Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Movie Review: Cyrus

Friday, July 9th, 2010

I was lucky enough to attend the Cyrus premiere during SXSW and absolutely loved it, website but I wasn’t really sure if the effect of a sympathetic (and loudly laughing) audience of 1200 was throwing my experience. Still, I recommended it to just about anyone who would listen.

I saw it again at the Arclight in a full but smallish room, sitting between a not-quite snoring guy and a woman who was audibly disgusted by every appearance of Jonah Hill and many by John C. Reilly.  Didn’t matter.  This movie is really, really good.

Now, I’m a big fan of the first film from the Duplass brothers, The Puffy Chair.  I love the naturalism in the performances that they achieve through their method of structured improvisation.  I was less fond of Baghead and wondered if maybe the strength of Puffy Chair came from the real-life relationship of its leads, Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton.  I wondered if it would work with the better-known and potentially higher-maintenance cast of Cyrus, but it absolutely does.  The scenes feel very natural, and the comedy stems from the pained awkwardness of the performances played completely deadpan.  I often feel that comedic actors know they’re being funny even when they’re playing a character straight.  That was not the case here at all.  We’re laughing with John because if we weren’t we’d be crying.  We know that he’s on the edge of debilitating depression and we’re invested in his relationship with Molly.  When Cyrus says, “Seriously, don’t fuck my mom. Just kidding,” we have to laugh.  John’s response kills us not because its a joke but because its not.  We understand his response but want so badly for him to dig himself out of this hole that we laugh in order to lighten the situation.  It’s to Marisa Tomei’s credit that we completely buy that she sees something in this over-eager, yet lovable guy.  After all, she has reason to be eager, too.  At the same time, we buy that she’s blind to Cyrus’ attempts to sabotage the budding romance.  It’s a fine line, but she plays it completely believably and with depth.

In the end, the Duplass’ approach is completely successful, and the talented improvisers were able to work within their method and deliver gems like the aforementioned warning Cyrus delivers at the dinner table.  According to the panel at SXSW, that line was ad-libed by Jonah Hill, and John’s response in opening up came out organically.  It’s brilliant stuff that I think would have been over the top on the page but plays.  They did apparently have trouble with some scenes that ended up cut as montage with voice over in a way that reminded me of The Limey.  Those sequences didn’t bother me at all and gave a nice sense of a relationship developing while getting away from talky scenes shot in closeup.

If I had to criticize anything in the film, it would be the camera work.  The zoom-heavy handheld shooting was endearing when it was a DVX-100 and matched the production value of The Puffy Chair.  It feels a little put-on with this footage shot on the RED.  I also always prefer to see movies that take advantage of the big screen.  So much indie film these days feels like it was shot for online consumption, and that scares me a little.  Let’s make movies that look like movies while we still can.  Still, I can’t say that it doesn’t suit the story, so maybe its an unfair criticism.

If you like subtle yet hilarious comedies and films about people and relationships, go see this movie.  Hollywood needs to know that good movies about real people made inexpensively and in 2D can succeed in entertaining us and be financially viable.

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Movie Review: Toy Story 3

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

I am a fan of Pixar.  There was definitely a time when I wasn’t paying attention to animation, this web but since The Incredibles I have always looked forward to their next project with curious, hopeful skepticism.  A cleaning robot in space?  An old guy in a floating house?  Didn’t grab me on the concepts, but man, WALL-E and Up were absolutely two of my favorite films in recent years.

I had a similar sense of trepidation going into Toy Story 3.  I didn’t see the second film, and I suspected that this one was going to be more for kids than the last two Pixar films were.  Boy was I wrong.  This is not at all a movie for kids, and it’s not really for parents of young children, either.  This movie is downright scary in places.  There was never a more unsettling henchman than Big Baby, who dives purposefully into the Uncanny Valley and comes out with a limp and a lazy eye.  The incinerator sequence takes every bit of the virtuosity displayed in the sequences of EVE saving WALL-E and the opening sequence of Up and refocuses the loss felt through the death of a loved one into terror and resignation at one’s own impending death.  Unsettling is not a strong enough word.

The real audience for this movie is parents with grown children.  That doesn’t describe me, but I was able to see the movie through my own experience in growing up and going off to college.  The scenes of Andy with his mother and sister and Andy’s last playtime with the toys perfectly captured that sense of present-tense nostalgia.  The awareness of knowing a watershed moment is happening and not knowing how to feel about it.  A simultaneous anticipation and loss.  The act of growing up and moving on.  The performances of Andy, Woody, and Andy’s Mom are so complex and nuanced, it’s amazing that they’re completely created.

Still, these last three Pixar films have suffered from weak second halves.  This one didn’t go as completely off the rails as WALL-E and Up did (don’t get me wrong, I still love those movies in spite of their major tone shifts), or maybe it’s just that I’m more into the prison-break genre flick it becomes for long stretches.  Regardless, these are not perfect films, and the deus ex machina of “the claw” was the biggest offender in this one.  They almost got away with it by making the scene so overwhelming and telegraphing it at the start of the junkyard sequence, but showing your hand does not count as setting up action.  Still, intellectually it works on the level set by the opening sequence of playtime from the toys’ point of view.  When kids are playing, pretty much everything that happens is deus ex machina, with the child as god.  Here, director Lee Unkrich gets to play god and save his toys from a fiery death.  It’s cute and clever, but emotionally it undercuts the scene, which is maybe a good thing in this case.  Still Pixar is good enough that they can take risks, make missteps, and still deliver really, really powerful films.  I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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