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Watching "Much Ado About Nothing"
Published on July 2, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review Joss Whedon's adaptation of the Shakespeare play "Much Ado About Nothing."

Here's an excerpt:

"The new adaptation of the William Shakespeare romantic-comedy 'Much Ado About Nothing' has the feel of a low-budget film made by a group of friends, which is both a good and bad thing.

Shot in about two weeks at director Joss Whedon’s California home while he was taking a short break from making 'The Avengers,' the cast is filled with TV veterans who will be familiar to fans of Whedon’s cult TV shows, such as 'Dollhouse' and 'Firefly.' On one hand, the small-scale, contemporary setting — this 'Much Ado About Nothing' takes place in the here and now — is liberating, smartly updating one of the Bard’s best-loved plays and showing how many of his themes still reverberate. On the other hand, I found myself wishing Whedon had taken even more liberties with the play than he does, and opened it up just a bit more: Despite the modern dress and glossy black-and-white palette, this is a very faithful adaptation, and the social mores of Elizabethan England don’t always translate to the year 2013.

But they mostly do, so it’s easy to overlook the parts of the play that now seem somewhat problematic."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "Before Midnight"
Published on June 26, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Richard Linklater movie "Before Midnight."

Here's an excerpt:

"The first two films in director Richard Linklater’s acclaimed 'Before' series were joyous affairs, showing two people connecting and reconnecting and falling in love. The third film, “Before Midnight” is more like a splash of cold water in the face, detailing the fissures in their relationship and exploring the possibility of falling out of love.

Jesse and Celine might be fictional characters, but their concerns, fights and communication breakdowns are all too common among once-idealistic young adults now mired in the self-doubt and anxieties of middle age. In the new film 'Before Midnight,' their talks are reminiscent of some of the conversations I’ve had with friends in recent years. 'Marriage is a funny thing,' one of my friends told me a few months ago. I’m sure Jesse and Celine would agree.

We first encountered Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in 1995 in 'Before Sunrise,' when they met on a train and spent the day and night wandering the streets of Vienna and talking. Jesse is American and Celine is French; they decide not to exchange contact information but to meet at the train station in six months time. In the 2004 sequel 'Before Sunset,' Jesse and Celine reunite after about a decade; Jesse is now a successful writer, and Celine seeks him out at a book signing in Paris. They talk about their lives, and the film closes with Jesse sitting in a chair in Celine’s apartment, and Celine telling him, 'Baby, you are going to miss that plane.' In 'Before Midnight,' we learn that Jesse did miss his plane, divorced his wife and now lives in France with Celine and their twin daughters."

Click here to read the whole thing.


James Gandolfini, RIP
Published on June 20, 2013 by Sara Foss

This essay by Matt Zoller Seitz is pretty good.


Watching "Star Trek Into Darkness"
Published on June 18, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "Star Trek Into Darkness."

Here's an excerpt:

"I love Spock.

These new 'Star Trek' films have their flaws, but my love of Spock makes it easier for me to ignore them. Sure, I like the rest of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew members, but Spock is my favorite. Whenever he wasn’t on the screen, I was like, 'Where is Spock?' And then I would start noticing the flaws of 'Star Trek Into Darkness.'

'Star Trek Into Darkness' has a slam-bang opening that finds the Enterprise on a primitive planet set to be a destroyed by a volcano; Spock (Zachary Quinto) manages to save the planet by detonating some sort of cold fusion device, but in the rescue mission that ensues, Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) chooses to violate the Prime Directive, which forbids interfering with developing cultures, and save Spock’s life. As a result, he loses command of his ship. However, he regains it after a rogue Starfleet agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) bombs an agency building and nearly kills the entire Starfleet leadership team when the group meets to discuss how to respond to the attack. Kirk initially vows to hunt down Harrison and kill him, but is eventually convinced to arrest him and bring him in alive so that he can stand trial. Naturally, things do not go according to plan."

Click here to read the whole thing.

 


Recent Viewing: Films
Published on June 17, 2013 by Sara Foss

The Great Gatsby (2013) ***

Crazy People (1990) ***

The Devil, Probably (1977) ***

The Ballad of Narayama (1958) ***1/2

Frances Ha (2013) ***1/2

The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun (1999) ***1/2

Dinner for Schmucks (2010) ***

The Big Blue (1988) **1/2


Watching "Frances Ha"
Published on June 11, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Noah Baumbach film "Frances Ha."

Here's an excerpt:

"The films of Noah Baumbach often find characters at unsettled moments in their lives.

His brilliant debut, 1995’s 'Kicking and Screaming,' focused on a group of directionless friends in the year following their college graduation. His 2010 film 'Greenberg' cast its lens on an abrasive middle-aged man who moves home to Los Angeles to housesit for his brother and winds up reuniting with and alienating his old friends. Baumbach’s latest film, the extremely enjoyable 'Frances Ha,' tells the story of a young woman who just can’t seem to grow up and get her act together, even though her friends are making the transition to adulthood and leaving her behind.

'Frances Ha' is filmed in lustrous black-and-white, and its fluidity, attention to young adults and sense of joy and heartache recall the films of the French New Wave. But the movie is also clearly influenced by the low-budget American independent films that fall into the so-called mumblecore subgenre. These movies often focus on the dysfunctional romantic lives and career dissatisfaction of aimless young adults. At their best, they have a blunt honesty and sexual frankness that tends to be lacking from more mainstream films; at their worst, they are poorly shot and ugly. It’s as if Baumbach watched these films and thought, 'I can make a better mumblecore film,' rolled up his sleeves and went to work."

Click here to read the whole thing.

 


Watching "The Great Gatsby"
Published on June 5, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Baz Luhrmann spectacle "The Great Gatsby."

Here's an excerpt:

"Maybe 'The Great Gatsby' just wasn’t meant to be a movie.

Not that director Baz Luhrmann’s take on the great F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is a bad film. It’s engaging and absorbing, with a bright, sumptuous and sometimes dizzying style that almost always makes for a visual feast. And it’s well-acted and fairly faithful to the book. But Luhrmann’s reverence for the novel is actually a bit of a hindrance after a while: He makes such liberal use of Fitzgerald’s stirring prose (at times, quotes from the book dance across the screen as Nick Carraway types) that almost every frame makes you think, 'What I should really do is re-read this book.' In the end, 'The Great Gatsby' is a decent enough film, undone by its inability to achieve the same level of greatness as the book from which its adapted.

Of course, it’s a bit unfair to knock the new film version for failing to reach the same impressive heights as the novel — one of the greatest in American literature. And 'The Great Gatsby' is actually better than anyone had a right to expect. I’m actually a fan of two of Luhrmann’s earlier films, 'Moulin Rouge!' and 'Strictly Ballroom,' but I wasn’t sure 'The Great Gatsby' would benefit from his flair for excess, anachronistic use of pop music, and big, bold emotional flourishes. Could he capture the subtleties and nuances of Fitzgerald’s book?"

Click here to read the whole thing.


Schmaltzy Sci-Fi Hits Summer Screens
Published on June 4, 2013 by guest author: Annalisa Parent

OK, I'll admit it. I'm that annoying person you go to the movies with - not the one who talks through the whole thing or whose cell phone rings. I'm the one who always knows the plot before it happens. 

Last night I went to the drive-in. (Yes, we still have a drive-in, and it's a thriving business in our Vermont summers.) What I like about the drive-in, among other things, is that it offers you the chance to see a double feature (for those of you who weren't teenagers in the 1950s' height of drive-in popularity, that's “two movies in a row, Dawg.”) 

Sometimes it happens that the two movies you want to see fall in the same time slot, and so last night instead of watching Iron Man 3 as I’d hoped (perfect drive-in fodder, by the way), my friend and I watched M. Night Shyamalan's After Earth. Yeah, I said M. Night Shyamalan. Are you as surprised as we were that he's even affiliated with the film? It’s probably because all of the billing has been about Will Smith and his son Jaden who feature in the film, with nary a mention of this famous director. 

It’s almost as if Shyamalan’s not a part of the family. (Mostly because he isn’t.) To be sure, this film is a family affair. Smith wrote the screenplay. His wife Jada produced. And his son starred. 

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Notes on "The Room"
Published on June 3, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I ponder the phenomenom of the cult film "The Room."

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve never been a big proponent of watching terrible movies just for the fun of it. I’d rather watch a good movie. However, occasionally my curiosity gets the best of me, which is why I’ve watched what is arguably the worst film in history, 'Plan 9 From Outer Space,' and the Joan Collins’ bomb 'Trog.' And I’m a huge fan of 'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,' a bad film with a goofy charm that’s tough to resist, and a defender of 'Showgirls.'

A few years ago I became aware of the cult surrounding the awful 2003 film 'The Room' from a Harper’s magazine article by Tom Bissell. The phenomenom intrigued me, and I put the movie in my Netflix queue, even though 'The Room' sounded like the sort of thing that was best experienced on the big screen, in a room full of 'Room' devotees. So when I heard that Proctors was screening the film at the end of May, I decided that I had to go.

'The Room' is an odd little item — a passion project created by a group of talentless people. Films this inept are rare. By the end of it, I felt like I could buy a video camera tomorrow and make a film that’s about 10 times better than 'The Room' ... though probably not so hysterically awful and strange.

Of the film’s writer, director and star, Tommy Wiseau, Bissell writes, 'He tried to make a conventional film and wound up with something so inexplicable and casually surreal that no practicing surrealist could ever convincingly ape its form, except by exact imitation. It is the movie that an alien who has never seen a movie might make after having had movies thoroughly explained to him.' Later in the article, Bissell wonders, 'What does it say about contemporary American culture that the Rocky Horror Picture show of our time is not a winning exercise in leering camp and butt-shaking grooviness but an earnest melodrama distinguished by what it is unable to provide? Why are so many people responding to a megalomaniacal feat of formal incompetence? Is it the satisfaction of seeing the auteur myth cruelly exploded, or watching an artist reach for the stars and wind up with his hand around a urinal cake?'"

Click here to read the whole thing.


Recent Viewing: Films
Published on June 2, 2013 by Sara Foss

Iron Man 3 (2013) ***

Upstream Color (2013) ****

People on Sunday (1930) ***

Hansel and Gretel (2009) ***

Tamara Drewe (2010) ***

The Angels' Share (2013) ***

The Stepfather (1987) ***

The Room (2003) Stars Not Applicable

The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986) ***1/3

Yojimbo (1961) ****


Watching "The Angels' Share" and "Upstream Color"
Published on May 29, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the new Ken Loach film "The Angels' Share," and the new Shane Carruth film "Upstream Color," which I loved.

Here's an excerpt:

"I don’t expect comedy or goofy hijinks from the films of Ken Loach, the British director whose often grim filmography focuses on the struggles of the working class.

But his latest, 'The Angels’ Share,' is a gentle human comedy about hope, redemption and whisky. It opens with a very funny montage of troubled young Glasgow residents being sentenced to community service for crimes such as shoplifting birds from a pet store and drunkenly defacing public monuments. The final offender to go before the judge is Robbie (Paul Brannigan), whose crime is more serious: He beat up a couple guys with whom he has a bit of a history, inflicting serious harm. But the judge is lenient, as Robbie did not initiate the incident and has an otherwise decent record.

Robbie and the other offenders find themselves under the tutelage of Harry (John Henshaw), who puts them to work painting a building. Harry eventually becomes something of a mentor for Robbie, accompanying the young man to the hospital after his girlfriend has given birth to his son, and introducing him to the pleasure of drinking high-quality whisky. One Saturday, Harry takes the offenders to a distillery, and Robbie discovers that he has an exceptional nose and is capable of identifying a whisky’s more subtle flavors."

Click here to read the whole thing.


The "Star Wars" Naysayers
Published on May 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

This is from a few weeks ago, but I greatly enjoyed this piece by Devin Faraci at Badass Digest about how "Star Wars" is the most overrated movie franchise ever.

Faraci writes, "The reality here is simply mathematical. Out of six Star Wars films two qualify as good. That leaves four poor-to-terrible movies, an overwhelming majority of the series. If you picked a Star Wars film out of a hat odds are it would be garbage. It’s hard to think of a franchise with the pop culture weight of Star Wars that’s so generally miss rather than hit. Let's put it this way: the Fast and the Furious franchise has a better ratio of good entries to bad entries. A way better ratio."

Now, I like the "Star Wars" films - even the later films. But I think the hype surrounding them is a little insane. I mean, there's plenty of other good movies out there.

Around the time Faraci's piece ran, film critic Matt Singer wrote about how his wife recently watched "Star Wars" for the first time. I think the title of the piece - "Why Is This Movie Famous Again?" - provides a sense of how a rational adult with no exposure to the franchise might regard the film.

And if you're interested in some fun alternatives to the increasingly ponderous "Star Wars" films, J.K. Eisen has some suggestions in this old Rule of Thumb post.


Watching "Iron Man 3"
Published on May 22, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the movie "Iron Man 3."

Here's an excerpt:

"Watching 'Iron Man 3' is a bit like dropping in on old friends who are decent enough company, even though you’ve kind of grown apart.

The film is fun and exciting, with a lively sense of humor and sharp, clever dialogue — of all the superhero franchises, the 'Iron Man' films most resemble the frothy screwball comedies of an earlier era. In fact, the most interesting thing about 'Iron Man 3' is the interaction between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who began the series as Stark’s assistant and is now his girlfriend. Watching these two bicker and banter is easily the highlight of the film. Sure, the special effects are cool, and there are some dynamic action sequences, but the basic storyline — evil supervillian genius seeks to control the world and Tony Stark AKA Iron Man must stop him — is nothing new. What makes 'Iron Man 3' worth watching is the same thing that made 'Iron Man' and 'Iron Man 2' worth watching: character and heart."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Recent Viewing: Films
Published on May 22, 2013 by Sara Foss

Our Nixon (2013) ***1/2

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) ***1/2

The Dark Crystal (1982) ***

A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy (2007) **1/2

F/X (1986) ***

Scrooge (1935) ***

Mud (2013) ***1/2

Play Misty For Me (1971) ***

Ne Change Rien (2009) ***1/2

Lebanon (2009) **1/2

 


My Five Favorite Movies
Published on May 21, 2013 by guest author: Steve LeBlanc

These are my five favorite movies and why:
 

5.  Wild Strawberries (1982, Ingmar Bergman)


 It would be  difficult for me to not include at least one Bergman film.  The question is, which film?  Other strong candidates are "The Seventh Seal," "Through A Glass Darkly," "The Silence," "Shame," "Fanny & Alexander." Bergman was an amazing filmmaker in multiple ways. He dealt with deep religious and philosophical questions head-on. He was great at exploring daily life and personal relationships. He demonstrated a deft comedic touch. As strong as he was as a scriptwriter, his films at the same time are remarkable for their striking cinematography. He was a tremendous director of actors and actresses (he was very involved in Swedish theater). He filmed the acting of actors and actresses as well as any director I have ever seen (refer to "Scenes from a Marriage"). Most importantly, his films are machines through which we can consider the questions most fundamental to human existence.


I settled on "Wild Strawberries" as my favorite Bergman film. Why?  Because it works so well as a cohesive whole, yet at the same time offers a sampler of the Bergman goods. It includes surreal scenes brimming with symbolism. It includes realistic scenes of the affairs of everyday life. It is a beautifully shot film, with a variety of locales and imagery. And it is a moving story of an old man attempting to reconcile himself to both his past life and his future death.


 4.  War and Peace (1967, Sergei Bondarchuk)


 How do you film an adequate adaptation of the great and immense novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy? With the full support and cooperation of the entire Soviet state, that’s how. While it is difficult to obtain precise budget figures, at the time of its release it was certainly one of the most expensive movies ever produced, if not the most expensive. Bondarchuk was granted access to all of the historical sites/artifacts necessary for the telling. When you see icons, emperor’s crowns and churches in the movie, they are likely the same icons, emperor’s crowns, and churches utilized by the real protagonists of the acutal war against Napoleon.


This all helped to make the adaptation adequate. Bondarchuk went further and made a magnificent film. In large part this is a result of the fact that his directorial impulse was to utilize all these resources to create a film that was as true to the original novel as humanly possible. Now this is something that is almost never done. Read any great book and watch a filmed version of it, and you almost always can find multiple instances where the director has taken liberties. This film however treats Tolstoy’s novel as absolute gospel, as if it is worried that knowledgeable Russian readers will revolt at the slightest deviance. Only it doesn’t feel like a forced limitation. Rather, the film rejoices in illuminating the great stories, truths, and moments found in Tolstoy’s seminal work. Specific areas to praise: the acting is fantastic, the slightly hazy feel of the film is intoxicating, and the battle scenes are perhaps the most amazing I have ever seen (it is incredible what a master director can do with an unlimited budget and tens of thousands of extras…). To give this film the highest praise, for me watching it provides the same intellectual and emotional sensations as reading the novel it is based on.

 

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