Tag Archives: Movies

Review: 8 1/2

A few months ago, I started reviewing classic movies and albums for a friend’s Web site. I’ve decided to bring the feature over here. It might happen every week, on Fridays. It might not. The only rules: these are all movies/albums I’ve never seen/heard before now, and no mocking of my cultural blindness will be allowed.

8 1/2

I fell asleep not once, but thrice, while attempting to watch “8 1/2,” the Italian movie all your film major friends raved about it. Roger Ebert called it the “best film ever made about filmmaking.” As of the forthcoming sentence, I will have referred to it as “not the best film to watch after midnight when you are tired.”

That said, the movie does hold charms for those of us barely competent with a Flip cam. For starters, there’s Marcello Mastroianni, who plays the Fellini doppelganger, Guido Anselmi. The descriptor “leading man” does little justice; nor do the adjectives suave and dashing. Today’s stars could do well to take lessons in smiling, brooding, silence, and head-scratching (literal) from this performance. Critics wiser than I have noted that images trump ideas in the film – that Fellini is more filmmaker than artist. They mean this to suggest a flaw; I found it rather delightful. Shots of empty backgrounds turn into close-ups as characters waltz lovingly on-camera. The movie moves silkily from spa-side shots to shadow-covered bedrooms: the subtitles and, thus, the plot, become superfluous.

Admittedly, this is mercifully so. The story itself is mildly self-indulgent and just a bit confusing: I loved a dream sequence in Guido’s fictional harem, but desperately hoped the final spaceship-adjacent soiree would end. It’s all rather dreamy, and in this case, that’s enough.

Anthony Lane on Clash of the Titans

Few things give me more joy than Anthony Lane reviewing an overwrought Hollywood blockbuster like, say, Clash of the Titans:

As a man, Perseus can march up hills and down into the mouth of hell with warrior friends like Draco (Mads Mikkelsen), who teaches him swordsmanship—“Stay focussed,” he says, in a phrase that scholars have long sought, yet never found, in the pages of the Iliad. Where is the fun, by contrast, in the lives of those who dwell on Mt. Olympus? They stand around on individual floating platforms like bored, middle-aged sunseekers waiting to do pool aerobics. Danny Huston, in the role of Poseidon, gets about a line and a half of dialogue and then drops out of the movie, while Neeson, as team leader, comes wrapped in so much aluminum foil that, if I were an attendant mortal, I wouldn’t quite know whether to worship him or take him out every hour and baste him.

More delight to be found, here.

On The Phantom Menace and Storytelling

This 70-minute video review of The Phantom Menace bounced around the Internet a few months ago, but I’m just now getting to it. I can count on both hands the number of video reviews I’ve ever watched. But this is epically packed with humor, geekery, and most importantly for our purposes, insightful storytelling tips.

Are there better ways to spend 70 minutes? Yes! In fact, definitely yes! But there are worse. If nothing else, check out the first two episodes, which are chock-full of obvious but crucial points (The Characters! Drama!):

You are not in control

Hollywood has figured out, unconsciously or otherwise, how to match scenes for our attention span:

Psychologist Professor James Cutting and his team from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, analyzed 150 high-grossing Hollywood released from 1935 to 2005 and discovered the shot lengths in the more recent movies followed the same mathematical that describes the human attention span…

Cutting believes obeying the 1/f law makes films “resonate with the rhythm of human attention spans,” and this makes them more gripping. Films edited in this way would then tend to be more successful and the style of shooting and editing more likely to be copied.

(Via Kottke)

Vader before Jones

Behind the scenes movie-making fascinates me. Here’s what Darth Vader sounded like before James Earl Jones redubbed the voice:

(Via MetaFilter)

Reviews from an unqualified critic

My pal, and New York media mogul, Corban Goble, has started a new blog to keep the content fresh for his arts scene magazine, Epilogue. It’s called EpiBlog (ha!), and once a week I’m contributing reviews of classic movies and albums that my upbringing left as blind spots in my cultural experience. I’m not proud to admit them, and blame no one but myself, but here’s my chance to atone. So far, I’ve reviewed:

Blue Velvet

Pet Sounds

Do The Right Thing

Exile on Main St.

Next up (I think), The Godfather: Part II. I’ll try to keep you updated, sporadically, on my goings on over there. But do yourself a favor and grab the RSS feed.

The Big Red Riding Hood

I just spent over five hours in a movie theater, watching three movies separated by two ten-minute intermissions. Combined, the movies, which make up The Red Riding Trilogy, were the most immersive movie-going experience I’ve had without 3D-glasses. You have the option of watching these movies on IFC on Demand, in your own couch, at your convenience. If you were British you would have seen them spaced out over several weeks on public television. But I chose the five-hour marathon, which, given that I get annoyed by YouTube videos longer than two minutes, seemed rather foolhardy.

Which makes me surprised to pronounce it’s unequivocally the better way to watch these movies (though, I emphasize that watching them separately is a more than adequate, and considerably more rational choice). But I hope the power of the movie – the ever-increasing and enveloping sense of doom – comes through in separate viewings. The dreary colors keep getting drearier, the Yorkshire rubble piles keep getting higher, and every point of possible light and hope is stamped out by the pervasive corruption and various forces of evil – it’s a less-funny, more-disturbing version of The Wire. And watching it all at once only magnifies the weight on you.

Sound fun? It is, sort of!

Bad news: if you’re in New York, tonight’s your last chance.

Tracking shots

Kudos to Pete Lachman for linking me to a list of 20 great extended takes (Think: scenes walking through bustling kitchens). For one, I’ve never been able to get the alternating wood and carpet sounds from The Shining out of my head:

This one’s pretty cool, knowing it’s from 1964:

The full list is here. One I recall that didn’t make it is from Atonement.

Screenwriters on writing

I’ve only seen three of the “20 Greatest Movies About Writers.” Adaptation was my favorite:

The others are “Capote,” and “The Squid and The Whale.”

Up in the Air

This is a rather clever promotional video for “Up in the Air” – accompanied by a pie chart – based on the drudgery director Jason Reitman’s promotional tour put him through:

This gives me a chance to talk, briefly, about Up in the Air. I’m a big fan of Reitman’s movies, even though he’s apparently kind of a not-nice guy. Thank You For Smoking, for purely smart comedy, is one of my favorites of all time. And he deftly turned Diablo Cody’s wildly-clever-but-sometimes-grating script into a wildly-clever-and-only-occasionally-grating movie, Juno.

I thus had high expectations for Up , and immediately after my first viewing, was struck that it had met but not exceeded them (some veiled spoilers forthcoming, so stop if you’re gonna see the movie). The first 20-30 minutes are enjoyable but a little slow, the middle hour is a pure joy (Anna Kendrick should win an Oscar simply for her reaction to an unpleasant text message), and the last third has a predictable twist and an ending that leaves us with…nothing. We have Clooney not changing his ways, or going to back to his old ways, or devolving into a life of addiction, or achieving white collar nirvana, or anything. We just have no fucking clue where he’s going. I was left thinking, “So, what happens now?”

I’ll spare you the transformation in thinking (“Oh, wait, that’s the point?”), but I’m placing it at the top of my 2009 list along with “Up,” and “Inglorious Basterds,” in part on the strength of the ending. Apparently the book it’s based on has a twist ending, and when you consider what the movie would have liked with this ending, well, it ain’t pretty. Kudos, Jason.

As an aside, the handful of female viewers I’ve polled have all either not liked the movie, or just thought it was OK. I chalk this up to a) the fact that men would enjoy watching George Clooney take half an hour to down a black coffee and scone in Topeka, KS, and b) the “twist” at the end takes away some of the “strength” of Clooney’s female foil. But, hey, I’m not a gal, and would love to hear from the fairer sex on this very important topic.