Saturday, June 25, 2011
Director Terrence Malick has made 5 movies in 4 decades. I've seen one of them, The New World, which for a 2+ hour movie has probably 30 minutes of dialogue. The other 1.5 hours are spent watching Colin Farrell's John Smith and Q'orianka Kilcher's Pocahontas rolling around in the reeds gazing lovingly in each other's eyes.
I remember watching TNW during my one-week movie fest as I recuperated from Hernia surgery. For 5 days I literally did nothing but sit on the couch, ice my junk and watch movie after movie. At the time I remember thinking "Nothing happens in this movie" and "I can't look away" simultaneously. It was less like watching a feature film and more like wandering through a gallery of 1500's explorer art.
From that experience, I went to TTOL prepared. It's hard to critique the film because "plot" would be a term I would use lightly. What we do know is that the film concerns a family (Fathered by Brad Pitt and Mothered by Jessica Chastain) with three young boys in, I would guess, the 50's. We learn early on that one of those boys dies at the age of 19 -- although we never see him older than about 11, again guessing -- and the oldest of the three grows up to be Sean Penn.
If you were expecting Sean Penn to be the star of this film don't get your hopes up, he has about 10 minutes of screen time mostly spent looking out of windows and wandering through desert wasteland. This is Brad Pitt's show. We see Pitt's character morph from strapping young newlywed to loving father to a more harsh father commanding his home as a stern disciplinarian. His oldest son (the young version of Penn) grows to resent him as he enters adolescence and this tension makes up the better part of the movie although, again, the drama is mostly implied as the character's very rarely talk to each other, or at all for that matter.
Interspersed throughout the film are images of the creation of the universe and the evolution of life on earth. A little weird, but undeniably beautiful.
And that, in essence, is the reason to watch this movie. It is not an edge-of-your-seat thriller or a head scratching whodunit. It sure ain't a comedy. What it is, is an ethereal mosaic of stunning loosely-connected images that speak to the nature of the human soul, the phenomenon of intelligent life and the evolution of both animal and nature. It is an experience, a rewarding one, and yet one that I doubt I will ever have an interest to see again. B+
Friday, June 24, 2011
I'm no expert on Woody Allen films so I can not say, as other critics have, that Midnight in Paris is a "return to form" for the eclectic and acclaimed director. Based on the films that I have seen, however, I can't say MIP is the best but it is the most entertaining.
MIP finds Owen Wilson as the Allen's stereotypical surrogate on a vacation in Gay Parì with his Fiance Ines (Rachel McAdams, as beautiful as ever) and her parents. The film opens with him lamenting his decision years ago to pursue a sell-out career making popcorn entertainment in Hollywood rather than follow his dream of living in Paris to write novels. He is a man who idealizes old-fashioned-ness, wanting to go on midnight strolls through the city and talking about how beautiful Paris must be in the rain.
Recently, he has decided to take another stab at a novel, working on a piece about a man (a surrogate for him who -- again -- is a surrogate for Woody Allen, how's that for meta?) who works in a nostalgia shop. Owen's character is that man, not selling nostalgia but wishing he could live in nostalgia, specifically the Fitzgerald age of 1920's Paris.
He gets his wish. After becoming bored with Inez's pedantic friends (comfortably played by Michael Sheen) he wonders of by himself and after entering an old fashioned automobile finds himself in the 1920's, sharing drinks with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway. They skirt around town, colliding with no small number of famous minds and artists, including Pablo Picasso and his girlfriend Adrianna (Marion Cotillard of Inception, as beautiful as ever).
The film is charming. Allen doesn't waste any time with having his character grapple with the impossibility of his situation, rather he dives right in, enjoying old-Paris nightclubs and parties and engaging in debate on art, poetry and love with the masters themselves (a particularly enjoyable chat about Rhinoceri occurs with Salvador Dali). The central theme of the film is about appreciating the present instead of wistfully longing for an intangible past and Allen embraces it bluntly, having his characters discuss the very subject for which his film is a metaphor.
MIP is a mainstream person's art film. It doesn't wallow in the slime of the human condition, it doesn't dwell on sadness and overcoming personal demons. Instead Allen invites the viewer along on a stroll through the streets and eras of Paris through the perspective of Wilson's character and the result is a surprisingly heartwarming piece of summer cinema. A-
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums is one of those works that you know you're supposed to like but don't really know why, like Citizen Kane or The Sound and the Fury. It's a book-writer's book, full of descriptive detail and pseudo-autobiographical introspection only instead of Ethan Frome running his sled into a tree we have Ray Smith mumbling about Buddhism, train-hopping around the west and taking part in drunken, albeit surprisingly non-erotic, orgies.
Kerouac is, of course, one of the fathers of the Beat Poet Generation. I like Beat Poetry (like Buddy Wakefield and Anis Mojgani) but I don't love it so I read this book out of some sense of artistic responsibility and was hardly rewarded for the effort. I found myself counting the pages until it would end.
Don't get me wrong, I do not doubt that this is a fine piece of literature. But in the same way that I admire the craft while struggling to enjoy Ballet and most Poetry, this book missed the mark for me. I prefer my classics to still drive a story while commenting on the human condition (a la East of Eden).
Forgive me, this sounds less like a review and more like me name-dropping how Hip I am. DB tells the story of Ray Smith (who is really Jack Kerouac) being introduced to Buddhism and coming to appreciate the beauty and solitude of nature after being introduced to mountaineering by his friend Japhy Ryder (also a stand in for someone real, use wikipedia because it means nothing to me). In between trips to the wild Smith and Ryder meander around San Francisco hosting parties where someone inevitable ends up naked as part of some adherence to natural being until ultimately Smith heads out solo for a season-long isolation at the top of the mountain where he gains some form of transcendence. That's not a spoiler, because "plot" is a an elusive mistress with this book.
I'm sure if I was more poetic or in touch with my emotions DB's language would have moved something in my soul. It's the kind of book that makes you think you're a bad writer because you can't write about nothing for 100 pages and still sound pretty. The kind of book that I imagine rich people and hipster college students stack on bookshelves and quote at random instances to look cultured and dignified. As for me, I was just plain bored. C+
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Better late than never huh? I went to New York a month ago (for the first time). It was wonderful. There's really not much to say so I'll just do a quick old-person-esque blog post and just throw cute pictures of myself at you.
I was accompanied by my usual team of misfits: Kasey and Emily. We took the red eye out of Salt Lake and got in at JFK around 6:30 in the morning.
We dropped of our bags at the Luxurious Hotel Carter and made our way to the Empire to beat the crowds. We don't have many pictures of this leg of the journey because someone was in such a negative-nancy jetlagged state that we were threatened with physical injury.
After that we hung out 0n times square where we saw Donnie and Marie (waste of a celebrity sighting) but then luckily noticed that they were filming an episode of L&O:CI with guest star SHOOTER MCGAVIN! I was excited.
Hot dogs, because you gotta.
How to succeed in business, one of the two broadway shows we saw (the other being Avenue Q). HTSIB=B+ AQ=A-
Rockefeller, which I loved for all the Atlas Shrug-sian things around. And, you know, NBC is cool too I guess.
Me and Em after doing baptisms in the manhattan temple. Em kind of sucks to baptise, she just drops like a stone. Best part was how she went on and on about how good she was right before we started :-> then nearly drowned me.
LOVE Central Park. I saw a dead body covered with a sheet while jogging too.
I had a meet and greet with the internship coordinator at Entertainment Weekly (best magazine ever). Don't worry, I wasn't wearing what I am in this picture. Also, I applied for a job so everyone cross your fingers.
My sister dragged me out of bed to meet her on Times Square at midnight. She was traveling through Canada and we just happened to intersect in NY.
On the roof of the Met, I needed about 3 more hours but my associates aren't as cultured as I am.
Us on a Times Square billboard. The girls bought sexy underwear, I bought some comfortable shorts. Venus and Mars.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
I've never been one for viral marketing campaigns. There was a time, during the Lost Universe shenanigans, that I attempted to navigated the unending maze of hidden clues and secret websites but after weeks of punching in the numbers and looking for hidden Dharma Initiative logos I realized that I wasn't learning anything about Lost's mysteries. While it was fun, in a way, to stumble across some strange, hidden thing in pop culture, it ultimately boiled down to a big, unrewarding headache.
Flash forward a few year's and we have Super 8, the latest project from J.J. Abrams', a director/producer/writer that I respect and admire (read: love, like the fanboy I am). It seems like ages since I first saw the teaser of a massive train derailment and ... something escaping from a box car and as the release has gotten closer the anticipation has only built around what would be the #Super8secret.
Those questions have finally been answered now, as the film opened to a respectable and situationally-impressive $35.5 million last weekend (for more on that go here).
As the credits role we find ourselves in 1979. We meet Joe (newcomer Joel Courtney) who his dealing with the accidental death of his mother and helping his teenage friends finish a Zombie movie. You've seen the trailer, the kids are filming at a train station when a truck inexplicably enters the tracks, derails a freighter in a eye-popping extravaganza of set demolition and releases ... something. From there, the kids scramble to finish their movie and simultaneously unravel the mystery of unexplained occurrences going on around town.
The big secret of Super 8 is that there really is no secret. There's no big reveal or twist ending, no shocking never-see-it-coming finale. In all honesty the flow of the storyline is quite predictable but there's the rub, this isn't a movie made for mystery. It's a spectacularly well-made display of character and storytelling.
Don't get me wrong, the movie is full of "wow" moments as the town is literally torn apart by both the mysterious creature and the U.S. government personnel bent on capturing it. The true story, however, is this group of kids. You'll find yourself thinking of E.T., only instead of a benevolent pet the monster is an actual monster. In fact, it'll remind you of a lot of movies that you love: The Goonies, or perhaps if The Sandlot gang met the Cloverfield monster.
The beauty of this movie is not in its ability to punch you in the face with something you've never seen before, but instead in its way of giving you something you haven't seen in a long time. It's sincere and genuine in its characters and an absolute treat. Co-captains Abrams and Steven Spielberg are not looking to make a franchise with a never-ending barage of sequels (cough, Pirates) they're looking to simply make a great, heartwarming, adrenaline-film, emotional fim and they succeed with flying colors.
In her review for Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum asks the question, "How have we survived for so long on such a meager, high-cal, low-nutrition diet of processed summertime superhero sequels?" I loved X-Men as much as the next guy (I really did, go see it) but she's right, and Super 8 reminds us of a day when the process of true story creation existed in mainstream films and not the sole dominion of Arthouse theaters.
The summer has just begun, but looking at the calendar of what's ahead I doubt that anything will come close to matching Super 8's quality this year, or perhaps for many years. A
Monday, June 6, 2011
Five years ago today I sat on an airplane for the first time, heading to Sao Paulo Brazil for the Missionary Training Center (it was June 6, 2006...i.e. 666). I had almost forgotten that today was my mission-versary until I finally logged on to Facebook to see most of the guys in my group bemoaning this particular day. The big 5-years.
Without even intending to, I spent the day celebrating mormondom, first reading this article in the latest edition of newsweek (the cover story no less)
then making my way over to EW.com where they have the cast recordings from the BOM musical on Broadway streaming. Check it out, you'll be glad you did.
Now, I was ready to hear it all, but EW politely selected 6 of the less-graphically-offensive offerings to showcase. I think there's only one F-bomb in the entire bunch. Still, if these are any indication, then the play probably is surprisingly heart-warming (as many critics have said). No joke, I got goosebumps listening to "I Believe."
And, I appreciate the subtle humor of "Baptize Me" that metaphorically compares the act of baptism to losing your virginity. I was a missionary, I know what it's like to have the slogan of BAPTISE OR DIE stamped into your brain until you want to huddle in a corner and weep. And to hear the fictitious Elder Cunningham preparing himself for his "first time" like a teenager headed to the Jr. Prom is a moment of comedic ecstasy. "I baptized you good" he cheers after holding her close, laying her down, and then dropping her into the water with a loud splash.
Backtracking to the Newsweek article, I hope that a lot of people read it. For every intelligent person out there who realizes that EVERY religion has its odd customs when examined under a microscope (something that many Mormon faithful and many friends of mine would be benefited in realizing) there's at least 2 backwoods hicks that still think we have multiple wives. How refreshing, then, to see Newsweek interviewing renowned and revered professionals like the effectively-habitual Steven Covey and JetBlue founder David Neelemen or too-blue-for-school Senate Majority leader Harry Reid.
Newsweek's right, Mormonism is having a moment. I can only hope that the LDS rank-and-file embrace it instead of shunning it away as yet another "thing of the world" as we are so prone to do. As much as I hate twilight, I dig that a LDS writer was able to make a name for herself writing about something BESIDES the church (I'm looking at you Work and the Glory club), or that not one, but TWO LDS men stand a viable chance at gaining the GOP nomination (sadly, Barrack ain't going nowhere but still, keep it up boys).
Which brings me back to the musical. Yes, it's filthy, offensive, crass, crude, raunchy, irreverant what have you. But it's funny, relevant, popular and I personally can't wait to see it. People are laughing, and it's now up to the Mormons to either laugh WITH them, or continue to be laughed AT.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
One Day has, at its core, the gimmick of each chapter relating the events of a particular July 15 over the course of 20 years. As the book begins we find our protagonists, Dexter and Emma, talking in bed in a state of undress having spent unspecified hours kissing and chatting and coming this close to having sexual intercourse.
What we glean is that the two have just officially met, after having socially known of each other while attending college, from which they've graduated the day prior. Dexter is a bit of a cad while Emma, on the other hand, is a beautiful but self-conscious intellectual. The encounter is understood to be a one-night stand as Dexter is poised to begin an indefinite trot around the globe.
From there the story goes, year after year one day at a time, weaving these two characters in and out of each others lives, through good times and bad, as their friendship grows and is tested and their feelings for each other evolve as the two mature through life's experiences.
Nicholls is aware that the story lives or dies on his ability to keep his gimmick from becoming overtly contrived and tries to avoid having each July 15 be a monumental moment. For the most part he succeeds. We get enough snippets of the rest of their years to know that we miss a lot of action in the interim and as we grow to care about the characters we accept that there's certain events that we just have to be present for. At the same time, the events that do occur on July 15 are just a little too conveniently interesting. Was there not one year when Dexter did nothing but clean his apartment? Or Emma sat on the deck and read?
Also, the relative evolution of tomcat-Dex and prim-and-proper-Emma is predictable. You know from the start that the two will, at some point, admit their feelings for each other and get together and it is also a little too easy to predict the rise and falls as Dexter's high-flying party lifestyle comes back to bite him and Emma is finally rewarded for an underdog, unsatisfying existence. Knowing nothing more than the basic premise and a character overview I could have guessed when the good and bad lives would reverse and when they would finally meet in the middle and I would have been exactly right.
The culmination, also, seems to betray the readers trust rather than reward it. I can't say much on the subject without spoiling, suffice to say that you give your time and energy into reading this story only to be handed what feels like a consolation prize wrapped in warm fuzzy packaging.
Still, One Day is a fun, harmless read. It's tailor-made for a movie, which is why the upcoming film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway is no surprise. While the premise could have possibly been handled better, Nicholls nonetheless gives us something new, flirtatious and hip -- the novel equivalent of a summer popcorn flick at the cinema.
One Day requires little effort, and in that light it rewards your time with a profit. It's not gourmet dining, but rather a nice, tasty treat before you move onto heavier things. B