Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Episode Twelve (Adaptation. / Arsenic and Old Lace)

Yes, I'm aware that Adaptation. was in the wrong spot on my shelf. It's fixed now. Can we let it go? Good.

Adaptation. (2002)

Director: Spike Jonze
Writers: Susan Orlean (book), Charlie Kaufman  and Donald Kaufman (screenplay)
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep

For me, this film perfectly represents the "fridge brilliance" trope. At the end of my first viewing, I was left disappointed and confused by the bizarre turn the film takes in its final act. It wasn't until I was reflecting on the film a couple hours afterwards that all of the pieces clicked into place and I was able to see clearly through the thick haze of meta. Once that happened and I realized that the great performances were, in fact, in service of a very clever script I was able to confirm that I loved the film. Having trouble adapting a novel to the screen? Why not write about yourself having trouble writing about it? Then create an imaginary sibling to help you co-write this screenplay about your inability to write a screen adaptation of the novel. Easy peasy.

Score: 9 / 10

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Director: Frank Capra
Writers: Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein (screenplay), and Joseph Kesselring (stage play)
Stars: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey

Concurrently holds the top spots among my favorite screwball and black comedies. A light-hearted farce about serial killers featuring a great cast hamming it up for the camera. I know that Grant regarded this as his worst performance, but I don't think such a ludicrous story called for subtlety on his part and I consider it one of his most enjoyable roles. For that matter, it is probably also my favorite performance from Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein. For me, most comedies wear thin after repeated viewings - this is one of the very few that I can watch over and over again and laugh every time. The only nitpick I have about the movie is that I would have loved to have seen Karloff recreate the role he played on stage. Other than that minor point this movie is perfect to my eyes, ears and funny bone.

Score: 10 / 10

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Theater Interruption (Man of Steel / Frances Ha)

Man of Steel (2013)

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David S. Goyer (story and screenplay), Christopher Nolan (story), Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Superman character)
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

This incarnation of Superman has some very good things going for it - specifically, Snyder's great eye for action and the wonderful cast (Cavill, Shannon and Costner are absolutely perfect). Unfortunately, it has two glaring weaknesses - specifically, Snyder's complete lack of subtlety and Goyer's weak writing. Every positive is accompanied by a negative and the net result ends up being absolutely average by Hollywood blockbuster standards. The eye-candy action is counterbalanced by glacial pacing. The few great character moments are outweighed by the scenes that Goyer thinks will hit you in the emotions like a truck, but instead have you rolling your eyes. For my money this is the best Superman movie to date, but that bar was very low.

Score: 5 / 10

Frances Ha (2012)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig (screenplay)

Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver

Frances, the titular character, is a (mostly) likable, quirky and charming character - an aimless 27-year-old whose dream job as a dancer isn't going to work out, whose roommate/best friend is moving out, and who just generally needs to get her shit together. So, for an hour and a half, we watch her come to terms with these facts and, in the end, begin to get her shit together. Along the way, she has (mostly) uninteresting conversations with her (mostly) uninteresting and unlikable friends. If it is meant to criticize Frances' generation, the script is lacking teeth. If it is meant to be a comedy, it is lacking humor. What we're left with is a formless film - a good character given nothing to do.

Score: 4 / 10

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Episode Eleven (Annie Hall / Apocalypse Now)

Good god, it has been two months since I watched something off of my shelf? Far too long. Fortunately, it's two goodies.

Annie Hall (1977)

Director: Woody Allen
Writers: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman

Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts

A simple, genuine and touching story looking at love and relationships. The dialogue is great, as is the chemistry between Allen and Keaton. Allen is his typical neurotic self in this, but Alvy Singer feels like a much more fleshed-out character than simply Woody Allen "playing himself." What really sets this movie apart is the number of creative methods that Allen utilizes to tell his story: fourth-wall-breaking asides, animated sequences, split screen, subtitles showing us the characters' thoughts, kids speaking as their adult selves, etc. An absolute classic that codified a lot of genre standards and set an incredibly high bar for quality in romantic comedy.

Score: 9 / 10

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola (screenplay), Michael Herr (narration),  and Joseph Conrad (novel "Heart of Darkness")
Stars: Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall

Among the all time great films in its ability to evoke an incredibly strong mood and atmosphere throughout. This is achieved through some amazing performances (especially Duvall and Hopper) and great cinematography, but perhaps most notably in its impeccable use of music and sound. An intense and insane experience throughout, which only becomes more and more surreal and nightmarish as we travel deeper into the jungle. An oppressive, haunting film - a must-watch. "Drop the bomb. Exterminate them all."

Score: 9 / 10

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Theater Interruption (Now You See Me)

Now You See Me (2013)

Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Ed Solomon (screenplay), Boaz Yakin (screenplay), and Edward Ricourt (screenplay)
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson
Starts off promisingly enough with the introduction of the group of tricksters soon to be known as the "Four Horsemen" embarking on the intriguing plot of using magic as a cover for committing actual crimes. The magicians are fun to watch in action, with the highlight being the antagonistic relationship between Woody Harrelson's conniving mentalist and Jesse Eisenberg's arrogant street magician. However, the script violates some of the cardinal rules of storytelling by keeping its most interesting characters (the Horsemen) off screen most of the time and leaning less on true misdirection in favor of lying to the audience. This results in weak character development and manages to sap a lot of fun out of the mystery and reveal. Competently made otherwise, it is a shame that such a great cast and premise were wasted on such a sloppy script.

Score: 4 / 10