Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Artist: Following Oscar

Every year I plan to watch all the Oscar Best Picture nominees. I never do. At least this year I'm taking a swing at it. Yesterday we decided to give The Super Bowl the finger and go see the silent film, "The Artist." Anyone who's a fan of classic film will appreciate how this film reminds us that words are sometimes (often at the most important times) completely unnecessary. Modern filmmaking can rely so heavily on slick angles, special effects, and overt explanations to stitch together poor plots, we may forget how much power a simple actor can actually posses. In this way, lead actor Jean Dujardin delivers beautifully in his faithful rendering of a 1920s silent film star, George Valentin, caught in the changing world of talkies. From the moment he comes on screen, Dujardin's every expression is riveting. He charms us as the attention-hogging cad, the stunning leading man who's debonair grin makes lowly chorus girls swoon.

In addition to a playful, engaging beginning, the film dovetails nicely with a winning, highly satisfying conclusion. It's easy to see why this film's getting so much Oscar love. Where "The Artist" is concerned, however, the mess is in the middle.

First of all, I give few points for sets and costume design. Every film needs sets and costumes, and any film worth it's space on a terabyte drive pays attention to every detail. Needless to say, "The Artist" had wonderful costumes, sets, and film style. It's not my goal to be a contrarian, but there was at least one major flaw in this movie, a shadow from which the lead characters never fully emerge. Leading man George Valentin (Dujardin) is married. Not only was their no real point for it, the fact that he was cost both him and his leading lady, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), major likability points. The film attempts to demonstrate Valentin's wife's unworthiness and therefore dismissability through her sullen ingratitude and passive aggressive habit of defacing her husband's photographs. She's a bitter bitch, but the film never tells us why. We are just expected to accept that she's terrible. Instead she becomes an enigma, an unresolved snarl. To be honest, I felt like the writer (Michel Hazanavicius) was using this character to settle a personal score without regard to how such a two-dimensional character hinders his plot.

Further than that, I question the wife's place in the plot entirely. What purpose (other than to keep the two leads from pursuing a romance more quickly) does she serve? Couldn't the writer have found a better obstacle, something that doesn't negatively impact the likability of the leads and cast their romance in an unfavorable light? I could never quite root for their love, knowing the sneaky young female lead knowingly went after a married man and that the older male lead indulged and even encouraged her. Pictures of the wife littered the room during one of the leads' first intimate encounters, rubbing the audience's nose how inappropriate their interaction was. As a result, I never rooted for Peppy's success (either in love or in life). Her motives were always suspect, and at times she even came across crazy and a little sinister.

Other than that (and I know it's a lot), I heartily enjoyed "The Artist." The film was a playful homage to our past. Heck, even the film's contradictions were food for thought, so it was all good for me.

Anyone else feel like there's more to "The Artist" than meets the eye? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Goodnight Burbank" Review

As a voracious comedy junkie, I am always on the look out for something to make me laugh. “Goodnight Burbank” had me right out of the gate. This fast paced, sitcom length, web series was recently picked up by HDNet, and no wonder. Every episode gets screwier and screwier (What kind of person thinks eating a flock of wedding swans is recycling?).

“Goodnight Burbank” follows unlucky news anchor Gordon Winston-Smythe (Hayden Black) and his quirky co-workers as he tries desperately to get out of the crappy green screen garage where small-time local news show, “Goodnight Burbank” is filmed. Gordon just wants to be a serious newsman, but his every attempt to be taken seriously is thwarted by falling stage hands, a demon child, and a PETA terrorist.

All that is behind good old Gordon now! The latest episode of “Goodnight Burbank” finds our hero on the verge of seeing his dream come true. He is about to get the coveted anchor position on the hot new show, “Burbank Confidential!” All he has to do is keep it together in front of his new boss for one last “Goodnight Burbank” broadcast. But does anything ever go that easily for Gordon Winston-Smythe? His zealotous co-anchor, Whitney Applebee (Laura Silverman), has finally gone completely around the bend (a lot more than usual this time), sexual harassment is afoot, and the set is overrun with grieving Eastern Europeans.

This fast-paced new comedy just keeps getting funnier, like rewind that scene and watch it over and over funnier. Dominic Monaghan, Miracle Laurie, Camden Toy, and America Young round out this hilarious and well-balanced comedic team. “Goodnight Burbank” a serious must-see for anyone who knows how to laugh.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Gitchy" Review

David is losing his mind. At least that’s what his psychiatrist, his sister, and pretty much everyone else thinks. Wouldn’t you have to question your sanity too if you were plagued by visions of the clown who killed your parents? But David (Michael J. Brown) is sure he’s right. He’s obsessed with Gitchy, who he believes murdered his mom and dad. His sister, Kimberly (Stefanny Ceno), is determined to help her brother through his odd grieving process while still managing her own loss. If Gitchy gets his way, however, they won’t be grieving for long. Very soon they’ll be laughing themselves to death!

As the plot unfolds, David’s need to repeatedly draw pictures of Gitchy the clown not only gives the story focus but also allows the directors, Thomas Norman and Lenny Riviera, to highlight some really cool artwork. The various devices and methods of Gitchy’s serial ticklings were… creative? Creepy, that’s the word. Daring fetish overtones (feet, feather dusters, tickling in general) made Gitchy even more bizarre. “He loves to touch?” Yeck!

When evaluating a film on its own merits, one must ask if the film did what it came to do. How well did it achieve its own objective? In the case of “Gitchy,” a comoridy (or is it homidor?), the film did achieve the ridiculous through an excess of terror (excess being the essence of comedy). The problem, however, is that no matter how thoroughly a turtle beds a duck, when the baby’s born one must wonder if the union was a good idea. Unfortunately in this case, straddling the line between slapstick comedy and psychological horror never let the film fully cross over to one side or the other. To laugh? To scream? It was hard to say. To be disturbed? Absolutely.

The humor of clowns is a double-edged sword. On one hand the unpredictability of a clown or jester is the root of their humor. They can’t be truly funny unless they are truly unpredictable, but that element of the unknown frightens us. Victor Hugo wrote that it is human nature to cling to the known, sometimes until death, rather than face what we do not understand. Perhaps that’s why evil clowns have found such a home in our psyche.

It is easy to believe that Gitchy, and his creepy messenger, really are evil. They are unpredictable, capable of anything. Both characters inspired revulsion whenever they appeared on screen, making even the experience of watching the film at times unnerving, even uncomfortable. For a campy, creepy film that boarders on the sexually deviant, "Gitchy" is the perfect guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Beyond the Music" Review

When making an indie film, it's important to know the size of one's idea. In this 'bigger is better' culture, it can be hard to convince passionate filmmakers that less is more. Often they take an idea and stretch it thin, until it becomes too big for its britches. "Beyond the Music," is a cute one-liner about a narcoleptic rock band stretched too far. The few funny scenes of the film, mostly physical humor, were so separated by filler that one joke was forgotten before the next came along.

In addition, the overall quality of the film was too low for a convincing Behind the Music parody. Luck for filmmakers, primo quality is not required for a mockumentary. In that way, it's a very forgiving genre. The film's quality, however, must match whatever it's mocking. "Beyond the Music" would have been much better served as a commercial for "The Narcoleptics'" TV special rather than as the TV special itself. Condensing the best moments would give "Beyond the Music" a punch it currently lacks.

"Tracy" Review

Legend + Joke, does not automatically equal a good mockumentary. Writer/director Dan Scanlon gets that. His formula, Legend + Jokes + Murder, does indeed equal one mockalicious indie film. Tracy follows Dan Sullian (Dan Scanlon), a documentary filmmaker who tells a whole convention of people that he knows who killed children's TV host, Tracy. The problem is... he doesn't really have a clue who did it. And he is perhaps the worst amateur detective ever. But even though the deck's a little stacked against him, Dan sets out to solve this ten year old murder... He has one month to do it.

As indie films about cultural icons go, Tracy does us a favor in that it doesn't spend the entire film talking about the supreme genius of some lamebrain. There are character arcs, silly though they may be. Relationships develop. Things happen. The cast and crew never went on autopilot with this film, which can be easily done with a topic is so supremely silly. Every scene moves at a decent pace with very little lag. It's a weird movie (no joke), but where story is concerned first time filmmakers could definitely take a page from the "Tracy" playbook.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Take 22: Behind the Scenes of Sequestered Review

“Research is critical.” “Secure financing before production.” “What’s my motivation?” When you make a film, this kind of stuff is what you will probably hear from all the crap heads trying to ruin your artistic vision. But Executive Producer, Todd Hunter (Chris Pina), doesn’t let technicalities like research, money, and actors stop him. He’s determined to make his legal drama, Sequestered, a theatrical masterpiece. To bring his dream to life Todd stops at nothing, even hustling his own grandma. He tirelessly pushes his cast and crew to the edge of breakdown in spite of a haunted location, a wandering murderer, and a cascade of Craft Service catastrophes. But in the end, the on set problems run too deep. Director Miles Tenent (Rick Overton) won’t watch the film; he’s scared of the ‘big heads’ on the screen. The cast and crew screening is a huge bomb. Sequestered will never see the light of day.

Now, after hellish weeks following the doomed production, a group of disgruntled student documentarians are out for revenge. They will dig deep to expose all the flaws and ineptitudes of Sequestered in their hilariously scathing film, Take 22: Behind the Scenes of Sequestered.

From the first scene, Take 22: Behind the Scenes of Sequestered sets a brisk comedic pace when the audience realizes that the fact they’re watching this film means Todd Hunter’s life has officially gone to hell. The plot’s pull is immediate and keeps the funny coming as the film spins further and further outside Todd’s control. Writer/director Michael Bayouth has assembled a sweet collection of actors for this orgy of bad luck, including not just Rick Overton and Chris Pina but also playful, chaotic cameos from Dave Thomas and Gary Anthony Williams, and featuring the legendary Groundlings.

Five jurors are sequestered to decide a man’s fate. In the end, it is their own fate that is sealed. Sequestered could have been an awesome film if anything, even one little thing, would have gone right. But nothing did. (Especially not the research. There are twelve people on a jury. Not five!) So now instead of suffering through Sequestered audiences can enjoy watching a fellow human being’s dreams crumble to ash in Take 22: Behind the Scenes of Sequestered.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"The Sierra" Review

A sexy game of hide and seek through the mountain snow takes a dangerous turn when a gang of mounted white men rides through Indian Territory. Now one man is out for revenge against those who took his beloved.

Throughout “The Sierra,” everyone is hunted. The man hunts the woman. The white men hunt each other. The Indian hunts them all. In this deadly game, two natural enemies end up unwittingly on the same side. But in the untamed wilds of the West, the enemy of an enemy may not stay a friend even long enough to let the gun smoke settle.

Powerfully photographed and with a dead-on soundtrack, “The Sierra” is both tender and action packed. The use of the native language of the characters lent a special touch of realism to the film. There was a strong sense of vision to the piece, thanks to director Alano Massi, which comes across beautifully. In the end we see that two men from very different backgrounds can become united by the life and death struggles common to us all. Kalani Queypo gives a vulnerable performance. "The Sierra" is one short film that's not to be missed.