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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Me and You and Everyone you know



One of the many amazing things about Miranda July's debut film is that there doesn't seem to be a tribute of vision.

The movie is uniquely her own.

One of the sad facts about modern American films is that while watching them, there always seems to be references, or tributes, or even straight rip offs of other movies. It's probably because of the success of filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh, and Kevin Smith.

The case is particularly true of Independent Film. Rather than trusting their own voices, filmmakers seem to be aiming to be the next Quentin Tarantino.

One finds out pretty quick while watching Me and You and Everyone you know that Miranda July doesn't give a shit what people think. She's telling a story, and telling it her way.

The movie is a quirky, stylish, and honest romance.

Notice that I didn't call it a Romantic comedy.

Sure the movie is funny, and does have the romantic comedy structure. But the movie doesn't seem too concerned about trying to make people laugh, or setting up jokes, or putting people in absurd situations. Under Miranda July's unique writing, and directing, the film is more interested in just observing the honesty of the characters. Almost like observing people in line at the grocery store. But what makes the experience unique, and theatrical is that the characters talk in a poetic simplicity, and sometimes..... to even their own surprise there is artistic poignancy, and weight to what they say and do.

It's not surprising that Miranda July is a performance artist. The film does have that sensibility, but it's not pretentious like most performance art. Instead it's heartwarming and likable.

At the heart of the movie is the story of Richard Swersey, played by Deadwood's John Hawkes, a divorced father of two, who's trying to put his life back together. At his job he runs into Christine Jesperson, a strugling, lonely, performance artist. Around these two people are other characters who share Christine and Richard's need to somehow connect in a world that's sterile, and seemingly heartless.

The movie is an enjoyable triumph. There are tons of scenes that I could describe, but I don't want to ruin it.

In lesser hands the movie could easily fall apart but Miranda July succeeds winningly, and is definitely a voice to look out for in the future. It's especially fortunate considering the lack of unique, interesting female writers, and directors in the business.

Don't let this movie slip by.




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Friday, December 23, 2005

Grizzly Man


Sometimes you eat the bear, other times......
Grizzly man is Werner Herzog's fascinating documentary on the life of Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell is the man who lived amongst Grizzly Bears for 13 summers. He was an amatuer wildlife and bear preservationist, who along with his girlfriend, was unfortunately killed by the bears he was staying with in Alaska's Katmai National Park.
Most of the movie is footage shot by Treadwell himself as he observed, and mingled with the bears in their natural habitat. The documentary is interesting because it shows two sides of Treadwell's passion.
One side is the man's affection and obvious love for the bears. He claimed to be protecting the bears, and also using his experiences and footage to educate people on the lives of the Grizzly Bear.
The other side is the darker, more disturbing idea of his vanity, which showed Treadwell's fight against his inner demons, which seemed to push him closer and closer to danger amoungst the wild bears.
Herzog does a wonderful job staying objective with his character study of the man. He presents both sides of Treadwell. and the various arguments pro and con for his work.
If the viewer wants to condemn the man, all they have to do is point to Treadwell's seemingly, uneducated, reckless encounters with the bears, not to mention his emotional rants against the government, park services, and even other preservationists.
If the viewer wants to praise the man. One can point to his educational sessions with children, his honest devotion, and affection for the bears, and the fond memories of his friends.
Personally, I was struck by the devotion, and passion he showed for the bears, but seeing his footage and hearing from the man himself, I found myself questioning his motives for his so called studies.
First of all, I didn't see anything groundbreaking or even productive about his studies. To me it seemed like most of his energy went into seeing how close he could get to the bears. Almost like a daredevil who is constantly pushing himself to jump farther and higher, in search of finding his limits. And no matter what his supporters say, the man did enjoy the attention he gained from his experiences, so much so, that often times his work resembled a vain cry for attention.
In all honesty, the man was not Jane Goodall, he was not scientifically researching, and observing the bears.
I also don't see the advantage of desensitizing bears to human contact. Nothing good can from that. There is nothing scientifically productive to having bears mingle with humans. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that the bears were not in any unusual amount of danger of poaching or human explotation, as Treadwell claims. If anything the bears themselves would be the culprits of killing their own species, albeit due to starvation caused by humanity's neglect of nature. (Which is a different argument altogether.) Than there is the unforgiveable death of his girlfriend, who was terrified by the bears, and had even threatened to break up with Treadwell because of his dark side.
But ultimately, that's all just opinion.
The movie does a fantastic job of leaving it up to one's own beliefs. Make sure to check this film out if you have the chance. It comes out on DVD on December 27th.
It's a fascinating look into an unusual man's life, told by a master storyteller.



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Saturday, December 17, 2005

KING KONG



There's a lot to like in Peter Jackson's King Kong, but unfortunately there's also a lot to dislike.

It pains me to criticize the movie because a part of me feels that maybe I was in the wrong state of mind while watching it.

I wasn't ready for a summer popcorn movie.

This is awards season, and when you watch a movie in December, one is expecting movies of importance. King Kong is not important, after all it's a giant ape movie. But there is historical significance to the original classic, and this movie is directed by Peter Jackson, so maybe I'm right in expecting greatness.

First off the good. The character of Kong is amazing. I must've heard about 10 times DURING the movie people saying "Wow, he looks so real." Everything from the facial expressions, to the way that he moved was impressive. It's a technical achievement that must be seen, and is a triumph on all accounts. There is also lots of creatures and bugs on skull Island that is fun and interesting. Peter Jackson does a great job of creating a new world on the island. The production design of period New York City is also impressive. Jackson does a great job of transporting us back to that period of time.

That's about it...... as far as the good stuff.

Let me just point out that Jackson was being very faithful to the original. Lots of the shots, images and plot lines reference back to the original film. But shouldn't a man of Jackson's ability take that source material, and expand on it? Make the movie more relevant and even, god forbid, more realistic? If not, why even make a remake?

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe that's not the point.

Again, a part of me feels like a scrooge picking on the movie, but there is just too much stuff that I couldn't get past. My brain just wouldn't allow me to relax, and just enjoy the movie.

The first act of the movie is just painful, and awkward to watch. First off, we find out pretty quick that Jack Black's Carl Denham is an unsavory human being. There is nothing redeemable or fun about the character. We also have movie crew members that are not interesting or memorable in any way. Then we have the crew of the ship Venture. For some STRANGE reason, Jackson spends an unusual amount of time introducing us to these characters. Especially the characters of Hayes and Jimmy. I don't know why we are introduced into their world. They have no relevance at all to the themes of the movie. It's a father and son type relationship that goes absolutely nowhere. It's an abysmal mess, and a gigantic waste of time. Then there's Naomi Watts character Ann Darrow, and her love interest, playwright Jack Driscoll, played byAdrian Brody. They are both likeable, but the script hardly gives them a chance to get to know each other, it's too busy dealing with the father-son relationship, or Carl Denhem begging everybody to trust him. Which makes it very awkward later on when Jack Driscoll risks life, limb, everything to save her.

At about an hour into the movie one starts wondering where the hell Kong is? I realize in the original that they put off showing kong for awhile because the special effects of the time were so time consuming, and they needed to pad the running time of the movie. But this isn't Jaws where we get a glimpse of the beast, we don't get teased by his actions to perk our interest. What we get is bad, long, unneccessary exposition by characters we don't give a shit about.

I mean the movie is called King Kong, and the first HOUR and 15 minutes of the movie doesn't even reference the character.

Instead we get a boring ass ship, and an unlikeable director with his forgettable movie crew.

When we finally GET to the island the movie becomes a saturday morning serial, although with amazing special effects. Which is a good, and bad thing. We have strange natives who attack for no reason,(in a awkward slow motion), there are giant bugs, dinosaurs, giant vampire bats, and of course..... eventually....finally.....King Kong.

Again, I'm trying to restrain myself. This is after all a giant Ape movie. I should have let my inner child come out, and just soak everything in. But the fact is, I expected more from the movie, and it let me down.

Let me also say the movie does have some fantastic action sequences like the fight between Kong, and the 3 T-Rex. There is also nice quiet moments between Kong and Ann Darrow on the island. The way they look at the sunset together is touching.

But thinking back, there were too many moments of extreme absurdity that my brain just couldn't get past. Like when a skull Island native pole vaults his way onto the ship to kidnap Ann Darrow. The way Carl Denham gets over the death of his movie crew members like they were drummers in Spinal Tap. The way that Ann Darrow is first handled by Kong, violently ripping her free from the constraints. Then how she is able to survive being tossed around by him as they run through the jungle is BEYOND belief. How Ann Darrow remarkably tames the beast by doing a silly VAUDEVILLE act.

I'm serious....vaudeville.

Then there is the part where characters survive a long drop, or when a character uses a tommy gun, yes a TOMMY GUN to get bugs off of Adrian Brody WITHOUT shooting HIM, or when characters unbelievably survive a stampede by dinosaurs, or when Jack Driscoll and Ann Darrow grab onto a flying giant vampire bat to escape kong, or when two characters stand ON TOP of the Empire State Building without a hint of wind to blow them off the tiny platform they are standing on. Come to mention it how DO they transport a 25 foot tall Kong to New York from far away Skull Island? How do they keep him restrained without killing him? How do they get him into a theatre without anybody seeing him? Where do they keep him when he's not rehearsing the show?

God, I'm sorry..... I AM a scrooge. Let me just say that I did enjoy the scene where Ann Darrow finds Kong in New York ,and then when they are on the ice together in central park, and he's sliding around with her in his hand. It's touching and almost magical to see the affection they have with each other. Which leads to another problem I had with the movie. The original King Kong had an effective theme of unrequited love, The Beauty and the Beast.

I'm not sure that this movie had the same theme, in fact I'm sure of it.

Ann Darrow had affection for Kong in this movie, so the theme would have to be what?
A tragic love story of two souls that could never be together?...like Romeo and Juliet.....I guess....between a Giant Gorilla........ and an actress.

Again, I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for this movie.

I'm sorry.



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