Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bite-Sized Thoughts on a Few Recent Releases

- Sweeney Todd: My main qualm is that the disparate elements of the production overshadow the film itself. Tim Burton and his idiosyncratic style are bigger than the story; Johnny Depp and his hair are bigger than the character, the sets and set-ups are bigger than the songs and the (incredibly lackluster) production numbers. It's self-indulgent, stylistic onanism disguised as quirky and dark.

I am a big fan of musicals. And I can't help but wonder how one can start with such a flawless musical as Sweeney Todd, and end up with this overbaked hodge-podge of a movie.

I also don’t know why I keep seeing films by Tim Burton, whose only film I truly enjoyed (and still cherish) is Beetlejuice. Then again, put Harry Belafonte on the soundtrack, and I’ll enjoy pretty much any film.

- La Vie En Rose: It goes on bloody forever, that’s the first thing. There is no subtlety nor is there any yearning for some sort of psychological truth – instead, we are left purely with length. It’s as if sheer length would make up for the film’s inherent vacuousness. The same illness ailed Jesse James/Robert Ford, too. “Let’s make it long and tedious, and people might think we are actually saying something when, in fact, we are wanking in their faces.”

It’s also filled to the brim with third-rate melodrama – if someone isn’t crying in any given scene (most of the time that someone is Piaf), then they are either screaming, or having a nervous breakdown. The focus is not on the music or Piaf’s genius, but instead on how hard everything was for her. It’s a made-for-TV Hallmark weepie punctuated with a Gray alien in a wig miming Piaf’s songs.

That Lady Luck sat me next to an elderly couple who sang along with the alien didn’t help matters, either…

- If Match Point was Crimes and Misdemeanours without the Cliff Stern/Halley Reed subplot, then Cassandra’s Dream is Match Point without the panache. Not just the panache, but without a sense of direction, story, and actually a point. “You can’t get away with murder even if you get away with murder.” So says Morality Sheriff Woody, without a sense of irony.

Looking back at Match Point, it’s not that it was a great movie so much as a welcome return to form for Allen – but that had a lot to do with the fact that virtually all his efforts after Bullets Over Broadway (barring, maybe, Mighty Aphrodite) were pretty, pretty, PRETTY bad. Cassandra’s Dream goes right back to that cycle of mediocrity – it has none of the ironic detachment or cinematic melody of Match Point. Just a dull movie waiting to be forgotten.

The film’s one redeeming feature is Sally Hawkins, who gives an incredible performance, even though her role is an East London stereotype seen through the eyes of a New Yorker. Incidentally, she was also very good in The Painted Veil – another lugubrious piece of crap.

- Ben Affleck does a solid job in Gone Baby Gone, but he should ease up on the literalness and extend his artistic vocabulary, because otherwise he runs the risk of turning into Edward Zwick: a perfectly competent craftsman with absolutely no flair whatsoever, and an increasingly dull body of work. That said, it’s a fine achievement for a first feature. Not only does Affleck have a perfect ear for all sorts of Bostonisms, he also feels at home with that most idiosyncratic of genres: the detective movie, and he shuffles things around a bit, too. Guess all that man-love from Jimmy Kimmel must have paid off.

What’s more impressive is that the film pretty much rests on Casey Affleck’s shoulders – even though he has ample help from a few veterans (especially Ed Harris does a great job), he has to carry the story forward, and he succeeds magnificently. Which is all the more impressive since his performance in Jesse James/Robert Ford is one of last year’s worst ones.

I am still working on my There Will Be Blood review, as well as a few other pieces.


Kevin J. Olson said...

I couldn't agree more on Burton. Aside from Ed Wood, I don't think I have been able to not roll my eyes through one of his films. Everything is too arty, and in a bad way like he is saying "I don't care if it's a faithful adaptation (Planet of the Apes, Batman, Sleepy Hollow) I am artistic! My art trumps any need to tell a story or develop characters or actually make a new movie in the last 20 years."

As for the other films:

--- I'm not too thrilled to see the Piaf film. I don't much care for musicals.

--- Gone Baby Gone was better than Mystic River, it's funny how such a subdued actor like Clint Eastwood directs an over-the-top emoting orgy like Mystic River, and the over-the-top Ben Affleck directs (essentially the same novel) with a little more subtlety. I really liked the film and I haven't seen Jesse James yet, so I cannot comment on Casey Affleck's performance between the two films.

--- I don't really have any desire to see the Woody Allen movie. I will just pop in Crimes and Misdemeanors whenever I get the urge to watch a new british Woody Allen film. But I think that you sell some of the modern Allen films short. I for one enjoyed Sweet and Lowdown and Small Time Crooks (even though it was sily).

Looking forward to your review of There Will Be Blood, and I really enjoyed your comments on Cloverfield. I think I'll stay away from that one and go with Diary of the Dead instead; since they seem to be the same kind of commentary on the YouTube style of filmmaking.

And is that really what the monster looks like? If so that is about as dissapointing as the aliens in Independence Day.

Ali Arikan said...

I enjoyed Sweet and Lowdown when it came out, but not greatly. I think films like Scoop or Hollywood Ending or Celebrity overshadow his less egregious work frmo the last decade.

And yes, that's what the Cloverfield monster looks like. Just a terrible, terrible design. And its nails need a trim and a buff, tsk, tsk...

Briget said...

A Conan re-dub of a scene from "No Country for Old Men"
I'm enjoying your blog!

Briget :-)