Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Finland etc

I'll be in Finland/Estonia for the next few weeks in case anyone is wondering why the recent frenzy of posts stopped. I'll be sitting next to the water, eating cloudberry concoctions, taking lots of photographs and probably watching a film here and there. Or maybe rioting in Estonia as they've been taking it to the streets recently.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Avenue Montaigne

Ah, Paris. If you want romance, passion and a dose of falling in love, nothing beats a film set in the city of lights to have the heart throbbing and enflamed. Avenue Monaigne is the sort of French film that leans so heavily on its setting that there should be a character in the film's credits that reads: Paris--as themself. I could come up with a list of these kinds of French films that could be a genre of itself known as "Paris" but I don't have time for that today.

If you love French cinema, as indeed I do, watching one of these "Paris" films is not necessarily a bad thing. Paris is beautiful obviously so why not exploit its charms? At times Avenue Montaigne goes too far in this direction--the Eiffel Tower shows up at least a half a dozen times (look at the poster for the movie that I've located!) while couples linger in each other's arms or are on the cusp of brushing lips while the famous structure watches on. Avenue Montaigne wears its love of Paris on its sleeve and has all the elements that make up the myth of the city so attractive to people around the world.

Avenue Montaigne is a multicharactered story with people based around a particular street who become entangled in each other's lives. Some people are alone, some are lonely, some are ending relationships, some are beginning relationships, some are starting jobs, some are ending jobs, some are going through mid-life crisis, some are young, some are old, some are male and some are female. As they meet one another they get together and talk about all the old Parisian topics: love, art, culture and life.

I've always meant to go to Paris but haven't gone. In my old school (see post of May 12) romantic yearnings I really only wanted to embrace the full-on cliche of the place and go with my wife or the soon-to-be Mrs. Replicant. That plan hasn't come to fruition so now I'm thinking about just going over there and seeing the damn city by myself! Forget about all the cliche romance and just go. Cliches are boring anyway.

Avenue Montaigne isn't a great movie but it's great at giving you that romantic, enticing "Paris" as movie character that the local touris guilds surely appreciate. It's effective advertising for the city as I've thought little about the movie but a lot about getting on a jet and flying to Paris, with or without a wife at my side.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Air Guitar Nation

I confess: I am a closet air guitarist, although I prefer my air guitar playing in the car as I drive. I have been known to lay down some serious air riffs on the steering wheel of my car as I barrel down a highway or am stopped at a city traffic light (the latter is somewhat embarrassing if I’m in the midst of serious “playing”!). There’s something incredibly freeing and participatory in playing air as a song booms from the hi-fi, the world passing by the car window meaningless and insignificant. If this sounds familiar, the hilarious documentary Air Guitar Nation is for you.

When I reviewed The Wind That Shakes the Barley a few weeks ago I put out the bold claim I doubt I see a film I like more the rest of the year. Can I say the same thing about Air Guitar Nation regarding documentaries? I would like to see a documentary I liked more but it’s going to have to be really good as Air Guitar Nation might be one of the funnier, more appealing music documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. That’s really saying something as there have been a storm of quality rock docs the past few years.

Air Guitar Nation is set in 2003 as a group of New Yorkers organize a U.S. Air Guitar Championship competition with the winner going to Finland to represent the USA versus the best air guitarists in the world. This may seem silly and a big time waster but these people, who take on alter egos like Bjorn Turoque, Krye Tuff, Nikki Tits, Roxxy McShaggy and Snatchface, are deadly serious. The competitors talk about the importance of the act and the liberating qualities of getting on stage and just letting go. There is humor but also an appreciation for the variety of styles and techniques (even nude air guitar action!) as an emerging art form.

While crowning the US Champion, a rivalry between Bjorn Turoque and C-Diddy is established. The pair are vastly different in style. Bjorn prefers the style of an energetic pogo with great hand/finger work. C-Diddy taps into his “Asian-rage” while wearing a robe, some kind of Hello Kitty belt strapped across his chest and just shreds the fire out of maniacal solos. C-Diddy is an air guitar animal who leaves the crowds stunned at his prowess much to the surprised, but happy, bafflement of his slightly embarrassed Asian parents.

Who will win the U.S. Championship and represent the country at the World Championships? How will the first ever American do in the competition when faced with some hardcore Fins and other Europeans who take air guitar playing deadly serious (and who belief the act of “airness” will lead to world peace)? Air Guitar Nation will answer these questions while providing much hilarity, a great soundtrack of rock and roll classics that I know you’ve played along with at least once in your life.

Had you seen me leaving the Circle parking lot after the film—you’d have seen me doing unreal air solos while playing along to Boston’s first album—one of the classic records for attaining “airness”. I wasn’t in front of 4,000 screaming Europeans or a crowd of anyone but my intentions were pure. I like to think by playing along with Tom Scholz, I was doing my part to bringing just a little more peace to the world. All thanks to air guitar playing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Twin Peaks Viewing Society of Tulsa

Tonight was the first meeting of a new group in Tulsa: the Twin Peaks Viewing Society! As of tonight we've got 32 members who came to watch the pilot episode. The plan for the society is to watch the entire series--from pilot to season one to season two to Fire Walk With Me.

We had various kinds of pies of course. We had homemade caramel and apple. I'm bringing doughnuts next week. Lots of doughnuts. The next meeting of the TPVS is May 23 if you can make it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

3 perfect actors

I’ve been thinking of actors who I love to watch on screen and whittled a list down to three perfect actors. What I mean by perfect is that they take roles and are dead on 100% of their roles (even if the movie is mediocre, they are still good). Or, they make so few movies that every time they are in one, it’s an event. I have to see these people’s films and I’m eagerly waiting the moment they step into the camera frame. There were a lot of people who came close, and I thought about men and women (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Maggie Gyllenhaal were the closest women but JJL has been too erratic recently and MG hasn’t made enough movies) who might fit into the category, but came up with three people: Daniel Day-Lewis, Don Cheadle and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

First of all, these three actors are blessed with unbelievable screen chemistry. Some people have that but most do not. What makes these three great is they are not only electric on screen but can act their arses off in anything they do, regardless of what they choose, although it’s mostly drama. Cheadle and Hoffman have done fine comedic work, unlike Day-Lewis.

I revere Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s the finest film actor since Robert De Niro had his glorious run in the 1970s and early 1980s. His commitment to a role is legendary, and I must admit his zealous approach to each character is something I admire and respect. Some of DDL’s more notorious preparation includes living in the woods for months and eating animals shot with a musket (The Last of the Mohicans); building a house and working with period tools from the 17th century (The Crucible) and hiring hoodlums to scream abuse and douse him water for 48 hours to help recreate prison torture scenes (In the Name of the Father). The fact that he’s made only 8 movies in 18 years makes his films important events to my movie watching plans. In 2008, he’s in the lead role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest There Will Be Blood, and I’m frothing at the mouth waiting to see it. Who knows what he did to prepare for it and when he’ll make another movie?

Don Cheadle is someone who takes on more roles in 2 years than Day-Lewis will attempt in a decade. I can’t think of a single one of his performances that aren’t worth watching. Cheadle radiates a lot of qualities to the audience—warmth, charm, menace, complexity and humor. He can truly morph into any sort of individual he wants to. I tend to gravitate to character actors and I admire the fact that Cheadle does not have to be the lead actor to sculpt a memorable character. In film after film he’s played important character roles and usually it’s his character you wish you’d see more of. Of course, he can also play the lead, as he’s done in Hotel Rwanda and hopefully more films in the future. Every time I see the trailer for Talk to Me with Cheadle as an ex-con DJ in the 1970s I can hardly wait to see it. I’d like to see him do more comedy and a romantic lead would be interesting to see but I’m going to complain since I’ve put him into the top 3 of favorite actors.

Philip Seymour Hoffman can do anything he wants. Drama, comedy, theatre, film. Whatever it is, he excels in the role. What always strikes me about PSH is that he has unreal timing and is always aware of the physicality of a particular character. Watch how he moves or uses his body in space while on screen and it is almost as impressive as the other things he does for a character. I also think he’s a gifted physical comedian when he’s gotten the chance to show that side. Like Day-Lewis and Cheadle, I’ll watch Hoffman mop a floor for 2 hours and be enthralled with the way he works. The next year is going to be a big, big year for Hoffman as he’s in four high profile films directed by or starring Sidney Lumet, Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Charlie Kaufman. It’s going to be a good year for us PSH fans.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Funny Ha Ha

I was skeptical that I’d like Funny Ha Ha (2002) when it started. Right out of the gate it’s got Slacker knock off written all over it as we see 20 somethings meandering around, getting into half drunken, inarticulate conversations about boys and other late night meaningless conversations, all filmed with a super low budget aesthetic. But, surprisingly, I was quickly drawn into this film and by the end found it very charming.

Writer/director/actor Andrew Bujalski’s debut film really doesn’t have a story. It just follows the 23-year-old Marny (Kate Dollenmayer) as she drifts from temp job to temp job, has a variety of confusing encounters with boys and tries to improve her life. That’s it. Funny Ha Ha is Marny sitting around talking with friends at parties, her apartment or the temp jobs so don’t expect more action than that.

That was enough story for me. Bujalski’s characters are exasperating, awkward, confused about their future and put out by life—sort of how you are supposed to be at 23. At least that’s how I was at 23. I had no clue just what in the world was going to happen to me in the future and that is both exciting and frustrating as you are living it. Funny Ha Ha drowns itself in that early 20s malaise that effects some of us.

Another reason I was charmed by Funny Ha Ha, is the great, natural performance of Dollenmayer as Marny. I’m not sure if Dollenmayer was acting or just sort of playing herself but she’s great in this. If she wasn’t so believable (and cute) as the confused Marny, the film wouldn’t have been as enjoyable to me.

I have a feeling Funny Ha Ha is either one you really like or can’t stand. It’s just not a sit on the fence kind of movie. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I even enjoyed the painful, awkward moments, because that’s what I felt like when I was in my early 20s.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

More posts planned

I am hoping to post more on CineRobot. I've finally won a long running battle to finish my Master's degree and that has created a pocket of time I need to fill. I want to think and write about movies more so the outlet will be here. Come back often!

The Train

The phrase “old school” is used a lot nowadays. Too much if you ask me. It can be used about anything and everything including John Frankenheimer’s 1964 action thriller The Train. You see, it is old school and when you say old school action thriller what you are truly implying is the film has a level of reality in its action scenes.

I hate CGI. I think it—along with other kinds of digital technology—is doing great damage to the art of moviemaking. CGI particularly is used, abused and overused. I admit, CGI does sometimes allow a filmmaker to go to fantastical places but in the long run I think it is harmful to the “art of filmmaking” simply because of the over saturation of CGI in films is minimizing all the tricks and the special knowledge that was used to make audiences believe what they were seeing on the screen was real. Now, when I see some crazy stunt or outlandish scene I just think to myself—CGI. It’s almost distracting to me when I see it on screen. That’s not the case when I see something from a bygone era like The Train.

The problem is CGI is so easy! Anyone with some software programs, an ability to write code and a little bit of cash for the hiring of said people can come up with appropriate and usable CGI. I don’t care if you are shooting a vampire movie, a sci-fi epic, a horror film or even a romantic comedy—they all use CGI. It’s ridiculous. Every genre buries itself in waves of CGI when all the old methods and strategies are so much more fulfilling to the movie watching experience.

What does The Train have to do with this little rant of mine? Easy. The Train has REAL stuntmen, it has real trains crashing into each other, it has real explosions and it has real WW2 era plains flying overhead firing bullets and dropping bombs. When The Train is remade (and it probably will be remade as that’s all Hollywood does now—this is a separate rant that’s been made before on here and will be made again, ha!) all of this will be replaced with computers, green screens and other levels of fakeness. That’s the problem with movies now—they just feel phony to me.

The Train has Burt Lancaster—who does the vast majority of his own stunts and is terrific—as he leads a small band of French resistance fighters trying to stop a train filled with stolen art from being taken to Germany by no good Nazis at the tail end of WW2. Simple premise that Frankenheimer crafts to wring out every bit of tension using REAL filmmaking—not cheapened CGI trickery.

The Train is wonderful. It’s filmed in stark black and white. It’s lean, mean and filled with suspense from start to finish. And yes, I love it for the fact that I’m watching stuntmen, explosions and a film that is using strategies honed and perfected by craftsmen through decades of training and practice—not just the utilization of pro tools special effects software some techie is doing a thousand miles away from the set. Call me an old fashioned luddite, I don’t care, The Train is a refreshing throwback and highly entertaining.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

I have to confess: seeing a film such as Ken Loach’s unbelievably gripping The Wind That Shakes the Barley is like a dream come true for me. In my late teens I became interested in the Irish nationalist movement in the early 20th century and throughout the following decades. I even subscribed to a Sinn Fein weekly paper for about ten years. The Wind That Shakes the Barley transported me to this time in such vividness that the extremely high hopes I had going into the movie was actually met. Trust me, that doesn’t happen a lot for me when I finally get to see a film I’ve waited a long time to see.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is set in the 1920s as villagers band together to fight the English occupying their country. The English, occupiers of Irish soil for centuries, attempting to rid the country of Gaelic language, culture and identity, do not come off good in this movie. To the Irish people we meet in this, the English were simply people who abused them. Loach makes no attempt to give them depth and that’s okay—this isn’t a story about them, it’s a story about the beginnings of the Irish Republican Army and the men who fought in this early struggle against a much bigger foe, their bravery and loss for fighting in such an undertaking.

The story follows a small group of men and women as they fight guerilla tactics against the English. Two brothers are at the core of the story. Damion is a hopeful doctor (Cillian Murphy--a great, young Irish actor) who turns his gentleness into an untapped rage and loyalty to the cause. Teddy is the older brother and is one of the military leaders of the small unit of men. The men have only each other and the land, homes and bonds they cling to. In any conflict such as this, fought on such an intimate level, you will see loyalty, betrayal, murder, beatings, torture, lots of politics and even a little romance and all of those are on display in The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

Loach has perfectly cast this film and he buries us so completely in the nuances and atmosphere of the time I was stunned at how good The Wind That Shakes the Barley was as it unfolded. Realism jumped from the screen as I felt I was sitting in stuffy rooms listening to people debate their cause or crawl around in the lush Irish grass training and learning tactics. That is the highest compliment for a film like this—to feel real, to feel honest, to feel it directly go to my heart as these people stand up to the oppressor that was the King’s Crown of England.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley won the Palm d’Or at Cannes in 2006 and I see why. It reminds me a lot of John Sayles’ 1987 film Matewan in many ways. Matewan was an unapologetic look at early socialism and unions based around the coal mine wars in West Virginia in the 1920s. The Wind That Shakes the Barley has that same kind of blunt, raw, one-sided passion (and also similar elements of the 1920s socialism) that endears me to it the same way I love Matewan.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is the clear frontrunner for the best film I will see in 2006. I don’t see how I will see anything that I like more than this wonderful little movie. It’s a rousing, intelligent, beautifully crafted movie that is highly, highly recommended.