic, director Continue reading...
Monday, January 14, 2008
In the vein of films such as Terms of Endearment (1983) and Stepmom (1998), Rob Reiner’s Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman vehicle, The Bucket List is an indulgent, decadent weepfest. The Kleenex-friendly plot is incredibly obvious, painfully simplistic, morally vacuous, and, in a way, exploitative. Despite all of these drawbacks, however, the film certainly lives up to the standards of the “I’m dying of (insert ailment)” genre. The film contains its fair share of bloody vomit, lonely moaning, cynical disease-centric comedy, and, of course, half-assed philosophizing about “what it all means” and what happens after death. Most central to the film’s plot, though, is a contagious strain of “Did I live my life to the fullest?”
The Bucket List proceeds in a fairly straightforward manner, introducing its odd couple of contrasting-yet-compatible old fogeys: Edward Cole (Nicholson) a wealthy hospital-privatizer and profiteer with self-interest to spare and Carter Chambers (Freeman), a would-be genius whose academic career was cut short early in life by an unexpected pregnancy, resulting in his 45 year stint as a blue-collar mechanic. The clashes between the two are visible from miles away. The pair happens to be placed in the same hospital room, in a hospital owned by Edward, causing Edward to hypocritically object to a policy of two-to-a-room he lobbied for in order to pinch pennies, and creating a certain uneasiness between them that is amplified by Carter’s disdain for Edward’s high-falutin’ coffee and arrogant attitude. Eventually, through the bonding process of watching each other vomit, seize, and get diagnosed as terminally ill (mixed in with some rummy and autobiographical anecdotes), the two become fast friends, deciding to use Edward’s infinite wealth to fulfill their final wishes, jotted down as The Bucket List, which involve driving a Shelby Mustang, climbing a mountain in the Himalayas, skydiving, and a whole slew of other such stereotypical wishes.
Throughout the globetrotting journey that ensues, Edward and Carter learn more and more about each other, having spats and bonding moments, while dealing with major family issues, namely Edward’s estrangement from his daughter and Carter’s dissolving marriage. The two have distinctly carved out niches, which balance each other well. Edwards spouts hedonistic, materialistic rhetoric while sipping rare beverages and living balls-to-the-wall, while Carter preaches the virtues of sacrifice, faith, and family. Hardee-har-har, I reckon we got ourselves a standard ideological dichotomy. The two poles that the men wave their flags at are barely budged from in the film and it seems as if Reiner and scriptwriter Justin Zackham swing toward Carter’s wholesome, optimistic, humble philosophy, insinuating that Edward has a change of heart and improves himself as a result of Carter’s wise example. This approach is terribly naïve and reflects a rigidity of thought and a lack of gray area that makes The Bucket List, like many cancer movies, simple and digestible, therefore, commercially viable. This is certainly a disappointing route for the film to take, as it makes the film basically redundant. There are no truly challenging aspects in The Bucket List, save for a half-hearted attempt by Edward to express why he is an atheist, and therefore the film merely floats along, awash with sentimentality and traditional optimism.
To be fair, I will admit that The Bucket List had me tearing up during a few moments. However, this is not so much to the film’s credit as it is to that of the subject matter: the death of a friend. The film doesn’t really handle the subject well, and sitting in a theater full of sobbing moviegoers, I felt that the real sadness came from a sort of reflection in the viewers that could be equally accomplished by someone bluntly asking, “What if your best friend died?” For me, this is not terribly impressive. I left the film disappointed, as I felt one of the most important factors of the plot was shamefully glossed over. The question I kept asking myself was, “What if Edward wasn’t infinitely rich?” The whole premise of the film depends on an unending money source to propel the individuals to personal fulfillment. Although it could certainly be argued that the real fulfillment of the characters came from reunion with their families, there is a palpable, very important enjoyment they get out of country-hopping and extreme tourism that would be unattainable without Edward’s funds. If they never undertook these extremely individual and selfish acts, could they have been able to reconcile with others? The film doesn’t really tackle this tough issue, as it surely undoes the neat wrapping on the film’s “grab life by the horns and love your family” message. The political and social ramifications of this aspect of the film are huge and seem to possibly indicate that without wealth, the pursuit of individualized happiness is impossible, therefore potentially making interpersonal satisfaction unreachable as well. Without the convenient cash flow of Edward Cole, how would Carter have turned out? Therein lies the REAL film.
by Brandon Colvin Continue reading...
Sunday, January 13, 2008
*Post Globes Editor's Notes*
Whoa. Some major surprises tonight. Atonement over No Country, Sweeney over Juno, Schnabel over the Coens... (I'd like to say, though, that earlier in the day I had suggested that if anyone were to beat the Coens it would be Schnabel...I'm just saying.) Should definitely mix up the Oscar odds until announcements next week. Hobin got 8 correct (counting Ratatouille, which is a category no one else voted for...we all would have got it right...trust me.) Nevertheless, Hansen and Shoaf got 7, and Colvin got 6 by my count. Not all that hot, but some pretty crazy stuff. Get excited now...Hobin will be live blogging the Oscars. Set your calendars now and be here for it!
As much as "serious critics" like to look down on the awards season, we embrace everything here at Out 1 and, frankly, get damn excited about awards and lists. (Top Ten Lists will be unveiled January 21st...) In time for the Globes tonight, truncated press conference or not, these are our predictions for who will win and who should win tonight leading up to Oscar nominations next Tuesday. This also is a time to introduce a new writer, Andy Hobin, to the Out 1 crew. Andy is the awards guru/consultant as he tracks this stuff like crazy. He will be writing other things as well, but we consider him our main awards man. Hope you enjoy the last minute predictions! We'll be tracking them online tonight as we anxiously watch the "news conference." Get excited!
BEST PICTURE - DRAMA
Colvin Will: No Country For Old Men
Colvin Should: No Country For Old Men
Hansen Will: No Country For Old Men
Hansen Should: There Will Be Blood
Shoaf Will: No Country For Old Men
Shoaf Should: No Country For Old Men
Colvin Will: Juno
Colvin Should: Juno
Hansen Will: Juno
Hansen Should: Sweeney Todd
Shoaf Will: Juno
Shoaf Should: Sweeney Todd
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Colvin Will: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Colvin Should: haven’t seen any...
Hansen Will: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Hansen Should: anything else (hopefully 4 Months 3 Week and 2 Days)
Shoaf Will: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Shoaf Should: Persepolis (based on the preview...I’ve only seen The Kite Runner...)
Colvin Will: Coen Brothers
Colvin Should: Coen Brothers
Hansen Will: Coen Brothers
Hansen Should: Joe Wright (we need an upset for God’s sake!) And why the f*** is PTA not nominated here? Seriously.
Shoaf Will: Coen Brothers
Shoaf Should: Coen Brothers
BEST ACTOR - DRAMA
Colvin Will: Daniel Day-Lewis
Colvin Should: Viggo Mortensen (haven’t seen TWBB)
Hansen Will: Daniel Day-Lewis
Hansen Should: Daniel Day-Lewis
Shoaf Will: Daniel Day-Lewis
Shoaf Should: Daniel Day-Lewis (based solely on the badass preview)
Colvin Will: Julie Christie
Colvin Should: Julie Christie
Hansen Will: Julie Christie
Hansen Should: Julie Christie
Shoaf Will: Julie Christie
Shoaf Should: Keira Knightley (only one I’ve seen)
Colvin Will: Johnny Depp
Colvin Should: Johnny Depp
Hansen Will: Johnny Depp
Hansen Should: Johnny Depp
Shoaf Will: Johnny Depp
Shoaf Should: Johnny Depp
Colvin Will: Ellen Page
Colvin Should: Amy Adams
Hansen Will: Marion Cotilllard
Hansen Should: Amy Adams
Shoaf Will: Marion Cotillard
Shoaf Should: Ellen Page
Colvin Will: Javier Bardem
Colvin Should: Casey Affleck
Hansen Will: Javier Bardem
Hansen Should: Casey Affleck (with Bardem in a virtual tie)
Shoaf Will: Javier Bardem
Shoaf Should: Javier Bardem (with Affleck as a close second)
Colvin Will: Amy Ryan
Colvin Should: Cate Blanchett
Hansen Will: Amy Ryan
Hansen Should: Cate Blanchett
Shoaf Will: Cate Blanchett
Shoaf Should: Cate Blanchett
Colvin Will: Coen Brothers
Colvin Should: Coen Brothers
Hansen Will: Coen Brothers
Hansen Should: Coen Brothers
Shoaf Will: Coen Brothers
Shoaf Should: Coen Brothers
BEST ANIMATED FILM
Saturday, January 12, 2008
With its picturesque opening shots of well kept lawns, white pickets fences, blue skies, and sunshine, Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages begins like a typical foray into the depths of suburbia. The purposefully cliche shots are reminiscent of the timeless opening to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, except that the infamous bugs are replaces by a dance line of senior citizens. This is Lumberton for a new age and with a new focus. Far from the battle between darkness and light in Blue Velvet, the world created in The Savages is an assured vision of aging, discontent, and rehabilitation in modern America.
Opening in the sunlit suburbs of Sun City, Arizona, Lenny Savage (Lenny Bosco) is an old man who is disconnected from his children in and has been living with his girlfriend for the past twenty years. Treated poorly by an in-home health assistant, Lenny, who is diagnosed with Parkinson’s-like symptoms, begins to react outrageously. When his girlfriend suddenly dies while getting her nails done, his children, Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a college professor, and Wendy (Laura Linney), an unpublished playwright living in New York City, have to come Arizona and to take care of him. Due to certain circumstances, Lenny is unable to stay in Arizona and must be taken to a nursing home in Jon’s hometown of Buffalo. The stage seems to be set for a pretentious, uber-intellectual diseased family battle where the kids fight over dad while he dies and they settle their differences to discover the meaning of life and importance of family. Luckily, Jenkins’ superb script avoids the obvious pitfalls, and rather utilizes the basic plot set up to play with the narrative devices within the story which help construct surprisingly powerful scenes throughout that are taken to great heights by three great performances. Although there seems to be little “buzz” for Bosco’s performance, if he is not nominated for an Academy Award it is a straight up crime. His work in two particular scenes, one involving a confrontation with his children in a diner and another involving a movie screening at the nursing home, is as striking as any other performance seen this year.
While avoiding the sentimentality found in this genre is a great asset, The Savages also avoid missteps in its darkly comic moments that could de-naturalize the film. The misleading trailer sets the wrong comic tone in regards to what the film is all about and works to simplify the film’s magnitude. The comic elements work very well within the film, but are used sparingly and never as forced as the trailer makes them seem. This all greatly benefits the comic effectiveness of the film. The Savages lets the characters develop in such a way that the dark humor slyly blends in with moments of despair and betrayal. When Wendy reveals her source of income to Jon late in the film, the moment is all at once sincere, maddening, and hysterical if only because it is so believable. The Savages builds to these terrific moments that pay off terrifically because the script is so patient with every step it takes. This could lead to the film being a little bit “slow”, but the scenes never drag and the each moment is so true in the world that Jenkins builds that by the time the final euphoric moment is shown, tears of sad happiness will likely be welling up.
Far from the politics heavy joy ride the trailer makes it out to be, The Savages is a more solid meditation on the impacts of dementia with infinitely more impact than this year’s other dementia film Away From Her. It may be because the film’s charms and emotional depth work so subtly that the effect is constantly more surprising and, in many ways, completely befuddling. Though Away From Her is a good film (and, arguably, less concerned with dementia than aging love) The Savages has more immediacy, urgency, and hope for rehabilitation that make it the more compelling, dynamic, and definitive film. The Savages has numerous elements other than Lenny’s dementia, particularly the relationship and competition between Jon and Wendy to publish their work, whether it be Jon’s holiday friendly book on dark comedy in Brecht or Wendy’s subversive, semi-autobiographical play. It is Lenny’s situation that serves as the catalyst to open up the film, rather than limit itself as seems to be the case in Away From Her.
Although Lenny is diagnosed with Parkinsons-like ailments rather than Alzheimers, The Savages focuses on dementia, which somehow brings the illnesses together without simplifying the effects they have. This meditation is reminiscent of Jonathan Franzen’s profoundly powerful essay “My Father’s Brain”, following his own battle with his father’s battle with Alzheimers. The Savages works as a fitting follow up and compliment to Franzen’s essay by extending the personal issues that children fight while their parents struggle to keep on living.
With its wide ranging scope, wonderful performances, and sly humor, The Savages manages to be many things at once without detracting from the importance of the film’s message. Jenkins shuffles so many different elements within the script, yet each one pays off in giving the film great depth and impact. As obvious as it may sound, it takes a lot to discover that no matter the circumstances that must be faced as the savages of the world, the only way to succeed and survive is to reevaluate, rehabilitate, and then battle on into the sunset. Continue reading...