Thursday, December 30, 2004
The year's end is upon us, and you know what that means. All the hyped up award contenders are out in theaters. I'll do my best to catch what I can over the next couple weeks and of course report back to you all about what's worthwhile.
For now, here's a look at Kinsey. In addition to the reviews I mentioned last week, also look for National Treasure, Fat Albert and Bad Education. How can you miss those?
Review by Jon Waterman
This film tells the story of Alfred Kinsey, a zoologist who started out by studying gall wasps. Gall wasps are an unusual insect, in that no two of them are alike. He amassed the largest collection of these creatures in order to better understand them and their differences. His students relate to him well, calling him Prok (short for Professor Kinsey), and they come to him for advice. When he struggles to find good answers for their sexual questions, he seeks them out. Finding no adequate research material on the subject, he starts his own project. What followed was a cultural phenomenon/awakening that the nation never knew it wanted (and sometimes still pretended it didn’t).
Writer/Director Bill Condon (“Gods and Monsters”) gives us another movie involving a very complex, lead character. Kinsey seems so focused on the study and completing the study that he ignores the feelings of his family and society. He’s so robotic in his approach to life that you can’t help but look at him awkwardly. He fails to recognize or comprehend any attitudes towards what he’s doing other than his own. The movie becomes just as much about studying Kinsey as it is about Kinsey’s studies. It’s amazing that someone so inept at relating to the people so close to him could make a living by studying human beings.
What drives this all home is the great acting. Liam Neeson as Kinsey doesn’t produce a showy role full of emotional outbursts, but that’s what makes the performance so good. He’s more subdued and you can see the cogs turning in his mind as he analyzes everything to the fullest extent of his capability. Laura Linney as Alfred’s wife, Clara, one again proves she’s one of the best in the business right now. She too is more subtle, and instead of yelling and crying her eyes out (although that does occur), the way she influences her surroundings is through manipulation and using Kinsey’s tricks and behavior to her benefit. Peter Sarsgaard as Kinsey’s prized pupil, Clyde is the most real of the three, which provides the least interesting performance (although still perfectly fine). John Lithgow takes on a small role as Alfred’s father. He acts as the catalyst to almost all of the best scenes and you’ll see the most raw emotion and passion come across the screen with him there.
The movie is good, but overall it’s nothing too incredibly outstanding. I think what really makes the movie of note is just the subject matter. People today are still mystified and fascinated with sex and sexual behavior. Kinsey was a pioneer and he took a lot of criticism and heat from those wanting to suppress him and his work. The movie shows that times haven’t changed all that much, despite a general consensus regarding the pervasiveness of sexuality in our culture. It may be an interesting movie, but it’s one of those award contenders that just doesn’t quite have enough to make the voters scream out in delight.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Alright. Sorry about the delay. I'm in a major transition period, what with graduating college and getting slowly moved in to a new apartment/city. And we can't forget the holidays. It may take a couple more weeks before I get back into a full swing, but once I do, there will hopefully be no letting up. For now, enjoy my look at Sideways. I'll come back later with reviews for Kinsey and something of a companion piece to Moog (see below), Better Living Through Circuitry.
Review by Jon Waterman
Best man Miles is taking Jack out on a bachelor's party road trip. The excitement can barely be
contained as they go wine tasting throughout California. Actually, Jack is looking for something a little more standard as parties go. Instead of stomping grapes, he's looking to sew some oats. The not so recently divorced Miles desperately tries to keep things on schedule. Can such vastly different personalities take this trip in the same direction?
Alexander Payne, director and co-writer (along with Jim Taylor, "About Schmidt"), once again brings us another traveling picture void of young people and full of entertainment. The cast is all at or nearing middle age, so it may not exactly speak to the younger generations. I can't imagine too many high school or college aged kids that can relate to an undying depression that stemmed from a divorce several years ago or relate to the obsession over wine tasting. Even though someone my age can't really relate personally to the plights and the situations from the movie, it's still possible to enjoy watching it.
The film doesn't have the wacky characters you'd find in "About Schmidt" or even "Election" (another Payne movie), and in fact the leads are rather two-dimensional. But that's where the humor comes in. You essentially know what to expect out of Jack and Miles. You know that Jack will try to turn the conversation towards partying and sex, where as Miles will try to gear it towards wine and relaxation. It's such a basic formula, yet it works well.
One thing that makes it work so well is the great timing by the actors. Thomas Haden Church (as Jack), veteran of the sitcoms "Wings" and "Ned and Stacey," makes for the perfect antithesis to veteran of the depressing comedies "Storytelling" and "American Splendor," Paul Giamatti (as Miles). The leading ladies don't provide too many great one-liners, but the back and forth between the guys provides plenty of laughs.
It's hard to put a finger on what makes the film so oddly appealing. On the surface, it's a very basic movie with basic characters, an extremely pared down plot line, and generic cinematography, directing, and editing. The performances are good and the script is funny. What I think makes it so unusual, is that you rarely find a movie that is geared towards a specific, older, cultured generation these days. Yet, surprisingly it works for younger film lovers like me. The typical teenager most likely won't enjoy the film. In fact, the typical adult may not either. But if watching a movie about two oxymoronic friends talk about wine and women sounds like a good time, then this one's for you.
Monday, December 06, 2004
Alright. I know it's been about a month, since I've updated. I've been working on getting everything together so I can finally graduate. Only two more weeks and I'll be getting my degrees. It's left little time to watch movies, let alone review them. But I've been able to free up enough time to write a couple. Enjoy my thoughts on The Incredibles (which you've all seen by now) and Moog, which is hitting various art house theatres across the country as we speak. Later, expect reviews for Sideways, and Kinsey.
In January, look for me to release one of the major projects that's keeping me away from filmbrats. I'm working on a study on DVD audio commentaries and their educational value. It's an intensive project and you'll get to see the fruits of my labor once it's all finished. A filmbrats exclusive. Thanks for staying with us.
Review by Jon Waterman
After a bunch of lawsuits come out, superheroes are forced into hiding. Now, they’re stuck living normal everyday lives all the while sitting on their powers. Unable to help the world, Mr. Incredible is becoming increasingly depressed. However, his wife, Elastigirl, is perfectly happy being the Mary Tyler Moore stay-at-home mom type. So, Mr. Incredible, sneaks behind his wife’s back to fight crime and eventually finds himself captured by an evil supervillain (as if there’s any other kind). Now, the rest of the family has to come to the rescue to save him and the city. Can it be done?
Here’s the latest effort by the Pixar bunch. Once again, the animation is pretty good. Even though, I’m sure the methodology and techniques have improved this time around, “Monsters, Inc.” looked better to me. This stuff doesn’t look bad at all, but we’re dealing with imaginary monsters as opposed to cartoon humans. I know there’s a line of realism you don’t want to cross in a movie like this and the people look a heck of a lot better than they did in “Toy Story,” but the detail really popped out at me with “Monsters, Inc.”
I probably liked “Finding Nemo” the least of all critics, but still found it entertaining. One of my main criticisms of it was that it wasn’t as funny as it should have been. Here, the movie isn’t exactly all that funny either. However, you don’t have professional comedians in the key roles. You have comedic actors delivering their lines amazingly well, but the lines themselves aren’t that rip-roaring. However, the story is extremely solid. The characterization of the family works very well and writer/director Brad Bird adds a great “everyday people” relatable element to the superheroes. Even though the people have super powers, you can still related to the core emotions and feelings and to the scenarios where you wish you had those powers. It’s a tough job to juggle the cartoony side, the real/emotional side, the funny side and the action side, but the film does just that.
Welcome back, Coach. Craig T. Nelson is perfect as Mr. Incredible. Wallace Shawn is hilarious as the boss. The rest of the cast didn’t exactly impress me. They weren’t bad. They did what they had to do, but they hardly stood out. I was surprised with Nelson’s acting here. He seemed to understand the character more than the rest of the cast. He didn’t punch it up or exaggerate anything. That kind of performance is pretty tough to find in a children’s cartoon.
This is one of the best movies Pixar has made. Like I said, the storyline is great. The characters are fun. The movie is occasionally funny (the ending is hilarious). And best of all, it’s not overdone. It’s a great family film that the kids have to love. My guess is the parents will too. If you thought “Finding Nemo” was good, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Simply put, incredible.
Review by Jon Waterman
This documentary tells the story of Robert Moog and his usual rise through the ranks in the music industry. His inventions were slow to catch on, but eventually found their place in history and music hasn’t sounded the same since. His synthesizers revolutionized the way notes were formed and heard. They could be manipulated beyond anything anyone had seen before. Some saw it as the portent of the cultural breakdown of civilized society; others saw vast opportunity and expansion of the art.
The documentary does a good job of balancing the subject matter and telling us what we’d want to know. We learn about the nature of Moog himself as well as the machine as well as the artists that use it. The movie is complete with history of the invention and its eventual impact. It seems like a lot for a 72-minute film to handle, but this one does and does it well. It even has time left over to give us a few musical breaks to show us concert footage from a synthesized music festival.
The movie is quite interesting and the pacing is perfect. The archival footage and interviews all provide substance and further the structure along its path. The stories are funny and lend more insight into the situation then they probably realize. What’s interesting is that aside from Moog, there really aren’t any interviews. Instead, we get Moog talking about the good old days and the good new days with the people that helped him out in developing and distributing this crazy contraption and the artists that have mastered it. They aren’t interviews, they are chats, and that adds a lot to the overall impact of the movie.
The cinematography seemed a bit amateurish to me. I got the feeling that the project was made either by students or recent graduates with little prior experience. In fact, director/editor Hans Fjellestad has only one other movie under his belt. From what I see here, he’ll find his touch eventually. What’s missing is a definitive look and feel. It’s all very basic. Perhaps this is the downfall of all the subjects. There was too much to cover in too many locales to really find a vision for the movie. Most of the stuff is handheld. Surprisingly enough, it’s rather steady, which is an increasingly rare find. Everything is composed well and we aren’t made dizzy from a roaming/zooming camera.
Seeing how the history of the instrument and the culture it spawned came to be is worth the price of admission, even if you don’t particularly care for the sounds the synthesizer produces. The soundtrack is catchy and, of course, all synthesized. If you know nothing of the music, the movie deserves a look. If you’re a fan of the genre, then “Moog” can’t be missed.