06 January 2009

Muriels: Milk

starring: Sean Penn, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, and Diego Luna
written by: Dustin Lance Black
directed by: Gus Van Sant

Let's be honest, Milk is pretty much your standard, Oscar-bait bio pic. Sure, it's better made than most, but it certainly isn't in the same league as I'm Not There. Gus Van Sant does a good job mixing media in ways that so many of these things ignore, and perhaps in that regard, the film is special, but only marginally so. Milk, like so many bio pics, is an actor's showcase, and the acting here is good across the board. Sean Penn is marvelous as Harvey Milk, with a smile that seems to come from deep in his soul, and James Franco gives probably his best performance as Milk's long-time lover. Emile Hirsch is good, occasionally very good, but there's more than one scene where you can see that he's "Acting" and the effort is distracting.

The Diego Luna sub-plot is annoying and detracts from the film (and I'm a Luna fan). The core relationship of the film is the Penn/Franco one, so to spend so much time on Luna feels excessive. Show us how Luna affects Penn/Franco, how he affects the movement, rather than just letting him derail things. And, of course, that's how it happened, but that doesn't mean the film has to focus on it for a half hour.

One thing the critics have been talking about is how Milk so neatly dovetails with recent history, but I don't know if that's something you can credit the film for, or just some happy accident. The script by Dustin Lance Black is pretty ham-fisted, hitting the symbolism harder than needed, and it doesn't take much for an audience to make the connection between Prop 6 and Prop 8, especially when they essentially cover the same issue. I mean, how could you miss it?

04 January 2009

Muriels: The Reader

starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, and David Kross
written by: David Hare from the novel by Bernhard Schlink
directed by: Stephen Daldry

You can't really have a better set up for an Oscar film: Kate Winslet + Ralph Fiennes + Nazis + award-winning source material. It's almost like Winslet's episode of Extras come to life. Plus, Stephen Daldry has some talent as a filmmaker (remember Billy Elliot?). But does he have to dumb down the film for us? Does he not trust us to figure out what's going on? Much like he did in The Hours, Daldry falls in love with matching edits to make sure everyone in the theater is aware of the connection. And then he does it again, and again, until you'd have to be an idiot not to figure it out (not that you wouldn't have figured it out a half hour earlier). I call it making a film Oprah-proof.

I'm making it sound worse than it is. Minus those sections, the film is quite good, and I really appreciate the approach of focusing on the relationship between the two main characters instead of the whole Nazi thing. It's refreshing to have a film that doesn't spend two hours hitting you over the head with Nazi guilt. Also, Kate Winslet's as good as advertised, but you could have guessed that.

03 January 2009

Muriels: Slumdog Millionaire

note: in a true procrastinator form, I've waiting until the last minute to start watching films for the Muriels. So I'm blitzing through them as quickly as possible, and hopefully I'll be writing a paragraph or so on as many as possible.

starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, and Freida Pinto
written by: Simon Beaufoy from the novel by Vikas Swarup
directed by: Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan

Danny Boyle is one of the more interesting studio filmmakers around, and here he comes up with his most fully realized work since, well, ever. He avoids the problems of Sunshine (2007), which fell apart in the third act, and while at times his visual trickery is a bit much (honestly, we've probably seen enough of the sped-up film technique for a while), it almost always works. And while Simon Beaufoy's script is predictable more often than not, I don't know if that's a fault of the script or a necessary evil of the film's game show structure (honestly, you'd have to be a fool not to realize there'd be a question about Dumas).

Anyway, the film is a crowd-pleaser and in that regard it's a huge, huge success. The filmmaking ain't so bad either.

01 January 2009

New Year's Meme

Adam at DVD Panache has a New Year's Resolution Meme going, and while he didn't tag me, I know he won't mind if I jump on-board.

Ze rules:

1. Post a list of nine movie-related resolutions for the new year. These can be as serious or light-hearted as you want them to be, and it also gives you a topic at the end of the year to post about when you take a look back at the resolutions.

2. Tag five other people with completing this meme.

3. Link back to my blog in your post so I can keep track of how many cool people are going along with this, and also for the purpose of compiling a list of the most interesting resolutions.

So here we go...

1. See More. There's hundreds of films coming out every year and lately I've only been seeing, say, 15 of them before the year ends. That's not good. I should be seeing everything worth seeing for so many reasons, and I still haven't gotten around to seeing No Country For Old Men. Pathetic.

2. Read More (Part I). See all those links on the sidebar? Those are all really great film blogs that I used to read every day. Now I read them every 2 weeks or so. I can do better.

3. Read More (Part II). There's also piles and piles of books in my office, both film and novels, that I've been meaning to read for forever.

4. Make a Short. Something small and cheap and fun that I can send around to a couple festivals as a reminder that I still exist.

5. Finish the Script. There's a script on my desk that's been 90% done for 6 months. I don't hate it. There's people waiting to read it who could help it get made, yet I can't seem to finish it. If I had a therapist, he might say that's a problem built out of fear. He might be right.

6. Go to a Festival. Specifically, a festival I'm not in. I want to go there and get a festival pass and do nothing but sit in the dark for a couple days. I wanted to go back to Festivus this year, but that's not gonna happen, sadly.

7. Post More. That kind of speaks for itself, but a couple days ago some website quoted one of my old reviews. When I read it, I thought to myself, "I don't know if I could write that review today."

8. Finish Berlin Alexanderplatz. Just because I should.

9. Finish a list I've already started. Oh hey, look. Nice.

As for tagging...well...if you're reading this, tag yourself.