And, surprisingly, I actually kinda liked this, and more than I thought I would.
The story, set in 1989/1990 New York concerns a group of friends struggling to eek out an existence in the Bohemian neighborhood of Alphabet City. Besides being a bunch of hipstery artists and creative types, what unites these people is their shared struggles with poverty, and, in some cases, addiction recovery, and the AIDS epidemic. Pretty grim stuff for a musical, but obviously it has worked.
When this film adaptation was announced, I vaguely remember a lot of people getting irked because not only were they making it PG-13, but it was being director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Harry Potter films). Still, even then, it got a decent reception, even with some pretty mixed views as well.
When it came to pass that I finally saw this, I tried to be open minded about it, both in general, and because I'm a good guy and a great boyfriend.
And yeah, I ended up actually kinda liking it. Ganted, it's overlong, and yeah, with Columbus directing it, it is a very shiny, pretty movie that downplays a lot of the grimness and grittier stuff, but even then it still manages to get the point across .I do think this would be an even better and stronger work if it was darker, grittier, and more streamlined, but that's how I would feel no matter who directed it.
As for the music, it's good. Very contemporary Broadway show tunes style, but I expected that. Sometimes it gets a bit rock operaish, which is cool, but it's mostly very popish. In my ideal version, it'd have more of an edgier rock presence, but whatever.
The cast (almost all of whom are reprising their roles from the stage) are terrific, really nailing both the singing and the characters and their chemistry with one another. Again, since most of them are reprisals, it was expected, but nevertheless cool. As for the new people (like Rosario), they do fine too. No real complaints here.
In my review for Frozen, I mentioned how the music was very Broadway show tuneish, something I shouldn't be too surprised about since Idina Menzel features prominently in both.
The set pieces are well done, the subject matter is still relatable and relevant, and this movie gives you a lot to chew on.
The cinematography is pretty decent, and I recall at least one well executed long take, but a lot of it just feels like a filmed version of a play, which, depending on how you feel, is either good or bad. For me it depends on the thing in question, but here, I kinda wished it was less stagy, as that keeps the fiom from ultimately being it's own thing.
All in all, I ended up liking this a hell of a lot more than I ever thought I would. Yeah, it's not really my thing, and I think it is kinda overrated, but a lot of it just comes down to personal preferences with aesthetics. Yeah, it should be a lot less pretty and watered down, but at least they still get the point across.
[b][font=Book Antiqua]Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang :fresh:[/font][/b]
[font=Book Antiqua]Check your guilt at the door before entering ?Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,? for the peals of black-coated laughter will erupt more freely. Darkly comic and unendingly self-referential, this gleeful neo-noir tucks and rolls through the crossfire of naughty wisecracks, genre parodies, and, oh yeah, bullets. Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer chew up the scenery of Hollywood nightlife with effectively clashing styles (a bumbler and smooth-walker, respectively) and play the audience?s role in unraveling the maddening plot, or rather, piecing together various plots. Their buddy-cop bandying indulges the viewer with violently dispensed meta-insults with wit so sharp you could poke somebody?s eye out. And if given a choice, a movie this twisted might lunge for the poke. The story was sometimes too confusing for its own good, and while riddling noir conventions with a spray of gunfire (which was refreshing), it still perpetrated a mugging self-awareness that seemed a few scenes short of somebody bursting out of the screen and shouting, ?Hey, I?m a movie and I know it, and I want you to know it, too!? So while ?Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang? may play out like one big ?Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge,? its fresh modernizing of tried-and-true movie clichés give it a fluid swagger and hip likeability that is hard to resist. In fact, I gave in. Except that one squeamish scene?oh, you?ll know it when you see it.[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]7.5/10, ***1/2[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua][b]Capote :fresh:[/b][/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]Effectively brooding and accurately artistic, ?Capote? is a largely involving portrait of eccentric novelist and flamboyant New York socialite Truman Capote (played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman). The film wisely focuses on Capote?s career-defining and life-altering authorship of [i]In Cold Blood[/i], a compelling account of a grisly multiple-homicide in 1959 Wichita, and apparently the first of its kind: the non-fiction novel. Capote investigates the incident for a magazine article, but after interviewing prime suspect Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.), full of sky-blue guilt and intriguing complexities, the project assumes a life all its own and balloons into a novel determined to untangle this dark web of truth. Truman, a homosexual, develops a sort of curiously intimate but distanced friendship with Perry, of which fuses the film?s two halves (part crime thriller, part biopic) with a captivating emotional dilemma: the human instinct of empathy and relationship vs. the artist infiltrating his own art. Was he really affecting the integrity of his own story by continuing to buddy up with the main character? Like any artist at one point, Capote deals with it by reverting to hermetic impulses and ruminative spells of bed-writhing and sad faces. The film echoes the sometimes solemn tone with dreary, cold color tones, and to further mirror his torment and expose his curt self-interest, friend and fellow novelist Harper Lee (played by Catherine Keener) achieves fantastic success with her novel, [i]To Kill A Mockingbird[/i]. ?Capote? suffers from the occasional marshy patch and lapse in focus, but it ultimately succeeds in showing the title character?s selfish faithfulness to his art conflicting with an innate faithfulness to humanity.[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]8/10, ***1/2[/font]
[b][font=Book Antiqua]Rent :rotten:[/font][/b]
[font=Book Antiqua]?Rent? makes the leap from stage to screen with ?Rent,? where it didn?t take me long to regret it didn?t take a flying leap into oncoming traffic. The cinematic ?Rent? is a frustrating melodramatic cocktail of a group of gay and non-gay artist friends, all stubborn, broke, and diseased, who belt out song after throat-busting song about the oppression of bohemia in late 80?s New York City. Sweet merciful landlord, it was like somebody just vomited up their life problems on my lap, totally unprompted, and then they try to sing their apology to you. Not gonna work, buddy. Okay, so about half the songs are genuinely entertaining on their own merits, sans story. Great vocal work, interesting music, spirited projection. The other half, however, were elongated hiccups full of clumsy lyrics sailing on power chords worse than a cracked-out Night Ranger jam session. And yet, and yet...I remained open to this ragtag band of AIDS-addled art urchins and their vision of art and liberation, but I never got a palpable sense of their artistic output. There was an impressive performance art piece (orchestrated by vampish Idina Menzel, yowsa!), but that was the extent of it. The documentary featured, still shots of ?the gang,? was a twitchy joke. Which brings us to another point: that the viewer is supposed to accept that these 8 characters are friends. That?s fine, but I need to see a real connection beyond that it serves the story?s purpose. But there was not. I couldn?t buy their notions of love, their art felt like a farce, and their actions were petty and immature for ?adults.? Even when the film was challenged, such as when a homeless person derides ?the artists? for no real contribution, there was no response. Silence, initially, and eventually forgotten about and never addressed; a chance for these characters to show some grit, but came up navel-gazing as always. The most poignant moments dealt with something everybody can relate to: real pain and real loss, bare and honest and triumphant after the sashes, the leather, and all the accoutrements of the vivaciously flat story are stripped away. A stirring scene in a church highlighted this rawer emotion, leveraging natural empathy for those with AIDS or HIV for a real idea of their heightened state of mortality. Another point to the film, and this likely was accidental, was my fascination with this nostalgic New York City, a kind of zeitgeist that seemed romantic only with the idea that it doesn?t exist anymore, as if, for a few fine moments, this movie functioned as a period piece. It came close, but it was not enough to redeem ?Rent.? I can see how some can be overcome by the whiz-bang energy of the music, but I could not accept this film?s concept of broken love, instead of something profitable, like, say, a relatable story. Entertaining, but unsatisfying, [font=Book Antiqua]with vanilla performances from most. A[/font]ll the movie deserves from you is a smile and an eviction notice.[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]5/10, **[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua][b]The Squid & The Whale :fresh:[/b][/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]The complexities of divorce assume an apt metaphor of nature (witness the film title) in this often bittersweet and inexplicably goofy indie film from the writer of ?The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.? Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney star as the embittered couple with two adolescent boys caught in the fray of their separation, with split custody in their future. There is some interesting analysis on the troubling psychological effects a divorce can have on the kids, but the connection felt assumed and not clarified enough. The strange behavior of the children simply felt like strange behavior, with no adequate explanation and never explored to a satisfying degree. Daniels and Linney are both flawed, sometimes rotten parents with diverting objectives in life, both safe and dangerous, conscious and subconscious. They are both PhD?s in literature, affording them many strappingly intellectual quips and phrases that may be clever, but nearly drown the film with their off-the-wallness. It?s really an unfortunate case of the characters ruining a premise by being too weird. But heroically enough, the characters also manage to save the film with some well-timed moments of resilience and affection and subtle degradation, though the movie as a whole is a missed opportunity. Still, it has an amazing soundtrack.[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]6/10, **1/2[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua][b]Good Night, and Good Luck. :fresh:[/b][/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]Edward R. Murrow and his merry band of CBS producers engage in a televised battle of politics with infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy in ?Good Night, and Good Luck,? an intelligent treatise on the malevolent uses of a very powerful weapon at our disposal: mass media. Murrow, wonderfully depicted by David Strathairn with a steely noirish determination, and the producers of his primetime news channel ?See It Now? [font=Book Antiqua](incl. George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Patricia Clarkson & Robert Downey, Jr., who were also very good) [/font]tackle McCarthyism, almost a foe too large, during the famous Communist witch hunt in 1950?s America. It?s low on immediate tension, but the drama here is not in the formula. It arrives with a grander picture, defining our stance on the role of journalism and media in civilization, and more specifically in America. Dishonesty begets corruption, and media is latest handmaiden in a long line of political tools to manipulate the masses. As Murrow states, media is only as honest as the intentions of its operator, and reflects the character of those who use it, ranging anywhere from slanderous propaganda wars and creating insulated snowglobe universes for the millions of television dependents all the way to illuminating minds with brave, truly educational material. Murrow?s own attack on the evils of McCarthyism and the resulting fallout is a perfect thematic complement. Clooney directs, filming it with the necessary lens of historical captivation (black-and-white) and ?chaptering? it with pensive, moody jazz pieces. Not an emotional journey, but still a great film.[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]8.5/10, ***1/2[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua][b]Pride & Prejudice :fresh:[/b][/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]Timeless romance is sought after yet again in this year?s ?Pride & Prejudice,? the latest in a long line of Jane Austen adaptations. This one, however, deserves to be prized among the more lionized of adaptations, for it was simply marvelous. Probably the latest grail for the hopeless romantic?comedy fan (though it does not adhere to those banal formulas). Keira Knightley is Elizabeth Bennet, the second oldest of five daughters among a family of a somewhat deficient social reputation, but the parents (particularly the mother) are always seeking to marry off each one to men of good standing and wealth. ?Pride & Prejudice? gracefully chronicles the tribulations of the daughters in seeking, or fleeing, suitors amidst many a social gathering, and is adorned with all the classical vestiges of the era and colored with humorously awkward encounters that make all the difference, and in particular, Elizabeth?s confrontations with love. One determined fellow, Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), charmless, pithy and eloquent, is besotted with Elizabeth?s cleverness and beaming fortitude. And probably her excessive smileyness, too. The film?s momentum is gathered from his efforts to woo her. Now, I am allergic to sappy romances (they use an evil kind of sweetness), but this film never over-sentimentalizes and completes a full, mature emotional arc for the characters and the audience. Great performances all around, with Keira carrying this one quite competently. While it took me a few minutes to adjust to the language of 1797 England, and there was a staged quality to the circumstances of conversation in the early go, I was quickly swept into a charming ride that never veered far off course. This one should be savored until the last drop.[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]9/10, ****[/font]
[b][size=2][b][font=Book Antiqua]Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire :fresh:[/font][/b][/size][/b]
[font=Book Antiqua]The annual Potter promise continues with ?Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire,? the 4th in the series, with all the old characters back for more light fun. Light? Oh no, says the filmmaker (his name is Mike Newell, by the way). This film is PG-13, and noticeably darker than the first three films, says he. Okay, says I. We shall see about that. The latest adventures at Hogwarts follow a prestigious event called the Tri-Wizard tournament, setting the stage for old Lord Voldemort and his evil bag of tricks to lure Harry to his doom. Also new to the Potter universe is that unholy nightmare of a thing: romantic tension. The scenes of adolescence, such as Harry and Ron attempting to approach girls and ask them to the dance, capture the mentality well enough, and there are some acceptable, if a bit loosely executed, scenes of character growth for the famous trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione. The fluidity of the story was rough, likely due to the book-to-film transition, but the edges weren?t trimmed crisp enough. The progression of time, too, was faulty and not as effective as the previous films (ie.- the recurring device of the tree in ?Prisoner of Azkaban?). However, there was some agility to the filmmaking, capped by some exciting sequences with dragons and evil mazes, and a delicious scene featuring Ralph Fiennes. But, was it dark? Yes, says Mike Newell. Of course it was. Ah, says I, Only a smidge. But it was acceptable. I am coming to appreciate this series more and more, and am grateful of their schedule: actors aging with the story. ?Goblet of Fire? presents the world of Hogwarts as thoroughly imaginative as ever and aligns itself consistently with previous installments. Fun holiday fare.[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua]7/10, ***[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua][b]Jarhead[/b]: 4/10, ** :rotten:[/font]
[font=Book Antiqua][b]Walk The Line[/b]: 7/10, *** :fresh:[/font]