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Greenberg (2010) Review

22 12 2013
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Copyright Focus Features 2010

★ ★ ★ 1/2

OK, I know I have neglected this site terribly, but I’m going to try my best to hop back on board with some regularity. Work, hobbies, social activities and just plain boring errands and such have literally eaten up most of my time as of late. However, in an effort to keep some form of consistency with the updates, I’m going to try to do “mini-reviews”. So, the new posts might not be as in depth as some of the old reviews, but at least there won’t be breaks of months on end.

OK, now on to Greenberg. After spending the better part of 30 minutes looking for something I either haven’t seen and/or was in the mood to see on Netflix, I came upon this quirky little flick. A Noah Baumbach film, I kind of knew what to expect going into it — your typical mumblecore, Woody Allen-lite pseudo-intellectual comedy-drama. And, guess what? That’s exactly what it turned out to be!

Ben Stiller plays the lead role of Roger Greenberg, a 40-something more-or-less unemployed ex-musician who just exited a mental hospital and is spending 6 weeks at his brother’s house in LA to focus on doing nothing. His brother, a wealthy hotelier is on vacation with the family in Vietnam, and LA also serves as Roger’s hometown, though he currently lives in New York, and seems to carry a New York-esque attitude about life in general.

His brother’s nanny/assistant, Florence, is played by stereotypical Baumbach-written female, Greta Gerwig — a slightly neurotic mid 20-something with low self esteem and seemingly no direction in life. As Greenberg revisits his old friends and former bandmates during his six week stay, he of course, begins a relationship of sorts with Florence that carries all the insecurities and road bumps of what we have come to expect from Baumbauch’s films.

I know I am weighing heavily on the stereotypical nature of this movie to its director’s style and canon; however, don’t get me wrong, Greenberg is not a bad film. It’s definitely not Baumbauch’s best work, but by no means bad. I enjoyed the film, and think anyone who has an affinity for oddball/neurotic romance films will enjoy. Yes, the main character of Roger Greenberg is fairly morose and pathetic to a degree, but Stiller’s performance helps you build enough empathy to accept him as a protagonist. 

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3 Women (1977) Review

31 08 2012

Copyright 1977 Lion’s Gate Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I go onto Netflix and add weird things to my queue fairly regularly.  Usually, by the time these films actually arrive at my doorstep, I have forgotten when or why I put them on there to begin with.  Such was the case with this movie, but luckily, it turned out to be one of those oddball picks I mysteriously chose that actually turned out pretty interesting.  Within the first few minutes of the film, I saw the title card for director Robert Altman fade up, which allayed a multitude of my concerns.  For the next two hours, I was strangely intrigued.

The movie stars Shelly Duvall (good subject for a Whatever Became of… book – I’m looking at you Mr. Lamparski!) as Mildred “Millie” Lammoreaux, and Sissy Spacek as Mildred “Pinkie” Rose.  Pinkie comes from Texas to work at a convalescence home in California where Millie, also originally from Texas, has been working for some time.  The strange, almost child-like waif, Pinkie, is immediately drawn to the outspoken and vivacious Millie, who seems more a legend in her on mind than reality would prove true.  As the film progresses, the two move in together as roommates; their landlords are a married couple, Willie (Janice Rule) and Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier).  Willie is a quiet, gypsy-esque mural painter, and Edgar is a former stunt double for country/western film stars.  The couple also own a bar/shooting ranger/dirtbike track that the two heroines regularly frequent.  The strange relationship between the three women becomes more intertwined as a series of bizarre events take place towards the latter half of the film.  That about sums it up, and no I didn’t really leave anything out.

This is a very stream of conscious film; in fact, it was conceived through a series of dreams that Robert Altman had over the course of several weeks.  Supposedly, the film was also shot largely without a script, and with Altman making many last minute scene and story changes on the fly.  Yet, somehow, this antithesis of what a mainstream movie should be and look like, holds your attention the entire two hour running time.  It’s almost more of a visual essay, a plotless saga, than a normal movie; however, all the same, it’s not quite that either, as there is a story there beneath the layers.  Coupled with wonderful performances all around, and hauntingly atmospheric cinematography, this movie is actually really worth any self-professed cinephile’s time.  It’s very unique, and something that you almost certainly wouldn’t have a chance to see on the screen today with the “safe bets” modern Hollywood likes to take.

Bottom line: If you aren’t afraid to take a chance on a film that will challenge commonly held story and viewing moors, then I highly recommend this interesting and thought provoking movie by maverick filmmaker Robert Altman.





50/50 (2011) Review

28 03 2012

Copyright 2011 Summit Entertainment

★ ★ ★

So, I’ve got this film and two others on the backlog for reviews.  Apologies, for the delays, had a lot going on over the past few days.  Possibly very good things though!  Anyway, 50/50, seems like the jury is split on this film; some reviewers call it one of the best movies of the year, others are more or less underwhelmed.  What was I, you ask?  Definitely on the side of underwhelmed.  This is by no means a bad film, but also by the same token, nowhere near one of the best films of last year.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a very normal 27 year old working professional, who gets some terrible news at what should be the height of his life.  He has cancer, and only a 50/50 chance of making it through the next year alive.  Seth Rogen plays himself; wait, no his character’s name is Kyle, but in reality it’s just Seth Rogen being himself like he is in every film he appears in.  I think he’s funny, but he has about as much depth as an actor as a jar of peanut butter.  Pretty much the entirety of the film plays out largely how you could imagine being a comedy/drama about a young man getting cancer.  He has his ups, his downs and a lot of emotional tension dealing with the news and the personal troubles it creates, and for the comedy element there are funny and amusing lines exchanged between him and best friend Kyle.

This is just a decent film.  It doesn’t break any huge barriers down; it only works decently as a comedy, and it only works decently as a drama.  I wasn’t impressed with the direction, the story was only average, the acting was OK and as with most of these types of films, there was nothing of note with the production value or cinematography.  I’m glad I saw this film, it was an enjoyable way to spend the evening, but don’t expect a life changing viewing experience with this one.





Take Shelter (2011) Review

19 03 2012

Copyright 2011 Grove Hill Productions

★ ★ ★ ★

Jeff Nichols, a University of North Carolina School of the Arts alumnus, directed this film.  Though I don’t know Jeff, many of my friends and colleagues are graduates of this wonderful program, and its always a good feeling seeing someone from one of the local film schools succeed.

Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a blue collar working man in Ohio with wife, Samantha (the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain) and daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart).  He begins having strange and frightening dreams about a large storm that causes the people around him to become crazed and attack him.  Having a parent who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic at around the same age, he becomes concerned that he might be losing his mind as well.  To cope, he begins seeing a counselor, but his behavior and decisions grow worse with each dream occurrence, ultimately leading him to become obsessed with expanding a storm shelter in their back yard.  Without his wife’s blessing, he takes out a loan from the local bank and begins building his shelter from the impending storm.  As the narrative progresses, his life begins to slowly unravel as his behavior becomes more and more erratic from his visions.

The film, in my opinion, expertly studies the oncoming effects of mental illness and how real the delusions and hallucinations can become, which, in turn, can cause chaos in an otherwise normal life.  The subtle direction and naturalistic cinematography, along with an eery score, give the viewer an impending sense of doom and nicely elucidate the paranoia and fear of the primary character.  Shannon, as Curtis, gives an amazingly well-conceived performance in the leading role, and Chastain plays a grounded foil to his madness.

This is independent filmmaking done right.  Even with a fraction of the budget of many of the major films this year, this film delivers an intriguing story, great performances and a high quality of production value.  I’ll be interested in seeing what’s next for Nichols as a writer/director, and will likely soon rent his debut film, Shotgun Stories.





A Zed and Two Noughts (1986) Review

15 11 2011

Copyright 1986 BFI

★ ★ ★ 1/2

This is my third foray into Peter Greenaway’s repertoire, so I went into this film with a general idea of what to expect, at least in terms of narrative filmmaking and visual style.  For those of you unaware of Greenaway’s work, his films are less a narrative fiction, than a sort of visual essay the dissects the theme and tone of the, usually bizarre, narrative.

This film, as hard as it is to summarize, is the story of two twin zoologist brothers whose wives die in a car accident that resulted from a Swan crossing the road on Swan’s Way.  The driver, raven-haired Alba Bewick (Andrea Ferreol), looses her leg in the crash.  The resulting grief of the brothers results in a morbid fascination with the process of natural decay.  As they analyze the beginnings of life from single cell organisms to the decay of everything from an Apple to a Dalmatian, they try to find some solace and purpose in life and the accident.  To further complicate the structure, they both begin to have an affair with the legless driver of the fateful vehicle, Alba.  In necessity to achieve symmetry, she eventually has her other leg amputated as well.  Other characters include a set of conniving zoo keepers, a doctor with a fascination for Vermeer paintings and a whore who recites various prose.  Ah yes, and Zebras….lots of zebras.

I won’t lie, this is a difficult film to get through, even for me.  However, it’s not a bad film; honestly, it’s kind of cheating to call it a film at all.  It doesn’t flow like a normal movie and doesn’t have the aspects we usually look for in narrative storytelling.  It truly is, best described, as a visual essay with a loose narrative structure attached for continuity.  The direction by Greenaway and cinematography by long-time collaborator Sacha Vierny are exquisite.  The images are carefully symmetrical and the lighting approach is very mood oriented.  Visually, it is a beautiful film.  However, narratively, it is so unique that it is almost hard to rate.  Is it pretentious?  Yes.  Does it have a purpose?  Yes.  Would a lot of people hate the film?  Yes.  So, I leave it to you, the viewer, as to whether you think you might like this film or not.  I, personally, marveled at the visual beauty and enjoyed it on a level, but can easily see how some people couldn’t even stomach that much of an appreciation.  If you are up for a challenge though, this one is a challenge.





Chaplin in Review – PART IX – Limelight

8 07 2011

Copyright 1952 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

The Cold War propaganda that was being pressed heavily in the late 1940s targeted Chaplin because of his liberal and humanist sensibilities.  In the midst of this troubling time, Chaplin made Limelight, a film about a vaudevillian clown who has, essentially, lost his audience.

Chaplin plays Calvero, a once great vaudeville clown, who has succumbed to alcoholism and an audience who no longer has interest in his performance.  On coming home one night, he smells gas and breaks into a nearby apartment to find a young woman, Thereza, or “Terry” (Claire Bloom), in the midst of a suicide attempt.  Calvero quickly calls a doctor and saves her life.  The doctor tells Calvero that she is a ballerina who suffers from hysterical paralysis, which is paralysis present though no physical ailment is present.  Calvero takes Terry to his apartment to nurse her and the two become quite good friends, offering tales of their lives and philosophies.  The two genuinely begin to help each other as Calvero dreams of returning to the stage and his former glory with Terry as his companion.  Also around this time, Terry begins to overcome her paralysis.  As time passes and Terry’s paralysis is fully recovered, she moves up in the ballet world and reunites with a former love (played by Chaplin’s younger son from his marriage to Lita Grey, Sydney).  The connection between the two for the remainder of the film is that of confidants; Terry helps Calvero try to find his former glory, and Calvero helps reinstate Terry’s confidence so her hysterical paralysis won’t attack again.  In the final part of the film, Terry arranges a final performance for Calvero where he once agains shines.  Assisting him on stage is a former vaudevillian played by Buster Keaton.  This is the only appearance of the two masters of comedy on screen together and is magical to watch.  Following his final performance and standing ovation, the clown suffers a heart attack and dies while watching Terry dance her final act of the ballet in the limelight.

This was definitely a personal film for Chaplin, as he and both of his parents were vaudevillians in England.  Calvero is a mixture of several personalities that Chaplin knew growing up whose audience had abandoned them.  Supposedly, before writing the screenplay for this film, Chaplin completed an unreleased novel entitled Footlights that helped him arrange the story and provided background on the characters of Calvero and Terry that weren’t shown in the film.

Limelight was released in 1952, the year that Chaplin left the United States in exile.  He had long been a target of the House of Un-American Activities and J. Edgar Hoover kept a close watch on Chaplin beginning in the 1920s.  While leaving on a short voyage home to London for the premiere of this film, Hoover negotiated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service for a revocation of Chaplin’s re-entry permit (as he was still a UK citizen, though he had lived in the US at this point for 40 years).  Hearing the news, Chaplin was deeply saddened and decided not to return to the United States.  He eventually settled in Vevey, Switzerland, where he remained for the rest of his life.  His wife, Oona, returned to the US to take care of negotiating sales of his mansion in Beverly Hills, the Studio and take care of other assets.

Limelight has always been generally well-received and is a deeply moving film.  In my opinion, this Chaplin’s best performance in regards to his talkie motion pictures.  His sentimentality as the dried up clown and the pain in his eyes make many scenes extremely touching.  There is nothing worse than watching the pain of a clown.  Due to the lackluster reviews of Chaplin’s final two films, many consider Limelight to be Chapin’s true swan song.  It is definitely better than his last two efforts, but I still like A King in New York a lot, which will be the next topic for this series.

As an interesting side note, due to the anit-American hype surrounding Chaplin at this time, Limelight was not shown in many theaters throughout the country.  A wide release was not in effect until 1972, at which time the score for this film won an Academy Award for Chaplin and his fellow composers because the film wasn’t in contention until the wide release.  Because of this win, the Academy later put a statute of limitations on nominations.





Chaplin in Review – PART V – City Lights

27 06 2011

Copyright 1931 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

And now we come to my favorite Chaplin feature, City Lights.  To me, this film is the perfect blend of comedy and drama and a definitive example of the genius of Chaplin’s work.  Everything comes together in this film so beautifully, both comic and dramatic devices, that I can not only call this my favorite Chaplin film, but rank this in my top 10 favorite films of all-time.

Like many of Chaplin’s films, the actual plot outline is relatively simple; it is the execution that makes this film a masterpiece.  The story revolves around Chaplin’s character of the Little Tramp, who falls in love with a poor, blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill).  Through a hap circumstance, she believes that he is a millionaire and can help her and her mother in their desperate time of need.  Determined to help, he befriends a raucous, party-driven millionaire and does everything he can to help the flower girl and her mother.  In the end, he helps them and she is able to get an eye operation that restores her sight.  But, will she be able to accept the Tramp for his true self?

By the time this film was in production, and definitely by the time it was released in 1931, sound in motion pictures was in full stride.  Silents were, essentially, becoming a thing of the past.  However, though the option for sound was fully open to Chaplin before filming began, he decided against making a sound film because he felt that the Little Tramp character speaking would ruin his entire appeal.  Turns out that Chaplin made a wise decision, as City Lights was an immense success both commercially and critically.

As for production, this film took the longest of any other Chaplin film to complete at nearly 180 days of filming from late 1927 to early 1931.  Several story points, including how to show the blind flower girl mistaking the Little Tramp for being wealthy, plagued Chaplin; the integral scene of this story point was re-shot 342 times for perfection.  Another issue for Chaplin was his dissatisfaction with Virginia Cherrill in the lead role as the flower girl.  At one point, he even went so far as to replace her with Georgia Hale; however, once realizing that too much footage was in the can and it would cost a fortune to reshoot all her scenes, he asked Cherrill to come back on board and finish the film.  Ironically, before coming back on board, Cherrill made Chaplin renegotiate her contract for more money than she was originally to be paid, something that surely didn’t help her and Chaplin’s professional relationship.

In the end, Chaplin did decide to utilize something out of the sound on film devices available, as he recorded a score and several sound effects for the film that accompanied the picture.  However, no audible dialog made the final cut, only garbled talking at the beginning of the film performed by Chaplin himself.

In the 80 years since this film was released it has received a number of commendations and places on top film lists, including being ranked #11 on the AFI’s Top 100 Best Movies of All-Time List and #1 on their list of Top Romantic Comedies.  In addition, Orson Welles was quoted as saying that this was his favorite film.  Needless to say, City Lights has definitely stood the test of time and continues to dazzle, cheer and touch audiences of all ages and from around the world.








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