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Michael Bay's approach to Pearl Harbor, centering around a tedious,
contrived love-triangle is like watching a film about a first date on
September 11, 2001. While one thing is going on that seems so trivial,
so senseless, and so impulsive, a major historical event is taking
place and instead of focusing on the bigger issue, we're stuck on a
smaller, more secluded issue that is almost entirely irrelevant.
The last time I witnessed such a big-budget miscalculation had to be when I watched Michael Bay's other atrocity Armageddon, which also victimized Ben Affleck into a senseless funk of action filmmaking. That was just an action film that exemplified the worst qualities of action cinema. Pearl Harbor, on the other hand, exercises the worst qualities of a war film, focusing on a lackluster love story and a brutal war without any agenda that I could find. Just one to milk sentiment from the audience and for a war film to rely on that move is almost cowardice. Do I need to cue Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing?" The film follows Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), two First Lieutenants for America during World War II. Thrill-seeking buddies, they both become involved in a relationship with Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), an army nurse. Rafe becomes romantically involved first, exchanging disgustingly cheesy dialog like "something hurts," after a fall injures his nose. "It's probably your nose," Evelyn replies. Rafe hits her with, "I think it's my heart." Groan-worthy dialog really doesn't stop there. When Rafe enrolls in the Eagle Squadron, he is shipped off to the dogfighting portion of combat, with rumors of his plane being shot down and being killed in the process. After this news circulates, while both heartbroken, Danny and Evelyn begin to have a relationship on their own, only to discover that Rafe is indeed alive and well and now angry his best friend has stolen his girl in the process.
This is all troublesome indeed, but in the meantime, there is a giant, merciless war that shows no sign of ending going on right behind you guys, and this petty drama as the main focus of Michael Bay's epic seems a bit senseless, don't you think? I'm all for the humanization of war figures and characters involved in battles, but when there's a film about an enormous militaristic crisis and tragedy and its choice to focus on a love triangle instead of the real struggle at hand seems disingenuous. To use another analogy, it's like interviewing a couple who had a marital argument on a train that derailed about that argument. There's a larger, more interesting, more compelling, more emotionally touching story at hand and this is what you focus on? When we do see the battle at hand, and the action scenes, the production values are very high and the action is watchable. This is for about ten to fifteen minutes before the Michael Bay formula of making every explosion out to be an ear-shattering time bomb and every perilous instance to be a meteoric cacophony of sound that it becomes a muchness. Bay is a guy who loves to make his visuals loud and glossy and to that I give him credit. He should direct music videos for a living. His films, however, always assume this status and become nothing more than a showcase for visuals and a house for stale drama and characters that are developed in a way that feels like an obligation. Granted Bay has never written a film, a fact often misinterpreted, but I'm still trying to discover if screenplays handed to him are chocked full of character development and interesting human drama and, upon being handed back to the writer, are littered with footnotes about when to include an explosion or an action sequence in bold, red ink.
It's odd to note that with a romance involved, a war at hand, and a serious dilemma between characters all occurring in one film, the three hours Pearl Harbor utilizes are dull and boring ones. Affleck and Hartnett are both capable actors, but are given dialog that just bleeds clichés, and accompanied by a script penned by Randall Wallace (the man responsible for writing Braveheart), I can't help but feel that the film's corny depiction of a 1940's romance and the scenes depicting the bombing of Pearl Harbor are a disservice and perhaps offensive to veterans of the war. The film feels like a Hollywood action movie, one that is intended as something to profit off of a tragedy and make entertainment out of it, rather than show the event as it really was. There are literally hundreds of ideas to base a film about Pearl Harbor off of and it's surprising to note that with the abundance of Holocaust films that are all very accomplished and smartly done, we have one widely known film about Pearl Harbor and it's a macro-disappointment.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale. Directed by: Michael Bay.
NOTE: For the sake of utilizing the abundance of slang words and
incomprehensibly stupid jargon I learned from the Disney film Meet the
Deedles, I am prepared to review the film in a more informal way than
I'm used to.
Like, how come every time Disney tries to make one of those live action films it turns out to be totally bogus? From George of the Jungle to Max Keeble's Big Move to The Country Bears to now the totally uncool Meet the Deedles that tries too hard to be hip and in touch with the youth of today. To quote Phil Deedle, "it's so diculous it's ridiculous."
The oh-so stupid plot revolves around Stu and Phil Deedle (Steve Van Wormer and Paul Walker), two California surf bums who are sent to a camp by their totally loaded father who believes he has given them way too much in life and they must give him something back. The camp is located in the bogus state that is Wyoming (and when their plane lands is looks like one of those flight simulator computer games), but when the Deedles land there they realize that the camp had been shut down and the owner is a psycho-dude. They wind up becoming park rangers at the wicked Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming because of mistaken identities and now must find a way to solve the park's prairie dog (p-dog) problem. But would you believe these dudes discover this big park conspiracy involving a geyser that hasn't gone off in years? This all could've been pretty radical, but the approach to the film is just so uncool and lame.
Meet the Deedles plays like a dude who has lived in his house for far too many years, rarely leaving his confines, trying to write and illustrate a film about teenagers when he hasn't spoken to one in years. The film feels like somebody's image of traditional teenagers rather than actual teenagers. This is the kind of film that makes people hate teens and give them a poor view. And if you're gonna hate them, at least hate them for what they really do and not what you think they do.
I always complain about the bogus films aimed at the demographic of kids and Meet the Deedles fits right in that demographic. The kind of film that is so lame and stupid it does nobody any good, unless you find shortened attention spans and a hunger for more simplistic films a good thing. This film exercises its right to be stupid and idiotic with no conceivable reward. It reminds me of that "no" phase tykes go into around age four or five, where they say "no" to everything and feel like rebelling for the sake of rebelling. The Deedles seem to have never escaped that phase. Society seemed to want their sentences structured and their thoughts to make sense, but they just weren't gonna listen.
The film was directed by ex-stuntdude Steve Boyum and written by that same guy Jim Herzfeld, who wrote Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. I don't know what to tell this guy but stop introducing us to totally lame people.
Meet the Deedles was made during that totally lame time in Disney's history when they thought every kid in America was into surfing, so they made, like, a ton of stupid movies centered around surfing. Boys got this travesty along with the Disney Channel movie Johnny Tsunami and girls got the network's original movie Rip Girls. I question the relevance and the purpose of the latter films' existence, but I hold optimism for them if I ever seek them out solely because they seem to be in English.
Movies are supposed to be enjoyed. Meet the Deedles is a movie to be endured. And that's just not gnarly, man. An apology to the surfer community and the filmmakers of Bill and Ted is in order.
Starring: Steve Van Wormer, Paul Walker, Robert Englund, Dennis Hopper, A. J. Langer, John Ashton, and M.C. Gainey. Directed by: Steve Boyum.
I Don't Know How She Does It is another film that actually has a bit of
a brain in its head, but rather than recognizing it, many people
dismissed it on-sight as a film that was unremarkable and generic. Some
even went as far as to call it an outdated look at gender roles. The
idea of a mother being the breadwinner of the family and holding down
the fort, juggling a big job, kids, scheduling, and a family that needs
her now more than ever is not a completely new idea, but outdated?
Does it need to be brought up that the United States is currently in a recession? That people now have longer hours at work with less of a reward, have no foreseeable retirement in their future, have more priorities and more of a fear for their lives and families well-being thanks to an increasingly tumultuous world? I Don't Know How She Does It is slight entertainment, but beneath some of its silliness and eye-rolling circumstances lies a cast with good chemistry, a moral that is still alive and well, and a realistic depictions of the struggles in a modern family's life.
Sarah Jessica Parker is Kate Reddy, a woman in banking attempting to juggle her heavy workload, time with her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear), and more time with her children. When she accepts an even more hectic job by her boss Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan), things get even more complicated and she begins to lose the time with her family that she values. However, there are bills that need to paid, expenses that won't finance themselves, and work that needs to be done if Kate and her husband want to maintain the lavish home they live in along with all its benefits.
Immediately, this will be written off by some people as wealthy white people complaining when circumstances do not go there way. From the beginning, I feared that I Don't Know How She Does It would fall into the same unfortunate trap Uma Thurman's forgotten film Motherhood did, about another mother trying to juggle all the responsibilities that came with raising children. While the film featured a solid performance by Thurman, it seemed as if nothing more than a look into a bad week in the character's life. Parker's Kate, on the other hand, is having a stressful life and if something isn't done, it will last for years on end.
I think that's the little note people overlooked with this film. Parker lives a life millions of American women (and men) live. Director Douglas McGrath and writer Aline Brosh McKenna (who went on to pen We Bought a Zoo with Cameron Crowe) also gently explore the double standard of women sacrificing their work to attend to their child in need. It is Olivia Munn's Wendy, a coworker of Kate, who explains this in a one-on-one monologue with the camera (a style that is done often in McGrath's film to only some avail). Wendy states how that if a man cuts work to see his child, he is an honorable and dedicated soul. However, if a woman cuts work to see her child, she is disorganized, not devoted enough, and has the company's well being in the back of her mind. I remember my mother, who worked long hours as a nurse when I was a child, tell her coworker on the phone when I had strep throat at age four that she would rather have the illness than to have her young son have it. She cut work to attend to me, and she exerted the opposite of those traits with every move she made.
McGrath does a fine job at getting his cast to demonstrate these circumstances with solid chemistry and a recognition that these problems exist outside in the middle class and upper middle class world. I Don't Know How She Does It is, however, a pretty simplistic iteration of it, but the film regards its subject matter with a sense of realism and maturity, never making Kate one to laugh at (maybe only if you've experienced something she went through, like having your friend's ultrasound appear in your PowerPoint slideshow) and never milking the screenplay for emotions. Kate is obviously a strong, mentally stable woman. She doesn't need your tears.
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, and Olivia Munn. Directed by: Douglas McGrath.
Filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedberg have done a daring thing
in documentary cinema. For one, they decided to tackle the massive
topic of the AIDS virus and the efforts taken to combat the rampant
disease. The second is make the documentary a mere forty minutes in
length. HBO simultaneously amazes me and upsets me with their recent
line of original documentaries they run every Monday night on their
network; they tackle massive subjects but make them their runtimes
micro-sized in comparison.
But these micro-mini documentaries generate the power, emotion, and suspense only a handful of feature-length documentaries are known to generate. The last HBO documentary I was gifted to see was Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, concerning a team of dedicated employees at a crisis hotline that work around the clock to provide people, predominately veterans, with the support and help they need when they are having a breakdown or are on the verge of committing suicide.
The Battle of amfAR concerns another unfortunate epidemic, this time it's the HIV virus that took America by surprise in the 1980's and was met with large amounts of criticism, little government interference, and a skyrocketing number of deaths. The only thing scarier than bearing the symptoms during the virus's inception was how the public was going to perceive you once you had the disease. There was no such thing as a cure, having the disease meant you engaged in homosexual sex, police didn't want to touch victims, doctors didn't want to treat you, the government didn't have your back, morticians were scared of embalming you, and it seemed that when you needed everyone the most nobody even thought to give you a second long.
But thanks to the brave, unconventional actions of popular Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor, AIDs-patient and fellow actor Rock Hudson, Doctor Mathilde Krim, and numerous other people who saw a problem and dared to solve it, the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) was founded, providing the helpless with much-needed help. AmfAR worked tirelessly to provide individuals with the support they needed, as well as providing exceptional research facilities to try and establish a cure for the drug.
The film explicitly notes that the organization's success rests on the shoulders of determined, affected Americans in addition to the courageous Hollywood elite that made this happen and not the federal government. The Reagan administration was almost entirely silent on the issue, disregarding their main priority which is to protect the lives of the citizens of their nation. Hollywood actors like Taylor, Hudson, and even Sharon Stone boldly stepped in, an unthinkable act at the time, to show that recognition for the severity of HIV had long been swept under the rug and needed immediate attention.
However, one major victory for the AIDS awareness/research movement was the passing of the Ryan White Care Act, a piece of legislation that would help victims of the virus. Ryan White was an unfortunate, fourteen-year-old hemophiliac who contracted the AIDS virus as a freshman in high school, making the treacherous hallways of his high school more of a depressing, intimidating battleground than they already are. Had it not been for him, who knows how much longer Congress would've slept on such an issue.
The film was directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedberg, who both directed the fascinating and largely-unseen biopic on Linda Lovelace also released this year. The Battle of amfAR further illustrates their interest and undivided attention to taboo sex of decades past.
The Battle of amfAR really doesn't offer anything new, but really, that may be a good thing. Knowledge of STDs and HIV are just about public domain now, so much so that information about its effects are taught in schools and there is a day dedicated to awareness of the disease. Taylor would be proud, Krim is definitely proud, the amfAR organization is undoubtedly proud, and the gay community can rest easier in regards that knowledge of and research of HIV is prolific and very common. To say The Battle of amfAR tells us almost nothing new is almost the ultimate compliment.
Directed by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidberg.
Forces of Nature is competently acted and professionally delivered, but
there is no spark of difference in storytelling or chemistry between
its leads. Even after the first forty minutes of the film, when Ben
Affleck and Sandra Bullock haven't really drummed up anything
remarkable, the film still heavily emphasizes both characters'
qualities and their prime differences rather than ground them into
reality like the film should. We still must be reminded that Sandra
Bullock is different and free-spirited and Ben Affleck is
straight-laced and getting married, but we don't get any more involved
in these characters' personalities or their particular relationship
other than it (a) is predicated off of the tired "opposites attract"
philosophy and (b) that it really shouldn't be happening.
Because of this, Ben Affleck's Ben Holmes and Sandra Bullock's Sarah Lewis feel like bland caricatures and not identifiable people. This is an issue when you have two characters that accentuate simple personality traits and those simple traits are the only methods of which we can define these characters. One is different, the other is a straight-shooter; these are very basic terms to describe people we've just spent one-hundred and six minutes with.
Regarding the plot - as if I really need to - Ben is getting married and is on a flight home to Savannah, Georgia to attend the wedding. His plane suffers a crash before taking off and now, with his fear of flying even larger than it once was, must find another way back to Savannah. He meets Sarah, who must arrive to Savannah as soon as she can as well. Ben and Sarah decide to take an alternate method home together, which only results in more cockamamie circumstances happening to them over time. Ben, of course, being the cleaned-up fellow he is, hates when things detour from his original plan or intention, but Sarah, in the meantime, doesn't fret over small things. She loves flying by the seat of her pants, which may explain the problems she faces now with a custody battle.
Affleck and Bullock, at this current point in time, didn't really need to establish their credibility in films. Affleck had already done both Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting, two phenomenal films, with Sandra Bullock appearing in Speed, a fine example of a truly tense and exciting thriller. Both actors had experienced carrying their own portions in a film in some way, shape, or form, and on that note, you'd think that Affleck and Bullock would be able to concoct believable chemistry with one another. However, Marc Lawrence's writing doesn't leave much to be desired in terms of development in their chemistry.
If there's a light in Forces of Nature's smothering sameness, it's the atypical direction Bronwen Hughes takes for conducting the romantic comedy. Hughes seems to have an appreciation for visuals, nature (maybe hinted in the titled?), and natural lighting, making Forces of Nature a surprising experience for the eyes. I recommend watching some portions of it on mute so you can appreciate the beautiful lighting and cinematography (done very nicely by Elliot Davis and David Stockton) and not the goofy dialog that Affleck and Bullock engage in.
Starring: Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock. Directed by: Bronwen Hughes.
I admire what first-time writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewill
attempts to do with Vehicle 19, however, I'm unable to recommend his
attempts to the masses. Instead, I'll limit my recommendations to only
the most optimistic film-watcher or one, like myself, who feel they
need to pay some respect to Paul Walker after his untimely death. The
film concerns Walker's Michael Woods, a fugitive in the United States
evading prosecution in South Africa, where he picks up a rental car and
is meeting up with his girlfriend. However, plans are put on an abrupt
hold when he discovers a gun, a cellphone, and a woman tied up in the
back seat of his car. An incoming phone call on the cellphone makes
clear that this rental car was intended for another person, but by then
it's too late; Michael is now trapped in a cat and mouse game with a
mysterious voice on the phone and law-enforcement that he can't escape.
Add a random and surly woman in his backseat into the mix as well.
It was just a few days back that I reviewed Courtney Solomon's Getaway, a horribly incoherent, messy action film, whose camera always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Vehicle 19, however, Dewill attempts something different with his car-chases and it's something I believe could be executed very well. Dewill keeps the camera on Michael in his car at all times. I can't immediately recall a shot that was stationed outside of the vehicle, even during the car chases.
This move in a genre dominated by slick and flawless scenes of car-chases and action in films today is a risky one - one that I admire and respect - but one that fails to do the film any particular justice. Getaway's issue was that its camera never seemed to be in the right place capturing the right thing. Vehicle 19's issue is that by keeping the camera in the car at all times makes it next to impossible for us to see what is happening outside, where the other members of this car chase exist. During the chase scenes, we are solely focused on Walker angrily trying to drive, yelling at the woman tied up in the back, and trying to fulfill the demands of the man on the other end of the phone. My guess is that Dewill wanted to capture this with boiling tension and to do that he thought it'd be best to keep the camera on Walker's character the entire time even as things became heated. Again, this is a decision I admire but do not necessarily like in this particular film.
Another issue with this kind of style is that Dewill wants us to sit through the tedious elements of Vehicle 19 that are captured through this kind of suspense tactic. The first fifteen to twenty minutes are nothing more than a frustrated Walker stuck in traffic, yelling at pedestrians, trying to find ways around a congested highway, and repeatedly telling his girlfriend he'll be there in time. Then when the chase scenes are finally sprung upon us, Dewill's practice becomes akin to watching a car chase in a rearview mirror.
This style also results in a heavy weight on Walker's shoulders as he must carry the film for almost the entire runtime since the camera almost never leaves him. He accepts this challenge, but he clearly struggles to give Michael Woods a character with more emotional depth rather than one victim to the asinine requirements of an action movie.
Vehicle 19 in many ways reminds me of Solomon's Getaway more-so than its unique, if unsuccessful way of filming action sequences. Both films concern a person thrown into circumstances beyond their control, given orders by men on cell phones, accompanied by a female companion in the vehicle, and both films are concluded by an ending of questionable satisfaction. Paul Walker led a selfless life and showed skill as an actor who performed well when his character was under stress. Vehicle 19 attempts to show that but fails to show the source of his character's because it would involve exiting the vehicle.
Starring: Paul Walker. Directed by: Mukunda Michael Dewill.
Director Alexander Payne is currently one of the best dramatists in
cinema right now simply because he makes films about realistic people
in realistic situations. Payne seems to see no value in fantasy
elements, far-fetched circumstances, or overly-comedic nonsense. His
accomplished filmography includes the uproariously funny and poignant
Sideways, The Descendants, which I went on to name my favorite film of
2012, the bold satire Election, the humble and depressing About
Schmidt, and the daring abortion comedy-drama Citizen Ruth.
Now with Nebraska he adds another incredible film to his filmography. Heavy on the drama, smart with its character depictions, but never schmaltzy nor self-satisfying, Nebraska paints a bleak and depressing portrait of Midwestern life centering on a broken family with little to live for. One day, however, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern in a career-making performance) finds something to live for. Senile, an alcoholic in denial, and not one for long conversations, Woody receives a letter in the mail telling him he won a $1,000,000 prize and should come to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect it. His son, the quietly-sad David (Will Forte), informs him that the letter is a shameless piece of scam mail that requires the subscription to multiple magazines to even qualify for a raffle to potentially win the jackpot.
Woody doesn't care. He believes that people or an organization wouldn't say something that wasn't one-hundred percent true. Residing in Billings, Montana, Woody abandons his long-suffering, brutally honest wife (June Squibb) numerous times by aimlessly walking (sometimes trudging) down interstate highways and side-streets to venture out to Lincoln to collect his supposed earnings. At first, David can't fathom his father's logic. He has informed him several times this is a hopeless scam, that he is in no condition to travel long distances (he can't drive), and he doesn't even need $1 million to begin with. Woody, stubborn as a mule (or is he?), offers very little reasoning for his actions. He simply does what he wants. But when people in Woody's hometown get wind of this, along with distant family members that maybe should've remained distant, Woody now owes everyone money and a favor.
Director Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson work wonderfully with Nebraska, especially Nelson, who is sure to paint the characters as realistic as they are relatable to the audiences. Consider Woody's rather large family, made up of codgers who speak in disjointed sentences and delightfully funny souls who like to complain every chance they get. One of these people in particular is Woody's wife Kate, portrayed by a fearless June Squibb where almost everything she says is a laugh riot. A key scene comes when Woody, Kate, and David are visiting the gravesites of Woody's family members and for every person buried six feet under, Kate has a smarmy remark for them.
It's all the more surprising to note that Will Forte, usually known for playing characters in goofball comedies, does tremendous work in a serious, darkly funny, but also depressing drama film. Forte embodies an everyman quality that will make him familiar to some, and the way he tries to live in the boundaries of reality while giving his father something to live for is easily relatable to someone who wants the best for their own parents. However, the performance of the two hours is easily given by Bruce Dern, who has the rare ability to play detached and clueless with a true sense of believability. I can only think of Paul Dano's requirements for his character in Prisoners, released about two months back, where Dano had to always bear a facial expression that rendered him dazed and almost entirely out of touch with reality. Dern uses the effect to true emotional heights in Nebraska, with the uncanny ability to sit with a blank stare on his face and look as if he's about to burst into tears.
That precise quality of Nebraska is why I was so drawn in (along with the excellent black and white photography); its lack of milking its story for emotions. It has the very ingredients to make a person cry from the senile father who never really was one to his children, the broken family, and the unremarkable rural life that seemingly offers no hope outside of a desolate landscape. However, just like Woody, the film looks on the brighter side of life, optimistic about the peculiar instances and finding solace in a practical adventure. It doesn't have time to waste on sappy musical cues and actors phoning in emotion; it's much too concerned for articulating the characters and the adventure at hand.
It's also wonderful to see Will Forte in a pleasantly different role, alongside his frequent collaborator and friend Bob Odenkirk as siblings in Nebraska. The last time Forte and Odenkirk teamed up, if I recall correctly, The Brothers Solomon happened and such a film doesn't even deserve a mention in this review.
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach. Directed by: Alexander Payne.
James Bennings' small roads opens with a title card bearing its name,
"small roads," in lowercase letters, and will be the only title card we
see until the film's conclusion when the film states its director, also
in lowercase letters, "james benning." The film is eighty-six minutes
of peacefulness and, if anything, an encouragement to explore the
beautifully simplistic Midwestern countryside. It consists of lengthy
static shots of various backroads, smaller interstates, quieter roads,
and lonely highways, all shot with the crispness of an HD camera and an
appreciation for contemporary landscapes.
To some, small roads will play like a sanity test; "how long must I stare at the same godforsaken road?" some may ask. I'll be honest and admit I thought that at some points during the film, for its absence of dialog and apparent lack of themes seemed to take a toll on me. But the more I watched it, the more I found the film putting me at a rare and comfortable ease. The kind of ease one experiences when sitting in complete utter silence, or when perhaps when one meditates and makes an attempt to allow their worries to flourish out of them. In that case, small roads provided me with one of the most meditative experiences I've ever had with a film.
This is because of how Benning approaches the many "small roads" we see in the film. He lets the scenic qualities and the landscapes do the talking, as he simply sits back and films the scenery as it is. This may be the one of the only times on film where locational photography is scouted but it is not burdened with the manipulative qualities of excessive lighting, extensive use of actors, equipment, etc (the only other example I can think of is your average Frederick Wiseman film).
With this kind of film - one that waits for something to happen rather than tries to make something happen - your fondness sort of shifts from what you see to what you hope to or may see along the way. For example, every so often, while Benning is filming these "small roads," a car, truck, or eighteen-wheeler will come hauling down the road, interrupting the quietness and stillness of the shot. Benning, who can already be inferred as a fan of natural filmmaking, doesn't flinch, hesitate, adjust the camera, or even cut, but simply allows it to pass. He doesn't even have the nerve to lessen the passing vehicle's sound in post-production, resulting in an unexpectedly ear-shattering noise whenever a vehicle does move past (or maybe it's ear-shattering because we're so used to hearing the birds chipping, owls hooing, or the soft wind blowing, possibly illustrating a "man vs. nature" theme). Because of this, the excitement is generated because of the film's unpredictability. You don't know when something will move, a vehicle will pass, or a shot will cut. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Roads are also depicted in all kinds of weather. Some are depicted under the sunniness of the current day, some are shown with clearly overcast skies above, some buried in fog, some affected by rain, snow, sleet, mud, and some just remain captured under partly cloudy skies and thoroughly pleasant conditions. This kind of variety heightens the unpredictability-aspect of the film because, since Benning doesn't seem to be illustrating any particular kind of weather-continuity or story with his depiction of weather, there's a nice feeling of not knowing where the next shot will take you.
Ultimately, the person who benefited the most from this film is James Benning. No matter where you see the film, be it on DVD, online, or on an enormous theater screen with the sound quality of an IMAX showing, you will not get the experience Benning received when shooting small roads. He got to smell and breath the fresh air the landscapes offer, physically walk on the roads he filmed, and indulge in the magic and beauty of the areas he showcased in this project. Needless to say, I'm a bit envious. Benning seems to be the kind of person who appreciates long car rides through "the middle of nowhere" more-so than the actual destination.
Of course, because no matter how hard film criticism tries it will always remain subjective, I'm speaking on my personal thoughts of small roads. Many will look away from such a film, and only a selected few will be brave enough to watch it. Half of those brave souls will probably not like it or not make it through the first half hour. The other half that makes it through, and perhaps likes it or develops an appreciation for the beautiful roads that make up America's unsung, unrefined landscapes, embody the characteristics of an optimistic and passionate cinephile, whose very curiosity will keep a long-standing medium going for hundreds of years to come.
Directed by: James Benning.
Charlie Countryman is yet another sensory experience for the year 2013;
think Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers with a less interesting story
and nothing really to say. Combine it, perhaps, with the senseless
violence and heavy visual-hues of Nicholas Winding Refn's Only God
Forgives and you have Charlie Countryman, a film that shares the same
qualities as its hero - untidiness, physical and mental messiness,
disorganized thoughts, but an elusive personality that keeps us, at
very least, intrigued with them as a whole.
The titular character is played by Shia LeBeouf, who has had several ups and downs as a young actor, and if he continues to take roles of this caliber, we could soon see him becoming a very surprising minimalist star. The character's life is thrown into a tailspin with his mother dead and his current situation being as listless as someone who is unemployed. He travels to Bucharest, sitting next to an older man on the flight, when he dies out of nowhere. Upon entering Bucharest, Charlie meets the man's daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood), whom he develops a liking for despite her being married and submissive to a vicious crime boss (Mads Mikkelsen). Charlie desperately wants to become close to Gabi, but can only take so many senseless beatings and lovesick feelings.
First-time director Fredrik Bond directs Charlie Countryman like a hazy trance after downing cheap acid and a few lines of cocaine, but still maintaining enough coherency to shed light on what looks to be themes of love, destiny, and randomness concocted by writer Matt Drake. These evident themes immediately make Charlie Countryman one-up Only God Forgives, which did nothing but glorify brutality and shallow characters, but doesn't allow it to surpass the soaring qualities of Spring Breakers. I compare these films to the overall quality of the film at hand here because each of these films tried to do something in the line of stimulating the senses we use to watch a movie.
However, Charlie Countryman does little to stimulate the most important thing in our bodies and that is the brain. The film offers big themes but explores them in a very small way, unfortunately. The relationship between Charlie and Gabi never seems to be anything more than impulsive love taken to grandiose heights. Their behavior seems increasingly spur-of-the-moment, and while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just makes the entire relationship seem more trivial than it is. There's only so much drifting and wayward wandering I can stomach for one film.
Then there's the violence aspect of the picture, which almost completely contradicts the romance elements in the film. Romance and violence can definitely work in unison (Martin Scorsese's utterly sublime Casino for example) but it takes a special kind of focus. And frankly, the one can depict intimate cuddling in a scene followed by the cringe-inducing sound of blows to the face and blood oozing from the nose and mouth isn't necessarily the kind that warrants such praise.
By the time the tenth punch is thrown by Gabi's unstable husband in the one-hundred and four minute excursion that is Charlie Countryman, I felt about as worn down as our protagonist. The dreamy effects of the picture always make us guess what state of reality we're currently in, the visual effects of Romania are easy on the eyes, the performances are uniformly good (especially Mads Mikkelsen, who gives a thoroughly incorrigible performance), but the entire project becomes questionable when you lose touch with what the filmmakers are trying to articulate. Especially in the case when it appears they, themselves, aren't quite sure what they're trying to articulate.
Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, and Mads Mikkelsen. Directed by: Fredrik Bond.
The Wedding Singer opens with a pretty damn-good cover of "You Spin Me
Right Round" by Dead or Alive by Adam Sandler and company, which
provided me with optimism that this would be a more controlled Sandler
affair with more intelligently written humor and some solid drama
between characters. Certainly The Wedding Singer doesn't show Adam
Sandler at his most manic and uncontrollable, but during some
instances, you can see writer Tim Herlihy is fighting his urges.
Consider the morosely unfunny scene where, upon being dumped by his
fiancé, the titular character (Sandler) lumbers through a performance
at a wedding spewing unconscionable bouts of hatred and mean-spirited
anger. But it's funny, right? Not in my eyes. The Wedding Singer, in my
eyes, is another Sandler disaster. A film with a two-faced protagonist,
a caricature of a love-interest, a terribly trite and predictable plot,
and humor as reliable as a twenty-year old with well over 100,000 miles
on it. The film isn't offensive in the casual sense, but in the deeper,
more depressing sense that while senseless drivel like this is getting
made, real writers and determined screenwriters getting turned away
from the higher-ups because their material is too ambitious or too
It's 1985 and Adam Sandler stars as Robbie Hart, a popular choice for a wedding singer in Connecticut. Robbie is engaged to his girlfriend Linda (Angela Featherstone), but finds himself alone on his wedding day. However, while on the job, Robbie meets Julia (Drew Barrymore), a waitress who works many of the same venues where Robbie performs. Unfortunately, now that Robbie is single and recognizes that Julia may indeed make a great girlfriend, she is engaged to cocky businessman Glenn Gulia (Matthew Glave). So Robbie gets sidelined to help Julia plan the wedding when deep down he knows he should be her husband.
Immediately, this film houses clichés I'm tiring greatly of. The first is the dimwit that we're supposed to like and sympathize with despite the stupid actions he commits consistently (usually a cliché in a Sandler film). The second is where the guy finds the perfect soul almost instantaneously after breaking it off with his girlfriend. Others include the expected fact that the dreamgirl is dating an unbecoming jerk, despite the guy's obnoxiousness the girl is obviously above, she still sees him as a mature and respectable guy, and the ridiculous ending we need to live with at the end of the film where everything is nicely patched up and elegantly concluded.
Clichés work against a film, most definitely, but it also doesn't help in any particular saving grace-fashion when a comedy's wit is just at the near bottom of the barrel. Take for example the elderly woman Robbie can be seen assisting often over the course of the film. In the beginning of the film, upon first seeing her, we are, I guess, supposed to laugh because she is not your typical elderly lady with her quick wit and her efforts to fill Robbie's hands with meatballs and demanding he eat them then and there. But later on, Robbie has a discussion with her about his relationships where she can welcome in such fascinating commentary on Robbie perhaps being self-conscious about the size of his private area or other points that don't need to be brought up. The fatal kicker for the jokes with the elderly woman is what she says isn't funny but the fact that she's very old and saying such things is the humor of the situation.
Barrymore and Sandler do have evident chemistry, especially during the drama of the later sequences, but it's very much undermined thanks to the film's middle-school attitude throughout the entire course of the film. The Wedding Singer, according to audience opinion, ranks among the higher margin of Sandler films, but I see nothing but the same unfunny schlock in smaller, more manageable piles. That's like saying a relatively messy park is more fun to play in than a filthier park when, frankly, I'd be keen on just staying home.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Angela Featherstone, Matthew Glave, Allen Covert, and Peter Dante. Directed by: Frank Coraci.
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