Sunday, January 28, 2007

Brick - Reaction

One of the most unusual/odd movies I've ever seen. It's effectively a film noir played with high school students. (Of course, the actors are really college students or twenty-somethings.) As convoluted as the very best noirs. (Pay attention!) And paced the same. Still, it's weird watching a film which has typical noir-style dialog (though updated a bit for the modern day) said in parking lots and school yards by people in jeans and t-shirts, all set in pretty, sunny suburbia. While I could suspend disbelief for much of the film, a few aspects brought me out of it: the brief hobbit conversation, the Pin's mother offering her guests cookies and juice, and the fact that no one ever goes to class and parents generally don't exist.

Brick is also commendable for its camera work. In a few scenes, the way they changed depth of field or film speed to great effect made me gasp.

A must-see for a noir fan, if only to see the contrast between this vision of a noir film and ones made half a century ago.

The film's also a testimony for what one can do with a small budget. The writer/director raised money for six years (mostly from relatives and friends), eventually making the film for one million dollars.

The commentary track claims the movie deals with cliches and manipulation in high school, and how everyone in high school is so earnest, thinking everything that happens there is so important. I don't think these aspects play an important thematic role in the film.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Abandoned - Reaction

Noir. A decent, fairly straightforward thriller about a baby-selling criminal group. The male lead, a journalist, is an okay, somewhat flat character; the female lead, a woman looking for her sister, is a much better actress. The movie is punctuated with odd, infrequent voiceovers that are definitely out of place.

Cry Danger - Reaction

A good noir film filled with many snappy wisecracks. About a framed man who gets out of jail due to the (false) testimony of a marine and goes on to hunt the people who framed him. Filled with classic noir-style crosses and double-crosses (a good thing).

After the film, there was an on-stage conversation with the screenwriter's son and the actor (who happens to be a friend of the screenwriter) who played the drunk marine. They told some very entertaining stories that demonstrated what a funny guy William Bowers, the screenwriter, was. The best involved no-seepage caskets, a prank phone call, and even the completion of the joke with Bower's ashes after his death.

Incidentally, the festival director said the place where they originally intended to get the 35mm movie reels, which assured him the reels were in good condition, called him at the last minute to say they were unwatchable. (I read into his comments that place in question was Harvard.) He managed to get a 16mm print from UCLA's film archive to show instead.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Touch of Evil - Reaction

[watched the cut inspired by director's comments / memo]

A good Orson Welles noir-style film focusing on the conflict between a straight cop and a crooked cop. It starts a little slow, but it could just feel that way because we're not sure where things are going; after it gets going, it's pretty straightforward. Welles (the bad cop) acts very well; Charlton Heston (the good cop) is pretty good as well.

Has some good cinematography and cutting. The opening shot is several minutes long, following the characters as they travel several blocks in a town while many other events are happening. Later, there's another impressive continuous shot in which the camera follows the characters into a building and up an elevator. Regarding cutting, the film cuts well between the the parallel husband and wife story lines, keeping our interest in both. Occasionally the visuals take second seat to the rationality of the plot. The best example of this is the final scene in which Vargas, equipped with a radio receiver, needs to follow Quinlan. A tape recorder would've made much more sense, but then we would've missed this visually appealing scene.

Explores the theme of what a person can do in the name of the "justice". If you "know" someone is guilty, can you plant evidence to ensure he/she is punished? Also deals slightly with race relations and stereotypes, though this takes a trivial note when watched in the modern day.

This film has a great quote:
Quinlan (played by Welles): Come on, read my future for me.
Tanya (played by Marlene Dietrich): You haven't got any.
Quinlan: What do you mean?
Tanya: Your future is all used up.

Welles's memo commenting on the studio's cut of the film provides detailed, interesting insights into a director's thought process and all the aspects of the film he must consider.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wholetrain - Reaction


A good movie about graffiti art and the artists that create it. Used real artists as actors. The best features of the movie were the art itself and the hip-hop soundtrack (created by the writer/director). Amazingly good film for a first-time director.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Clerks II - Reaction

Mediocre. Some scenes succeed well, with witty repartees like one finds in a play, exploring themes such as romantic love, racial slurs, and what people want out of life. But others are low-brow, like the Star Wars versus Lord of the Rings debate or the whole goatsex plot, and don't fit very well with the high-brow ones. And some scenes, like the go-cart montage, feel entirely unnecessary. Others, like most with Jay and Silent Bob, feel inexplicable, like there's an inside joke I don't get. Further, Brian O'Halloran, who plays the main character, Dante, acts so poorly and woodenly he drags down the movie. Even Rosario Dawson's terrific acting, bringing a heart to the movie, can't entirely counter his effect.

This Houston Chronicle review roughly expresses my reaction to the movie and Kevin Smith's work in general. I answered B to nearly every question.

The commentary tracks are surprisingly interesting. One is technical and goes into great depth about types of cameras, film, and lighting. The other includes most of the cast and is fun to listen to because it so gossip-y and at times even soap opera-y. A neat fact that goes unmentioned: every scene in the movie is named after a book.

Friday, January 5, 2007

A Prairie Home Companion - Reaction

A well done though, frankly, slow movie in which not much happens. The slowness could be intentional, as the movie has the similar lazy, unhurried feel as the radio show. It feels like a visual reflection of the radio show, putting a face to the previously only imagined. Sadly, it misses the story component of the show, the segments of the show I like the most. It keeps the same sweet, eulogistic, nostalgic feel as the radio program. People who don't listen to the show will probably not like the movie; some people that do (like me) may only consider it decent, nothing more. Incidentally, the commentary from Altman, the director, makes him seem senile and as if he didn't do much directing.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Thank You For Smoking - Reaction

A decent satirical film about a tobacco lobbyist. Eckhart, who plays the lead character, does it with such earnestness, persuasiveness, and charisma that he makes the movie. Deals with issues of moral flexibility and ethics at work (i.e., what are you willing to do for your mortgage?), the meaning of spin and truth in the modern world (i.e., does the latter exist? is everyone spinning to some degree or another to make a point?), and the implications of political correctness (i.e., do companies have equal rights as people? should they? do both "sides" of the "truth" really need to be heard?).

The commentary and deleted scenes are interesting, showing aspects of the movie they decided detracted from the main points. I agree with all these cuts, including the scene with the skull and crossbones advertisement (too much straight comedy), the scene with memos of death threats (lessens the later on-air death threat), the post-kidnapping smoking fainting scene (too much of a direct statement about smoking and peer pressure and makes the hero appear stupid), and the final scene in which the son smokes at the press conference (makes it appear he missed the point of everything). Still, parts of the movie seemed flat or inexplicable, like the kidnapping subplot that basically went nowhere. Also, it's neat to observe no smoking is seen in the movie.