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My Dinner with Andre (1981) - Film Review

May 292016

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Hello my boys, I'd like to talk for a bit about this really cool movie I watched the other day, "My Dinner with Andre", directed by Louis Malle and written by/starring Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn. Louis Malle has been one of the many directors I've known I've needed to get around to someday or another but never have, and while this ended up being much more of a Gregory/Shawn film than anything else, the movie was still highly impressive and entertaining and I'm very glad I decided to give it a go.

The idea behind the movie is strikingly simple: two intellectuals meet in a fine Manhattan restaurant after years of separation and talk about life. I've always been a fan of these sorts of restrictive, one-room, extended-conversation type experiments in cinema and I'm excited to see the sort of thing My Dinner with Andre did being pulled off as well as it was for the length of an entire movie. The cinematography is obviously limited to defaulting on basic shot-reverse-shot, but even this is pulled off curiously well. I am not yet too familiar with Louis Malle's style, but it seems to me that he did a wonderful job making sure shots move in and out, side to side, and on and off of the conversation at just the right moments. The waiter, for instance, has almost no significance or screen-time, however, I feel as if the choice of when and where to place him in the background or to give him his own shot gave him quite a bit of his own character. It may not seem like much, but there were plenty of intelligent decisions in when and what to show of the characters and restaurant and I really appreciate what they did for the film.

The script was an excellent work in itself, exploring so much but never sacrificing the cozy ambiance of a polite dinner conversation. Thematically, the film deals a lot with the contemporary tendency to hide behind appearances and irony rather than live honestly and connect with one another. For some reason it particularly reminds me a lot of that one spoken-word track off of the Neutral Milk Hotel demo tape, "Beauty". It's a theme that's been touched on many times before and to come, but I also think it's a theme that's been increasingly important in this day and age and I think the casual atmosphere of My Dinner with Andre is one of the best and most engaging formats to express that theme. And I think the weird combination of Andre's sort of surreal mysticism with Wally's flexible yet firmly-planted belief in scientific thought and the human spirit does so much to turn what could have been an unremarkable slice of everyday conversation into something that really feels alive, dynamic, and worth listening to.

Overall, I really loved this film and I really feel that I got quite a bit of enjoyment and learning out of it. If you're up for a film that's not only cozy and honest but also stimulating and complex, I would absolute recommend checking this one out.

Ariel (1988) - Film Review

May 282016

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I don't quite remember where I heard about this movie, but it's been one of my favorites for a couple of years and, having re-watched it recently with some friends, I thought I should give it a quick review. The second film in Aki Kaurismäki's spiritual "Proletariat Trilogy", Ariel follows a working-class dude and his struggles with and against work, love, friendship, death, money, and the law.

There isn't much to say about this movie because the main reason it's so great is its simple, unpretentious flawlessness. Ariel doesn't try to do much of anything other than tell a fun story about a man against society's challenges, and in doing so it succeeds at being enjoyable, funny, emotional, and somewhat hard-hitting. I could go into depth about the technical aspects of the film and how they complement the narrative well, but I don't think that would quite explain the magic of Ariel.

Ariel is a prison break movie, and luckily I can think of two other prison break movies that are perfect to compare this to: "The Shawshank Redemption" and Robert Bresson's "A Man Escaped". I think these three films are perfect study in cinematic pretension; on one hand, there's the work of Robert Bresson, whose dry and cereberal, yet nonetheless highly-influential directing style is perhaps one of the strongest reasons French cinema is so often viewed as "pretentious" by American audiences (don't get me wrong; Bresson has made some true masterpieces, but I think "A Man Escaped", one of his dryer films, is a good example of how being too "artistic" can be kind of boring). And on the other hand, there's "The Shawshank Redemption", a movie which demonstrates the kind of pretensions American audiences are often blind to, such as the pretension that the audience should care about the characters' backstories when the backstories themselves mean nothing to the plot, or perhaps the pretension that the audience should care about the characters' suffering when the movie doesn't do anything with that suffering other than show that it happens. At times it does feel like fans of film are forced to decide between the lesser of two pretensions, but I think Ariel is one of those rare films that demonstrates that maybe there's another way. Ariel is filled with moments that are just plain cool or funny, not restricting itself with seriousness like many artsier films do, yet it also doesn't pretend like the audience is supposed to be having any more fun or care any more about the characters than they already are and do, like many popular blockbusters do.

While it may not seem overwhelmingly entertaining or profound, and while many of its merits are hidden from plain sight, I still think Ariel is one of the best movies I've ever seen simply because of how dang well it manages to do what it does. Ariel is fun, playful, and intelligent, and I would absolutely recommend checking this one out.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993) - Film Review

May 282016

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Yo yo yo, a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a good friend of mine about how dope Shakespeare is and he strongly recommended I check out this adaptation of what he called his favorite of Shakespeare's comedies. After I found out that it stars Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington, and Michael Keaton, I was completely sold. So we ended up watching it and, while it could have been better, it was pretty fun!

Seeing as it's adapted from a Shakespearean drama, I obviously loved the writing and the plot. I know that many people wouldn't like the kind of films and books I usually enjoy because they usually don't even attempt to use many the dramatic techniques mainstream movies and television so often exploit and abuse, and while I'd like to say that good film and literature "transcends" the need for a traditional plot, I think the reality is that good film and literature just realizes that it'll never compare to Shakespeare. I don't nearly have the critical capacity needed to explain what made Shakespeare so great at what he did, but I'll say that Shakespearean dramas throw the right characters into just the right situations at just the right times, so that every character has something both important and entertaining to say, in a way that never feels unnatural, better than any other writer I'm familiar with has been able to pull off. Combine that with unmatched wordplay and an unnatural capacity to find just the right, uniquely profound lines to use time and time again, and it's not too difficult to start to see why Shakespeare's dramas are so fun and timeless both to watch and to read and read over.

The movie did pretty well at adapting this classic drama to film, although not without its flaws here and there. The acting was, in general, quite nice. Much of the acting was quite good and I don't think any one actor particularly stuck out in a negative way; however, I do think some of the actors had a bit of a tendency to speak their lines in a way that favored a natural mode of expression rather than an expression of the intent of each line. I understand that the lines have countless subtleties and that speaking Shakespearean English in a way that feels natural and understandable to a contemporary audience can be extremely difficult, but some of the lines were acted in a way that seemed to gloss over the emotional and linguistic subtlety just a bit more than I would have liked.

Other choices in adaptation were somewhat varied in their effectiveness. The film takes what I believe is a song from the middle of the play and makes one of the main characters read it aloud to a group of friends in the very beginning, which was kind of silly and didn't really do anything other than achieve that weird late-90s-chick-flick-set-in-pastoral-Europe feel. Also, after the main crew arrives on their horses, all the women start taking their clothes off which was also kind of silly and pointless. I do have to give the movie credit for that top notch joke with the chair, though.

Overall, the film was pretty nice! I don't feel right giving a movie too much praise when almost all of its best merits came from a man that died 400 years ago. But hey, it's a fun Shakespearean comedy that's moderately well-acted and doesn't screw up that much. I would recommend checking it out if you like Shakespeare or if you're up for a cool and fun romantic comedy.

Suicide Club (2002) - Film Review

May 172016

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Hey boys, I just watched "Suicide Club"!!!! Directed by Sion Sono, Suicide Club is a Japanese thriller movie about a surge of mass teen suicides and the cops that try to uncover the connections between them. I adored Sono's "Love Exposure" and "Why Don't You Play in Hell?", and my friend found the DVD of this at a thrift store so we figured we might as well give it a shot. And it was nice! Definitely not perfect, but it had a decent amount of good stuff going for it.

While it didn't come anywhere close to the heights of Sion Sono's later work, Suicide Club was pretty entertaining and cool. It had quite a nice sense of humor and overall it worked pretty well as a standard detective movie. It was at times pretty weird, but I think the weirdness only helped it stand out from other, similar Japanese thriller films. One of my favorite moments was when one of the antagonists starts singing this ridiculous, moody song about death in horribly botched English (becoos dadth shine ol nai lonnn), and I think at that point the movie really fleshes out all of the weirdness it's been accumulating into something tangibly unique and affecting.

And I think the main issue with the movie is that most of the weirdness doesn't go anywhere. Neither does the plot, but I was fine with that because it seemed obvious that a lack of closure was an important part of how Sion Sono wanted to tell the story. But the moment with the song showed how all the idiosyncrasies could have built to something with unique emotion and character, and sadly the movie rarely did. It was still a cool story and its unpredictability made the movie pretty fun to watch, but again, it's mainly just a standard Japanese thriller film with some weirdness and I feel like it missed its chance to be something greater.

Overall, Suicide Club was a nice film and, while it definitely could have been better, I enjoyed myself while watching it. I would definitely check out some of Sion Sono's later films first, but I would still say this movie is worth checking out at some point or another.