249. Win Win (2011, McCarthy): B+
259. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990, Almodovar): A-
261. Cul-de-Sac (1966, Polanski): B+
249. Win Win (2011, McCarthy): B+
259. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990, Almodovar): A-
261. Cul-de-Sac (1966, Polanski): B+
Contagion (2011, Soderbergh)
You know nobody is safe when even Hollywood’s biggest A-list thespians are dropping dead. In Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns’ latest collaboration, virus film Contagion, the element of human contact is the source of fear. In a time when people should theoretically be coming together to help each other, this scenario pushes humanity apart. Contagion is not interested in the sentimental or the personal; that can be left for the majority of this ‘disaster’-like brand of filmmaking. Soderbergh hauntingly and clinically delivers a film about process that juxtaposes the constant forward-motion of the virus and the apparent helplessness of civilization at its mercy.
Contagion takes a cue from other multi-narrative films including Soderbergh’s own Traffic, by tracking the virus’ impact via assorted characters and storylines. The only thing connecting these people is the virus, as you see how it affects them and the part they play in attempting to live and contain, identify, cure, or even propagate hysteria amidst the pandemic. Among them is a father (Matt Damon) from Minneapolis whose wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the virus’ first victim immediately followed by their son. Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention sends Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer to Minneapolis to investigate and contain the outbreak. CDC scientist Dr. Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) attempts to define the virus and thus a possible antidote. Using his influence to amplified hysteria, Alan Krumweide (Jude Law) claims to know the cure, resulting in riots for a pharmaceutical product known as forsythia. Marion Cotillard plays a WHO epidemiologist who goes to Hong Kong to track the virus’ possible origins.
These are only some of the characters; beyond the star power of the film, it is a fun time seeing people such as John Hawkes, Josie Ho, Demetri Martin, Bryan Cranston, Elliot Gould and Enrico Colantoni pop in for a spell.
Instead of using the virus as a background or excuse to explore interpersonal family dynamics, Contagion does the opposite. Its style and focus creepily align themselves with the virus. Character development is essentially non-existent here because, realistically, it would and should be all about the virus. The hyper-realism approach makes the film feel eerily conceivable and thus, unnerving.
When taken individually, the stories do not resonate. They are not meant to. Most multi-narrative storylines are bound together by theme and coincidence, where they mean something together but could theoretically function as their own coherent story. The storylines in Contagion are bound together by the virus. It is a formal treatment and must be taken as a whole. Characters drop in and out unexpectedly with an inconsistency in rhyme or rhythm. This feels natural; the characters do not feel too manipulated by a pressure to entirely follow through on each thread.
It may not be an issue for the threads of the film to work individually, but it is a problem if they cannot work as part of the ‘big picture’. Marion Cotillard’s storyline is dead on arrival because it does not feel consequential enough. Did it really have to be there? While her final scene sticks, it would have meant a lot more had her previous scenes been more compelling and of value both within the entire framework and on its own.
Too much time is spent with Damon’s onscreen daughter (Anna Jacoby-Heron). It allows for the perception of her father’s grieving, but mostly it fails in its humanistic excuse of a portrayal of an inside look at the average citizen’s ordeal. Her scenes with Damon work well; anything by herself feels like a waste of precious time for an ambitious film that only clocks in at 100 minutes. We could have gotten more from Damon’s character with those minutes.
The film takes up too much time tidying up towards the end and undoes some of the controlled disorder that came before. It gets itself back though, ending with a sequence showing the origin of the virus that remains distressing in its mundaneness.
Some are up-in-arms about the nefarious blogger played by Jude Law. His storyline has been the individual thread provoking the most discussion. At first, I had an assumption that his story would be about the effort to enact change where it is so desperately needed, but even with the tools of social media at his fingertips, he is unable to transform the situation. Oh boy was I wrong. His name is Alan Krumwiede; he sounds like a villain out of a Roald Dahl book. He comes complete with snaggletooth, a smarmy walk and a constant spouting of conspiracy theory drivel. He is the only character here invoking active damage to everyone around him. He is a commentary on the revelation that, with the internet, anyone can have influence. In a pandemic scenario, the internet would be a major player in the spreading of false information, rumor, fear, panic and paranoia, surely invoking mass hysteria. In this way, Burns’ commentary is shrewd; for all the good that technology does allows for the people in Contagion, all it takes is one person and some trusting and desperate people to counteract the positive.
It is the character of Krumweide that elicits objection and why not? He represents blogging and social media, and it’s a pretty sad sight. Caricature, broad generalizations and reductive problems aside, Law’s scenes were the most engaging to take part in. It is a joy to watch Law reap in the sleaze and the mannerisms. Burns uses him to poke fun at the kind of grandstanding we come to expect in film speeches. It feels purposely overt from costuming, makeup and dialogue. He is the most conversational element of Contagion, and thus the most stimulating.
This is some of the best editing and cinematography of the year. Soderbergh’s camerawork, under the moniker Peter Andrews, feels like a petri dish. It feels both sterile and microscopically infected in its naturally bleak tones. The film is shot and edited in a brutally matter-of-fact manner. Stephen Mirrione is largely responsible for the audience’s discomfort as shots showing the minutiae of everyday human contact and ordinary objects acquire deadly connotation. Mirrione’s smartly placed edits allow him to depict death as no-nonsense in its being.
Contagion is admirably to-the-point; all about process in content and all about presentation in form. It wastes little time, as if consciously attempting to keep up with the virus’ life cycle. It is clear by now that it is a film that unnerves because our recognition of its possibility. Contagion never approaches hopelessness; to the contrary, but it does recognize our strengths and weaknesses as a grouped people. Amidst all the seizures, bodies, autopsies, riots and blame, it’s the plausibility that impacts us most. Kate Winslet’s speech about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic is the scariest thing you will see in a film all year.
Fall Movie Season has arrived again. Hello folks! It has been a while. Between a trip to Korea that I will forever cherish and getting settled into my 2nd semester at Simmons, I have not had time to review or post anything here. While grad school will likely take up most of my time, I will be posting reviews in the upcoming months. This weekend I am seeing Senna, which ranked in my top 5 most anticipated Summer releases. There will be a review up next week.
Fall Movie Season is always jam-packed with hyped prestige releases and this year is no different. There is a lot of releases in the US to look forward to in the upcoming months. From a director’s perspective, new films from Steven Soderbergh, Lars von Trier, Kenneth Lonergan (yes, after more than a few years, Margaret is finally getting released), Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Gus van Sant, Pedro Almodovar, Beat Takeshi, Sion Sono (Love Exposure finally getting official release in the states!!!!!), Tsui Hark, Tomas Alfredson, Roman Polanski, David Fincher, Lucky McKee, Steven Spielberg, Lynne Ramsay, Nicolas Winding Refn, Clint Eastwood and David Cronenberg are expected to make waves. And that’s just a taste. Listed below the Top 30 are the other films this Fall I would like to see. I tend to include films I am indifferent to on this list. Any film that instills a reaction of “yeah I’d see that” can be found there. Thus, there are films I am genuinely excited for in that long alphabetized list (The Descendants) and films I don’t care about but would see (Machine Gun Preacher). The only films not on the list are the ones I really have no active interest in. Films like Bucky Larson, New Year’s Eve, Happy Feet 2 and I Don’t Know How She Does It are the kinds of films not present here.
Which films are you most excited for this Fall? There are a lot to choose from! I will keep this list updated with films that secure distribution dates after this list is posted.
The Adventures of Tintin
The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu
The Big Year
Burke and Hare
The Catechism Cataclysm
The Darkest Hour
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Genius on Hold
Hell and Back Again
I’m Glad my Mother is Alive
In the Land of Blood and Honey
The Iron Lady
Machine Gun Preacher
The Man Nobody Knew
Mission Impossible IV
My Week with Marilyn
Paul Goodman Changed My Life
Pearl Jam Twenty
The Rum Diary
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Texas Killing Fields
The Three Musketeers
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
We Bought a Zoo
We Were Here
228. The Tenant (1976, Polanski): A-
232. On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (2002, Hong): A-
Posted on Criterion Cast July 29th, 2011
Looking at Christopher Robin’s room at the start of Winnie the Pooh, we see that the boy has not been tainted by modernity. His abode remains as it always was; chock full of books, stuffed animals, old-fashioned toys and an assortment of collections. It is doubtful any child’s room looks like this anymore, signifying that this is a film that will be a return to what once was. Recent animated features like Rango and Toy Story 3 are more accomplished fare with their complex and/or exquisitely executed themes balanced with wondrous storytelling, but sometimes it is nice to return to something as gentle and pure as A.A. Milne’s world of “Winnie the Pooh”. The new film may not stick with viewers amidst everything else out there, but it is a joy through and through.
A.A Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” stories are episodic in that each chapter contains a new story following the characters in Hundred Acre Wood. The film tells one story over the course of its shockingly short length (clocking in at sixty minutes), but by basing it off of three of Milne’s stories the film still feels episodic in nature. Winnie the Pooh wakes up and immediately goes in search of honey. He runs into Eeyore who has lost his tail. Christopher Robin and friends hold a contest to see who can find the best replacement for Eeyore’s tail, the prize being a large jar of honey. Christopher Robin leaves a note that is misinterpreted by Owl to mean he has been captured by a monster called the Backson. They try to find and save the child by setting up a trap. All the while, Pooh remains desperate for honey.
That pretty much sums up the plot. It is a simple tale with a simple but meaningful message about friendship that children can effortlessly grasp. There is no pop-culture of any kind to be found. Hundred Acre Wood remains untainted by the outside world and it is all the better for that. The humor grows out of the characters we know and love through their facial expressions, the way they interact with each other and the situations they find themselves in. Something the film expands upon is the idea of the narrator’s presence. The characters interact quite a bit with the narrator, voiced by John Cleese, without it ever becoming too much. The animation is hand-drawn with crisp lines in the foreground and a watercolor aesthetic in the background. The effect is understated pleasantry.
The appeal of Winnie the Pooh for children is hopefully still present in today’s culture. At the very least, I imagine toddlers would enjoy this film and not just the adults who grew up with Winnie the Pooh in their lives via the 1977 collection of featurettes titled The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh or the Milne books. There is an everlasting appeal to the title character. He is a dimwitted fool but at the same time so lovable and precious. Christopher Robin’s famous line “Silly old bear” remains the perfect response to his many foibles, misunderstandings and addictive predilection for honey. What is so wonderful about the character is that children have the advantage of knowing what the bear doesn’t. They are given the opportunity to understand a situation before he does, allowing them to be superior in their knowledge to the characters they see.
The voice work is solid but it is still jarring not having Sterling Holloway or Paul Winchell at the helm. It is the only real sign that times have changed in the Hundred Acre Wood, and that change exists outside of the films construct. The songs are serviceable but nothing more. Zooey Deschanel surprisingly does not overstay her welcome with her presence on some songs but they remain the most forgettable part of the film.
A part of me questions whether or not the film was necessary. Sure, the film succeeds with grace as a return to the sweet world of Milne in all regards to the point of that clearly being its overall goal. Yet with Walt Disney Animation Studios rarely working with hand-drawn projects at present, part of me wishes they had invested thirty million dollars on an original project.
It is difficult to stay on that thought for long with the result of the film. Winnie the Pooh may be slight but it works because of its slightness and not in spite of it. The filmmakers had a determined commitment to keep the modern world at bay and the film is all the better for it. So sit back, relax and revisit your friends from the Hundred Acre Wood.
From time to time I make other lists not pertaining to film, and I figured there is no harm in putting them on my film blog. I doubt I have many consistent readers, so I reiterate over and over again the subjectivity of my lists rather than risk any readers getting annoyed with my insistence. Its not that I don’t take the idea of what I think is ‘best’ into consideration; I just hate proclaiming any list as such. Here are some of the criteria taken into consideration for this list; first, having heard the entire album was required. How the song functions as an ‘opening track’ was more important than the song itself. Yes, most of these rank among my endless list of songs I love, but I didn’t simply list my favorite songs that happened to open an album and put them in order. Sometimes, how it introduces what is to come came into play. Mostly, it was the way the song either immediately kicks off or gradually builds into a brilliant entrance into an album. No reasons for music lists; I don’t pretend to be able to write about music.
Well; this is it folks. The day we have been eagerly awaiting, and dreading, for years. This Friday, the final Harry Potter film is released, bringing an end to the most lucrative and arguably consistent film franchise of all time. There is something bittersweet about it, like the way I felt in the days leading up to the Lost series finale. A simultaneous need to see how it turns out and a desire to hold off its release as long as possible. Because after this, it’s over. Some may be okay with that, but for a Harry Potter fan like me, and countless others, that finality will be our predominant sense. When the final book was released, the only solace I could take after finishing was the comfort that several films had yet to be released. At least there was that. Ah well; it had to end some time.
So while many retrospectives, marathons and write-ups everywhere you look, I thought I’d chime in with my own ranking of the films up to this point. This is, again, personal preference. I wish I could have gone really in-depth here, but this list is pretty short in explanation. After all, I only have two days to re-read the final half of Deathly Hallows!!
7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007, Yates)
This was number 3 when I first posted it. Reasons being that I was not as familiar with it as the other films, meaning that everything I love about it stuck out to me. To be fair, Order of the Phoenix has a lot to love. The Imelda Staunton performance and the introductions of Luna Lovegood and Bellatrix Lestrange to name a few. Let us not forget the forming of Dumbledore’s Army and seeing Harry teach his fellow students and the epic climactic battle that has a raw war-like intensity. I also have a fond love for Nicholas Hooper’s score. Recently watching the film from start to finish again was an entirely disappointing experience. In short; the film is an absolute mess. Apparently David Yates filmed an extra 45 minutes of footage that did not make it in and it is not surprising given the choppy and slipshod manner in which the film plays out. This is also the only film not penned by Steve Kloves; he was sorely missed. Furthermore, Daniel Radcliffe, and much of the cast save the new additions of Staunton, Bonham-Carter and Lynch are clearly coasting. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint feel like they are going through the motions.
It also has an incredibly short running time for a book that was the longest in the series. The film overall makes little to no sense because of it. It explains things away with one sentence. The Cho Chang subplot feels absolutely useless and unresolved, not to mention the lame changes they made to it in relation to the book. Grawp is just there because he has to be 20 minutes later in the film; this obvious motivational plot element feels forcibly present. All of the stuff about the prophecy is truncated to such a degree that it becomes difficult to understand what the entire point of this entry was if one has not read the book. While many of the other films suffer from some degree of miscommunication from the screenwriter to the casual non-book fans, this film in particular suffers from nonexistent plot explanation. And thus it jumps from number 3 to 7 on this list.
6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002, Columbus)
Roger Ebert might be the only person I can think of who genuinely prefers the first two outings over the rest. It is easy to rank on Columbus’ all-too-sugary vision of the Harry Potter world, but I think we take what he did for granted…to a point. He is responsible for the casting of the children after all. The films may be too saccharine, but they still got the franchise off to a solid start. Looking back, the first two are weak links, but I remember my elation as a fourteen-year old seeing them in the theaters multiple times, and I still cherish that sense I used to have of them.
In regards to this second outing, it is hard to deny it any place but the bottom spot. First off, we have the introduction of Dobby, irritating in both book and film. If that weren’t enough, we get hit with the useless Colin Creevey, which should have been discarded in the adaptation. Branagh amusingly hams it up as Lockhart, and there are several fun sequences. Yet all in all, the film seems rather expendable, which cannot be said for any of the others.
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001, Columbus)
To give Columbus credit here, he does a marvelous job of introducing this world. It feels appropriately magical and with all the children’s fantasy films out there, this one makes its mark in breadth and wonder. Its mostly amusing to see the actors this young and amateur in performance. The final confrontation with Voldemort is painful and dated. And this is the only time the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher would be a mere character sketch that went nowhere besides being a villainous cipher. ‘Wizard People Dear Reader’ has also prevented me from seeing the film in any kind of serious way. The film exists for nostalgic purposes more than anything else at this point.
4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005, Newell)
From here on out, the rankings become unbearably close. The distance between my number 5 and 6 is incalculable. This was going in the number 3 spot, and at the last minute I put it here. Why? Honestly, because I have seen it too many times. That is legitimately the reason for it being here. I love it to death, but I have probably seen it more than any Potter film, which is saying a lot. We are talking about hundreds of times here folks. I’d say only 15 or so viewings were given full attention, but this became one of the films I would put on in the background while doing homework, writing, reading; hell, even sleeping. It should probably be higher, but I sort of willingly exhausted myself with this film.
The only bad things I can say about it is that there are some really clunky and awkward attempts at humor and that Rita Skeeter’s role is reduced so much that it would have been just as easy to discard her entirely. There are some classic sequences here; notably the Yule Ball and Voldemort’s return, which are perfectly both executed. Who would have thought we’d see Jarvis Cocker and Jonny Greenwood in a Harry Potter film? Its the franchise’s first foray into PG-13; an important milestone. If ‘Azkaban’ wisely showcases the messiness and realism of adolescence, ‘Goblet’ is the first that starts to frankly deal with young budding love and flirtation. The Triwizard Tournament is my favorite ‘big-picture’ plot device of all the books or films. The universe is expanded via the two visiting schools. Brendan Gleeson kills as ‘Mad-Eye Moody’, or rather, Barty Crouch Jr. Fred and George are showcased more which is always a delight. There are so many little moments in this one that I hold onto and anticipate, going as specifically as Hermione’s ‘damn if I can’t stay annoyed with them’ reaction to Fred and George failing to understand why their aging potion won’t work on the Goblet. Unfortunately, Snape is barely in this film which is a major detractor. But mainly, this is the book and film where everything changes. It had all been leading to the climax of this story, and from here on out, the threat becomes a reality.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010, Yates)
While its slow pace set in a bit more than I think it wanted to, I still maintain this is a mature and largely stunning penultimate film. Much time is spent on exposition and setting the stakes. Like the characters, you feel how little is being accomplished. I think the film’s purpose and place within the films as a whole will become more clear when it can be looked at in accordance with the finale. There are so many revelatory character moments, particularly between Harry and Hermione, that get to be front and center. Something the films have arguably done in a more layered way than the books, is make the Harry and Hermione friendship feel as substantial as it does. There is a lot of momentum to be found here, a lot of building dread as we inch towards the final showdown. Yates makes some fairly unconventional, if not risky directorial moves here, and it mostly pays off.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, Cuaron)
So basically it’s all been said before. This is the film that changed everything; the one that took the franchise in a different direction via director Alfonso Cuaron. The characters and the film are treated with the kind of respect that emphasizes the scale of the unstable environment the students find themselves in year after year. Things became more laid-back, uniforms become sparse (is that Harry wearing JEANS?!) and boys act like boys hanging out after hours. Quidditch is thankfully not as important and emotions boil just barely under the surface as they are confronted with life head-on. The film is also unique because it stands alone as a film where Voldemort is entirely absent. This also has the introduction of my favorite Harry Potter character (besides Snape) with Remus Lupin as well as the equally wonderful Sirius Black. While the Shrieking Shack scene barely touches on the intensity of the book, it is still executed with confident excellence. This is also my favorite book, meaning that the story itself is near and dear to me, making me love it all the more.
1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009, Yates)
Simply put; I find the sixth film to be the most flat-out satisfying of them all. That it somehow manages to be both the funniest film and the most intense is incredible. It is also the most visually stunning of the bunch, rich in visual tone and composition. Draco’s arc is still unstably creepy; Felton’s finest moment to be sure. Jim Broadbent gives an underrated performance as Slughorn, with each scene flashing layers that suggest so much. Voldemort’s memories are severely truncated, but perfectly executed. It is a seamless balancing act of so many moods, plot threads and impending doom. It is difficult to go much further than that. It is the only film to have zero missteps; everything works exactly as it should. We also get our first sense of how the wizarding world’s instability effects the outside world, still broadening the danger at hand. I cannot praise this film enough; in my eyes, it is perfect.