Sunday, October 5, 2008

The People Vs. Larry Flynt

Director: Milo Forman
Writer: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Starring: Woodie Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton

This film was nowhere near as good I hoped it would be. I had been wanting to see it for several years ever since I studied media regulations

Burn After Reading

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: George Clooney, Frances McDomand, John Malcovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt

In the words of one of the CIA agents following the story (and I paraphrase), "call me when it makes sense." Such is the situation we find ourselves in for the entirety of Burn After Reading a tragic comedy that's comically tragic. The story is as strange as you would expect from a Coen Brothers' movie, but that problem is that it has no meaning. At no point during the film do you wonder the impact of any of the actions. It seems to be simply a fly-on-the-wall view of five very strange people.

The closest to a central character is Osbourne Cox (Malcovich) who is fired from his position in the CIA in the opening sequence. This firing sets off a chain reaction of events as we learn his wife (Swinton) is cheating on him with a friend Harry Pfarrer (Clooney) and plans on divorcing him. After going to a law firm and leaving a copy of all financial records in their hands, the lawyer's secretary leaves it at the gym where Chad Feldheimer (Pitt) and Linda Litzke (McDormand) discover it, mistaking it for top secret government information. Naturally, the only thing to do with it is attempt to bribe Osbourne so that Litzke can get money for her plastic surgery and impress the men she meets online, one of them being Pfarrer.

No one character knows the whole of the story surrounding this precarious situation which, from the opening's ominous music, you know will end unhappily for at least one person.

The movie is at times laugh out loud funny and other times not sure whether to laugh or not funny. You get the sense that these people are simply playing a role. It is simply unbelievable that all could be happening in real life. And while it is a movie (and thus did not happen in real life) you are very aware the whole time that it is a movie.

It is certainly not the best Coen Brothers film but it is not without its merits. Clooney's character gets progressively more demented and he plays the part perfectly with expert enunciation and body movement. And the sections that are funny are worth the wait.

I would not categorize this as a bad movie but rather as a mediocre one. I neither recommend it nor shy anyone away from it. It's a fun watch but not a necessity.

Wikipedia - Burn After Reading
IMDB - Burn After Reading
Official Site - Burn After Reading

Thursday, October 2, 2008

We All Belong - Dr. Dog

Upon first listening to Dr. Dog's second full length album, We All Belong, you are immediately seized with a faint memory of hearing this music before. Has your friend played it for you? Was it on the radio? A bar?

While those answers may be, and should be, "yes," the sensation of familiarity may be caused by the music simply being that good and comfortable. With influences drawn from classic rock (most notably George Harrison) and contemporary musicians, it is no surprise that the songs are at once refreshingly new and easy to fall in love with.

From the percussive beginnings of "Old News" to the melodic ending of "We All Belong," this album is nearly 40 minutes of pure aural bliss. Each song is sufficiently different from every other and sufficiently catchy to make you want to listen again and again. Lyrically the songs can be lacking (as in the beginning of "The Way the Lazy Do") but they make up for it with verses such as "Even gluttons gotta eat / well I ain't weak / but I hunger for your love" from "Keep a Friend."

It's not simply the lyrics or the music that make this album; it's also about how the songs are sung. Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman expertly tap into the emotion and energy that words are capable of portraying on their own, but require that extra vocal skill to make them believable.

The one fault I find happens in the middle. "Weekend" lacks in songwriting and production in all aspects. The lyrics are cliche. None of the instruments sound like they are being played with feeling. Its volume is vastly louder than the other songs. I first heard this album when I downloaded it and it was conveniently missing "Weekend." Maybe the bootlegger knew that it was not worth hearing. When I bought the album I was at once surprised and confused by its inclusion. We All Belong is a much better experience by skipping track six.

Wikipedia - Dr Dog

Allmusic - Dr Dog

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited (with Hotel Chevalier)

The Darjeeling Limited
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman
Starring: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman

Hotel Chevalier
Director: West Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Natalie Portman

I knew from the get go that this would not be Wes Anderson's best film. I feel that each of his projects have gotten progressively worse since the beginning (the exception being Rushmore is better than Bottle Rocket). I do not mean to say that any of his movies are bad. I've enjoyed all of them. He has a very distinct style that cannot be mistaken, and that, unfortunately, is his downfall. The Darjeeling Limited feels like it could be The Royal Tenenbaums or The Life Aquatic because the storytelling and the camera work is so similar.

The plot revolves around three brothers--Francis, Jack and Peter--who travel to India on a spiritual journey, proposed by Francis, after not having spoken to each other in over a year. Immediately you see the stark differences between the three that make them all individuals, and the remarkable similarities that make them family. The trip does not go as planned and they are forced to improvise.

I really liked the way all the characters were written. Wes Anderson has always had a profound understanding of his characters. He always knows their pasts, their futures, their motives and all their thoughts. I thought it interesting to have one of the main characters, Francis (played by Owen Wilson) to be wearing head bandages the entire movie. It was a bold move to have obscure the main character like that, especially with the actor being the most recognizable of the three.

There is some very typical Anderson styles that made me a little bored of the movie. Lots of specific, nice framing, which is of course good to look at, but makes it feel very staged. The soundtrack was also standard Anderson: mellow, acoustic, some very distinct riffs. He overused slow motion, I believe. Too many scenes were in slow motion, and for what seemed like no reason. I am all for style, but you should not overuse a technique. The characters, while intricate, were also very true to other Anderson movies. They have a complicated past that they don't like to talk about and rarely say what they're thinking. Rather than give answers they say things like, "I don't know," or "ask me again the next time I see you." You're supposed to believe that everyone is this great philosopher or poet.

Aside from those small qualms, I enjoyed this film. The locations were amazing. Having never been India, it definitely put the desire in me. The set was extremely detailed. Watching the featurette on the DVD made me appreciate it all the more.

Hotel Chevalier is Part 1 of The Darjeeling Limited and is supposed to be shown before the feature. I was not too impressed with it. It seemed too fancy: a rich boy living in Paris, his ex-girlfriend comes to visit, uninvited. Alone I found it mildly interesting. Together with the film, I don't see how it added anything. It's mentioned briefly in the film, and there are visual hints to it throughout, but I did not feel that it added anything to the overall story.

I wish Anderson would make something new and fresh. Maybe he needs new actors (he always seems to have the same people). I'm not sure, but his style is getting boring. He needs to expand.

Wikipedia - The Darjeeling Limited Hotel Chevalier
IMDB - The Darjeeling Limited Hotel Chevalier
Official Site - The Darjeeling Limited Hotel Chevalier

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring (Japanese language): Yoji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishada, Yuko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi
Starring (English language): Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton

This was the first Hayao Miyazaki film I ever saw, back when it first came to America. I originally saw it as a dubbed version and it was still amazing. The animation is incredible; the story is rich and beyond imagination; the characters and struggles are unforgettable; the plot is so essential to our time, now more than ever.

It is the story of a man from a small village, Ashitaka, who encounters a demon boar. Whilst trying to stop the demon from destroying his village, he is scarred by it and learns that the scar will eventually consume him. In order to find a cure, he must journey to where the demon originated. En route he encounters samurai, forts, gods, traders, and has his strength and will tested.

To start, Miyazaki is probably the greatest storyteller around in film today, I think. The scope of his movies are beyond comparison. His ideas and style can be imitated but not matched. The animation in this film is superb with the typical scenic, stoic shots that make you forget you are watching a cartoon, as well as fast paced chases and wild camera moves that don't leave a dull moment. I have wanted to watch this film again for a long time and finally did today. While I still consider Naussica my favorite Miyazaki film and Spirited Away as having the best animation, Princess Mononoke is not far behind in either regard.

The detail spent in capturing every emotion and every trait of the characters is incredible. Some of the characters seem more true to life than live action actors. One of the greatest aspects of this film is the many people who populate it and the ambiguity with which they live. No one person is the villain or the protagonist. While Ashitaka is certainly the most selfless of them all, everyone seems to be out trying to fix their own lives without much concern for anyone else.

I love this movie because of the richness and persistence of life it portrays, while at the same time showing its fragility. Everything from the basic story itself, to the humans and gods, and to the drawing techniques, make you realize what an incredible world we live in, and make you worry that it could all too easily slip away.

Wikipedia - Princess Mononoke

IMDB - Princess Mononoke
Official Site - Princess Mononoke

The Point

As if you needed to read someone else's opinion about all the music and films that you hold dear. Well, you came to this page so obviously you do.

I like to think of myself as someone who knows what they're talking about when it comes to music and movies. I was a film major in college and currently work in the film business. I have been playing music since the second grade (piano, guitar since eighth). I listen to a wide variety of music, spanning many genres, time periods, countries and styles. I enjoy all types of movies and am always interested in seeing a new director. I'm not a snob (I don't think) but I know what I like.

The point of this blog will be to write reviews of albums and movies that I listen to and watch. In theory, the reviews will be written shortly after the experience so that I can write clearly about it. We'll see if that works out. I've wanted to do something like this for a while because lately I find myself writing restaurant reviews and really enjoying the review writing process.

Anyway, just to give you some idea of what to expect, here are my favorite current favorite movies and bands.

Movies: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Star Wars (original trilogy, I can't decide which one I like more), Fantastic Planet.

Music: Radiohead (OK Computer), The Beatles (The White Album), Jimi Hendrix (Electric Ladyland), The Grateful Dead (American Beauty), Ben Folds [Five] (Whatever and Ever Amen).

Thanks and enjoy and please leave comments if you'd like.