Sunday, February 27, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Here is mine, The Parmageddon. Perogies, Parmesean, Provolone, sauerkraut and all wrapped up in Grilled Cheese goodness. Paired with fantastically cooked french fries with a side of vinegar to go with. Thank you Melt.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Given the choice, I must admit that in most cases, I’d rather watch a movie that was released in the last 5 years than one that was released in the last 60. Not because there aren’t hundreds of amazing movies I would watch over and over again that were released in the early to middle 20th century, but because I’m usually more interested in issues of current reality than I am in watching what is much more likely considered to be a “classic.”
That being said, no movie musical I’ve seen in the past 5 years can even hold a candle to the magic of a “Classical Hollywood” musical like Singin’ in the Rain. It feels like a complete joke to me to even attempt to compare the likes of something like Mammia Mia, Rent, Hairspray or Nine to the standard of musicals to which I hole all others to. Nothing is as perfect as Singin’ in the Rain. Nothing can come close to the amazing talent we are watching on screen. It is folly to even try to compare any leading man of a musical still living to the likes of Gene Kelly. Trying to judge Singin’ in the Rain from a modern musical generic standpoint feels like comparing freshly picked and perfectly ripe apples to last week’s orange peels that have been sitting on my countertop rotting.
It is particularly hard to review Singin’ in the Rain from an unbiased standpoint knowing that it is consistently named in the top of “Best of” film lists in multiple categories, especially considering that it is a movie made 59 years ago. And while it is difficult, to assess its technical merits as such, there is something to be said about some of its simplicity in its filmmaking choices.
For starters, the absolute best part about Singin’ in the Rain is the long takes of musicals numbers with full body shots. This technique involves very little camera movement, and often just follows the actors around, keeping their entire bodies within frame while they dance, sing and act. On one hand, I could see how this could be boring for someone used to watching a Jerry Bruckheimer film with an edit every 3 seconds, but the “simple” cinematography of this film is most of what gives it its magic. Much of the narrative of Singin’ in the Rain revolves around concerns involving filmmaking. How do we as an audience know that who we perceive to be singing a song is who is actually singing a song? And in a film where we are trained to question if what we are seeing is actually reality, the one thing we can be certain of 100% is that the dancing we see by Kelly, Reynolds and O’Connor is all them. We know because we can see their faces and their full bodies in motion. And while I wouldn’t be so bold as to argue that such talent as theirs completely doesn’t exist in any musical stars of our time, it can certainly be said that since musical numbers are not shot the same way and are edited together differently, that (at least for me) the magic of watching what I know is the actor doing the dance is gone. Watching the Richard Gere tap dancing scene in Rob Marshall’s 2002 film Chicago is a perfect example of this. Gere dances, but the song is edited between takes of him on stage and him in the courtroom, and there is never a full body shot of him dancing. The delight I get from watching Gene Kelly tap dance while playing the fiddle without any edit or break is gone when watching Gere. And while it may seem like outdated cinematography and filmmaking, when it comes to a musical, I’d rather watch things the way they used to be.
However if there is a downside to Singin’ in the Rain it is its small gaps in storytelling. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s kinda cheesy. And very predictable. I know the minute Gene Kelly falls into Debbie Reynolds car that they will be together at the end of the movie despite their initial hostility. And the “Broadway” number really has no point in this film, and it feels like it is just tied in because one of the filmmakers decided they wanted to put in a Broadway dance number. Granted, now that I think about it, this could be a parable to the silliness of the plot structure of “The Dancing Cavalier,” so maybe it is intentionally bad narrative at that point, but either way, its silly.
Singin’ in the Rain is not a perfect film by any means. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a damn good one either. Overall, it’s cheerful, magnificently shot and acted in, and shines some sunlight on even the rainiest day. 5 out of 5 stars, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Michael Haneke’s 2005 mental thriller Caché is best characterized as a cinematic attack on your sanity. Upon leaving the theatre after viewing Caché, to say I was extremely disturbed would be an understatement. In fact, I had a minor meltdown while walking along High Street rendering me closer in appearance to that of a mentally unstable homeless person with a respiratory problem than that of a college junior exiting film class. The film is fabulously well made, completely captivating in its narrative, emotionally jarring, and has caused me much mental anguish over the past 24 hours. I don’t think I’ll ever voluntarily watch it again.
Caché begins with a disturbance in the lives of Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil), a successful host of a television program in Paris, his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) and their younger teenaged son Pierrot. The Laurent’s have received a surveillance tape of their lives from an unknown source, and while they are immediately concerned, the police refuse to help them while the tapes remain “non-threatening.” Soon, the tapes come accompanied with crude drawings involving a child bleeding from the mouth and a beheaded rooster. As Georges delves deeper into the mystery of who is sending him these tapes and why, an incident from his own childhood is called into recollection, and the questions without answers further unravel the Laurent’s peaceful life and descend the family into a state of constant paranoia.
To start, the acting in the film is brilliant. Juliette Binoche is wonderful as a concerned mother and wife, dealing with trust issues in the face of an impossible difficult situation. The intimate moments of concern she shows for her family coupled with the anger and confusion over her current situation is perfectly blended with her scenes as the smiling hostess for a dinner party or the proud mother of a champion swimmer. It is not an easy feat to portray a character with that many layers, and it further solidifies my love of Binoche as an actress. I’ve yet to see a movie I don’t adore her in.
Paired against Binoche’s modern mother and wife is Daniel Auteuil’s portrayal of the television personality and father, Georges. I found Georges to be a generally unlikable character. He is a man who is occasionally withdrawn from his family, secretive in nature and one with an affinity for losing his temper unwarranted at the most inopportune moments. That being said, it is very hard not to feel bad for the guy being tormented by his past and an unknown aggressor. Georges goes through some of the most horrifying incidents in the film, and Laurent does an admirable job of pulling all of those elements together.
However, the true greatness of Caché is in the plot. Haneke has created a perfect script for this film in the balance of discourse and story. Most interesting, is the elements of the story that are not in the discourse, which the audience has no way of recovering. Some of the most crucial elements of the story need to be interpreted and assumed, and it is likely that each viewer will have a different reading of the ending of the film. But the elements of the story that Haneke does show us are a fascinating mix of fundamental scenes for the discourse and seemingly unnecessary moments of family life or surveillance footage, begging the question, why are we shown what we are shown? Haneke could clearly make this an unambiguous “closed” film a la the work of directors such as Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock, but he doesn’t. He chose to make an open and ambiguous film more in the vein of Jean Renoir or Cristian Mungiu. This serves his purpose extremely well, as the film is more mentally anguishing afterwards with the concern over the various “missing” elements. The ambiguity of the film is what makes it so haunting.
The Times in London listed Caché as number one in the “Best 100 Movies of the Noughties” released in the UK from 2000-2009, an interesting choice for a city with more Closed Circuit TeleVision (CCTV) surveillance cameras in public places than in any other country in the world. While on the other hand, when it was reviewed for the San Francisco Chronicle it was absolutely panned by Mick LaSalle. The threat and paranoia of unwanted surveillance in Caché is the ultimate driving force behind the film, and it clearly resonates with some audiences rather than others. It certainly is a cinematic achievement on its own, worth maybe seeing once, but I admit I’d have a hard time recommending it to anyone I didn’t want to experience some serious mental disturbances. That being said, I’m still giving it four out of four stars. I have to admit, it absolutely captivated my attention throughout the entire 117 minutes, and while I may not have clearly enjoyed the film, I certainly didn’t not enjoy it either.