Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We'll Stick Together Forever, Stay Sick Together, Be Crazy Forever

The Informant! (Soderbergh, 2009)

So Steven Soderbergh has already made one of the year's most interesting films in the form of The Girlfriend Experience, and now he has returned with a more mainstream entry in his yarn about Mark Whitacre, famous corporate whistle blower. Starring Matt Damon as the lead, my excitement for the film was fairly high since, recently, I have been a fan of both Damon's and Soderbergh's work. However, the trailer told me that it the film would visually be in a style similar to his underwhelming Out of Sight. So I went in with little knowledge about the story, slightly hesitant that I would be in for something fairly light and comedic, and hoping to see one of the year's best films. In many ways none of those thoughts remained constant for very long after the film started rolling across the screen.

The Informant! is in no way a bad film, but these is certainly something off-putting about the whole affair, though I have to be slightly wary that, at least to an extent, much of that style is by Soderbergh's own craft. The score and style, both carefree and highly polished, are completely at odds with the incredibly dark overtones in the film's narrative such as the severity of the price fixing and, ultimately, the motivations for the Whitacre character. Unsettling is likely a more proper word used to describe my time with the film as even the casting choices are apparently meant to be at odds with viewer expectations. Matt Damon, a man I have known mostly as a 'serious' actor, easily slides into a comedic role while known comedians like Joel McHale and Tony Hale are given so little comedy to work with during the entire film. Perhaps Soderbergh wants the audience to make note of the foolish business practices and government actions through the supporting cast while still reminding the audience of the sincerity of the Whitacre character despite the surface comedy. Whatever his intention, he is clearly toying with preconceived ideas, which he also did in Out of Sight to similar success.

So I suppose the question is does the comedy work and, ultimately, is does the film succeed as a unique telling of this fascinating tale? The answer is not incredibly simple. While the comedy is usually not overt, Damon brings everything he can muster to the character and the dialogue, while a bit overt in some places and rather subtle in others, is simply superb. However, the film does not really have many big laughs, but the film does not really seem to be a straight comedy in the same sense that something like I Love You, Man attempts to exist as a comedy. The more apt comparison, as far as I am concerned, is to Observe and Report. While the audience may laugh with Damon, or perhaps even at him, I think the comedy, to an extent, comes to the hypocritical nature of man in addition to the constant idea to plan and progress. The film, in many ways, is about Whitacre's unraveling, but also about simply presenting the good and the bad, the serious and the comedic, aspects of the man. Nothing in the film is a definite, and I think Soderbergh does a nice job of presenting that idea through the portrayal of the Whitacre character and the constantly conflicting styles.

Ultimately, The Informant! is another interesting experiment from a director who, like one of my personal favorite filmmakers, Gus Van Sant, has a knack for bringing his own definitive perspective to even the most mainstream and conventional of films. Soderbergh does not hit this one out of the park in the same way that he does with The Girlfriend Experience, but he crafts a film that is a fun enough ride the first time through and probably will benefit from a second viewing. I have compared the film to Out of Sight throughout most of this review, and I will continue to do so here. Like Out of Sight, Soderbergh takes an interesting cast, anchors it with a fantastic lead performance, throws in an engaging story, adds a dose of flashy camera moves, a spiffy soundtrack, and toys with audience expectations to make an entertaining product that, like Out of Sight, does little more than serve as a mildly amusing way to spend a couple hours.

B-/B or 3.47483295634275163924561439

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

I Hear What You're Not Saying...

Sugar (Boden and Fleck, 2009)

While I missed the theatrical run of Sugar, I had heard nothing but good things about the baseball biopic focusing on a young Dominican player as he makes the journey over to America for a chance to play in the majors. From the opening preparations to the first minor league game, Sugar chronicles the progression of the titular character wonderfully and humanly, always respecting the game and the player. The rise and (spoilers coming) eventual fall of Sugar is portrayed without embellishment or splendor, the tale is simply told. The film is deceptive in nature though, as one may expect the film to mostly center on Sugar, but a good amount of time is given to the politics of baseball and how these imported players are mostly left by the wayside from the next prospect. The film is marked with a fairly distinctive visual style courtesy of the two directors, and the film is obviously helped by a stunningly strong turn from lead actor Algenis Soto.

The film does, admittedly drag on a bit in the middle portion, as the story drifts over to New York City for a seemingly meaningless portion. The politics of the game are left out, the language barrier complications that made the start of the film so endearing was mostly forgotten, and Sugar simply did not develop much more as a character. However, the film sets up a devastatingly beautiful ending that packs the viewer so full of hope but forces the audience to also look at reality. Sugar has a number of high points, and as far as entertainment is concerned the film certainly delivers, but as a whole the film does not feel like much more than a fairly standard story mixed with enough interesting concepts to add up to a worthwhile way to spend about two hours.

B/B+ or 3.98927483274083271583275

Big Man Japan (Matsumoto, 2009)

Easily presenting one of the most exciting trailers of the year, I have had the desire to watch Big Man Japan for quite a while, so stumbling across the title on Netflix Instant Watch was a welcome discovery. My expectations entering the film were for a rag tag, tongue-in-cheek Power Rangers~esque romp. Perhaps a Japanese take on The Host where the genre is poked fun at while a nice story is told. Well, that did not happen. Through a very diligent documentary look, Big Man Japan follows writer, director, and lead actor Hitoshi Matsumoto's character Daisato through the mundane life of Japan's protector from the numerous monsters that plague Japan. Matsumoto gives a wonderfully straight performance, capturing the run down depression of a man who has seemingly outlived his use both in the eyes of the public and his family. Mix that with near perfect comedic timing, and Matsumoto turns in one of the year's best performances.

The film also does mix in a few bigger fights, making use of CGI as best it could and making up for the less than perfect images by having an incredibly stylized group of monsters terrorizing Japan. And then there is the whole social commentary/existence struggle themes through run throughout the film, both of which are handled masterfully. And then the film ends, and what a finale Matsumoto presents. Hysterical to the extreme and incredibly poignant, the film's final fight sequence speaks volumes on American culture in Japanese society, media sensationalism, and one's struggle with humanity. The film is far from flawless, though I do think that the pacing is excellent, but Big Man Japan is a unique ride that is open to a plethora of readings. Any film that provides that is great in my book.

B+/A- or 4.172814962146231645923

Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957)

Speaking of films that are ripe for interpretation, Wild Strawberries is my second Ingmar Bergman film. A meditation on life, looking back upon the existence of a professor who has seemingly alienated his family and friends over the years, Bergman presents a quiet and compelling narrative with an incredibly compelling character at the center of the flash back filled affair. As Dr. Borg revisits his memories, the viewer is presented with a brilliantly structured film flowing to the brim with imagery and symbolism. Of course that is a blanket statement that requires a bit more thought. One scene has a cradle placed out in the woods, standing far enough away from the house to give the viewer some hint about something or another. This is all very vague, though with good reason, I was confused. Bergman creates a film here that is rewatchable, I am sure, but for some reason I was never completely hooked either. This film is odd. I should watch it again. Would have not put this entry up, but I love the poster.

B+ or 3.9892374032754235703?

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Pour Myself A Tall Glass Of Milk, It Was Deep And Cold

Jeanne Dielman 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Akerman, 1975)

I had, for much of the month of August, avoided watching Jeanne Dielman. Part of the reasoning behind this avoidance was due to the Criterion release not being issued until the end of the month, so I clearly could not have Netflix send me a film that has yet to be released, but the other reason, the incredibly obvious one, is that the film is three and a half hours long of a Belgian woman doing stuff. At the time I was not sure what that stuff was, all I knew what that she cooked potatoes. Now I can get behind watching a Belgian woman cook potatoes in silence for about two hours, but you nearly double that and I just do not know if I am on board. As I opened up the Netflix case to see the new release sitting there, I figured I'd read the short description on the case and check out the Criterion website. Apparently the film was not only a feminist yarn, but also one of the earliest films from a 25 year old director, Chantal Akerman. Obviously, this behemoth draws immediate comparisons to the American classic Citizen Kane. My excitement for this film had effectively gone from mild to incredible. And so the tale of Jeanne Dielman started.

So, minimalist is probably not a good enough word to describe this film, the elongated sequences of Jeanne going through her daily routine in usual silence run throughout the entire film. When Jeanne prepares dinner, she goes through each and every action of preparing the food, never skipping any step. Filmed fantastically, Akerman makes effective use of long shots, congested scenes, and, much to my delight, the constant use of the same exact positioning of the camera outside the kitchen and leading to her bedroom, day in and day out, make for scenes that I shall not forget. The entire film is marked with the visual accomplishment of a seasoned filmmaker, so discovering that she was so young when making the film had me feeling rather shocked. Perhaps equally surprising is that I cannot recall any scene that looked amateurish, or even seemed out of place with the visual look of the rest of the film. Given that the film runs for such a lengthy time, and I'm sure the excess footage was likely staggering as well, Akerman's ability to make the most out of each shot is particularly impressive.

Of course not all of the film's successes are attributed entirely to Akerman; instead, one of the film's greatest strengths comes in the lead performance from Delphine Seyrig. As I have said before, much of the film is mostly dialogue free, yet Seyrig somehow needs no words to completely develop the Dielman character. Perhaps because of the routine like nature of the food preparation, or the detachment shown from the men who pay her for sex, or perhaps even because of the time spent simply sitting with her son at the table, one can understand both her circumstances and specifically why Jeanne is such a compelling central figure. From the trapped sense all the way to Jeanne's perceived independence and awakening, Seyrig is constantly somber and reserved, yet completely full of emotion and believability. Of course the rest of the cast is pretty fantastic as well, and Jan Decorte, in the role of Jeanne's son, makes the most out of his scenes.

Perhaps I should now talk about the pacing. While I have made slight reference to the repetitive aspects a little earlier, I will take this time to briefly expand on that aspect's impact on the film. Yes, some of the portions of the film are slow because nothing seems to be going on at a surface level, but when sitting down and really watching the film, and specifically watching Seyrig's movements, as she goes through her daily routine, the intensity level is miraculously heightened. Not to mention that when things start slowly unwinding, it hits and it hits hard. During the second portion of the film we see Jeanne encounter a problem with dinner that seems so minute, but the intensity of this event is captured perfectly. The film is so simple on the surface, but even if the viewer misses everything in the film, the ending is a giant clue that some more themes are going on below the surface. While I felt that I had a decent grasp on the film up to that point, the overt symbolism had me re-evaluating some portions of the film up to that point. I am positive that when, in a few years, I sit down with Jeanne Dielman again, I will find much more than I had initially discovered with the film.

I could probably dissect the film further, but much more capable people already have and they also likely have the advantage of multiple viewings. So as far as an initial reaction is concerned, I feel that I covered enough territory to make it known that Jeanne Dielman is one Hell of a film and certainly something that should not be missed nor should it be dismissed because of it's immense run time. Anchored by a stunningly strong lead performance from Delphine Seyrig, and paired with some fantastically masterful direction from the young Akerman, Jeanne Dielman is worthy of the comparison to Citizen Kane while still existing as one incredibly complex, challenging, rewarding, and strikingly unique examples of film making.

A or 4.728374983215436523145671

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Sunday, September 6, 2009

They Came In By The Dozens

So, I have been getting back into college routine again, so my reviews have slowed down slightly. As such, I'm going to attempt to do some quickie reviews and, when a film warrants it, give a full review. Also, I encourage that all readers check out my work, and the other contributor's works, over at The Reelists.

Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009)

While I have already engaged in a round table chat about Inglourious Basterds here, I feel compelled to talk about the film a little more. Little can be said about how great both Brad Pitt and Waltz are in their roles, so I am going to instead focus on some interesting aspects of the film. The choice to break the film into five parts pays off excellently, as it allows Tarantino to only use about 16 scenes or so over 2 and a half hours, without any of the parts ever dragging. The dialogue is gripping and keeps the film engaging throughout, which is good since the violence, which the trailer touts, is really not a huge part of the film. A truly amazing character study, Tarantino's latest is a love letter to cinema and a thrilling re-imagining of history. Not the year's best film, but it is right up there.

A or 4.647832946231756123956129

Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie (Spiro, 2009)

As a fan of the show, I was pretty excited to have a chance to sit down and see if any of the magic would carry over to the film. Sadly, I did not find myself as enchanted with the Russo family vacation as I would have enjoyed. However, as a coming of age story the film works decently enough and the scenes with Jake T. Austin are absolutely hypnotizing. Golly, I am a pun machine today, I'll try to stop myself. David Henrie is, as expected, quite the talent and his performance here further cements him as a name to look for in the future. Selena Gomez is incredibly engaging as well, as she is on the show, and manages to hold up a film with a fairly flimsy plot. The ending is frustrating, but the direction is decent, the humor mostly hits, and some of the set pieces are truly spellbinding. Damn it, I'll stop here before I pain you any more. Could not say that I would like the film to disappear as it is a fairly successful extension of the show, but the film does not have enough extra going on to make it much more than casual escapist cinema with simplistic themes.

C+/B- or 3.192372148732804517358

Extract (Judge, 2009)

Let's get this out of the way first, despite any similarities that the trailer may imply, this film is not Office Space. Nor is the film the simplistic romantic comedy with a twist that the trailer implies. Extract is a film is a solid cast of comedians, headlined by Jason Bateman in a thrilling performance where he channels his Michael Bluth, and supported by the surprising Ben Affleck, always funny Simmons, and stunningly attractive Kunis. The Whig character could have been more fleshed out, and I could probably have used more Brad, but the story here is engaging and the laughs are pretty plentiful. Mike Judge has a knack for taking the mundane and making it comedic, and his style of humor comes shinning through during this film, but I will need another viewing to accurately comment on how deep the humor digs. I could probably see this becoming another 'cult classic,' and I may like it even more than Office Space, as this film gets a bit darker towards the latter half. Plus I think the driving force of the plot is more interesting on a base level, though it is not given all the attention it needs. Still, it's a film anyone with a dry sense of humor can love while also containing enough big laughs to entertain any dinkus who may tag along.

B+ or 3.878264872316549837561

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at