Monday, August 31, 2009

FARCE/FILM Episode 10: Cold Souls, In the Loop, Lawrence of Arabia

--> Episode 10: 8/31/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford

Intro - 00:00
Top 5 - 01:19
Discussion - 14:08
(Disney Buys Marvel, Movie Mix-up)
Cold Souls - 22:08
In the Loop - 29:40
I Can't Believe You've Never Seen - 36:47
("Lawrence of Arabia")
Events and Outro - 51:56

"Cold Souls"

"In the Loop"

"Lawrence of Arabia"

Monday, August 24, 2009

FARCE/FILM Episode 9: Inglorious Basterds, Ponyo, Gooby

--> Episode 9: 8/24/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Johanson, Laura Rachfalski

Intro - 00:00
Discussion - 02:37
("Avatar" 20-minute preview)
Ponyo - 08:21
Inglorious Basterds - 19:55
I Can't Believe You've Seen - 45:15
Events and Outro - 45:15


"Inglorious Basterds"


Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Ponyo" Review

For a select few, the arrival of a new Hayao Miyazaki film is more celebrated than any of Pixar's blockbusters, and with good reason, as each of the renowned Japanese director's traditionally animated features takes upwards of three years to produce. The worlds he depicts are beautiful, teeming with life, color, and spirit, and "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," his latest, is no exception.

Allegedly Miyazaki's final film, he abandoned even the aid of computers in crafting "Ponyo," each frame being hand drawn and colored by his Studio Ghibli artists, and with stunning results. From its lush island vistas to busy underwater seascapes, the film offers definitive proof to the superiority (or if nothing else, credence for the continuation) of traditional animation.

The sweeping elegance of the art renders Miyazaki's films generally unhatable, but the emotional honesty of his characters is what makes them timeless. As a father of two, his knack for exploring the family dynamic from a child's perspective is revelatory. The children lucky enough to live in Miyazaki's imagination exemplify not only what makes real children cute or endearing, but also what makes them stubborn and vulnerable.

Enter Sosuke, voiced in the English dub by baby Jonas brother, Frankie, who transcends his gimmicky casting and delivers a warm and compelling performance as "Ponyo's" protagonist. Opposite him (fittingly enough) is teenybopper Miley Cyrus' little sister Noah, who does a fine job as well, though is limited mostly to high-pitched sentence fragments like "Ponyo loves Sosuke!"

The two meet on the shore below Sosuke's cliffside home after Ponyo, a princess of the sea, has eluded her father and unwittingly caught herself in a tiny glass jar, from which Sosuke frees her. The plot is more freeform than some of Miyazaki's previous works, but perhaps all the more magic for it. The universe of "Ponyo" isn't painstakingly established, and the supernatural and the incredible routinely go unquestioned, existing in an alternate plane of reality which keeps the film feeling spontaneous and often wonderful.

If "Ponyo" does prove to be Miyazaki's last film, it could potentially suffer from "Eyes Wide Shut" syndrome, symptoms of which include unfair comparisons to its director's previous work and microscope-level nitpicking, which is entirely undeserved. The film is not his career-redefining masterwork, nor is it in any way unworthy of the legacy that preceded it. It's objectively, independently great. "Ponyo" has a simple beauty to it that rivals that of "My Neighbor Totoro," and fantasy sequences that recall the best of "Spirited Away."

For its great cast (Tina Fey, Matt Damon Cate Blanchett, and Liam Neeson comprise a great dub, however blasphemous that may sound to Miyazaki purists), easy-going earnestness, and beautifully inventive visuals, "Ponyo" is my pick for animated film of the year, 'up-setting' Pixar's 2009 heavyweight, which had emotion to spare but came up short in adventure.

But those select few will share my disappointment when the envelope is opened and the monosyllabic winner is read on Oscar night. Miyazaki's latest is worthwhile even for those who associate Japanese animated films with stuffy conventions and overweight teens in costumes. "Ponyo" is a modern family classic on par with "The Little Mermaid" and the rest of the Disney golden-era library.

Miyazaki is a magician, and like a magician, everything he shows you isn't essential to your comprehension of the trick, but the end result is so beautiful that there's no sense in questioning it.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" Review

"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," didn't have the star power, the state-of-the-art special effects, or the epic trailer the sequel to Michael Bay's "Transformers" did, which is maybe in part why I found it so ludicrously, stupidly charming.

Despite a critical tongue-lashing, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" took in just shy of 110 million dollars in its opening weekend (for my unlubricated metal reaming, click here). The role and effect of professional film criticism were called into question. America had willingly seen a bad movie.

But unlike "Transformers," the war against "G.I. Joe" was fought much more intimately than from the critical Mount Olympus, domain of A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert, and Peter Travers: "Joe" was being trashed by the back alley bloggers and the fanboys it wanted so desperately to impress.

The (admittedly terrible) trailer was widely ridiculed, and late rumors of the film being completely re-cut prompted tall tales of its legendary awfulness the internet over. These thoughts stirred in the back of my mind as the first reel began to unspool. Stephen Sommers' ("The Mummy," "The Mummy Returns," "Van Helsing") latest film opens... in 1641, France. Alright, you got me.

Silly childhood favorites suddenly sprung to mind, like "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers," or "Independence Day," as more recent misunderstood TV-to-film experiments ("Speed Racer," "Land of the Lost,") resurfaced. All of a sudden "G.I. Joe" felt like an underdog. The imagery and the dialogue are often laughable at best, bad, unquestionably, but in a nostalgic, over-the-top, cartoony sort of way.

The plot is incomprehensible, but less so than the garbled mess of "Transformers 2," and the films are equally dumb. So why was it that as I sat in that curiously narrow theater, I suddenly felt compelled to come to old Joe's defense? It's not franchise nostalgia, as I was only peripherally aware of either series or toy line as a child. Somewhere between the obviously expositional flashbacks and the gleefully destructive actions sequences it struck me: I was having fun.

The pretension of the "Transformers" films, their high-contrast doom and gloom aesthetic, and those shared by equally uninteresting blockbusters like "Terminator Salvation" and "Watchmen" was replaced by full-fledged puppy-dog filmmaking that celebrates what makes those films fun, and yes, what makes them cheesy.

But even as a just-for-fun flick, "G.I. Joe" wears out its welcome by the end, during a forty minute submarine/airplane/ninja fight sequence that precedes a "Return of the King" esque bait and tease of false endings and fade-outs. Half the theater was in the aisle by the time the credits rolled.

It sounds silly to say, being the sort of movie-poster quote you scoff at on the way into the theater, but "G.I. Joe" is Stephen Sommers' best film, which, yeah, isn't saying much. Is "Rise of Cobra" worth your time, art snob? Probably not. It's not as innovative as "Speed Racer" or as funny as "Land of the Lost," but anyone that grew up watching early nineties television (as opposed to mid-eighties television, when the cartoon actually aired) might find a place for this campy action throwback in their hearts.

It's still got that stigma, though. Those stinky green lines that make even Michael Bay's most staunch supporters dry heave. The truth is "G.I. Joe" is twice the film "Revenge of the Fallen" is, forty minutes shorter, and an infinite amount more fun (zero times X is...).

But the best that can be said for old Government Issue Joe is that he knows his place. And knowing is half the battle.


Monday, August 17, 2009

"District 9" Review

"District 9" has all the subtlety of an exploding carcass. Neil Blomkamp's UFO apartheid metaphor sounds in theory like the sort of relevant, sophisticated shot in the arm the science fiction blockbuster needs, and addresses some very important issues beneath the laser shoot-outs and gooey, extrapolating body matter, but suffers from ham-fisted pretension when digging below its surface.

The film has smart people behind the lens but condescendingly assumes the other side their antithesis. The characters, especially our protagonist, government operative Wilkus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), lack dimension and rationale, presented as either broad caricatures of racist idealism or doe-eyed alien innocents. The audience, however, is guessed simpler still. The movie's humans have inexplicably learned to comprehend the alien tongue (and vice versa) but we're not even trusted to follow an English conversation with South African dialect without the aid of subtitles.

The movie's delusions of grandeur are its greatest flaw, and like "Paper Heart," the documentary elements of the film supplement a thoroughly average narrative. Blomkamp's intentions may be nobler than those of comparable popcorn flicks, but the execution is just as forgettable, its impression just as transient. And though "District 9" was advertised heavily as a documentary, the film itself is a mixed media experiment, unmotivated camera placement and all. Conventional action is shot in a hand-held documentary style, and any insightful social commentary is relegated to the back burner when things blow up, and they frequently do.

"District 9" is not without its merits, however. The visuals are (usually) impressive, with the foggy, leering mother ship subtly creeping into the edges of shots, and convincing facial detail for the prawns. The effects falter only occasionally (in a "Star Wars: Special Edition" kind of way) in wider shots where the aliens occupy the same space as the humans or we see their narrow, multi-jointed legs: they don't quite exist on the same plane as the rest of the world.

Blomkamp's direction is stronger than his pretentious writing, and individual sequences excel at creating excitement and suspense. However, the oversimplification of the underlying message and the on-the-nose symbolism make most scenes too generic to be profound, and when an investigatory mistake begins transforming Wilkus into a prawn (a derogatory term for the other-worlders), the plot becomes less a detailed examination of an intriguing supposition than a hodgepodge of schlocky action sequences and allusions to John Howard Griffin's "Black Like Me" and David Cronenberg's "The Fly."

Based on the director's six minute 2005 short "Alive in Joburg," "District 9" ultimately gasps for identity over the nearly two hour running time. With its smattering of documentary-esque interview footage, conventional narrative sequences, and gory action, there's not a want for material so much as there is for thematic singularity. Employing a foundation more relevant than Campbell's mono-myth is a welcome template for a modern science fiction film, but "District 9" brings as many cliches to the table as innovations.

The film is by no means a poor way to spend a few hours at the multiplex, but is hardly the poignant masterpiece others have hailed it as.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

FARCE/FILM Episode 8: GI Joe, District 9

--> Episode 8: 8/16/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Johanson, Laura Rachfalski

Intro - 00:00
Top 5 - 01:35
GI Joe - 04:11
District 9 - 25:39
I Can't Believe You've Never Seen: 55:00
("King Kong")
Events and Outro - 01:00:18

"GI Joe"

"District 9"

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Paper Heart" Review

"Paper Heart" is everything you'd expect from a post "Juno" Sundance darling, which is probably enough information in itself to color your opinion of the film. First-time feature director Nicholas Jasenovec's pseudo-documentary examines the fictional relationship between comedienne Charlyne Yi ("Knocked Up," "Semi-Pro"), whose thesis is that she is incapable of love, and her real-life boyfriend, Michael Cera, who's fast becoming the festival's crowned prince. The footage is spliced together with decidedly ho-hum celebrity interviews (Seth Rogen, Demitri Martin are featured) nonchalantly credited as "Charlyne's Friends," experts in the psychology of love, and real couples recounting the foundation of their relationships, aided by ultra low-fi reenactments by Yi featuring rag dolls and paper sets.

The film is wholly indie, hitting the familiar beats and consulting that worn checklist (awkward quirky character's self-written guitar sequence--check). It's too cute and well meaning to dismiss outright, but for a film about love, it has nothing particularly profound to say on the subject. So "Paper Heart" seems then a fitting (if self-deprecating) title for the piece in that the real elements are supporting a merely average fiction, rather than the scripted segments bolstering a real love story: the heart of the film is flimsy, two-dimensional.

"Paper Heart" is in large part not compelling because we know it's fake. The audience second-guesses any potentially genuine moment between Yi and Cera, reducing the documentary elements to supplemental gimmickry and each awkward giggle to a calculation. The structure of the film is fairly formated (narrative/interview/reenactment/narrative), assumedly with the intention of keeping any one of the film's components from growing stale, but it almost has the opposite effect. The grating sequence of scene types ends up highlighting how little the filmmakers really have on their plate. The ending then scrapes the bottom of the barrel, taking a page from Herzog's "Grizzly Man" in its snooty refusal to share a piece of audio (here a post break-up conversation between Yi and Cera), but if the restricted information is fictional, who do they imagine cares?

Jasenovec and Yi, who's credited as co-writer, developed some intriguing concepts to be sure, and the premise sounds enlightening, but the utterly average romance between she and her co-star diffuses any potential... well, potential. What have we learned about love by the end of the hour and a half? Certainly nothing we couldn't have gleaned from a hundred other PG-13 romantic comedies.

"Paper Heart" does have a clear audience in mind, and it's fair to note I'm not it. The film will satisfy most and delight probably a few less traveled moviegoers. Approach it as a fictional film, and you may be less let down. The characters are mostly charming (save for the faux director played by a smarmy Jake M. Johnson), and there are a handful of legitimate laughs to be had.

Just don't listen to the Sundance hype that would have you believe every two-bit indie film coming off the assembly line is a revelation compared to Hollywood's weekly drivel. The truth is that independent films, particularly comedies, are becoming increasingly generic and exponentially more mainstream.

"Paper Heart" is likeable enough, but is still a long shot from innovation.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

FARCE/FILM Episode 7: Paper Heart

--> Episode 7: 8/7/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Sonic Kim, Brain Crawford

Intro - 00:00
Movie News - 00:42
Paper Heart - 13:07
Events and Outro - 34:14

"Paper Heart"

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Funny People" Review

This is just what my relationship with Judd Apatow needed. I'd fallen cyclically victim to the hype and overwhelming praise of his previous films only to have my expectations dashed, and was perhaps for the first time, actively pessimistic towards his upcoming project. The irony is that "Funny People," the director's third effort, was not the commercial success or the critical powerhouse his last two were, but stands, though flawed, miles beyond both "40 Year Old Virgin," and "Knocked Up" from a thematic standpoint.

For one, on a solely surface level, the title of the film is the first by the director to not explicitly label itself as a sex (or lack of sex) comedy. "Funny People" is less clown, more comedian. "Funny People" is Judd Apatow's comedy Bar Mitzvah, which is to say a mature, mostly logical story about real adults, though to extend the metaphor, he sings flat on a couple of those Torah passages towards the end.

The worst you can say about the film is that it's still a work of indulgence. Apatow is public enemy number one on the unnecessary running time roster, and "Funny People" clocks in at almost two and a half hours. The length would be acceptable if the atonal third act didn't relapse into the sort of pretentious dramedy that categorized his previous films, and the sequence ends up being neither compelling nor particularly funny.

But the ending is only an unfortunate blemish on what would otherwise have been a nearly perfect film. "Funny People" can hardly be said to be boring despite its length, and didn't wear me down nearly as quickly as "Transformers 2" or "Public Enemies." Apatow challenges the established filmic conventions of comedy, letting it play as more of an amusing drama than a faux-dramatic comedy.

The film stars Adam Sandler as a version of himself called George Simmons, a miserable world famous comedian and actor diagnosed with a usually-terminal offshoot of leukemia, who hires a middling young comedian (Seth Rogen) to assist him both at home and on the stage.

Sandler plays more curmudgeony than audiences might be used to, though it's a perfect foil to Rogen's absolute earnestness, and the supporting cast (Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari) is terrific as well. The largely self-written stand-up segments by the performers are enjoyable, and supplement the story where they could feel superfluous and halting.

"Funny People" is a warm and off-beat comedy more interesting than any of Apatow's previous work or any competitive mainstream summer comedy. It's exhilarating to see a guy on top like Apatow risk something as a filmmaker, even if he sort of takes it back at the end. What makes "Funny People" great is its realist approach to comedy from a guy who's only ever given us vaguely romantic audience-pleasers.

The film was a risk, and Apatow's only crime is not fully believing in himself as a storyteller, for falling back on a sequence that betrays the realism and the anti-jokiness that he set up for the first hundred and twenty minutes. There's nothing funny about a fake Australian accent, and there's nothing fresh about winning back the girl of your dreams.

"Funny People" is nevertheless an important comedy, and (hopefully) a stepping-stone for the director, who really just needs to find himself an editor with an iron fist.

It's fitting that the film is about second chances, as my optimism for Mr. Apatow has been reinvigorated. But if you hurt me again, Judd, I swear I'll leave.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

FARCE/FILM Episode 6: Funny People, Food Inc

--> Episode 06: 8/2/09 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Sonic Kim, Tyler Drown, and Brian Johanson

Intro - 00:00
Top 5 - 01:48
Funny People - 04:31
Food Inc. - 27:42
I Can't Believe You've Never Seen - 43:36
("Rain Man")
Events and Outro - 55:49

"Funny People"

"Food Inc."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Food, Inc." Review

Emmy-winning documentarian Robert Kenner's "Food, Inc." is a relatively dry but undeniably important and frequently terrifying condemnation of the corporate food system in all its facets. The film is not unlike other heavy-hitting, issue-oriented documentaries of the last several years, popularized in large part by filmmakers like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock.

"Food, Inc." isn't as controversial or rabble-rousing as say, "Fahrenheit 9/11," nor is it as entertaining as "Super Size Me," but carves a place for itself somewhere between them as a credible but certainly not unbiased, entertaining but not gimmicky visual essay. "Food, Inc." is not without its moments of humor, but it functions more as a learning aid than a piece of pop entertainment, which is in equal doses refreshing and trying.

The film is divided into distinct chapters that focus on stories illustrating one of the many evils of America's industrial food system and its benefactors, who in the opinion of the filmmakers are more worried about the safety of their profit margins than the safety of their products, employees, or customers. Their argument is bolstered by the testimonials of those affected by corporate negligence, like a lobbyist whose child was killed by tainted meat, experts including the authors of "Fast Food Nation" (Eric Schlosser), and "The Omnivore's Dilemma" (Michael Pollan), evidence in the form of first-hand interviews with farmers impacted by corporate mingling, and more alarming statistics than you can shake a Big Mac at.

The film isn't all doom and gloom, however, and while the final moments feel plucked from Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" powerpoint, "Food, Inc." whittles the issue down to a personal level, recommending that we pay a little more for organic, locally grown food, attend farmers' markets, and be more conscientious about what we put in our bodies. It reads like a politician's pie-in-the-sky stump speech (a little corny, if you'll pardon the pun), backed by "This Land is Your Land" (come on), but the message really can't be undersold. It is up to each and every one of us, but I'm still a little too jaded to walk away from "Food, Inc." with any degree of optimism.

From a design standpoint, "Food, Inc." isn't a terribly innovative film, and its successes are nearly all stacked in its content column rather than its craft. Most of the information is delivered via unceremonious on-screen text or talking heads, and the characters are generally quarantined to their respective chapters. However, these gripes are made acceptable and even forgettable because the text is (usually) fascinating, and the talking heads have a lot to say.

"Food, Inc." is getting a lot of critical "Required Viewing" stamps, which it deserves, but merely because it's the most thorough, easily digested, and immediately available piece of information on the subject around. It's not a revolutionary piece of filmmaking, but again, it doesn't have to be. It's not an incendiary masterpiece that'll blow your mind or have you rolling in the aisles, but it may just make you reconsider your eating habits and make a concrete change to improve the world we live in, which at the end of the day is more important.