Saturday, October 07, 2006

"The Queen," "The Departed," "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Man of the Year," "The Fountain"

I wholeheartedly apologize to anyone who may bother to check this blog semi-regularly. It's sort of devolved into a weekly encapsulation of what screenings I've been to lately, rather than a regularly updated blog. I'll try my best to do a better job in the future-- please bitch away at me, any comments are appreciated. In the coming days/weeks, I'll attempt to be a bit more insightful/bloggy and less bland. I saw five films this week, on top of two interviews in DC (John Cameron Mitchell and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)-- three yay, two nay.

"The Queen"

This Stephen Frears project, a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the interaction between Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) in the week following Diana's death, is a movie I completely expected to "respect" but not actually like or enjoy. I tend to not be too interested in the monarchy or any film with as bland and cold a title as "The Queen."
Much to my surprise, I was completely enraptured in the goings-on here, all anchored in what has to be the best female performance of the year, by Mirren. The regal actress (who's never won an Oscar) is justifiably getting all the attention, but Sheen is pretty fantastic as well. While the film humanizes the queen, it never attempts to make her outright sympathetic. We see she's a real person with feelings and we understand why she does what she does, but she'll still come off to many as a cold, bitter bitch. It's this profundity that makes her such a fascinating character to watch, and I was never even slightly bored during the film's brief 97-minute running time. I'll go out on a limb and call this the most surprisingly entertaining (and beautifully directed) film of the season. Now, if "Marie Antoinette" (which I see next week) entertains me, than all bets are off.
OSCAR POTENTIAL: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Helen Mirren), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Sheen)

"The Departed"

I hate to go along with a crowd consensus, but this one is as great as you've heard. Martin Scorsese is fucking back with a vengeance. I've seen this one two (and a half) times now, and it just fucking goes over like gangbusters every time. Audience are dead quiet when they should be, each death and/or burst of violence elicits audible gasps (one drew cries of 'No!'), and all the humor works also. I honestly laughed a lot more here than I thought I would-- the dialogue (screenplay by William Monahan) is phenomenal, with Alec Baldwin a standout in that department.
Seriously, amazing performances all around-- DiCaprio and Damon are as solid as they've ever been, Nicholson blew me away combining his known persona with one significantly more terrifying.
Two and a half hours long, but easily one of the quickest sits of the year. This could easily be classified as a brutal, dark guy movie (and it is), but it also hits emotionally if you're susceptible to it. What's so great about "The Departed" is it doesn't try at all to be Oscar bait, but ironically, I could easily envision it being a major contender. Though it's a shame that the studio is pushing Nicholson for Best Actor (in what's clearly a supporting role), thus denying DiCaprio some recognition for his work here-- even if he'll still likely get one for "Blood Diamond."
In full disclosure, my gay and female friends haven't responded to the movie as well as others, but I seriously would recommend this fucking thing to anyone. Here's hoping for Marty to finally get his golden boy!
OSCAR POTENTIAL: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson)

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning"

I really don't feel the need to devote more than a couple of lines to talking about this one. Bottom line: it's a massive piece of shit. I actually consider myself a fan of the remake that came out a few years ago, and this one tries to emulate it at every turn. Grossness for the sake of grossness, wonton sadism-- yeah yeah those are to be expected in a movie of this type-- but none of it's justified because there's simply no scares to be had.
This is a cash-in on the original in every respect, not to mention fucking dull and more than a few Republican ideals (likely suggested by R. Lee Ermey) are represented; we're meant to view the murder of a draft-dodger as rightful comeuppance.
Friends of mine know that I'm actually a pretty big fan of horror films when they're well-executed-- we've been treated to a few solid ones this year ('Hostel," "Slither," "The Descent," "The Hills Have Eyes"). But for them to work at all, they've got to be scary, interesting or both. This is just a shit out money-grubbing sequel/prequel, and anyone who pays to see this deserves what they'll get. It's rare that a movie actually depresses me-- this was one of them.
Fuck America for giving this turd almost as big a weekend gross as "The Departed," and fuck Harry Knowles for cumming all over it.

"Man of the Year"

Hey, have you seen the ads for the new comedy with Robin Williams where he plays a Jon Stewart-type figure that gets elected President? Yeah, me too. How about the new drama/political thriller starring Laura Linney as a woman who's fired and then harassed by her company for exposing mechanical glitches in voting machines? No? Well, that's the movie you'll get in "Man of the Year."
I'm generally okay with movies being more dramatic than advertised. This summer alone, I thought it worked with "The Break-Up," and somewhat worked with "Click." So the fact that "the new Robin Williams comedy" turned out to be a complete and utter drama didn't inherently bother me, except that it can't even manage to be entertaining or interesting.
The Williams storyline, which had such potential for a fascinating movie, is given such short shrift here and kept so apolitical and dull, you'll want to walk out. Williams only gets a few moments of comedy-- the ones viewed in the trailers where he performs on his show-- and even those aren't funny (Baltimore-based director Barry Levinson relies heavily on crowd reaction shots). He doesn't seem to know quite what to do, as for the most part he's instructed to play it straight, but occasionally is encouraged to mug like crazy or participate in an out-of-place paintball sequence.
Normally I'd be begging for more Laura Linney but her storyline here (the bulk of the picture) couldn't be less interesting; Levinson just doesn't know what to do with her.
The Hollywood Reporter review is pretty dead on for a change; and shame on any filmmaker for wasting Jeff Goldblum, Lewis Black and Christopher Walken. Trust me-- it may have a nice opening weekend, but word-of-mouth is going to sink this one like a stone.

"The Fountain"

How great is "The Fountain?" So great that I could easily imagine the mass critical consensus being that it's "a disaster" or "misfire."
I was elated at the initial review on of this latest Darren Aronofsky venture, basically calling it one of the greatest movies ever made. Then the festival reactions came in, with reports of mass booing. I figured "The Fountain" would be a love or hate it movie no matter what, but still it lowered my expectations a tad. Coming out of the MPAA screening room on Thursday, I was pretty blown away. Aronofsky has crafted an astonishing movie here, and as such, it's probably not going to be embraced in the way it deserves until a decade or so down the line. It's wildly different, and openly, unabashedly emotional and earnest in a way that may get mocked by some. In fact, I'd recommend going to see it in a time/location you'd imagine would be as non-crowded as possible.
For those who don't know, "The Fountain" features Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as a couple in three different periods of time-- one 500 years ago with Jackman as a Spanish conquistador and Weisz as a queen, one is present day with Jackman as a scientist and Weisz as his dying writer wife, and thirdly, 500 years in the future with a bald Jackman living in a (literal) bubble with a tree and hallucinations of Weisz as his only company. I don't want to give much more detail than that-- and as great as the trailer is, I'd recommend not watching it. It ruins a lot of the movie's astonishing imagery.
The "'2001' with emotions" description isn't an wholly inaccurate one. For the majority of the movie I was thinking "this really isn't as big as a mindfuck as I'd heard-- it's relatively easy to follow what's going on," then the third act came. The third act is so gloriously beautiful that I was tremendously moved, even as I wasn't 100% what was taking place. I have some theories, and I hope to solidify them when I see the movie again in a little over a week, before I interview Aronofsky.
Jackman is astounding here. I've always liked the guy, but this is the first time he's been truly great and impressed me to this extent with a performance. Weisz is solid as well, but basically just serves as the object of his affection who stands around looking pretty a lot.
This is a really ballsy venture-- it's almost a shame it's being funded by a big studio because it's really an art film at heart, and is almost sure to confound the mainstream audiences it'll surely be sold to. A filmmaker even attempting someone like this so rarely happens, so even though I'm sure a large segment of you may hate it, I urge you all to at least check it out to get an opinion on it when it opens on November 22nd.
OSCAR POTENTIAL: Probably just technicals, though Best Actor (Hugh Jackman) could happen if the Academy is a little open minded. In other words, probably just technicals.


Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

I'm so happy to hear Mr. Scorsese didn't screw up one of my favorite Hong Kong flicks (which was, really, just a Hong Kong take on a Scorsese movie anyway) .. I'm going to see this one later today, and I'm thoroughly psyched

9:02 AM  

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