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Date Night (2010)
What can I say?: It's a product.
Some producers said, "Let's make a product and sell it." And they agreed to do so.
What's specifically lacking in the flick? At times the writing flags. Normally, you can be in awe of the immense talent of the leads who mouth those lines; they make them believable. Here, some of the lines are so dumb that even the very talented actors have trouble breathing life into them.
The scenario work varies from rather empty/cookie-cutter to somewhat engaging. One thing I had trouble believing was that thugs could muscle their way into a super-ritzy restaurant and bodily remove a couple--on the basis of their name. No one showed these guys photos of the targets? Gimme a break!
And the flick ends with all the bad guys in cuffs, all the good guys scot free. Ho hum!
Which, I suppose, highlights the core weakness of the enveloping story: It's not a big enough story to induce us to graciously excuse these scenario glitches.
What's good about the flick? They put together enough money to hire quite a bevy of heavy hitter acting talent. The actual film/shooting/sound production technique is fantastic. The editing is fine.
But the core idea--that hardship strengthens spirit, thence relationship-- is an old idea, and it doesn't feel particularly well- or uniquely-served in "Date Night".
Capricorn One (1977)
Mixed Bag: Partly dated, partly timeless
An interesting flick. It starts out very, very strong; but eventually winds up being a bit uneven, a bit dated. If it were made today, some of the kinks of less-than-inspired scenario choices and production might could maybe be ironed out.
Early in the flick the writing is reminiscent of Chayevsky; solid, researched, flinty/dramatic. But I sense that the producers maybe weren't aware of what they had, and that they'd need to babysit the project in a manner that closely and consistently honored those exertions. The early moments establish a wonderful sharp-edged verite. Subsequently, the quality gets rocky, and balls get dropped. Too bad!
That's it! Tho I will mention that this flick would certainly be of interest to folks who want to see some of the players in their nubile years, e.g., Waterston and Holbrooke were fascinating to me. Folks complain about Gould, but I'd point out that he, probably by dint of dumb bad luck, got the short/brown end of the story management stick, this go-'round (as did Black).
Oh, yeah! And... O.J. Simpson! Hubba hubba!
The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg (2000)
Simultaneously the most tragic and ghoulish animation you'll EVER see
My eldest daughter and I saw this at an animation fest in Taipei, Taiwan. A composer and a producer who'd worked with van Driessen were in attendance at the screening.
Subject line sez all: Easily the most horrifyingly tragic and ghoulish short animation you'll ever see, in your whole life. My daughter and I were near tears: We would've outright cried if van Driessen had allowed some aesthetic distancing... but no: He insisted on pushing the awfulness of the scenario to such a pitch that you could only sit in frozen horror.
I asked the producer what van Driessen was like as a person. I was already pretty well-aware of his dark imagination. She said... He's such a nice guy! He remembers your birthday, and everything!
Nathan for You (2013)
Nathan Fielder is a wunderkind. I'm actually kind of jaded on TV shows, and Nathan for You has me utterly rapt.
The show has depth, from concept to edit. Everyone seems to be pulling their weight. And, of course, Nathan himself continues to come off as the faux-jaunty, need-to-succeed, driven-yet-fey figure in the eye of a moral typhoon of his own furtive fashioning. He's surely the man of the decade.
Just noticed what may be a shift in style; most of the shows thus far have involved his plying two concepts per-show. A recent episode (S03E03/"The Movement") is devoted to ONE concept. Perhaps not quite the embarrassment of riches of previous shows, but it worked just fine; if he can keep that up, good on 'im!
I note the show is rated highly on IMDb, from a relative paucity of commenters. It would be sad to think of the show as a rare delicacy, enjoyed by connoisseurs. NATHAN FOR EVERYBODY, y'all!
A Beautiful, Simmering Mess
Sure, it's flawed.
But it's one of those flicks whose premise is so powerful that just about every thoughtful effort to flesh in the dialog and action eclipses the weaknesses.
What are the weaknesses? Way too much VO. A bizarrely meandering "plot". It's a kind of multifarious cavalcade of sketches, sight gags, and labor- of-love over-the-top characterizations (read: Justin Long).
But... It's about a future of idiots! What did you expect?! Shakespeare? Pfffft! The project has a built-in apologetic for being stupid!
And yet... and yet... What was I going to say? Oh, yeah: The stupidity on display is like a shock wave that touches the shores of all spaces and times. Is the bitter resentment and enmity shown toward blind stupidity an invitation to an intellectual pity party? Or is it a warning? I don't know. Back off! Do I look like some kind of pansy-a55 genius!
Anyway, it deserves a 9, if only to reward the producers for letting these guys bring such a screwed up, dark, spiteful vision to rampaging life.
Cannot for the life of me understand why this flick doesn't rate in the top 250.
How can I count the wonders of Taps? Production values are superb. The story is like a fine wine; like something Polanski would take on. The metaphor is admittedly stark--some might call it a one note johnny--but the development is an enthralling meander of telling detail; a litany of ritual acting-out; a thorough riffing on the jarring central theme, and doing so as well as with any fine stage production.
The acting is great, up and down the roster. The child actors range in skill from perfectly functionally fine to heartbreakingly sympathetic. Of course, mention should be made of the A-listers; They took their direction very well and created real pulsing, agonizing, spiritually caught-up life on the screen. And there's nothing I can say about the incomparable, late Mr. Scott that you don't already know.
And there are no misses in post-production; it's a superb edit, with tremendous sound work. No technical flaws or mishaps got in the way of the flick's pressing import. In the end, you witnessed a challenge to your belief system. While the political hipsters have upgraded their focus to the economic force of the military-industrial complex, Taps reminds us that there's still something older, primal, and yes sinister that remains afoot. And we need to look at it.
Taps shows it to us. Watch it and see.
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
You can see that the screenwriter tried; he really did.
In one sense, TBotV is "The Wolf of Wall Street", done right the first time.
There's a manic unhingedness about Wolff's writing, and the scenario/writing in the movie courageously tries to capture that. It's a broad and multi-dimensioned exposition on the excesses of success. Huzzah for that!
But translating it to the screen is also a juggling act--and other balls get dropped in this flick.
By way of one example, I cringed during each and every one of the the courtroom scenes. While I applaud the film's effort to show the multifarious tentacles of the monster of excess, the writer(s) overstepped--or perhaps just misapplied the tone--when they attempt to show what it looks like when one of those tentacles slithers into a courtroom.
Y'know, the more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that part of what niggles at me about TBotV is its nonstop cavalcade of exposition. These expositional freight trains, in general, tend to be tiring; film needs to "breathe" a little. It reminds me of what Wolff says about Chomsky in "Manufacturing Consent"; academics seize upon politics as an opportunity to act "like clergy". Well, TBotV sometimes comes off like a liturgical treatment of its subject matter. Perhaps Wolff didn't like Chomsky treading on his turf!
Anyway, the film sometimes seems on the verge of drowning under the weight and viscosity of its own expressionism. But I still feel it's worth watching for how skillfully the actors acquit themselves to the task of hammering out that expressionism, as well as marveling at the dedication of the director to unstintingly wielding that hammer, and the courage of the producers for budgeting this off-kilter merry-go-'round.
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
A Mess... but a Glorious One
It's a self-indulgent, gratuitously self-referential mess. But I loved it!
First, the questionable stuff. Sadly, the work gets sorta lost at about the half-way mark. There's a wholesale tone shift. The first half is a scintillating succession of tour-de-force redemptive spins to stories of psychopaths. Then the writer warns of the impending tone shift, as though that's all it'll take for the writer to redeem that aesthetic decision. And the last half would, if it could, live up to the first; but I'm sorry to say it didn't work for me.
Now, the good stuff: Great writing, directing, acting, cinematography, editing, much great story management with artful flashbacks. Real edge-of-the-seat type stuff!
In the end, and in spite of the stated remonstrances, I have to say it was very, very well worth watching, if only for the first half, and with a proviso that the second half does arguably have its subdued place.
You'll find lovely layering in the flick; meta-statements abound, generally pointing toward the role of the unhinged/unfeeling/amoral in the working out of destiny.
Finding its feet... and still a fine showcase
It ain't perfect--but I remember that even The Colbert Report took a week or two to refine its look/feel. I'm sure Stephen will graciously take thoughtful feedback from the producers and make the few modest tweaks needed to make it work a little better. I'm basically referring to the fact that Stephen still acts a little like it's just _his_ show (like it was with the Report). He'll figure out how to really hand the show over to his guests a little more effectively, and it'll be well nigh perfect.
But enough with the remonstrance. Colbert brings one element of his old show, in tow, which is refreshing and wonderful to see in this environment: Superb writing, lovingly delivered.
The thing Colbert does better than Letterman is the writing. As of the first week, the thing Letterman did better than Colbert is the interviews. I have absolutely no doubt that Colbert will warm up in that latter regard and learn to make those interviews more like forces of nature, the way Letterman did.
One more observation: Colbert has a special way of wedding trenchant observation with good-heartedness. Not to say that Letterman didn't do this, just that I think it's a necessary, "must have" element to these kinds of proceedings, and here's hoping Colbert will continue dishing it up in his own personal style.
Addendum, 2015/9/22 --------------
As I continue watching, I have to add a note about Jon Batiste. I'm reminded of Federico Fellini's encomium to Nino Rota: Yea, verily; Mr. Batiste is an "angel of music". Congrats on getting him, Stephen.
The Sarah Silverman Program. (2007)
My Two Bits (propagated)
(NOTE: This is a slightly altered copy of my comment on the episode "Just Breve")
"Breve" was a masterpiece, and a salient data point to the observation that The Sarah Silverman Program was just getting better and better.
A lot of folks screamed and ranted when the show got canceled, but it seems to me that it's dying young and leaving a very, very good-looking corpse. Better that it went out with sterling "bangs" like "Just Breve" and "Wowschwitz" than that the suits started pulling funding incrementally, letting it languish.
I know that Sarah will continue to find outlets for her genuine talent and ingenuity. She'll do fine.