A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 605 – Ghost World

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October 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | Leave a comment

Ghost World

October 26, 2011

Ghost World

I love absolutely everything about the first two thirds or so of this movie. I bought it for Thora Birch, and she is awesome. I also bought it because it was based on an indie comic book, and it has that strange quality to it, which I also enjoy. It has Steve Buscemi, who is always cool. There are parts of this movie that feel like almost a live action Daria – full of cynicism and angst.

On the other hand, this movie is pretty painful to watch. The character that Thora Birch plays, Enid, is so completely jaded that she ends up being pretty nasty to just about everybody. She’s bitter and mean, often without really meaning to be. Over the course of the movie she befriends an eccentric loser that she starts the movie tormenting and ultimately she proceeds to destroy his life.

At the start of the movie Enid and her best friend Rebecca graduate from high school, with all the social awkwardness that such an event holds for a pair of cynical girls who are too smart to really be dealing with high school peers. They have no plans to go to college, instead they intend to move into an apartment together and live their own quirky life. They spend their time being snarky, following strangers and making fun of them, and generally trying not to be a part of the pathetic suburban lives of everybody around them.

I fully understand that aloof angst, and although Enid is fairly cruel a lot of the time there’s a good amount of humor in seeing the way she dismisses the shallow world she finds herself inhabiting. In general Rebecca is the stable one of the two and Enid is a the instigator who thinks it would be hilarious to follow that strange looking couple or prank call some guy who placed a desperate singles ad.

So Enid calls the guy and pretends to be the woman he saw one day on a bus and watches as he sits sadly waiting for the woman to show up. After that she follows the guy home and eventually discovers that he’s actually kind of cool in his own pathetic and lonely kind of way. He collects all kinds of cool kitchy stuff. Old timey records (he has a collection full of items that are one of only two known remaining copies for example) and pictures and posters – everything in his apartment has a sort of patina of things left over from a lost age.

Enid befriends Seymore because, really, he’s just so awesome. She spends a lot of the movie hanging around with him. Going to his awkward record collector party. Trying to fix him up with women. Throwing him a birthday party. He ends up with a kind of crush on her, which she doesn’t really understand because she’s so caught up in being miserable about her own life.

Amanda found this movie almost physically painful to watch. I fully understand why, too, because it’s all about depression and embarrassment, or at leas appears to be for huge swaths of the movie. I find it hard as well. At the same time, however, I love these characters, and the actors that play them, so much that I can’t stop watching because these are the kind of people I’d like to spend my time with. My best friend in college, Christine, was basically a less depressive version of Enid. She had that same love for kitch and that same inability to say no to the craziest of impulses. I suppose that most of the reason I enjoy this movie is that it reminds me of the adventures Christine would drag me into back in those days. It’s a nostalgia thing.

October 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 604 – Captain America: The First Avenger

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October 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | Leave a comment

Captain America: The First Avenger

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October 25, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 603 – Anna to the Infinite Power

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October 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | Leave a comment

Anna to the Infinite Power

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October 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 602 – Capote

I’ll come out and admit, this is a late review. By a lot of time. I’m writing this in the fall of 2012, not quite a year since watching this movie for the first time. That’s going to be true of a lot of movies from here on, since I ran out of steam for writing a review every day and haven’t quite worked back up to it yet. For movies that I’ve seen a bunch of times, or things that I hated or things that really worked their ways into my head, well, that won’t matter much. For other movies, things have faded and I can remember bits and pieces, but not fully formed thoughts. I really should have taken notes for some things. Live and learn.

Fortunately, this movie stuck with me. It’s a fictionalized account of a real series of events, which, when you think about it, is a bit of a meta-textual situation, what with the story being about the writing of a novel about a true set of events. This isn’t a movie with pleasant subject matter and it doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s sad and unsettling and slightly disturbing but for some reason it didn’t affect me as viscerally as some other sad movies I’ve watched. I suspect it’s because there’s an aspect of removal here. The main character is unsettled, yes, but he’s also attempting to work with it and through it and use it for his own writing. He’s not an intrinsically unhappy person. He’s simply in a disturbing situation that he is also fascinated by.

The movie follows writer Truman Capote as he is introduced to and drawn in by the murders that eventually formed the basis for his book, In Cold Blood. It’s billed as a biographical movie, and that’s true to an extent, but it’s not telling Capote’s entire life story and it’s not telling much that doesn’t directly relate to the writing of his book. It’s a focused biographical movie, showing the effect the writing of the story and researching of the story has on Capote himself. And that effect is fascinating.

Really, this movie should be double-billed with Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, which, coincidentally, I rewatched the other night. Both movies contain threads of fiction and fact and both stories are addressing the nature of involvement between events and the media reporting them. Here, Capote finds himself having to balance between his role as a writer, recording and reporting the details of the murders and the events and people involved, and his role as a confidant of one of the murderers, Perry Smith. Much of the detail he’s able to get and therefore write about comes from the fact that Smith ends up trusting him enough to speak to him. Becoming close to Smith allows Capote a more in-depth look at what he’s writing about, but it also places him in a position where he comes to care about what happens to Smith. At the same time, he doesn’t want to influence events because that would compromise his neutrality as a reporter. That conflict is the heart of the movie and it’s one that isn’t ever fully resolved. The movie ends on a note questioning that very theme.

It’s a quiet movie, and a somewhat sad one. Part of the sadness comes from the crime that started it all. It’s a terrible crime, or set of crimes, really. These aren’t sad-but-fictional murders. These people were real and these people were killed.

I wish I could think of more to say about this movie. I suspect it’s my own damn fault for not writing this review closer to watching the movie itself, but short of watching it again (which I just plain don’t have time to do right now), I’m not sure how better to get things moving. I also wish I had read Capote’s In Cold Blood prior to watching the movie about its’ writing.

I will say that I thought the acting was superb. Of course Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing in the title role, but his is not the only fantastic performance. It’s just that he fills the movie in so many ways. After all, it’s a movie about Truman Capote and it’s a movie about his writing and his process and his difficulties and him as a person in this particular situation. So of course Hoffman is all over this movie. And if his performance had been at all lacking, the movie would have suffered for it. Thankfully, that’s not the case. But the movie would also have suffered had the supporting cast, like Catherine Keener as Harper Lee and Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith not been so good.

I often find myself conflicted when it comes to movies presenting a fictionalized account of true events. Not conflicted about liking them – I do tend to enjoy historical pieces – but about how to view them. Obviously this is not a movie in which every word, every emotion, every glance, every moment is true to life. It isn’t a documentary. It was made with intent and bias and is the product of interpretation and fictionalization. Such pieces, be they books or movies, need to be viewed as fiction with a heavy dollop of reality as the base. Which is really quite relevant to this particular piece, given that its subject matter has to do with a nonfiction novel. I mentioned above that this movie should be double-billed with Medium Cool and I stand by that. Both movies are dealing not only with the topics of involvement and detachment in media, sensationalism and truth, but are doing so in a medium which forces questions about fact versus fiction, which is fascinating, to say the least.

October 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Capote

October 23, 2011

Capote

I have a problem with the Oscars. My problem is that I know the academy voters tend to self absorbed, and full of themselves and tend to snobbishly vote for what is the most impactful movie and not necessarily the most entertaining or the most ambitious. And yet I can’t help being curious about any movie that takes home the big prizes. That curiosity has in the past led me to purchase movies I would not normally purchase.

I knew virtually nothing about Truman Capote before buying this movie. I’ve never read any of his books. (The closes I’ve come is to have seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s which is based on his book.) I’m only really familiar with him as a part of the pretentious New York art scene of the sixties. I knew this movie was about him writing a book about a brutal set of murders and the pair of killers who committed them, but I knew nothing about the book. All I knew for sure was that Philip Seymour Hoffman, an actor I respect for taking difficult roles and transforming himself with every film, had won the best actor award for this film and that was enough to make me pick it up for our collection.

This really is Hoffman’s film. It’s not a movie that’s in any hurry to reach its conclusion. It’s a slow, deliberate character study about a strange and complicated man. The Truman Capote in this movie is completely obsessed with himself and has surrounded himself with people who know how to feed that ego. One day he decides to do an article for the New Yorker about a brutal and vicious crime he read about in the paper (though this movie doesn’t really explore why.) The result is that he leaves the comforting confines of his circle of intellectual literati and travels down to Kansas to see firsthand how this killing is affecting people in the small town where it took place. As he investigates he finds himself entwined with one of the killers, convinced that Perry Smith is a kindred spirit of some kind. His article becomes a full book, and he discovers that he cannot complete the book unless he can understand what was going through Perry’s mind when the murders were done.

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October 23, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 601 – Titus

Titus – October 21st, 2011

How better to follow up an enormous long slog of a movie than to watch a movie that’s only slightly shorter, right? Except where Jackson’s King Kong dragged on and on and made me doubt my will to live, I love this movie in all it’s horrifying, bloody, murderous, mixed-up-time-period, Julie Taymore glory. Oh, it’s not an easy one to watch, and some truly nasty things are done not just by the villains but by the heroes, but it is a beautiful movie and I would rather watch it ten times back to back than watch King Kong ever again.

Now, if you saw the name “Julie Taymore” and immediately thought of Spiderman, it’s okay. I understand. We all know about Turn Off the Dark, and I’m sure she’s very sorry. Having not seen her production of The Lion King, I can’t really say if this is any closer to that, but since that got good reviews and is known for being a hugely elaborate adaptation of the story, I’d say it’s a good bet that it is. My point is that Taymore has a somewhat mixed reputation, but I believe this falls on the “good” side of things. She’s also got a penchant for putting things on a grand scale and this certainly is grand. It is huge. It is lush. It is decadent. And that is absolutely perfect for the story being told. It is the story of an empire in decline and if you look up the word “decadent” you will see that its original meaning was a good deal more negative than its current meaning. It does share a root with “decay,” after all. And that right there is the point.

This is one of the few Shakespearean plays I never had to read academically. Having taken a fair deal of Shakespeare in both high school and college (with a few of his plays scattered throughout other classes not focused entirely on his work), I’ve read a lot by now. This isn’t one of them, however, which is a pity. I wish I had read this for a class. I wish I’d read it when I took my college Shakespeare class, which was the semester after I took a Victorian literature class in which we talked about the rotten core of decadence. I’d have written a far different final paper for the Shakespeare class and perhaps had a better time writing it. Ah well, no going back now. It’s just that this is the sort of story (and this version the sort of telling) that I absolutely love digging into. It’s full of horrible actions and questionable morals and unchecked vengeance and terrible consequences. Also, this version has Alan Cumming in a fabulous coat. What more could I ask for?

Okay, so I could ask for less racism. In modern writing I do ask for less racism. In Shakespeare I wish for less racism but I know better than to expect it. What I find fascinating about this story is that so many of the characters are villains. This isn’t really a story with a hero. This isn’t a story with good guys and bad guys. There are, instead, bad guys, badder guys and innocents. Let’s face it: Titus himself starts the story by killing Tamora’s son to make a point even as she pleads for mercy. That’s harsh. That’s not the way you set up an unambiguous hero. That Tamora ends up spending the rest of the movie working out a means to exact vengeance on Titus is fairly understandable at that point. That Titus then exacts revenge upon her for her acts of revenge? Again, understandable. That Aaron, a Moor living in the Emperor’s court, is one of the tools Tamora uses and that he is evil solely because of his race? Not understandable.

Fortunately for this movie, Aaron is played by the absolutely fantastic Harry Lennox. What he does with this part is nothing short of amazing. In this movie, I can begin to buy that Aaron’s motivations aren’t so cheaply explained as “Oh yeah, he’s a Moor, so of course he’s evil.” No. Here? I can believe that his race is involved, but it is because of decades upon decades of mistreatment that he acts as he acts. That he himself is exacting vengeance, not for his own life alone, but for his entire race. That to see an empire that treated his people so badly fall as this one does, is his aim. It is so much grander than the petty villainy of Don John in Much Ado About Nothing and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. I would have to go back and read this play very close to see if I could tease all this out on my own, but without doing that I think I can rely on how this movie plays out to give it to me. And it is excellently done.

The idea of vengeance begetting vengeance begetting vengeance, until everything is in ruin, that is the story of the play. Titus, a Roman general, imprisons Tamora, queen of the Goths. He kills her eldest son and then goes home from war. Titus backs one son of the Emperor, but the other prevails and then weds Tamora, of all people. And it just goes downhill from there. Horrible things happen in this story and the movie doesn’t necessarily show it all on screen, but it certainly doesn’t shy away from showing the consequences. When Tamora’s remaining two sons brutally rape and mutilate Titus’ daughter? We don’t see it happen. But we do see Lavinia after, her hands gone, her tongue gone, clearly in horrible distress. We see her attempt to communicate to her father what has happened. And we know. We can’t help but know. Oh, there’s plenty of blood and gore in this movie, but it’s all stylized. It’s made obvious without this being a horror film.

Granted, the whole movie is stylized. Honestly, I think that’s for the best. Given how horrible some of the subject matter is, I think in order for the movie to have the depth that it has, that subject matter needed to be dealt with in a stylized manner. Otherwise this is just blood and guts and vengeance, not the meaning behind it all. In this, I really appreciate Julie Taymore’s flair for the dramatic. It’s made abundantly clear by the use of enormous sets and huge casts that Saturninus’ empire is dangerously over the top. I absolutely adore Alan Cumming as Saturninus, by the way. He’s not a likeable character, but he plays the horribly unlikeable Saturninus so well. Add that to Taymore’s choices of aesthetics, which blend time periods into bizarre yet effective visuals, and you have a truly beautiful movie to watch. But she’s also got an amazing cast, which makes it a fantastic movie to pay attention to as well. By the end, when nearly everyone is dead and Aaron gives his final speech, we’ve seen a movie full of people making terrible choices that they felt were justified. We’ve seen the effect those choices had not only on the people who made them but on their friends and enemies alike. It’s not a pleasant movie, no, but it is a good movie, and well worth the time spent watching it.

October 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Titus

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October 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment