Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I guess, documentaries are going to be my first foray into genre study(sorry TS). Please, if you have any in mind that I should particularly have a look at leave any recommendations in the comments. I will gladly have a look at them. I am picking out 10-12 films to view in the coming month. So far on my current list of documentaries I have:

Hoop Dreams

The Thin Blue Line

Harlan County USA

Gates Of Heaven

Vernon, Florida

Don't Look Back

Roger and Me

The Times of Harvey Milk

American Movie

Hearts and Minds

Little Dieter Needs to Fly

That's the 12 I currently have chosen, but I understand most of these are from the 80's and 90's, so as I said before I am open to suggestion and would nix any of these films to add a more deserving documentary from an earlier time.

I did not add Woodstock or any other concert films as those will be studied when I do concert films.

My next study will more than likely be Silent Comedies and then I will do Horror. I am genuinely excited about both of those as well as my current study.

Thanks for voting.

"You Gotta Give 'Em Hope." REVIEW

Milk-2008-Gus Van Sant


2008 was not a great year for film. There have been a few gems(WALL-E comes to mind) but overall the films come out seemingly lackluster. I wouldn't say the films out this year have been terrible either though, they just seem to always have something lacking that keeps them from being wonderful. Within all of this, there is an actor, who to me has had a banner year. James Franco has been a supporting actor in both this film and Pineapple Express. Why do I happen to mention this specific actor? Because to me he grounds both films. While in Pineapple Express he plays a drug dealer with a heart. He likes to help out his grandma, and is lonely. He wants a friend to hang with him. That film is about friendship, and he really nails it wonderfully. Now in Milk, he plays Scott Smith, Harvey Milk's lover. The film opens when they meet. He is who Harvey confesses he is "forty years old and (he) hasn't done a thing". His subtlety and total comfort in embodying Smith left me yearning for more screen time with him. But Van Sant only allows him to be there when the story needs him, he doesn't try to force the character on to us simply because he is so magnetizing.

Milk follows Harvey Milk. After meeting Scott Smith, turning forty and moving to San Francisco's Castro district, he becomes interested in homosexual activism. He sees the atrocities at play and wants justice for the gay community. So he enters the political office and on the way creates a movement, a movement that because of him still has activists fighting today.

Harvey Milk had a love for life that was so enriching you can't help but smile when the man is speaking. In the documentary from 1984 The Times Of Harvey Milk, you can see the real man that Sean Penn brilliantly portrays. This movie, Milk, doesn't glamorize Milk to the point of unbelievability. It allows us to see the man for his failures and his victories. This is especially evident when Diego Luna's character enters the film. The audience might ask why Milk would stay with such a person, but he answers that very question when Scott inquires.

Gus Van Sant is a wonderfully gifted filmmaker. His film from earlier this year, Paranoid Park, is among one of my favorites of 2008. His films often have a dreamy, lucid quality to them that truly set them a part from the pack. The problem with this is when Van Sant does step back and allow his style to become a side note, his films seem to come out lacking. This is really only his third attempt at giving Hollywood a film they might like. Generally straight forward and genuinely moving. What sets Milk a part from Van Sant's other, more conventional fare is how we can see Van Sant's passion for the material. This film has a lot of heart, so much so that you can hear it pounding throughout the speakers. The problem is, even with Van Sant's passion seeping through the screen, the film does not overcome general biopic conventions. It falls prey to the who, what and where dilemma that many biopics spend too much time with. Even Van Sant's use of the opera in the third act to represent Milk's life, and politics in general, comes off a little heavy handed.

Despite it's convention the film is very moving. You can't not fall in love with Harvey. Sean Penn's performance is outstanding, and is generating a lot of awards buzz. I won't get into how deserving I think he is of that buzz except as to say I do love him in this despite his flashiness. The thing is, Milk himself was a flashy guy. He had a theatricality about him that really couldn't be denied. Penn does capture this and exudes it throughout the film's duration.

Milk has an ensemble cast of the greatest young crop of actors in Hollywood. From Emile Hirsch to Joseph Cross, all of these guys will be around for a long time. Another great performance, that was truly transcendent, is that of Josh Brolin. His portrayal of Dan White is mysterious. He keeps a rain cloud over much of Milk's achievements throughout. I'm sure everyone knows how this turns out in the end. What Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black do with him is wonderful. While, at first, allowing us to despise the man, they then show us his utter confusion and we can sympathize with him. At the moment before he pulls off his last big scene, we see him sitting on his couch in his underwear. He looks frightened as he peaks out the window. By films end we realize what he represents. He isn't set here for us to be disgusted by, or to give Milk a good protagonist(I know this is a true story so obviously he's there because this all really happened but in regards to the way in which he is placed into the film). Dan White allows us to see an individual who is so incredibly in need of Harvey Milk's hope message yet too scared to receive it.

As has been said by many, this film has come out at an opportune time with all that's currently going on in our country and more specifically California. While the film does have it's problems, I believe films like this are important, especially in the times we are currently living. We need films that can show us tragedy yet give us hope without sentimentality or sappiness. Sean Penn's directorial effort from last year, Into The Wild, did this very thing while not allowing the typical biopic conventions to overtake the films themes. Milk is such a film and should be viewed as such. Not because Van Sant has created the film in such a way that it's obvious he wanted the story to take precedent to any kind of cinematic or stylistic device possible, which isn't a bad thing. This is simply why James Franco grounds the film. This film is not an exercise in subtlety, but Franco's performance truly is.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Sometimes I think sitting on trains Every stop I get to I'm clocking that game" REVIEW

Slumdog Millionaire-2008-Danny Boyle


For 10 million rupees, Is Danny Boyle's latest film, Slumdog Millionaire, a real crowd pleaser?
A. Yes
B. No
C. Maybe
D. What's a slumdog?

"uh, this is a tough one" Shawn parlays to the host. "But I think I'm going to go with A..."


The host looks at his monitor for what feels like an eternity. Sweat droplets begin rolling off of Shawn's forehead as if they were auditioning to be a part of Niagara Falls.

Still there is Silence.

"Well, Shawn, I'm sorry to tell you this but...."

Silence yet again.

"You're absolutely right!!!!"

Crowd Cheers!

Slumdog Millionaire is a fairytale through and through. Albeit, a rather unconventional fairytale as we, the audience, are asked to sit through considerable amounts of fighting, torture, and sadness to reach the films ultimate conclusion. Following Jamal Malik, as he is a player on the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The government finds it hard to believe that someone of his low stature could possibly know the answers to the questions he is being asked. With a wonderful episodic structure, Boyle is able to show us how we truly learn things through experiencing life. The life that is truly lived is worth a million dollars.

What Boyle really does right here is that he realizes just because you have a story about poverty or third world orphans, you don't have to make it somber. While the film does strike it's somber notes at all the "right"(I put this in quotations as I feel these moments are a little too calculated) moments, a smile is kept on the viewer throughout the duration of the film.

This film really reminded me of the Disney fairy tales I watched as a child. Aladdin, Pinocchio, Beauty and The Beast, these films all asked serious questions of it's viewer but at the same time took them on a journey, ultimately leading them to their happily ever after ending.

What strikes me is the way in which Boyle(or probably the author of the book the film is based off of Q and A) portrays destiny within the film. When destiny is spoken of, it is generally said by the characters as being written. This is said quite a few times throughout the movie. One could argue that the film is in fact written, they are acknowledging that and commenting on that fact. This is obviously a film where suspension of disbelief is needed to allow for the viewer to be moved. I think they wanted to recognize that very sentiment. The film also comments, shortly, on God. Salim, Jamal's brother, does some pretty terrible things throughout the film's duration. He is also seen doing a few heroic things, but is a very guilty person. This is the only character that ever mentions God and it happens at two interesting points late in the film. If the film is written by a God-like creator called a screenwriter, who created this universe and knows exactly what will happen. Does God write destiny in our universe? This is all presupposing that God is real. While I gain something from this aspect, as I believe He is, a viewer with little or no affiliation to God in anyway, or no belief, would probably be of no interest in this theory.

Following that same subject, the film also reminded me of an Old Testament Bible story. The two brothers get at each other almost like a Cain and Able, or Issac and Ishmael. With tragedy and warmth destiny, or God's providence, or whatever it is you may want to call it, is shown by stories end.

White folk are satirized slightly within the film. A few key scenes show our utter naivety and/or ignorance of other cultures, which work surprisingly well and don't come off as heavy handed or unoriginal.

Where the film will ultimately lose people is in it's conclusion. I am afraid to say, against all judgment, I became totally engrossed in what finally happens with the characters. I believe it gets so many things right that a recent film like Twilight gets so wrong, and that is, how true love works. Even though it is a little contrived, the characters love for each other doesn't seem to be that way simply because that's what's supposed to happen for the story to work. It's truly an organic thing that lives within the film. It may seem far fetched or pointless for some, but if allow it, it can be totally riveting.

Every little episode Boyle and co-director Loveleen Tandan gives us doesn't always work, but in each one their is a bit of joy to be found. With a mish mash of culture and language, the filmmakers do beautifully capture it by using a variety of techniques. While I found myself feeling a little more lost than excited during some of the action sequences, most of the time these techniques served the story wonderfully.

The films overarching universal themes can be a little in your face at times, but, the sheer optimism of the film was enthralling and burnt a smile onto my face for hours after the credits rolled.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In the coming year...

So I posted my supposed list of film genre's on the side here, and will add links as soon as I finish each study. I also have a poll up where you can vote on which study I will tackle first. In regards to the decades I also added on there, that is for any films I happen to miss from that decade that I wish to tackle. I know some decades are ripe with more films I am a little more excited about seeing(50's-70's for example). And, although I have tons of films that will be listed in each category I'm sure there will be those I miss, and they will be added into those categories.

I hope I can actually accomplish all of this. I need ya'll to root for me.

"Wormser is a master of aerodynamics. He has engineered the javelin to complement Lamar's limp-wristed throwing style."

Of Up and Coming Monarchs

Although my quest to review a lot more films by years end is noble, I just don't think I have it in me. I will be seeing all the DVD releases I said I had yet to see, but to write out a review for each of them would just kill any outside life I have that doesn't already involve work, school and family. I know, I know, I can hear all the sighs of disappointment from my adoring fans, but no need to fret. I will write reviews of the slew of theatrical films I plan on seeing in the coming month and having some sort of year end list of all things film by mid-January. I know it's totally cliche', but I am a total sucker for those things and have always wanted to make my own. I know I'm lame.

On another note, some new plans are ahead for the new year. I figured out that as someone who enjoys writing about film, and considers himself somewhat(and I mean that in the lowest amount someone can say somewhat) of a film geek, I have seen entirely to few movies. To remedy this situation I have come up with the following plan. Instead of going forth and studying more directors(as I did Hitchcock) I am going to disband that for now and look into genre. I am going to watch 10-12 films a month from a certain genre and offer a write up on them. The thing is, these are going to be classics that I have never seen, ranging from silent comedies to modern thrillers. It'll be a credibility crusher admitting all the amazingly well revered films of which I have yet to accustom myself, but if I wish to become a better film lover, maker, and writer it's something I need to really accomplish.

Yes, that was all exaggerated for giggles, but I will have some genres up in a poll soon, and the entire list I am going to begin peaking into up on a sidebar.

Anyways, until next time. Godspeed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"In sports you should play fair. In war, you shouldn't play fair at all." REVIEW

*photo taken of director Chris Bell just hours between photos

Bigger Stronger Faster-2008-Chris Bell


If Michael Moore has taught us anything, it is the fact that documentaries are generally totally subjective. The director takes a subject they feel passionate about, finds any evidence pointing towards their thesis and ignores all other evidence pointing the other way. This goes contrary to what the public feels about documentaries. When Fahrenheit 9/11 came out there were people in a frenzy. Everything said in it just had to be true, it was a documentary. While I am definitely no Bush supporter by any means, we all know just how Moore twisted the facts and used them to bend to his own theories. To be honest, I have little problem with that as long as the film is still compelling. I just don't enjoy being manipulated.

Chris Bell has created a documentary so interested in truth, so interested in getting to the bottom of a major problem in America, that's it's refreshing. Bigger Stronger Faster is about steroid use in America. The closest we get to any people affected by steroids are the entire Bell family. Chris' brothers Mark and Mike(Smelly) Bell. We see how steroid use has affected them in their daily lives, and their family. We also get a glimpse at their religious parents and what they feel about what has happened to their sons.

Bigger Stronger Faster is at once totally light hearted and almost cheery in the sense that we are learning something in a unique way, but as the film goes on, we see how tragic it truly is. What amazes me, is how the film is interested in the facts to such a degree that it refutes itself quite a few times. We hear both sides on the steroid battle and even get examples of enhancement drugs in other fields of work.

The portrait that Chris Bell allows us to see of his brothers is the most heartbreaking part of the story. Mark, the oldest, has dreamed of becoming a professional wrestler for so long. He has a wife now and a kid on the way, yet he still isn't giving up that dream. Not only that, he isn't giving up his steroid use.
Smelly wins seemingly every weight lifting competition he joins. But his wife wants him off steroids, first, so they can have a kid, but she wants him to stay off of them. Will he or won't he? His attachment to the drug and to staying the strongest is so tragic.

It's really wonderful the ways in which the film examines the American dream. Growing up, we are constantly bombarded with the idea that, as long as we put our minds to it and try hard enough, we can accomplish anything. This is such a true statement, but at the same time incredibly misleading. Sometimes we fall short, as Mark obviously has. Are we to applaud him to continue going for his dream even though he is getting older? Or are we to join their father in grief for what he is doing to his family? It's a conflicted ideal to begin with. Chris shows Mark as someone who really has a lot going for him, but is still willing to lose all of that to accomplish his dream.

Bell's sympathetic approach to his brothers and other steroid users really struck me as genuine. You can tell the guy has so much respect and adoration for all of these people, while at the same time grieves their choices.

To me, the film transcends its material in a small scene where Chris and his father are talking in a restaurant. His father goes on about how we just have to love people, that's all it comes down to. Everyone makes big mistakes, but that doesn't stop them from doing great things. He offers examples from the Bible, like King David and Abraham, and compares those using steroids to these men of the Bible. To some, this may seem a little contrived, but to me, it really struck me as beautiful. Here is a man, who earlier in the film was expounding on the ways in which his oldest son is being an idiot, yet in this scene, we hear how he can overcome those initial feelings of annoyance with his son's choices and feel that he is still capable of some truly astounding things.Bigger Stronger Faster is not the hardest hitting of documentaries, but it's earnest approach and journalistic integrity should not be cast aside. It's not everyday that most Americans see this subculture. We are left to see it from our couch watching ESPN as MLB players are accused of drug use time and time again. We put little thought behind what has caused these men to do such a thing. Bell gives us a grey world where nothing is in black and white, I hope Michael Moore was watching.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"I never wash my pants. I like to keep the night on them. "

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist-2008-Peter Sollett


In the mid-90's Richard Linklater directed a masterful film starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy where we witness two characters meet, hit it off, and subsequently spend the entire night out together falling in love. It is the kind of romantic film that leaves you with a certain type of lightness, where you know you just saw some type of beautiful human interaction, but find it hard to express. Peter Sollett has directed a film that tries to fall into a similar vein, but instead, falls flat.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist gives us two sweet and lovable characters to follow as well. There's Nick(Michael Cera) the awkward yet adorable musician with a soft heart. And Norah, she's the daughter of the Electric Lady Studios owner, and has a wicked taste in music. Throughout the course, they meet, and go on a search for the band Where's Fluffy, which all the characters seemingly love. Hilarity ensues throughout the night. Before Sunrise-lite is what they should have named it.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (or as I like to call it Nick and Norah's Infinitely Long Title) seems to live or die on how truly hip it can be. Characters name drop indie bands of all types and litter their conversations with mentions of I-Pod's and how totally gay friendly they are. Sometimes trying so hard to convince us it's OK to be gay that it rings false. It's not a slight to the film to be gay friendly, I actually loved that aspect. The characters mentioned homosexuals without batting an eye, like it was an everyday part of life. What the film does with this though, is inadvertently use it to make some jokes on behalf of the homosexuals littered throughout. Nick has a band(The Jerk Offs) where he is the only straight member. I found that to be an interesting twist. At once, when this seems to be played out very wonderfully, we then get a scene where they go into a gay club and every guy they pass winks and smiles at Nick. I have never met gay guys who act like this. Maybe I am from an alternate universe to this, but it seems they were force feeding a homosexual stereotype while still trying to maintain credibility by being gay friendly.

It's hard to wrap my head around how utterly precocious this film is as well. It wants to be so cute and hip that it really loses track of it's characters. Oftentimes we are stuck in mundane conversations filled with nothing but void name droppings of hip bands. Really, Norah's summation for why she thinks Nick has too many The Cure songs on his I-pod is mind numbingly stupid.

Let me stop there. Perhaps I am being too hard on the film. I honestly don't enjoy tearing things down, but I am letting my honest opinion choose which letters my fingers are to press. This film really isn't a trainwreck like I have made it out to be. We get some really wonderful moments here.

First off, Michael Cera is quite possibly the funniest person on the planet. Not in terms of sheer LOL-ness, but in the ways in which he can subtly say one line that would never be funny said any other way or by any other person. Kat Dennings is also nice in the film, and while I think she has a career ahead of her, she isn't quite there yet. The supporting cast are all fine as well. Nick's ex-girlfriend plays super bitch superbly, although she seemed a little young looking to be such a sex-goddess, or perhaps I am getting too old for this.

I could definitely relate to Nick on so many levels. I am of a similar make. In high school I was playing in bands and playing shows, had a terrible car and had trouble getting my guitar into it sometimes. Nick's plight with his ex is also very relatable. While he often makes stupid decisions, I applaud the film for being more realistic as more often than not, that is the decision any guy would make in that moment.

There are quite a few cameos littered throughout the film as well. Seth Meyers, John Cho, Kevin Corrigan, all do wonderfully small, but funny things. Andy Samburg of SNL and Hot Rod steals his scene as a hobo outside a church though.

If it weren't for the utter cuteness and hipster attitude of the film, I believe I could have jumped on the bandwagon more often. I wanted to know Nick and Norah, their moments alone are some of the best in the film. Every detraction, every instance of following Norah's drunken friend wondering the streets of New York left me with an uneasy feeling.

Peter Sollett definitely had some type of talent here. I enjoyed the look he gave the film and the somewhat John Hughes feel of the film, and can see him making great, entertaining cinema in the future, but for now, I'll keep watching Juno for my hipster cuteness.