Saturday, October 23, 2010

Review: Catfish (2010)

It's funny how certain years bring about trends in the industry - like the outburst of female-directed films last year and the subject of the Iraq War in 2007 - and this year, it's all about social media, or in particular, Facebook. 
David Fincher's The Social Network, released three weeks ago, is a minor masterwork about a social outcast who invents his own form of communication and socialization to the point where he, quite ironically, cuts himself off from the only true friendship he ever had. 
In Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost's Catfish, a supposed documentary examining the hazardous pitfalls of online identity, the cautionary mood of a culture devolving towards keypad communication and startling cyberspace reinvention continues further into the realm of psychological splintering and vicarious fantasy. 
To the film's credit (and ultimate disbelief), it's an oddly spooky backwoods mystery that molds and reveals itself to be a story of a tragic love unfulfilled and unfounded and a deeply complex study of preservation through virtual escape.
In fact, the film's final fifteen minutes are so staggeringly (and surprisingly) affecting that questions of its authenticity are completely viable, given the poetic punctuations and the goldmine of cinematic exploitation that Angela, the mysterious online contact, provides.
The filmmakers may refute any accusations of falsehood they want, but the validity of the work is ultimately irrelevant as - either truth or fiction - this is a scary, timely tale of 21st century miscommunication that, like its title implies, is meant to preserve our instincts and sensory antennae. [B+]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

50 States, 50 Movies

This feature, which labels the most iconic film from each state is a pretty brilliant idea, but the execution is too modernly skewed. 
There are the slam dunks, Gone With the Wind - Georgia, The Wizard of Oz - Kansas, Rocky - Pennsylvania, etc, but picking There Will Be Blood for Texas doesn't work for me since anyone who loves that film as much as I do knows that it's set in California, yet shot in Marfa, Texas (the same location as No Country for Old Men, which actually - you know - takes place there.)
The Town for Massachusetts? No thanks. Mulholland Drive for California makes sense and it's a great film, but I think Zodiac, with that stunning digital cinematography, bears the fabric of the state more convincingly. And there's no question that I'd take Stakeout over Sleepless in Seattle, but that's just me. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A One-Legged Dog

Every aspect of Paramount's marketing campaign for David O. Russell's The Fighter (12.10) appears too glossy and inspirational in a friendly, affable kind of way. The trailer looks just okay and this one-sheet is its equal. 

The Fighter, on paper, sounded like a gritty handheld The Wrestler with the usual self-destruction and slumming and family issues, but to this point, aside from a probable standout performance from Christian Bale, this looks more like a soft-serve Ron Howard thing. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dead and Gone

It's pretty sad, although not altogether shocking, that Anton Corbijn's The American is just going to wither and die this fall like that poor, hapless donkey from Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar - if it hasn't gone to pasture and laid down already.

I really liked it when I saw it back at the beginning of last month, but the film (unsurprisingly) didn't catch on at the box-office (turning a profit at $35 million domestically, but hardly anything to brag about) and divided critics sharply as something either glacially drab or fashionably European.

It's no secret that the film feels like it came from a different time and place, like something from that Bernardo Bertolluci or Jean-Pierre Melville mold where men are quiet, lonely, honorable fools who go about their business, wear a nice suit and then wallow in their own shallow existence and inevitable fate. 

The American is certainly one of the best 2 or 3 films of the fall and George Clooney's performance is wonderfully introverted and slick a la Alain Delon, yet its fate is sealed already as a come and gone, thanks for playing blip on the radar - an early casualty.

Review: The Art of the Steal (2010)

Don Argott's The Art of the Steal is a solid, instantly engrossing doc about the century-spanning legal battle over the most valuable and exclusive private art collection in the world, The Barns Collection in Merion, Pennsylvania. 

The film lays the groundwork very early on that Albert C. Barnes was contemptuous of the commercial art world and sought to keep his private collection (valued today at $25 billion) exclusive to students and artists and out of the hands of the city councils and profiteering trusts, including (and centered around) the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

It's a long-winded, facts-driven story of slow, greedy political deception that takes almost a hundred years to finally set into motion and the film captures that gradual, underhanded disloyalty, if not expertly, than skillfully at the very least.

Its objectivity can certainly be called into question as the filmmakers and the interviewees soon begin to feel smugly superior in their narrow quest for exclusivity and anti-commercialism. Nevertheless, its depiction of political and legal deceit is startlingly potent and its portrait of public injustice difficult to dismiss. [B]

Be Our Guest

Friday, October 8, 2010

Glitzy Gunk

I saw Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps almost ten days ago and the fact that I haven't written anything about it is clear enough evidence that it didn't do anything for me whatsoever.

It's a humdrum financial tale about a young guy (Shia LaBeouf) who gets his feathers ruffled during the big financial meltdown and his face-to-face with the villainous Josh Brolin all the while attempting to reconnect his fiancee (Carey Mulligan) with her high-stakes shark of a father, the iconic Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).

But alas, this is a blunt, lifeless drudge - a messy resuscitation and a logical yet unprogressive sequel to the 1987 original, which is far more snappy and smooth and easier to invest in (no pun intended).

The main problem I have with it is what is done with Douglas' Gordon Gekko, here pushed to the margins and then given a "will he or won't he" moment at the end where he must choose between his sharky, game-playing persona and his softer side, his daughter and yaddity, yaddity, who cares?

Like Stone's W, which is ultimately a better film for Brolin's performance and its refusal to resort to easy political skewering, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps feels lackadaisical and slummy, its would-be timeliness lacking teeth and purpose. [C]

Review: The Social Network (2010)

There isn't much more to be said about David Fincher's The Social Network, but I've now seen it twice and both times I've come away endlessly entertained, intellectually massaged and a little touched at its subtle outbursts of human sympathy and its scope of a species trending towards social inadequacy. 

It's a talky, snappy, back-stabbing tale about the genesis and growth of Facebook at Harvard around late '03 and '04, a delicate, never demonstrative encapsulation of the internet generation, and finally a tragicomic character study about a man so socially awkward, he invents his own form of communication, only to wilt and crawl into his own wealth and creation. 

It's not quite as grand or opulent as David Fincher's Zodiac, but The Social Network is certainly cut from the same cloth, like a lunch-sized portion of the real deal - the same stuff, smaller portions, just filling enough.

The way the film bounces back-and-forth (Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall's editing is remarkable) between the here and now, from deposition room to dorm room, from black comedy to obsessive tragedy, the film bears Fincher's fingerprints from start to finish and would make for one hell of a double-feature coming on the tail end of that epic, sprawling serial-killer saga. 

Justin Timberlake plays Napster founder Sean Parker, a showy master spokesman and entrepreneur who becomes linked together with the expansion of Facebook shortly after a blurry meeting with the co-founders in sunny California. His performance is getting buzz, but honestly, it's an empty role - flashy but thin, airy - and he's upstaged by his boys from Harvard.

As Eduardo Saverin, Andrew Garfield (the future Peter Parker) is the heart and soul of the film, a good-hearted friend whose betrayal at the hands of his best friend anchors the emotional impact of the film's final ten minutes and his confrontation scene is a stunner. 

But it's Jesse Eisenberg as the mysteriously chilly Mark Zuckerberg who gives the master performance and certainly his best to date as the young whiz driven by his social downturns to both make it big and enhance or conceal his deficiencies. 

He's not an easy character to like - he's witty yet ruthless and greedy, but Eisenberg brings so many layers to him that there's a palpable feeling of guilt and aloofness in the final scenes, allowing us to peak past the asshole facade that so troubles him.  

The Social Network may not be the "defining film of our generation" or deserving of any other lofty, ambitious taglines as such, but as a modern-age depiction of greedy, generation-next human nature, it's ravishing, splashy and the scariest kind of true story. [A-]

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Trailer: True Grit

As expected, Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit (Paramount, 12.25) looks like the real deal and another feather in the cap for the Coens who are enjoying quite the resurgence these days.

If this were an other writer-director team, I'd be worried about young Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross or the fact that Henry Hathaway's 1969 original is nothing more than a fun little father-daughter road trip movie with a fine performance from John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn.

But, this being who it is (with quite the assembly of talented actors), I'm at ease and wholly confident that it'll top the original in every way. The Coens are too good at creating and submerging themselves in their environments through language, landscapes and stereotypes all with a sturdy, deadpan sense of humor, startling violence and the usual fatalistic undercurrents.

Plus it looks like Roger Deakins is up to his usual tricks again, as in The Assassination of Jesse James great.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Short Review: Never Let Me Go (2010)

Having already been labeled an early season casualty - a surplus of cold, disenchanted reactions and a mild box-office turnout in is wake - I was surprised to find that Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go isn't an entirely suffocating British weeper, it's science-fiction baseline given a caring, methodically dour sensibility that slowly envelopes the viewer - if a bit unconvincingly. 

Adam Kimmel's pastel-colored lensing and the performances of Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield chiefly stand out as highlights - the realist, quiet submission of the former and the manic, moody hopefulness of the latter carrying whatever emotional impact the film has, which is admittedly rather mute for a good portion. 

It's essentially an elegiac poem of longing, forbidden love, inevitability and slow, protracted suffering - it doesn't ever really turn a corner and offer any retribution or salvation or discovery, and as such, is something that just sort of floats away - from screen and from memory. [B-]

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review: Devil (2010)

The five-people-in-an-elevator thriller Devil is taut, mildly effective and undeniably silly, but it's also the best thing that M. Night Shyamalan has had his name attached to since 2002's Signs and one of the more entertaining low-budget horror exercises you'll see this year.

It takes a very Saw-like approach - a scruffy, plain-speaking detective (Chris Messina) with a tortured past is investigated a possible suicide before being dragged into a never-ending elevator jam in which the stranded passengers begin turning on each other as strange events start piling up. 

It's mostly a bunch of heaven and hell hokum - dying for your sins, asking for forgiveness, etc, etc. - and it all leads to a rather foolish twist involving the past of two key players and a creaky, oddly optimistic conclusion.

There's a deep, brassy Fernando Velázquez score, a tricky upside-down opening credits sequence and an array of potentially hazardous twists and turns, but mostly Devil keeps its footing while ours remains firmly on edge. [B-]

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: Let Me In (2010)

Matt Reeves' Let Me In, judged solely on its own terms, is a delicate and atmospherically spooky boy-meets-girl vampire yarn, a cathartic school-bully revenge tale and a sweet, rewarding pre-pubescent love story. It's clearly made with the right frame of mind and certainly accomplishes the same icy, desolate chilliness of Tomas Alfredson's original.

The problem is that anything the film accomplishes - mainly that stirring juxtaposition of violence and tenderness, coldness and warmness - is almost entirely indebted to its Swedish inspiration. Aside from a cute plot-loop framework, it's a befuddling cut, paste and repeat process down to the final shot (even the locations are strikingly familiar). 

Yet the cast, with the likes of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas and the great Chloe Moretz, bring an added sincerity to the core relationships which run through this horrific yet amiable story that even Alfredson's original couldn't match. 

It's just a shame that Reeves fails miserably to make the film his own - in fact, the only strong deviation is an example of divulging too much information - and he manages to adapt his source material without shaping, forming and applying his own ideas whatsoever. As it stands, this is one great film that's awfully imitative - get your own swimming pool. [B-]