Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
viewed: 11/09/03

We watched Finding Nemo with our 2 year old son. This is the first feature film that we had ever attempted to watch with him, though I had showed a fair amount of Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro (1988) to him once.

Watching a film like this with a child that young certainly puts a different spin on it. You don’t realize how frightening and intense the emotions and moments are to a child until you are really tuned into these considerations for one in your care (though many people probably still don’t stop to think at that point). This film was far more intense than any other show that he had seen thusfar. He kept telling us how it was scary, and there were a lot of moments at which I can see that. It is funny how desensitized adults are to intense emotions like this in this film because I had any number of people tell me that it was not too scary for a little kid. Probably a couple of years ago, I might have had a similar reaction.

For my money, though, Finding Nemo was easily the most visually beautiful Pixar film thusfar. The underwater and above water universe that the film depicts is lush and detailed and fantastic. Pixar is miles ahead of other digital feature animation houses in their ability to craft such amazing characterization and backgrounds. And, on the whole, I would add storytelling to that list as well. That said, I thought that this story was a little more tear-jerky and Disneyified than their other films to date.

This is one film that I wish that I had seen on the big screen. It still retained a lot of its beauty in its transfer to DVD, but it was clearly something to be enjoyed in a larger format.

In the end, the film made a strong impression on my son. I don’t know whether he liked it or was just scared by it.

The Crazies

The Crazies (1973) movie poster

(1973) dir. George A. Romero
viewed: 11/12/03

For Halloween, I always like to watch at least one horror film. It’s hardly a rigorous ritual, but I tried to stock myself up with a couple alternatives. I ended up watching The Changeling on Halloween and so I had George A. Romero’s The Crazies to watch a little later the next week.

For those of you that don’t know, I think that Romero is one of the great auteurs of American cinema. While that is not a reach by any means for many fans of cult cinema (in fact maybe he’s a little too mainstream for some of them), it may be a little surprising to others. I haven’t seen all of his films. This one I had never seen before, for example. But after having viewed his zombie trilogy and his vampire film Martin (1978), I was convinced that he’s one of my personal favorite directors.

The Crazies sounded quite relevant as well. A bio-chemical leak in a small town infects people with a virus that drives them insane and the world becomes apocalyptically violent as a result. Not actually a whole lot unlike Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, which I saw in the theater this year. And also, this theme seems not unlike the mysterious origins of the zombie trilogy narratives, sometimes explicit, sometimes covert paranoia of the government and society. The social criticism is foregrounded significantly.

The Crazies wasn’t among Romero’s masterworks, though I would definitely include it as interesting from an auteur perspective for reasons mentioned above. It’s an earnest film, with some cheap exploitation violence and some excellent low budget production. It clearly shoots higher than it can achieve comfortably. The film has the anti-government paranoia, but a sustained humanism toward the military leaders (middlemanagement). It also bears the marks of the Vietnam era as well. Perhaps, maybe even more than his other films, it shows a sense of its period.

Not a great film, but not uninteresting.

Early Spring

Early Spring (1956) movie poster

(1956) dir. Yasujiro Ozu
viewed: 11/18/03 at Castro Theater, SF, CA

When I saw that the Castro Theater was running a week’s worth of Yasujiro Ozu double features, I felt compelled to go see as many as I could. In the end, all I could muster from my time was one evening, and then in the end, I could only sit through one 2 1/2 hour feature. A second one would have been fun, but my leisure time and endurance ain’t what it used to be.

I have only seen one Ozu film, Tokyo Story (1953), and then only on television. His films are not widely available on DVD, and so, this was a good opportunity to catch up on seeing some films from one of the big names in cinema.

Ozu’s films, for those of you who do not know, tended to be family dramas. In this case, the story was about a young couple who had lost a child who were in a malaise in their marriage; the husband, an office worker in Tokyo, has an affair. His films have a slowish pace and do not tend to be overly dramatic. There has been no violent conflict to highlight either of the two Ozu films that I have seen, so I don’t know how this plays out in others of his films.

His critical eye was on Japanese society and the family, which in post-war Japan has interesting parallels the the melodramas of Hollywood, to some extent. The melodramas of such directors as Minnelli and Sirk, though really are much more lurid and overdone compared to the quiet pacing and unique perspective of Ozu’s camera.

Early Spring is elegant and simple in its presentation, but surprisingly good and engaging (I only say surprising in that describing Ozu’s films, they either sound so “quiet” or contemplative that they don’t sound all that exciting to see.) The film was excellent and made me wish very much that I had the time and ability to have sat through several more.

City of God

City of God (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Kátia Lund, Fernando Meirelles
viewed: 11/04/03 at Embarcadero Center Cinema, SF, CA

A ambitious, sprawling epic of a film about the unbelievably tough lives of the youth in the slums of Rio. Violent and harsh, but speckled with aspects of melodrama, City of God certainly had its moments. At its best points, it sketched out the lives of its vast cast of characters, moving quickly through a period of 10-15 years through the 1970’s into the early 1980’s, telling numerous specific little stories in the grand sweep of the entire period. All in all, a good film.

The Backyard

The Backyard (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Paul Hough
viewed: 11/10/03 at The Red Vic Movie House, SF, CA

Ah, the Monday Night Movie Club, always pursuing the highest qualities of the cinema. This week a highbrow documentary about people who more or less bleed for a living.

This was a rather bloody affair,…which is not surprising. I can honestly say that all I had previously known of backyard wrestling came from commercials for video games that were based on it. What I didn’t realize was that the level of “reality” in it was supposedly comparable to Professional Wrestling. The only thing is that these kids bleed a lot. Lots of real blood. Which got a little hard to watch at points.

As far as documentaries go, this was hardly top notch. The film wasn’t overly insightful and felt a little cobbled together. The film had a sense of voyueristic condescention about it. The whole thing is pretty white trash, and the audience we watched it with were laughing at a lot of the events and people, squirming occasionally. It was a pretty lowbrow thing, this film.

That said, despite it all, I can recognize the level of boredom and creativity that stems from these rural and suburban worlds. These teenagers (which most of them were) are not utterly outside of a recognizable world.

The Eye

The Eye (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang
viewed: 10/24/03

Gotta love a guy named “Oxide Pang,” as the one of the co-directors of this film has himself known. As for this film, which seems to largely be in Cantonese with some Thai, The Eye has a good deal of The Sixth Sense (1999) about it, minus the twists.

Mun is a young woman who was blinded as a child but is now being given an eye transplant which will bring her vision back. When her vision is returned, she comes to realize that she can also see people who are dying being transported away by shadowy figures and can see the ghosts of those who are yet untransported.

This film is pretty neat, with some clever visual designs and some moderately spooky sequences. It’s ultimately not so transfixing, though overall I thought it was a pretty good rental.

Intolerable Cruelty

Intolerable Cruelty (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
viewed: 10/27/03 at Loews Theatre at the Metreon, SF, CA

Intolerable Cruelty doesn’t look or feel like a Coen brothers’ film at first blush. The only point in the trailer in which you realize that it is their work is when their names appear on the screen as directors and co-writers. I must say that I don’t know definitively the background behind the film, but from what I have gleaned the film was something that they either inherited or re-inherited and turned it out as something with less characteristic mark than any of their other films.

By most standards, it’s a decent mainstream romantic comedy that takes its strengths and character more from comedies of a more classic Hollywood, like Howard Hawks or Ernst Lubitsch. Which, for today’s Hollywood, is a breath of less stale air, downright funny, and something so tasteful you could probably take your grandmother to see it.

By Coen brothers standards, it’s nothing too amazing. It lacks even their signiture camera style throughout most of it, and it has times when you could easily forget that it’s their film at all. It is, however, a more successful attempt to capture this classic Hollywood style of comedy than The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) which attempted to recreate the mood even further by steeping it in the period of those films, the 1940’s.

George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones are actually a large portion of why this film works. They have that big screen appeal and charm that feels quite classic Hollywood.

This is a good film, though not a great one. Still better no doubt than any like type of romantic comedy that will get produced in Hollywood this year or next.

Willard

Willard (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Glen Morgan
viewed: 10/25/03

As I stuck this DVD into my machine at home and settled back on the couch to watch this, I began to wonder exactly why I had even put this film on my list of films to watch. As a youth, I’d seen the 1971 original from which this film was adapted/”re-made.” I never found it to be anything special. So, why did I rent this?

There is a potentially subversive core here, in a love triangle between a man (Willard) and two rats (Socarates and Ben). Friendless Willard finds a soulmate in a rat, which has a weird perversity about it in itself. The relationship verges on the sexual, though maybe it’s a Michael Jackson type of sexuality in which the friends merely “share a bed” nightly. Ben, the big, evil-looking rat, the leader of the rats, seeks a similar relationship with Willard, but is spurned. And like a cinematic jealous lover, Ben seeks Willard’s demise and downfall.

Willard’s character is cast as vaguely homosexual, as Ben and Socrates are both clearly male, and Willard’s one human pursuer, a female co-worker, is spurned with utter ambivalence. I don’t know if this casts some negativity on the portrayal, or if this is just pure “over-read” on my part. This notion did come to mind.

Willard was not bad. It might have been more interesting in the hands of someone like David Lynch or someone with his proclivities. In the end, the character of Willard was so sympathetic and his boss was so unlikeable, that you’re not sure how you are supposed to feel as Willard turns against the rats.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. McG
viewed: 10/26/03

Subtlety, thy name is not “McG”.

When I saw the “original” Charlie’s Angels (2000) in the theaters, I found it pretty fun despite its absolute crapness. I think the attitude that they were shooting for was something along the lines of, “It’s stupid, but it’s fun. If you want to critique this, then you really need to loosen up, Dude!” And, for me, it was pretty entertaining.

Round 2, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, is even more ridiculous, less adherent to most conventions of plot and narrative, and even more shamelessly empty than the first one. If the first one was fun for those reasons, then this one will be even more so.

But, this time, it just felt all the more cheap. I mean, how hard is it to pack pop culture references into scenes of motorcycle racing, surfing, and fighting, infused with low comedy and celebrity cameos. If you don’t really have to rely on a coherent narrative, all you need is different wigs and get-ups, a couple dance numbers, and a retro-infused soundtrack, filmmaking really is a snap.

When Drew Barrymore’s character tries to muster up some poorly conceived pathos over her dark past and the uncertain future of the Angels as a team, this film really shows how bad it is. It’s straight out of late Saturday afternoon syndicated comedies whose creators should perhaps be sued for war crimes.

Oh yeah, the movie’s special effects. The campy over-the-top ridiculous quality of the action, so hilariously stupid and impossible (intentionally) are played out with digital touch-ups that are so bad that they look like some first-year undergrad at State University did the stuff after hours in the lab. This is so bad that it’s insulting. Maybe there are some out there who find the cheesiness of the effects funny and campy.

Enough.

All the Real Girls

(2003) dir. David Gordon Green
viewed: 10/20/03

Was this movie bad or was it just me? I had read a number of glowing things about this film, and I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe something along the lines of Terrence Malick or something (though I know that is shooting pretty high).

Not 20 minutes into it, I was wondering if I should go any further. I have a pretty high threshold with bad films, but not usually romance genre stuff. This film attempted to have a naturalistic character, showing young love and the way simple relationships can fail. Certain parts of it worked better than others. Zooey Deschanel, the female lead, I thought pulled off her material pretty well. But Paul Schneider, the male lead who also co-wrote the script with director David Gordon Green, was almost laugh out loud bad at times. I couldn’t really place my finger on what it was that annoyed me about him and his character. He looked a little old to be acting so young and seemed like his character was just supposed to be stupid. When he spoke some of the lines that were sort of nonsense non-sequiturs, it felt really put on. As did some of the heartfelt sentimental stuff that other characters got to tell to one another.

I really don’t know what kept me with this film, other than I felt like I had to try and figure out if it was going to come together a little more. I will admit that it had moments that felt quite real, but I kept surfacing to finding this a pretentious piece of shit.

I also can’t say what really annoyed me so much about it. Just that it was bad.