The Angry Cynical Movie Man Speaketh Hath Recently Seen These Films

February 1, 2010

I wasn’t exactly feeling the greatest over the weekend, so I decided to spend the weekend relaxing just watching movies I have always intended to watch, but never got around to seeing or finding. Anyways, I viewed a total of five movies this weekend that I had never seen before. Also, I had some idea of the plot twist, but wasn’t completely sure. Here they are, in the order I watched them:

1. Fight Club, 1999, Dir. David Fincher Summary

Normally, I am not sucked into a movie because of the cult audience behind it (I have never seen Boondock Saints and nor will I ever, and I am proud). My stance remained unchanged for this movie. However, there were other factors that convinced me to watch this movie. One: It is directed by David Fincher. I wouldn’t call myself a David Fincher fan, but I’ve always been impressed by his work. This was just another film of his I needed to see. Two: It’s on many of the “Best Films of the 90s” lists. That’s incentive enough to see it. Three: I’ve always wanted to see it, but it wasn’t a top priority.

Style dominates this movie. You cannot get around it. Fortunately, that is part of the story-telling device and only contributes to the film. It creates a noirish type setting, though the film is not a film noir, that contributes to the build-up of chaos and destruction throughout the film. Fincher finely weaves his stories and characters around this style, so that the two dominate over the tone of the film, but do not replace it.

The characters are not necessarily unique, but not necessarily stock characters. Edward Norton is an unnamed desk jockey working for an automotive company with no real hope of advancement. Brad Pitt is the rebellious, anti-corporate, “free spirited” Tyler Durden, and Helena Bonham Carter is the “lover”of Tyler Durden, Marla Singer, facing the same issues as the character of Edward Norton. These are nuanced performance, and convince the audience they are likable, but equally shady characters. The performances test the trust and loyalty of the audience.

There is not enough I can say about the work David Fincher did for this film. He managed to weave a very complicated and intricate plot into a comprehensible story, pulled the best out of his actors, and managed to introduce a style that contributed to the story, instead of detract from it.

3.5/4

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004, Dir. Michel Gondry Summary

I do not in particular care for Jim Carrey movies. It always appears he is trying too hard to make you laugh, and the childish, rubbery nature of his “comedy” is tiring and clichéd. However, the performance Jim Carrey given in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one I would certainly enjoy watching him repeat over the rest of his career. Carrey gives a performance better than the one he gave in The Truman Show, which itself is very similar to this: subdued, humorous but still restrained, and human. His performance in Eternal Sunshine is the greatest of his career, and what I believe to be the best of 2004.

Kate Winslet gives a performance unlike any of her previous or since. As the multi-colored haired Clementine, she is, for lack of a better word, rambunctious. She gives a performance one would expect from her costar, the aforementioned Carrey. However, her character, though exuberant, still retains elements of normality. She gives a good performance, but not nearly as good as her Oscar nomination for this role suggests.

Michel Gondry, a French director, is the equivalent of God for this film. This film would have been nothing more than a terrible, surrealist film about erased memories. However, style is the reason this movie is as good as it is. I normally would not say something like this about a film, but the style is a character. It feeds the other characters, it is fertile ground for the story’s development, and it provides a unique representation of the mind. Michel Gondry deserved the Oscar for Best Director for this film, but was sadly not even considered for a nomination

Charlie Kaufman’s script for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is nothing but sheer brilliance. It is a very nuanced script: it lets the story develop, as well as the characters, often collectively. His ability to tie together multiple story lines cannot be overstated. This is the greatest script of the Oughties, and perhaps since Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 television satire Network.

Rating: 4/4

3. The Elephant Man, Dir. David Lynch, 1980

This film is nothing like David Lynch’s other films. It is not surrealist, it is not mind bending, nor does it deal with the metaphysical. This is a simple biography about about a man with a biological oddity. The man is Joseph (called John in the film for an unknown reason) Merrick, the famed Elephant Man.

The Elephant Man is an “actor’s movie.” It’s the type of movie that focuses in on certain individuals, and less on the circumstances of the plot and surroundings. Sometimes this is a bad thing, a good example being what I view the vastly overrated Walk the Line (2/4), but in this case, this fits the movie, as we are told about one man and those who affected him. John Merrick, portrayed by John Hurt, is a misunderstood, sensitive soul; he is what I would normally consider a stock character, but as this is a biopic, all notions of Merrick being a tired character are devoid of meaning. Hurt gives a solid performance as the tortured man, but not worthy of his Oscar nomination. A pre-Silence of the Lambs Anthony Hopkins is a kind doctor in this movie, versus his well known cannibalistic doctor. He gives a vastly underrated performance as the compassionate, genuine doctor. This is especially effective as it does not give off a “White Man’s Burden” vibe. He deserved at least an Oscar nomination for this role, but was sadly not considered.

The story is a biopic, as previously stated. However, despite this, the script and story seem very tired and bland. It leads to moments of clock watching and wandering minds. However, there are more moments of intrigue and interest, than there are dullness. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t detract from the movie, as it certainly does. I attribute this to David Lean, who fails to keep attention fully.

On a side note, the use of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is one of the greatest musical moments in film history.

Rating: 3/4

4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Dir. Julian Schnabel, 2007 Summary

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a French language film detailing the life of former French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, completely paralyzed except for one blinking eye due to a stroke. He still fully retains his mind despite his physical petrification.

The first note of importance of this film is the most dramatic directing choice from Julian Schnabel: he chooses to shoot the majority of the film from the perspective of Bauby. While this choice may have earned him his Academy Award nomination for Best Director, I feel this was a terrible detriment to the film. It does nothing more than distract the viewer than engage them and involve them in the life and state of Bauby. However, as the film continues the audience becomes accustomed to this point of view, only to be taken out of it when it shifts to a moment shared by his caretakers and family. This constant motion of point-of-view makes one fully aware of the fact they are watching in a movie. Despite this once flaw, the movie is otherwise stellar.

The performances are headed by the always reliable French character actor, Mathieu Amalric. Though he is visually silent for the majority of the film, his presence alone communicates more than the dialoge he is provided. Just through his singular expression and one moving eye, the audience is made aware of every emotion he experiences, complemented by his inner-monologue. His primary caretaker, apart from nurses, is the speech therapist portrayed by Canadian Marie-Josée Croze. Acting as a foil to Bauby’s suicidal, pessimistic doubter, she reinvigorates his desire for life, albeit he cannot participate within it fully. And finally among the great performances in this film, is a small, unheralded role from the always great Max von Sydow (who knew the Swede knew French?). As Babuy’s father, he is the manifestation of Babuy’s feelings and emotions, whilst still becoming a distant source of comfort.

The script is written in a way that prevents the film from being told like a normal biopic. Had I not known it was a biopic beforehand, I would not have guessed it was. The script is very poetic freely flowing. The score is beautiful, yet it can be haunting. The cinematography is done well, but its use in the film is miserable. However, despite this flaw, the film is resurrected by nearly the rest of its components.

Rating: 3/4

5. Memento, Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2000 Summary

Essentially, Memento is a cliché story about a man seeking vengeance on the person who killed his wife. However, Christopher Nolan’s man is Leonard Shelby, a man who has no memory of the events following the events of his wife’s murder, and must resort to an elaborate system of tattoos and Post-It notes to replace this memory. While this latter portion of the plot makes the movie interesting, the rest of the film does not deliver on the hype that precedes it.

Christopher Nolan made his film in reverse; that is, the audience knows the events of a situation, but not the why or how. This was an interesting way to view the film, since it attaches the audience to the character of Leonard. However despite this, the audience never becomes Leonard. We sit transfixed at the events upon the screen rather than become engrossed by them. It is for this reason the film lags and ultimately becomes disappointing, despite the hype and acclaim for the film.

On several side notes, Memento features truly outstanding performances, especially from Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano. The cinematography is excellent, especially the truly exceptional black and white work. The script is unique in most respects, but uses a tired plot as the basis. The direction falls terribly flat, bring the film to a distracting series of stops and starts.

Rating: 2/4

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