Short Takes

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Re: Short Takes

Postby justindeimen » Thu Aug 24, 2006 5:09 pm

Well put! That's the response that I've always believed in despite the polarised views of his groundbreaking films.

Re: Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Thu Aug 24, 2006 9:53 pm


Dan Roos Happy Endings just might be the first great post-modern relationship comedy which successfully deals with "hybrids." In this case, by hybrids I mean people who may not be quite real, but theyre also a little more than clever manifestations of a geeky Sundance-lab-approved-screenwriter. Roos, coming back to his indie-roots he cultivated with The Opposite of Sex (1998), takes us to the pseudo-bohemian SoCal we usually and only partly get to glimpse in montage sequences of Hollywood films. But here he introduces us to the over-bearing lesbians, unfaithful gay men (whove apparently been droppin babies like Basketball stars -- Roos is himself gay), gold-digging nymphets, failed musicians, etc. who seemingly populate those areas. And if these people arent relatable to most, Roos is more than happy to help with his self-consciously fulfilling title-cards. All of this is not supposed to work, but somehow it does.

The three main narrative strands in Happy Endings involve as many as ten characters. In the somewhat far-fetched first one, an unhappy, middle-aged woman (Lisa Kudrow), whos partially involved with a Mexican masseuse (Bobby Cannavale), gets blackmailed by an amateur documentarian (Jesse Bradford) about her certain past. In the second, the gay stepbrother (a brilliantly deadpan Steve Coogan) of the aforementioned unhappy woman suspects that his lover is the father of the baby belonging to their mutual lesbian friends (Laura Dern and Sarah Clarke). And the third involves a closeted gay band-member (Jason Ritter) who becomes part of the scheme of a free-spirited singer (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whos eyeing his rich widower father (a wonderful Tom Arnold).

While Robert Altmans shadow will always be visible in films with multiple interweaving characters, Roos seems blissfully naive about his "creations." That doesnt mean that there arent any real moments here -- there certainly are, but Roos doesnt make them resoundingly assertive. Also, he prefers not to wait till said instances degrade into uneasiness; instead, he simply moves on. Some satirical aspects are also present in Happy Endings, though the filmmaker ultimately cares about the characters, a lot more than what he initially let on with his cleverness. As a writer also, Roos certainly hasn't lost his penchant for acerbically witty one-liners: An abortion counselor, "Im not pro-life." The client, " Who is, once you start paying attention."

Even at 130 minutes, the film never feels like an "epic," and that's partly because it is largely comprised of small, intimately shot moments: a close-up of Lisa kudrows creased face is more than enough to reveal a life lived. It grounds the film when it needs it. As for Maggie Gyllenhaal, her performance is one of the great cinematic pleasures of 2005. She creates a character almost out of nothing and then disappears in it -- no wonder she becomes invisible to everyone around her.


*Available on DVD in the U.S. (Lions Gate).

Re: Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Fri Aug 25, 2006 1:17 am

[Previously unposted From TIFF '05]

SORRY, HATERS (U.S. / 2005)
*A 2006 U.S. Release*

A fascinating, if not wholly satisfying, psychological drama about the uncertainties and anxieties that exist in post-9/11 America, Sorry, Haters is the second feature film from young American filmmaker Jeff Stanzler. Shot on digital-video, the film resembles Michael Manns Collateral (2004) in the initial stages after an odd figure ends up with an earnest cabby. But in this case, the ride only sets up the events that follow. Robin Wright Penn plays Phoebe, the distraught figure who we watch trying to withdraw some cash in midtown Manhattan early on in the film. After hitching a cab driven by an Arab Muslim, Ashade (Abdel Kechiche), she goes uptown and steps out briefly only to scratch a minivan which she claims belongs to her husband who now has eyes for their Asian babysitter. It doesnt take her long to get herself involved with Ashade after she learns that his brother has been wrongly deported back to Syria, where his life is in danger. In the meantime, Ashade has to look after his brother's French wife (lodie Bouchez) and their baby. Presenting herself as a well-connected media mogul, Phoebe offers her help which Ashade hesitantly accepts, not quite recognizing her motivations.

The title of the film is derived from a slogan spoken by wealthy entertainers on MTV-shows while blithely trying to deflect any criticism after showcasing their latest purchases -- and thats something which is as oblique as the film itself. There isnt much doubt about the fact that Sorry, Haters is politically motivated, but it works better as a personal story of self-hatred and depression, or perhaps even as a thriller. Having said that, the film ultimately is gutsier than Manoel de Oliveira's A Talking Picture (2004), as it grants viewers the opportunity to take in the twists and turns along the way leading up to the final episode. For the most part, Stanzler keeps the proceedings from wavering, even though he indulges in some broad strokes. But no matter how silly certain sequences get, what makes the film agreeable are the performances. Penn is sensational as a conflicted woman, and Kechiche, the director of the Csar winning Games of Love and Chance (2003), displays the right amount of compassion and credulity. Sandra Oh has a brief role as Penns co-worker and, as always, she livens up the surroundings.

Grade: B

*Available on DVD in the U.S. (IFC).

Re: Short Takes

Postby A » Mon Aug 28, 2006 2:44 pm

Sleepy Hollow
(Tim Burton / USA, Germany / 1999)

Sleepy Hollow. I saw the film for the first time when it came out in 1999. Being a huge fan of Tim Burton at that time, I was somewhat disappointed by this rather predictable endeavour which seemed to lack the imagination I was used from most of his previous films. Subsequently I saw it three more times at the cinema, after which I became a firm believer in the films qualities. Dont know what exactly made me change my mind, but having seen the film some eight times since then, I saw my opinion confirmed with each viewing. But how can one judge a film objectively which one has seen so many times that it has already become a firm part of the collective memory of cinematic experiences. Maybe one could argue that knowing every scenes content in hindsight can help focusing on the technical qualities.

While watching the prologue of Sleepy Hollow, I couldnt help being reminded of Terrence Malicks marvelous The New World, which I had watched again shortly before revisiting Tim Burtons fairytale. I tried to find a logical explanation for this, but didnt succeed in identifying the obvious. When the titles finally came up, the parallel I had subconsciously established, stepped onto firm ground. Cameraman Emmanuel Lubezki, who had previously added his artistic vision to numerous brazilian movies, was responsible for the cinematography in both films, for which he was respectively nominated for an Academy Award. With his use of light and shadows he complements the art-direction (which won an Academy Award) perfectly, and because it seems he is always using a filter the colors begin to play an integral part of the film. Along with the fitting costume design (also Oscar-nominated) the atmosphere created has an artistic quality all of its own, making the set appear in an artificiality which is reminiscent of the mood in Hammers horror productions from the 60s and 70s. A world that is seemingly enclosed, somewhat cut off, not only by the omnipresent fog surrounding the village but also through the use of computer generated images, from a filmhistory it keeps constantly referencing. One could try to point out all the scenes from which Burton has gotten some inspiration (or which he has simply copied), but it was proved more rewarding at least for me to focus on his presentation of the plot and the characters. In a remarkable cast, the two elements that stood out most negatively where interestingly the two leads, Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, precisely in the moments when they appeared on-screen together. Somehow their emotional scenes felt overtly rushed and little developed, when Burton took sufficient time in seemingly less important moments, while even showing some subtlety in his deployment of comical material. While keeping an extremely tight pace, reminiscent of the classic Hollywood films from the 40s like Raoul Walshs They Drive by Night, the absurdity of many scenes isnt simply added as comical relieve, but is itself an integral part in the films conception. The interplay between (absurd) comedy and scenes of pure horror, blurrs the lines of both to an extent where both become interchangable. When Christopher Walken is seen for the first time on screen, he is introduced as a bloodthirsty madman, in a close-up of his face where he is shown bareing his filed off teeth in slow motion. If one should cry out in horror or burst out laughing is up to the viewer.

Nevertheless the above-mentioned technical elements all add up to save a run-of-the-mill story from its mediocrity and to transform the movie into a visual experience. They more than make up for some scenes where Hollywood Wunderkind Tim Burton has apparently been taking a nap, while we are again witnesses to the fact that conventional storytelling clearly isnt Burtons strength. After being forced into such a corset once more with his next film Planet of the Apes (2001) which many regard as his biggest failure he was finally able to prove his immense capabilities with a subject more suited to his needs, the wonderful Big Fish from 2003. Hopefully Burton wont have to waste his talents in other big-budget productions in the future, in order to conform to the expectatons of major studios which he had raised through the financial succes of Batman in 1989. Thus it is probably a good thing that he didnt direct this years Superman movie, through which he could have been once more forced into a position he himself had never wanted to occupy.

Grade: B ( 73 out of 100)

Re: Short Takes

Postby A » Mon Aug 28, 2006 3:13 pm

Just read your delightful comments in this thread, and I'm glad you opened it. Hopefully there will be more to come pretty soon.
I hope you don't mind myself posting on some "older" films, and if my image-spam gets too much... oh I simply couldn't resist.

Re: Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Mon Aug 28, 2006 9:41 pm

"With his use of light and shadows he complements the art-direction (which won an Academy Award) perfectly, and because it seems he is always using a filter the colors begin to play an integral part of the film. Along with the fitting costume design (also Oscar-nominated) the atmosphere created has an artistic quality all of its own, making the set appear in an artificiality which is reminiscent of the mood in Hammers horror productions from the 60s and 70s."

Very well stated, A. Technically speaking, Sleepy Hollow is masterful; I absolutely love the work done here by Lubezki, aided quite well by production-designers and art-directors. (Though, ultimately, the credit obviously goes to Burton's radically distinctive imagination.)

Re: Short Takes

Postby A » Thu Aug 31, 2006 2:37 pm

I also assume that most credit should go to Burton and his visual concept for the film - at least that's what I've read.
And it also explains my high rating, as the movie fits together.

Re: Short Takes

Postby wpqx » Thu Aug 31, 2006 5:45 pm

See in schools here in the US, generally 80-89 out of 100 would be a grade of a B, but maybe you're on a different system over there.

Re: Short Takes

Postby A » Thu Aug 31, 2006 8:52 pm

As far as I know it isn't common to rate on a 100 scale in Germany.
My rating scale is a bit different (and rather strict).
The grades given are only approximations, as I generally don't use them, and when I write them down, it's meant as a comparison for people who also use them. As a generalization (though there are often exceptions) films with a rating above 50 are worth watching - below at your own risk.

higher than 100: don't ask...
98 - 100: A+
90 - 97: A
80 - 89: A-
75 - 79: B+
70 - 74: B
60 - 69: B-
56 - 59: C+
50 - 55: C

40 - 49: C-
30 - 39: D+
20 - 29: D-
10 - 19: F
00 - 09: don't ask...

B is on my scale a very good film, which is compulsively watchable. Films with a B (above 70) are imo worth owning! And I'd buy most of the stuff above 60 (B-).
Films above 80 are personal favorites.
So maybe I'm not that strict at all.

Re: Short Takes

Postby arsaib4 » Sun Sep 03, 2006 10:06 pm

LORD OF WAR (U.S. / 2005)

"Buy 6, get 1 for free." Thats what a Ukrainian army general informs Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) while referring to Cold War-era Soviet tanks in Lord of War, a convoluted satire about the illegal gunrunning operations. The film's opening and ending sequences are quite effective, but for much of its over-long running time, it relies a little too heavily on tawdry one-liners -- surprising considering that it appears to have a socio-political agenda and is allegedly "based on true events" (we know to be careful when this line appears on our multiplex screens). Orlov, a Ukrainian migr, is the "lord of war": an arms-dealer without scruples, who narrates his ups-and-downs that also involve his parents, his brother (Jared Leto), and a model wife (Bridget Moynahan). He got involved in this trade on a low-level in the early-80s New York, but later discovered a gold mine in his homeland after the fall of Soviet Union. We follow Orlov from Ukraine to Columbia to Afghanistan, but the film mostly settles him in Liberia (thankfully a real African country even though thats where a few clichs rear their ugly heads). On his trail is an Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke), and he faces competition from another dealer (Ian Holm), but that usually doesnt stop Orlov from doing what he does best. Lord of War is written and directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca [1997], S1m0ne [2002]), a talented filmmaker who, despite concocting interesting premises for his films, has never quite been able to put the proper finishes touches. Here, the screenplay carelessly throws out dates and events that seem just as imposterous as the name of the ship on which once arms were aboard, and the constant attempts to detail Orlovs personal life end up being futile. However, the film boasts excellent cinematography (Amir M. Mokri) and production-design (Jean-Vincent Puzos). And while at times it ends up glorifying the man whose occupation it tries to condemn, Lord of War ultimately fires a bullet which isnt supposed to hurt, but somehow it does.


*Available on DVD in the U.S. (Lions Gate).


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