Saturday, May 31, 2014

Love in the Movies




When you watch a film like Sleepless in Seattle, you know Ryan and Hanks will find and love each other. Just as easily, in six months they could go through the world's ugliest divorce. There's nothing in the film that really conveys they have intimate feelings for each other. Other Hollywood films might get the main characters into bed but they end up in the same place, two actors pretending to be in love because that's what they are being paid to do.

Then along comes Only Lovers Left Alive, a new film by Jim Jarmusch. To get this out of the way, I love his films, and the way they ask me to think and experience what I see on the screen. What Lovers also conveys through its two main characters is what an intimate relationship between two loving, sexual adults looks like. Watching the film I believed these two characters love each other.

I don't often see this in films, partly I suspect because there aren't many actresses of the caliber of Tilda Swinton. The last time I recall seeing kind of intimacy was in the Jason Bourne films with Matt Damon and Franka Potente. As the two characters became close and fell in love, I could see why he would go through hell to avenge her death.

It does take time to create this kind of relationship, and good acting, and Jarmusch takes the time with two wonderful actors.

As a story, Only Lovers Left Alive is about managing the mundane in an immortal life.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Friday, May 30, 2014

When a Movie Makes Odd Choices



Notes on Godzilla

Godzilla opens with something huge escaping from an underground cavern in the Philippines, then a nuclear reactor disaster in Japan that takes the life of an American working at the plant, the wife of an engineer played by Bryan Cranston.

Jump ahead 15 years. He's become crazed trying to prove something caused the disaster, that it wasn't a problem with the reactors failing. His now adult son, in the military, doesn't believe him but is willing to join him in a trip into the closed off disaster zone, where they find zero radioactivity. They are quickly captured by the people guarding the secret of what happened, and soon Cranston is dead and a monster that eats radioactive material is unleashed.

So, we've lost what seemed to be the main character, and the monster unleashed is NOT Godzilla, and the son isn't clearly defined as a character. He helps a child find its parents, he's involved in the military mission to try and kill the now TWO monsters that are not Godzilla, and kill Godzilla, too. But he doesn't feel connected to any deeper purpose (other than reconciling briefly with his father); he's just a guy doing his job.

Along the way, many minor characters are given the kind of screen time that would have an impact if the story were more clearly defined. They are simply people responding to a crisis. I never thought I'd see a film where Juliette Binoche made zero impression.

I didn't understand why Bryan Cranston wasn't the main character who is seeking to avenge his wife's death and the humiliation of his warning about what was coming being ignored. I also didn't understand why Godzilla was reduced to the role of a minor character.

In a sense, the movie is trying to be realistic, but it's not realistic that a creature like Godzilla could exist without being noticed or registering on some kind of scientific instruments. In the recent film Battleship it was preposterous that a bunch of old sailors could quickly get an aged Battleship back to sea in fighting condition. But the movie wasn't trying to be realistic, so I just enjoyed the second run, low cost matinee show. They did it with a wink, and I was happy to slyly wink back and think 'bravo!' when the old coots saved the day.

Not so with Godzilla. Visually, the soldiers sky diving into San Francisco was cool. That was about it for me being thrilled watching the film. Monsters destroying stuff is just CGI to me now.

Odd choices all around.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Acting as a Lens into Character



I recently saw the French film Bicycling With Moliere. It's about a successful actor on a popular drama; he's recognized and pretty much adored wherever he goes. He's decided to prove his chops as an actor by performing Moliere's The Misanthrope with an actor leading a reclusive life on an island. That actor agrees to consider doing the play, but only if they switch doing the lead role during the performance, and if the successful actor will rehearse the play with him for a week.

What I found intriguing in the movie is how, as the actors switch roles in the play, the choices they make for delivering lines speaks to something deeper that animates each man. By the time the popular actor appears in the play and loses his way, it's clear from his rehearsals that he lost his way years before. The busyness of his successful life allowed him to maintain a cheerful, in control facade.

The realization for the reclusive actor is that he can't go back to living among the feral wolves, which is how he sees the people who revolve around the successful actor.

The acting in the movie is subtle and playful, but the story does take each actor to a deeper place.

Actors like Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson became successful, in part, because they choose roles (Lethal Weapon, Die Hard) that took their characters to a place where a facade was replaced by a deeper state of human feeling. When you come across a hugely successful film or story, you'll generally find that transformation of character. It's a journey audiences love to experience.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Discovering a New Artist



I went to see the documentary Finding Vivian Maier just because I like documentaries and I wanted to check out a remodel of the theater, Cinema 21 in Portland. I'm not a photographer, so I had no pre-conceived ideas about Vivian Maier. The documentary was created after someone in Chicago bought some negatives shot by Vivian, and when he developed some and posted them to the internet, discovered she was an amazing photographer who would shoot images of people on the streets of Chicago.

The photographs in the documentary are so amazing I would find myself gasping out some one or two word response aloud, something I have never done in a movie theater. Her ability to capture a truth(s) about the people she came across amazed me.

As the documentary continued, it came out that she was a hoarder. Both my parents were hoarders, so the film resonated with me on another level. (My mother had 4x8 foot sheets of plywood in her living room to better be able to stack bags of newspapers and magazines to save articles she thought could be read latter. When she passed away, I found an old, greasy mess of the hood of a stove buried in the middle of the pile).

Then it came out that Vivian, who worked her entire life as a nanny, abused at least one of her charges, a young girl, choking her to make her swallow food. In my day, as long as parents didn't put a kid in the hospital, discipline was anything a parent thought appropriate. My mother would whip me with a razor strap (a thick piece of leather). My neighborhood pals mostly came from better off families, so when they had something coming, they usually got it from a leather belt. I always thought of that as a kind of status symbol.

So the documentary hit me on a number of different levels, and I would put it in the top ten of all the films I've seen in my life in terms of the impact it had on me.

Anyone with an interest with photography should see this documentary, the images are that amazing.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.