Young Adam / Nine Songs

I keep watching movies I find interesting then not writing about them. Then I forget the specific things I liked about them in the first place. These two films are hardly similar, but they do treat sex and nudity in a frank way, and I enjoyed both of them, though I’d hardly call either of them great.

M. Winterbottom cranks out the films. He’s directed five since the very enjoyable 24 Hour Party People , but this one had sex – AND bands, so it got my attention. Continue reading Young Adam / Nine Songs

Winter Short Takes

North Country: The climatic scene is shite (something tells me the class action suit didn’t go down quite so dramatically) and the melodrama is ramped up to eleven (indeed, the litany of horrors on display is overwhelming), but director Nikki Caro gets good performances from her cast and her film evokes a sense of place very well. Her commitment to the material made me want to see it through to the end, but Norma Rae is far, far superior. The film also deserves the Million Dollar Baby Award for best performance by an inanimate object (and to think said object has been nominated for an Academy Award!). Continue reading Winter Short Takes

four brothers

i watched this a couple of nights ago. i suppose it is entertaining enough, despite some casual racism and misogyny (which coincide in the characterization of a latina character) and a plot that increasingly strains credulity. marky mark is a compelling presence, andre 3000 holds his own, terence howard is fine, and chiwetel ejiofor hides his accent well–once again, why do brits do so much better at american accents than yanks do at brit ones?

more interesting would be a discussion of the film’s racial politics vis a vis the career of its director, john singleton. i’m not feeling up to it now but this is roughly the film’s plot: a saintly, old white woman who apparently lives in the ‘hood in detroit is gunned down; her four adopted sons, 2 white, 2 black, go about figuring out why and getting revenge. the bad guys are almost all black, from gangbangers to organized gangsters to corrupt politicians (there is one corrupt white cop as well) . interestingly, there’s some class issues thrown in as well but in a half-baked kind of way. the pleasures here are mostly those of very macho banter among the four brothers, marky mark’s believable inhabitation of his character, and some great shoot ’em up scenes.

woody, when he was silly

watched take the money and run last night. ah woody, why did you have to go ingmar bergman on us? you were at your best when you were silly, tossing off sight gags and set-ups without punchlines. you were the natural inheritor of the marx brothers and vaudeville but that wasn’t good enough for you, was it? well, at least you didn’t go soft in the head like all those 70s comics. but why am i addressing you in the first person like this?

he’s obviously made some great films after love and death (annie hall, the purple rose of cairo, sweet and lowdown) so i don’t want to push this early silly woody vs. later serious woody thing very far (and annie hall probably belongs in the first group anyway) but when i watch these old movies i wish he still made things like that. no one else seems to have after he stopped.

Johnny To

I’ve praised this director before, but I’ll bump him up again, having just watched Running on Karma, a neatly-strange little mix of genres that plays out quite enjoyably. In a nutshell: bodybuilder/male-stripper (Andy Lau, in a muscle suit) is a former Buddhist monk and sees karma, which gets him entangled with a police investigation. Yes.

It takes its notions of karma and the pleasurable protocol of action sequences seriously, yet its tone avoids that kind of unblinking engagement in genre or tone that other Hong Kong directors (like Woo) sometimes fall into–the conventions are, when you’re being melodramatic, play it over-the-top melodramatic, and the same when being funny, or romantic, or…. To, on the other hand, has this lightness of touch–while never mocking or ironic, his films also dance across generic boundaries so that, thinking you’re watching a comedy, something fairly violent happens, and vice versa. Besides the pleasures of Lau (I’ll go ahead and say it–as charismatic as and far more interesting than Chow Yun Fat), and the textbook beauty of To’s action choreography, you get a surefooted spinning that meets and disrupts our expectations.

So check out Karma, or even better, my favorite The Mission, or any of the many films of his Netflix carries. I mean you, Howell and Chakladar. These are damn fine action films.

Annual Oscar Odds Roundup

Annual Oscar Odds Roundup, thanks to notice odds on Hoffman, Witherspoon, Ang Lee and Brokeback (-450 means you have to bet that amount to receive a $100 payoff, +3000 means that you get 3000 on a $100 bet–in other words the first is like 1:5 odds and other is 30:1). Not much to pick from but I think Frances McDormand is an oscar fave and might have a chance and she’s got good odds at 20 to 1, also Keener in the same supporting category at 18 to 1. I don’t see why War of the Worlds wouldn’t win best visual effects over King Kong so I’m happy to take 30 to 1 odds there. Plus it’s a backhand way of recognizing spielberg whose munich will get shut out of the major categories. Ang Lee seems to be the lock at 1:10. I’ve never even seen odds that bad at the racetrack! The foreign language film is a hard one—south africa always has the liberal sentiment so a ham and cheese sandwhich from there could get nominated, “Paradise Now” might also be a backhand way to acknowledge the politics of Munich but in a far more minor way, but then there’s the old standby of the holocaust doc in the form of Sophie Scholl (one who died as a result of the White Rose protest to the Nazis)–the last provides provocative odds at 10 to 1 though it’s from Germany, something of a drawback. I’d say if you have a hundred to burn, split it 3 ways between Keener, War of the Worlds and Sophie Scholl. Jake Gyllenhall is also not getting bad odds at 5 to 1.
Continue reading Annual Oscar Odds Roundup

the sopranos

i am eagerly awaiting the start of the new season. the extended teaser on hbo is killing me. in preparation i’ve begun watching the previous season in reverse order, and am looking for clues on what might happen this year. perhaps we should open a predictions pool on what we think will be the major events this year. though i can’t decide whether the show will go out with a bang (a major death) or whether it will surprise us with a whimper.

some possible/likely deaths:

anthony jr.
Continue reading the sopranos

southern accents

no, not the tom petty album. i watched a time to kill last night on ondemand. this was the movie that was supposed to make mathew mcconaughey into a gigantic star. the less said about the film the better, probably (though i am confounded by the fact that janet maslin gave it a rave review in the ny times when it came out)–but it made me wonder: which are the worst, most laughable southern accents ever committed to film? now, i’m not even from south india so i clearly am no authority on speech patterns from the american south but i think i can tell the presence of a bad dialect coach when i hear it. this film has a few bad ones–kevin spacey, for example–but only one (actual southerners may differ) truly laughable one: oliver platt. donald sutherland doesn’t seem like he’s trying particularly hard. however, platt’s doesn’t even approach what i think is the absolute pinnacle of faux-southern elocution: nicholas cage in con air, especially in the voice-over section that plays over the opening credits.

please add your own nominations.

Strictly Ballroom

Because we’ve become entranced by that dance show on TV–how could they get rid of Lisa Rinna? Jerry Rice sucks!–I decided to (re)watch Strictly Ballroom. Pete swears we watched it before, but I don’t remember it. I think I might have started watching then went to bed. Because it is just that dull. I forced my way to the end this time. There’s too much love story and too much earnestness for it to be a mockumentary, but some scenes just don’t play any other way. In fact, I think the cartoonishness undermines Fran’s transformation. We’re supposed to like her, to root for her, but she’s surrounded by these women in crazy make-up with stupid hairdos–it’s too easy to come out on top. And why would anyone want to be on top of that? The more realistic stuff (the contemporary dance scenes, the Paso Doble “the dance for the man!”) just seems out of place in the garishness of the father’s story.

Time again for short takes: the why bother? version

To save others from what I endured:

Don’t Meet the Fockers. Even with Dustin Hoffman’s enthusiasm, an exercise in apathy. Imagine if Bresson made a Hollywood comedy, then got drunk and let his monkey direct.

Stay away from R-Point, which is a war-slash-ghost movie from Korea. A troop ends up in the middle of no-man’s-land, and so do viewers. There’s no good violence–nothing lopped off, only a few stray bullets and carefully-sprinkled blood (yawn)–and the pallid female ghost with long unwashed hair, required for all horror films made in Asia these days, doesn’t even hunch over or crawl on the floor.