The Junk Food of Writing

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Catching up.

Due to my absence -- or, rather, nonexistence -- I have not posted my thoughts on the many films I have viewed recently (roughly within the past couple weeks). To save this from becoming an overlong bore-of-an-entry, I will simply post thoughts on a few films and list the rest. In subsequent entries, I will attempt to elaborate on the grades assigned to each film.

Preface: 2005 has been quite disappointing.

Jarhead (Mendes, 2005): Some fans of Jarhead claim (or should I say "fall back on the empty comeback") that those who reacted negatively towards it did not understand what Mendes was trying to accomplish. Can't a critical viewer understand its attempt and still dislike its presentation? I never felt that I did not "get" it, but I did, however, feel that the film was alternatively preachy and over-the-top. I admire Mendes' ambitious ideas (and his style), but it is extremely difficult to show an enthralling depiction of tedium without making it tedious for the audience. Ironically, I did not find it overly plodding -- just vacuous. Plus, the "futility of war" message is a bit overstated. Much to my chagrin, the film was psychologically disappointing -- Swofford is reading Camus' "The Stranger, " for goodness sake. And if Swofford was an ostensible "Meursault joins the marines," then the film did a rather poor job of exploring these character parallels. Frankly, I did not think any of the performances were that superlative (maybe Sarsgaard, but his character's personality was shot to hell anyway). In order for Sarsgaard's actions and outburts to be very effective, I needed to see more of his character and understand his affliction. I saw none of this; most of his backstory is simply dropped upon the audience at the most convenient time. He was the stereotypical "grunt-if-you-look-at-me" war character who ultimately, and inexplicably, becomes best buds with the protagonist. The film is undoubtedly Swafford-centric, and I think many of the supporting characters suffer because of that. I believe that an aesthetically accomplished film with such a unique visual style deserves more convincingly rich characters and a much less hackneyed paradigm-of-a-war-plot; you know, but a plot without the war. C, (5/10)

The Dying Gaul (Lucas, 2005):
Although I was warned about it's mediocrity, I avoided a research paper and saw it. My stubbornness was mainly influenced by the cast and seeing Craig Lucas' first shot at directing (his Secret Lives of Dentists screenplay was admirable). Plus, steamy bisexuality! Although I am not completely pleased with my decision to overlook my urgent school assignments in favor of Mr. Campbell, Mr. Sarsgaard and my dear Patty, I do not regret my course of action. I went to see the cast and it is, undoubtedly, the main strength of the film; all three actors are uniformly impressive despite their previous high acclaim. The film itself is captivating, if deeply flawed. It gets much credit for avoiding that stagy feeling which usually mars stage-to-screen adaptations (which, I found out only afterwards, it is). The Dying Gaul mistakes vagueness for ambiguity and lack of information for subtlety. Not only is the second half contrived, even though it is fluidly paced, but even the narrative contrivances rely on unexplained implausibility. Even though the ideas are potent, they are never fully realized --and the metaphors, even though they are underdeveloped, are rather overt. Similar to the recent Harry Potter film (now there's a set-up for a great comparison), it suffers from feel like two films within one -- and the relevance is not always apparent. The first act is an intriguing, postmodern satire on Hollywood (sound familiar? -- well, I love Adaptation and all of its followers, anyway) and the film jarringly shifts into a contemporary noir complete with bisexuality and saucy chat-rooms. Despite my (it seems like) many complaints, the film is never stiff and kept me consistently interested. Strange, I know -- but this isn't exactly a normal film. B-/C+, (5.5/10)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Newell, 2005):
Without having even read the book, I can tell that too many scenes were left out of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. There is a lack of a desired cohesion and the whole film seems simply thrown together, as it tries to patch up the transitions of the original text. To the film's credit, the film is alternatuively thrilling and amusing, but inconsistently so. As if the film did not have enough congruity problems, it feels as if these are two fillms in one -- and both are underdeveloped. One film is about the humanizing of the puberty-ridden young teenagers and how their magical world is really just a parallel of the real-world of nasty, bratty adolescents who have to worry about awkward sexual tensions and finding a date for the dance (and, consequently, learning the art of settling). This, of course, accounts for a few smugly charming moments of insufferable cuteness and teenage devastation. It is, essentially, a puberty video which should be shown in 5th grade Health classes (witness the bathtub scene for evidence). The other film is the usual adventure of Harry-must-save-some-students-and survive-Voldemort-again. The boy has a reputation to keep up! It's all very pleasing and not off-putting at all, but it still manages to feel unsatisfactory. C+, (5.5/10)

Pride and Prejudice (Wright, 2005): Where have all the British period dramas gone? I miss them. It seems as if I will simply have to turn to Merchant-Ivory DVD rentals. I realize there is not a strong market for these types of films -- which is why I am very elated with the release and success (both economic and cnematic) of Joe Wright's new adaptation of Austen's novel. While it is not as exceptional as Merchant-Ivory's best (A Room With a View, for example), Pride and Prejudice is superbly entertaining and resfreshingly literate. Many have justifiably noted the brilliantly fluid cinematography, but what struck me the most was the film's timelessness. It has the ability to capture the time period without feeling stiff and maintain the relevance of many films set in contemporary settings. The film is classic, but modern. The cast is uniformally magnificent; Brenda Blethyn gives my favorite supporting performance -- she makes blatant desperation seem so pathetically and charmingly hilarious. The film's most admirable trait is its sharp and witty screenplay, despite the moments where the dialogue seems as if the preserved prose is simply being regurgitated by the cast. B+, (8/10)

Safe (Haynes, 1995): As much as I would like to highly praise the idea-driven Safe, I cannot. It's frustrating -- I feel as if I should have been more affected by the production than I was. Similar to Julianne Moore's vacuous homemaker, I feel inexplicably dissatisfied. I appreciate Safe's uniqueness, ambition and strong, socially relevant, themes. Unfortunately, however, it is almost as if the film tries to tackle too many subjects; therefore, its overall effect is dulled. Is it a cold satire on upper-class banality? Is it an indictment on self-inflicted stress? Is it an example of a manifestation of repression? Is it a biting statement on humanity's carelessness with chemicals and lack of a land ethic? Is it a search for human singularity? Is it a tender allegory of the AIDS epidemic? Is it a frightening look at cults (yikes!)? Sure, it is all these things, but none of them feel complete -- the film is more of a thematic hodgepodge. There is a constant scratching of a surface. Perhaps I am simply dissatisfied due to its lack of real environmental confrontation. Actually most of the film feels quite "passive aggressive." Julianne Moore's performance as a helpless housewife is rather superb -- her malaise is palpable and her spaciness (which the film also seems to possess) is convincing. Although the themes overshadow her character, she manages to make the closing moments indelibly chilling. Perhaps upon a second viewing this thematically charged film will seem more cohesive, but for now, it remains a slight disappointment. B/B-, (6.5/10)

Shopgirl (Tucker, 2005):
It attempts to being a "mood piece," but is really just a second-rate depiction of modern alienation. I wanted to like it much more than I did, but almost everything within the film was unconvincing (particularly the relationship at its core). I occasionally liked the use of the score, but the volume needed to be turned down just a bit. It came out blaring in moments when a sincere score would have been more effective. Martin's redundant voiceover shows how attached he is to his prose, but he needs to realize that this is a cinematic adaptation, and such omniscient narration is both clumsy and unnecessary. Aside from a few admirable moments, it is rather vacuous. C+, (5/10)

The rest:
Fun with Dick and Jane (Parisot, 2005): B-/C+, (5.5/10) [Occasionally observant, but ultimately innocuous, corprate satire. Full review will be posted next week.]
The Passenger (Antonioni, 1975): C, (4.5/10) [A few brilliant themes remain unexplored to their fullest potential. A point, and intriguing characters, are lost amid the tedium.]
The Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957): A-, (9/10) [I wish I was more conscious when viewing this -- then I would have been able to post more extensive and astute thoughts. I was actually very tired when I watched the film (which I saw by sneaking into a friend of mine's film class), and I often wished I was more sharp and astute that day. Basically, though, I absorbed most of what I should in this symbolic, deep meditation on those "big" questions in life. What really struck me was how it was not completely morose; it is practically a comedy. The early scene in the church, which includes a man painting the walls with a mural of death, really explains everything. What shocked and pleased me was its original approach to such unanswerable questions -- it realized their lack of a definite answer and the film played out as an absurdist comedy. Brilliant, really.]
Hitch (Tennant, 2005): C+, (5/10) [I was treated to this disarming, but pedestrian, film on a trip back to college. Oh, it is just another reason to hate public transportation around the Holidays. Actually, this is the quintessential public transportation film: affable, harmless and completely typical. The man which this film was based off of (yes, such a 'dating doctor' does exist) spoke at my university. He was much more intelligent, interesting and original than this disposable rom-com.]
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (Lynch, 2005): C+, (5.5/10) [I like Sarah Silverman. I do. And I wanted to really like Jesus is Magic. I did. Basically a one-woman stad-up act, Sarah Silverman delivers her lines with a perfectly naive Jewish princess disposition, as always. She is undoubtedly testing the capablities of stand-up comedy here, but there is too much scratching of the surface and not enough deep exploration into politically-incorrect and boundry-pushing comedy. Plus, the film came to a screeching halt whenever an incongruous music sequence or a disappointing backstage confessional would pop up.]
Heavenly Creatures (Jackson, 1994): B+, (8/10) [Much more emotionally involving, well-acted, imaginative and heartbreaking than any of Jackson's Lord of the Ring films. The denouement is positively devastating.]


  • Thank God you've at least considered bumping up Safe from a totally undeserved "B-". I hope that it clicks with you a second time.

    We are, of course, in total agreement about Pride and Prejudice's greatness... I'm also taken aback by the amazing box office numbers every week. It's great when good movies actually get the financial success they deserve.

    I guess I should skip Jarhead, eh? I still want to see it, but every attempt to go to the theatre has been thwarted. Maybe it's a sign.

    You gave Hitch a "C+"? I... you... this must be one of the signs of the coming apocalypse.

    By Blogger Ali, at 9:03 PM  

  • I felt the just about the same way on Jarhead. I was just more techincally tuned to the movie when I was watching it though, so its shortcomings mentally wise didn't kill me in any way. And 2005 has been disappointing...I've only been to the theater about 20 times and minus two special screenings (Chungking Express, Trainspotting), 2046 twice, and two dates I regret going on...well you get the point. I've been really apathetic about the movies this year and I think the lack of anything worth seeing is the culprit.

    By Blogger Kathleen, at 9:49 PM  

  • I totally agree on Jarhead, seeing the movie made me read the book which is leap and bounds better. Mendes missed the mark, then agian I think Mendes is horribly overrated. Road to Perdition was mediocr at beast and ahuge letdonw and I think American Beauty is overrated.

    I also agreeon HP4, I think the problem with adapting these books is that they are two afrida to piss off the purists to really drop stuff, so they show everything but only partly and its all confusing.

    I really enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, here is a file that wasn;t afriad to cut stuff from the source material. I am a hude devoutee of hte book as its in my top three all time and though this was a really good adaptation.

    Having read Shopgirl, I think Steve Martin is all wrong for his role, and that the movie won' be any good.

    By Anonymous Suley, at 1:01 PM  

  • I know what you're saying with the Seventh Seal. The ending is every bit as disturbing and hilarious as Fellini's circus finale in "8 1/2".

    By Blogger Jose, at 2:58 PM  

  • Dear pretentious asshole,

    For the love of all that is sacred, please do your local and world community a service and cast your arrogant, pompous self in front of the nearest speeding subway car. If it weren't enough that your highfalutin attitude is present in the title of this cess pool blog, where you call reviewing movies "junk food", is it painfully clear in phrases like: "He now joins the ranks of such esteemed septuagenarians as..."

    Who do you think you are? Not even Roger Ebert is this ostentatious, and he is a renound film critic. No one cares about your opinion of movies and the mere existence of this website is a bane to the internet itself. Shame on you and your obsession with a neurotic pedophile.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:16 AM  

  • Oh, that comment just made my day.

    By Blogger Nick M., at 11:42 AM  

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