Thursday, July 15, 2010

Movie Review-Toy Story 3

To listen to the radio version, please click here.

If you are like me, movies can be so mighty they change you. Movies so memorable, so cool, so unexpected, so moral, you walk out of the theater a different person than who walked in; hopefully a better person. Movies are powerful in that way. Perhaps more than radio, books, or television, movies are the common medium of our culture, our country. This can be for better, but often is for worse. Impressionable minds can learn all sorts of ways to blow things up and beat up the bad guys, but very little about how to form lasting love and friendships. So it is a great delight to tell you to go see Toy Story 3.

I have no criticisms. How could I? Disney-Pixar once again hit it out of the park. Best movie of the year? Sure. Another example of animation for kids being a better film for adults? Absolutely. Pixar focuses on timeless, classic story telling, on universal themes like the joy and pain of childhood’s journey into adulthood, and preserving the innocence of children. But above all, Toy Story 3 is about the importance of loyalty to friends. And it’s smart enough to be funny, exciting, and entertaining with blessedly little irony. This film is kind. And really, how many movies are “kind” these days?

Tom Hanks is back as Woody, and Tim Allen is back as Buzz Lightyear. Ned Beatty joins the cast; good to see he is still alive. John Ratzenberg, Michael Keaton, Bonnie Hunt, and even Whoopi Goldberg get in on the fun. And why not? Why wouldn’t you want to be part of the best movie so far this year? If Toy Story 3 is overlooked by the Academy like they’ve done with so many previous Pixar films, I will threaten to throw something really hard, but then won’t, and will seethe for a long while.

This movie belongs with Old Yeller, Watership Down, Where the Red Fern Grow, and E.T., as classic gut wrenching, tear jerking, moral movies that imprint their timeless lessons like cattle brands on the brains of children. This is for the better. Toy Story 3 ought to be required viewing for our jaded, seen-it-all, youth.

But don’t skip this one because you’re not a kid. That’s no excuse. The elderly couple in front of me joined the end chorus of sniffles; a lot of sniffles. The last 15 minutes delivered an emotional wallop something like Andre the Giant smacking you with a two by four to the gut while simultaneously winning the California state lottery and having your childhood dog fly into your lap with angel wings.

Okay, so I’m going to man-up here. True story: It's the end of Toy Story 3, and yeah, I too was on the verge of tears. To deflect an embarrassing display of manly waterworks I whispered to my 4 year old Carmen in fatherly concern, "does this make you sad?" Carmen looks at me with her wide sky blue eyes, "No, dad, it's just a movie."

Toy Story 3 is playing at Gross Alaska Theater Glacier Cinemas this weekend. This is Clint Farr, schooled by his four year old, at the movies.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Movie Review-Looking for Eric

To listen to the radio version, please click here.

“Looking for Eric”. What a nice small adult movie. It’s tough to say that about Hollywood films these days. “What a nice small adult movie.” But it seems just what the English and French specialize. So thank you, Goldtown Nickelodeon, for bringing these foreign films, these nice small adult movies, to Juneau. It’s a nice break from the bombardment of two hours of violence and vapid one-liners from Hollywood’s normally nonsensical summer fair.

Imagine a nice small adult movie about a man you know. Decent and hard working but stuck in a rut. His teen sons are becoming strangers. His first love haunts him. His cowardice saddles him with a sense of helplessness in trying to put life’s pieces back together. Then imagine, one night as he indulges a little escapism with “Mary Jane”, Michael Jordan shows up in his bedroom to give him a philosophical pep talk. But because this isn’t a USA film, (we don’t make films like this), the sport isn’t basketball, it’s soccer. And the star isn’t Jordan but Eric Cantona, a Frenchman who played brilliantly for Manchester United.

The film’s story is straight of the “you need to be a little crazy to keep from going insane” plot line. Eric our protagonist strikes up regular conversations with Eric the footballer, workouts with him, even cheers him on when his imaginary friend plays an imaginary trumpet. And it’s okay. The tension of the film is not born from this imagined interaction. Indeed, his imaginary relationship with the star footballer ends up being very healthy – outside of inhaling of course.

If you regularly patronize our beloved Goldtown Nickelodeon, you may remember director Ken Loach’s “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, or, as I like to call it, “The Breeze that Quakes the Quinoa”. Director Loach has a sensitive hand with the small but important conflicts real people face. He elicits good performances from his actors which is important in this film because, as I imagine would be the case with Michael Jordan, Eric Cantona is not a good actor. But he’s intelligently used as a sage and his French accent is so thick you can barely understand him anyway which sort of adds to his whole spectral shtick.

And speaking of accents, as happens in English movies about the working class, when the actors get excited, they’re indecipherable. But my wife tells me I’m not good at understanding accented English anyways so perhaps I’m not the best judge here. Not that it really matters, the story is well told and straightforward so if you miss a word here or there, no big deal.

The films primary conflict is effective and there is a palpable sense of danger. But the movie isn’t perfect. Though the ending honors friendships, your mates, it strains credulity in what is otherwise a very “real” film. It sort of ties up things a little too neatly. But hey, this film is better than most of the summer schlock out there, so if you’re up for a nice small adult movie that doesn’t give you a headache or queasy stomach, I can’t recommend “Looking for Eric” enough.

“Looking for Eric” plays at our beloved Goldtown Nickelodeon this weekend July 1 through 3rd, Nickelodeon’s closed on the fourth, and apparently there is a special showing on July 5th - according to their website. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Movie Review: Secret of the Kells

To listen to the radio version, please click here.

The taint – if you can call it that – that animation is a medium only for kids persists. Sure, the last 20 years has seen an explosion of adult cartoons, particularly on television. From ‘Ren and Stimpy’ to the ‘Family Guy’, the humor in these shows is subversive in large part because they use a “kids” genre to tell dirty jokes and explore adult themes.

What I want is more adults to enjoy animated films for their art; for the fact animation often represent a purer filmmaker vision less adulterated by moody actors or bad lighting. So what I want is an animated film that appeals to everyone; films that are not a “kids” film or an “adult” cartoon. What I’m looking for is classic transcendent.

The Secret of the Kells is one of this year’s best. It is gorgeous. Warm, hand drawn animation that is unexpectedly, breathtakingly beautiful with a dream like quality where one’s breath curls into fractals and Celtic weaves lace the trees. The hand drawn animation, its character, its simplicity, its imperfections, depicts the story’s world perfectly. The a story of innocence and beauty enduring against war and intolerance.

The Secret of the Kells involves a young monk-in-training pursuing his curiosity of nature and talent for calligraphy during the turmoil of Ireland’s Middle Ages where Vikings raided and pagan gods hid in the forests. The boy’s adopted uncle, an abbot, obsessively builds a wall to protect a small village from these threats. The boy, curious and talented, is torn between a strong love for his uncle, the attractive promise of adventure in the forest, and the tutelage of a wise and mischievous newcomer who, for all the world, looks like Willie Nelson.

As my wife pointed out, consider the film an allegory. In building the walls that protect us from legitimate fears, we may also wall ourselves from the good and beautiful. Perhaps a not so subtle take on our time.

If a masterpiece, a simple poem unlocks heavy vaults of imagery. The simple animation of Secret of the Kells unveils a filmmaker’s complex vision: order from chaos, humor from fear, hope from the hot ashes of evil, and beauty everywhere. The Secret of Kells is a masterpiece.

The Secret of Kells plays this weekend at out beloved Gold Town Nickelodeon. And though a movie to be enjoyed by children and adults, some visions of Viking violence and hungry wolves are probably too much for the tykes. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Movie Review: Iron Man 2

To listen to the radio version, please click here.

"Iron Man 2" is an example of a trend I’ve enjoyed over the last decade of real actors cast as super heroes. Actors like Tobey Maquire as Spiderman, Eric Bana or Ed Norton as the Hulk, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, or even Christian Bale as Batman. (Despite his annoying, “I’m not wearing hockey pads,” Batman-voice). Even the directors of these films have roots in independent cinema like Batman’s Christopher Nolan or Spider Man’s Sam Raimi. As such, these movies tend to be pretty good. But because these actors and directors focus on character, (not a bad thing mind you), it seems they leave the action and associated special effects to the technical folks.

So perhaps we’ve come to a point where these artists capsize the normal action movie formula. A movie where the “talky” part is captivating and interesting, while the “actiony,” special effects part is, frankly, boring. Because, really, we’re at a point technologically that whatever you can imagine visually can be depicted realistically on film. Back in the day, we used to marvel at special effects, like stop motion skeletons battling Sinbad, because we were really marveling at the advancement of film making technology. In the last five years or so, special effects seem to have reached a plateau; we’ve become blasé. Thanks a lot “Lord of the Rings”. It’s hard to be impressed when you think a scene was developed with a few mouse clicks and 15 million dollars.

So, it’s back to basics. A movie “wows” us with good acting, writing, and a story that makes us care. For "Iron Man 2", that only happens in between CGI stuff blowing up.

"Iron Man 2" boasts a heavy weight cast of real actors: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Samuel Jackson, Jon Favreau (who happen to be the director), Gary Shandling, and the brutally charismatic Mickey Rourke. They play the kind of character that can throw together a new element promising endless energy with some conduit, duct tape, a prism, plumber’s wrench, holographic blue prints, and bulging biceps – all to an aural backdrop of AC/DC.

One final thought on this film, "Iron Man 2" might be more aptly called Two Men of Plastic. Mickey Rourke, with his puffy lips and small tight eyes, is a well known example of plastic surgery gone wrong. He looks like hell. But it works for Mickey because so far his comeback roles are all men who’ve had their faces rearranged in hell. The other actor is none other than Gary Shandling. This once sly and irreverent comedian looks like he had a face transplant with the plant from Little Shop of Horrors. It’s weird. Hollywood’s plastic surgery fetish is pulling me out of the story. That’s not good if you’re a filmmaker.

"Iron Man 2" plays this weekend at Gross Alaska’s 20th Century Twin theater downtown. This is Clint Farr, so far surgery free, and Alone at the Movies.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Movie Review: Kick Ass

To listen to the radio version, please click here.

How many grandparents dragged their grandkids out of “KickAss” within the first 20 minutes when they realized this kid’s movie about kids playing superhero is really not kid’s movie at all. Oh sure, it’s got an ‘R’ rating, but I’ve seen way to many toddlers at R movies, with their grandparents, to think that keeps the little ones out. So I want to be clear – do NOT bring your children to see “Kick Ass”. They will forever be warped, their brain chemistry will change. They’ll want to dress up in a green SCUBA suit and try to beat up drug dealers and get themselves put into an ER unit – JUST LIKE THE MOVIE. (I know I did). For this is an insane film. Not clinically insane, not pejoratively insane, but the good kind of insane: wacky, out there, left field, original. Yeah, if at last I’ve seen an original comic book film, this is the one.

So, if you can leave your children and sensibilities behind, this is a thoroughly fantastic film. I don’t believe I’ve been this entertained since “District 9” and “Inglorious Basterds”. Really. “Kick Ass” is unexpectedly, inexplicably good. I should be so offended by this film: the endangerment of children, the vigilantism, the ultra, ultra violence, blood freakin’ everywhere, giant microwaves, Nicolas Cage, and awful stereotypes. Then they’re all taken en masse, spun on their heads, and up pops a sincere moment of tenderness, a clever bit of kind humor, romantic love, and of all things, a story of dad and daughter taking on a hostile world. In short, by the third act you care about the characters. And if I care, then I love a film – even if the daddy and daughter I care about take on the hostile world with creative knife work and shooting the bad guys in the head.

If you’re looking for morals, they ran screaming toward the exits with the grandparents.

And oh what a third act. If along the way, you thought, this movie may be the craziest thing you have ever seen, two kids proceed to … well, you’ll just have to see it. It reminded me of a John Woo film like “Face/Off” where there’a slow motion gun ballet, bodies flying, birds flying off to nowhere for no reason, a dissonant song underplaying the action like “twinkle twinkle little star”, bad guys in suits, good guys in capes, and a whole lot of paper and junk floating around. A visual feast of violent chaos and somehow it is both bloody and beautiful.

And completely messes with your head.

Clearly, “Kick Ass” is not, and isn’t meant to be, for everyone. It is, I kid you not, a coming sign of the Apocalypse. But if I were you, go see it, and just don’t tell anybody, except maybe your priest. “Kick Ass” will be playing this weekend at Gross Alaska Glacier Cinema in the Valley. This is Clint Farr, concerned for his soul, and Alone at the Movies.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Movie Review: Date Night

To listen to the radio version, please click here.

I don’t know if I like “Date Night” because it was good, or because my wife and I could have been the couple depicted in the film. This film aims squarely at the professional married couple, in their late thirties or forties, both working, who have young kids (because they waited to have kids until they owned a house), who love each other very much, who – perhaps - long for some of the fire and freedom of their early courtship, and who are tired. Very tired. As Phil and Claire Foster, played by Steve Carell and Tina Fey, are pummeled by their children at 5:30 in the morning, Phil mutters “And it begins”. Heck. That could’ve been this morning.

Now, given the movie’s title, it’s no surprise the plot takes off during a “Date Night” where they leave the kids with a sitter and go have salmon and potato skins at the same restauran. In an effort to mix things up, to bring a little spark the latent coals of their desire, Phil takes Claire to a fancy Manhattan restaurant where they tell a lie to get a seat. A case of mistaken identity follows leading to a series of chases, fights, gunfights, encounters with a shirtless Marc Wahlberg, and mild hilarity.

Tina Fey and Steve Carell in a shoot ‘em up?! Well, yes. Does it work? Well, sort of

It works, sort of, because Tina Fey and Steve Carrell are not only funny actors but good. Sure they have ticks like Steve’s funny voices and Tina’s sideways glances, but they’re both watchable and believable. What more do you want from actors in a rambunctious action slash comedy? That said, the actors are clearly more comfortable in their comic back and forth than in the running, diving, driving, and ducking bullets. Plus the subplot that drives the action is never well developed, and, frankly, stupid. So the thriller aspects of this film never really thrill you. Ronin, this movie is not.

But I love Tina Fey. She’s smart and funny. Steve Carell is great too. The two look like they could actually be married, rare for a movie couple, and both look their age. There’s an underlying intelligence to their interactions that should have been showcased even more. For instance, in a bit when the two pose as a stripper and pimp, Tina Fey has a hard time finding an outfit to cover her cesarean scar. It’s one of the funny parts in a rather low point in the film, in part because it felt real. How do you cover your cesarean scar when putting on a hoochie mama dress? I felt a tinge of sympathy as these characters faced their age. It was a poignant moment and hinted at the better movie this could’ve been.

So, the film is watchable solely based on the talents of Ms. Fey and Mr. Carrel. I’m disappointed. These two deserve a better movie and I hope they team up again.

Anyway, if you’re married, and it is date night, and the kids are healthy, and you’re not too exhausted, and you can find a sitter, and there’s no dance recital or soccer game, and there’s no ski or Spanish lessons in the morning, and you want to see a movie, this one will resonate with you. If you are young, single, without kids, get to sleep in, stay out late, party, and work out regularly, well, I hate you.

Um, “Date Night” is playing this weekend at Gross Alaska Cinema in the Valley. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Movie Review: 44 Inch Chest

A decade ago I saw the film “Sexy Beast” which ended up being one of my favorites of the decade. It was a fast film about retired gangsters pulling “one more heist” that featured Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, a ferocious Ben Kingsley, and giant trippy rabbits. So imagine my excitement when I heard the writers of Sexy Beast were reuniting with Ray Winstone and Ian McShane in “44 Inch Chest”. I was so excited to see another rough, witty, shoot ‘em up. I was so excited I got a babysitter. This was a Special Occasion.

I can’t imagine a movie more different in style that “44 Inch Chest” is from “Sexy Beast”. Sure, there are some elements shared between the two films: offensive language, aging gangsters, and occasional slaps of humor. But where Sexy Beast used a frenetic camera and a number of locations, 44 Inch Chest stayed in one place. It seems like it was written as a play. It’s basically one set, stationary camera work, and a whole bunch of dialogue. So forget Sexy Beast, 44 Inch Chest is more like a British version of Reservoir Dogs – heavy subject matter, violent men, and flashes of humanity.

So, if you’re going to sit through a talky movie, you’re going to want actors who can deliver the lines. In this regard, the movie does not disappoint. Ray Winstone plays Colin Diamond, a man wronged. He is helped out by his, I suppose, gangster buddies including characters played by Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt, and Ian McShane. Tom Wilkinson and John Hurt have both been nominated for two Oscars. Remember the crushingly painful performance in the Elephant Man, well that was a much younger John Hurt. Here he plays an irascible old man, an ex-gangster with a mouth like an angry sailor with turrets. Ian McShane you might know from his golden globe winning performance in the HBO show Deadwood. Here again he plays a man of otherworldly cool, unflappable.

Colin is not a good man. He’s a horrible man. Yet his turmoil, his guilt, his conscious is evident. And so you find yourself feeling, maybe, a little for this man. And that in turn makes you feel bad, a little dirty. Thus this stolid, steady, talky film makes you a part of it. This film makes you question your ethics, your judgment, your morals. That’s quite a result from a 2-dimensional interplay of light, celluloid, and sound. That is the magic, the power, of movies.

Well, perhaps that a bit of an overstatement for this film. But where this is not an “entertaining” film in the vein of “Sexy Beast”, it is a work of Art. If by Art you mean a work that pulls you in and makes it personal. 44 Inch Chest plays this weekend at our beloved Gold Town Nickelodeon.

And hey, it’s pledge week. No group of radio stations captures the breadth and depth of arts in Juneau than the KTOO family of stations. Give it up, and I don’t mean applause, for this incredible community resource. This is Clint Farr, proud ten year KTOO member, alone at the movies.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Movie Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

To listen to the radio version, please click here.

In the seven or so months I've been Alone at the Movies, I've given positive reviews to every film I've seen. That's a problem for a film reviewer. I mean, I'm a critic, shouldn't I criticize something. This congers uncomfortable questions like: Are you too nice? Are you useful to the 3 people listening to this who are not your wife? What is your purpose? And so, teetering on this existential precipice, I went to see “Diary of Wimpy Kid”.

It would be funnier at this point to say I liked the movie. Sadly, I did not. And I know, sad is a weird emotion to have toward a mediocre movie. It’s just, with “Diary”, there were glimpses of what could have been. There were glimpses of true wit, glimpses of good ideas, glimpses of insight into the pain of navigating Junior High. But glimpsing what could have been, witnessing a work not reach it’s full potential, is like window shopping men’s shoes in Italy, beautiful, but way too expensive for your state salary.

Okay, “Diary” is nothing like window shopping in Italy for shoes. It’s more like golf in Juneau, post holing up Peterson Cabin Trail with a 60 pound pack, or not having boat in early August. You know, frustrating.

So basically, a brainy and bratty kid, with an eclectic family starts junior high with a goal of being liked, cool, the man. He is saddled by a geeky and un-self-conscious best friend, but more importantly, he is saddled with a debilitating self-centered view of the world. There are wild-and-crazy characters, wise-beyond-their-years characters, and moldy cheese. This is a “paint by numbers” movie, an expensive after school special, so lessons are learned, family is supportive, and friendships are strengthened.

Honestly, I don’t like giving bad reviews. I don’t have the stomach for this. I feel like a school yard bully slamming this film to the pavement. I could talk about how being a kid’s movie is not an excuse for lack of nuance. I could talk about the misuse of stock characters; or how use of stock characters is just lazy. Or I could talk about the bad acting. But you know, the actors are all 12, so yes, the acting’s a bit stilted…

Look, if you go out this weekend, and you’re without kids, and the Scorsese film is still playing, go see that. I hear it’s awesome. But maybe, just maybe, if you have a sixth grader and there is absolutely nothing else to do, check out a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”. There may be worse wastes of time, but I can’t think of any.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” plays this weekend at Gross Alaska theaters. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland

(For the radio version, please click here).

Somewhere along the line from love of movies to love of cinema are the first films appreciated for more than their entertainment value. Maybe it was a performance you couldn’t forget, recognition of wit over slapstick, or lines of dialogue you’d repeat until your parents told you to stop, please stop.

At some point a movie impresses you and you can’t really say why beyond, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” And you know, that happens a lot when you’re 12. Anyways, it’s when you begin to get an inkling for the ringmaster, the person behind the scenes who is imparting a vision –successful or otherwise – for your consideration. That is, the director. There were many movies that impressed me as teen, but when I fell in love with Winona Ryder in Beatle Juice or left Batman saying “That is the Best Movie Ever!”, well, that was Tim Burton.

And so Director Burton has always had a special place in my heart since he was such a part of my education in movies. How disappointing then, that most of his work since Edward Scissorhands have not really struck a chord with me. Which isn’t to say his movies are bad, they’re almost without exception, well, exceptional. His achievements cannot be overstated. For 20 years, Tim Burton has walked the line between artistry and commercial success unlike any other director.

Any movie, whether the smallest character piece or a Tim Burton special effects extravaganza, must have a soul. The audience must care. I think Burton’s film became more about the atmosphere, weird and random worlds, and Johnny Depp’s face; pretty but cadaverous, eye candy with no pulse. And so I approached Alice in Wonderland with trepidation. I want to like his films. I’m rooting for the guy.

And I’m happy to say Burton has delivered. “Alice” is not a perfect film, it runs out of magic in the last 15 minutes, but until then, it’s a lovely ride. It’s a movie that leaves you with a Cheshire grin, chuckling at the audacity of whole thing. It’s a movie where the special effects serve the story a cup of tea.

The players are fantastic. Johnny Depp is predictably excellent as the Mad Hatter. Helena Boham Carter is a worthy of Nicholson’s Joker, making a meal of every second she’s on screen. Anne Hathaway is surprisingly effective as an effete and weakly constitutioned princess. Of all people, with long CG legs that must give Letterman nightmares, Crispin Glover comes out of his madhouse to grace us with a most un-McFly performance. And finally, Mia Wasikowska, a newcomer of dramatic hair plays Alice perfectly. Yet all of it would mean nothing if not for the singular abilities of one Tim Burton, Director. Bravo.

I hope, with Alice in Wonderland, that all the many 10 year olds who watched it with me that night were high-fiving each other afer the movie. Maybe saying, “This was the Best Movie Ever!” or even, “What great direction!” And they’d be right. Alice in Wonderland plays this weekend at Glacier Cinema. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Movie Review: The Messenger

(For the radio version, please click here).

The Messenger is the Goldtown Nickelodeon’s latest great offering for Juneau film lovers.

Will Montgomery is an Army man injured in Iraq and a hero. He has three months left before he is discharged. In this time, his superiors team him up with commanding officer Tony Stone as part of the Army’s Casualty Notification Service. This “service” is how the Army notifies the death of a soldier to their next of kin. Those who serve in this capacity have the toughest job in the military – aside from getting shot at.

So, clearly, this is not a light film. It is not a flashy film. There is not one explosion. Not even a gun shot. The cinematography isn’t sweeping and grand. The setting isn’t urban. The people are not sophisticated. And the dialogue is not stylized. But this is a great film. This is a film about intimacy. This film is about real people rather than frothy fictional concoctions. This film is a showcase for good acting and writing. This film is slow.

And I mean slow in a good way, like beef braised in wine for four hours on a Sunday afternoon. I’m talking quality slow: the kind of slow that allows you to get to know the character; the kind of slow that allows intimacy. The Messenger reminded me of other slow movies like The Great Santini, Tender Mercies, and Sling Blade. And in addition to being slow, these movies also starred Robert Duvall.

Which gets me to the acting. Ben Foster plays Will wonderfully. Like a young Duvall, he displays all the pain and angst you might expect from a decent man, injured in war, trying desperately to make a connection in the civilian world while, above all, maintaining control. Mr. Foster constructs a subtle and natural acting performance. His interactions with Samantha Morton make up one of the most realistic courtship dances I’ve seen on film: awkward, painful, beautiful. Ms. Morton too shines as a mom dealing with her own serious fallout from the war. Woody Harrelson plays officer Stone as a soldier making up for never seeing bullets fly in battle with forced bravado. It’s a great performance and has Mr. Harrelson has been rewarded with a best supporting actor nomination. Why not Mr. Foster and Ms. Morton? Well, frankly, their acting is so good, it’s like their not acting. Great natural performances rarely get the oscar.

The screenplay has also been nominated for best original screenplay. I completely agree. Again, it’s hard even to describe the writing other than natural. It is very difficult, I think, to write how people actually speak. You can be like Tarantino and not even try and just develop masterpieces of stylized scripts full of quotable quips. Or, you can try to write like how people speak. Most of the time, I think writers miss the mark, but here, this film, the Messenger; it’s like eavesdropping.

The Messenger plays the next two weekends at our beloved Goldtown Nickelodeon. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Movie Review: An Education

(For the radio version, please click here).

It’s an exciting time to be a movie fan in Juneau. Oscar nominated films are playing everywhere. Be sure not to miss “An Education” playing at the Goldtown Nickelodeon this weekend. This film is a best picture nominee and it’s lead player, Carey Mulligan, is nominated for best actress.

And she deserves it. This coming of age story is set in London in the early 1960s. Ms. Mulligan plays one of my favorite movie archetypes, the smart teen who wrestles with the futility adult life’s grind. I like movies that treat their teenagers as fully formed human beings; films that acknowledge a teenager’s capacity for curiosity, intellectual brilliance, and nuance, while also exploring a teenager’s equal capacity of inept social graces and dangerously dismal judgment. By the way, that’s a lot to ask of an actor. The fact Ms. Mulligan pulls off a performance of such maddening grace makes her a front runner for that Oscar.

And here’s another thing about Carey Mulligan, I couldn’t help but stare at her. She has a screen presence. She looks like Katie Holmes, but is British and clearly a better actor. Beyond that though is this presence she has, that is to say, magnetism. Screen presence is a hard quality to pin down, but some actors you simply want to watch more than others. Ms. Mulligan has the most nuanced facial expressions. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know. She’s really rather amazing.

The film is about choices and deception. It’s the kind of story that, had it been made in Hollywood, would likely have been creepy, violent, and exploitive. As it is, there is some creepiness, but overall the film maintains a level of decency it could easily have given up to shock the audience. Thus, the shock of this film is much more cerebral, much more about righteous indignation than a sucker punch to the gut.

The performances elevate this good film to something more lasting. In addition to Ms. Mulligan, Alfred Molina is great as an overbearing but loving father, Peter Starsgard plays the enigmatic love interest, Olivia Williams is a patient and understanding teacher, and the great Emma Thompson pops up as a rather nasty school headmistress.

I don’t know if the young Ms. Mulligan can beat the mighty mighty Streep come Oscar time. I’ll keep my fingers crossed as she was the most captivating woman on the big screen this year – in an understated, British sort of way. “An Education” plays this weekend at our beloved Goldtown Nickelodeon. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Movie Preview: JUMP

(For the radio version, please click here).

Full disclosure: I am an intermittent submitter of short films to the Juneau Underground Motion Picture, or JUMP, Society biannual festival of short films This includes the festival occurring this weekend. But I want to push self interest aside and spend my allotted three minutes here on KTOO and KXLL to sing the praises of JUMP and encourage your support and attendance of the festival.

Over eight years, 16 festivals, and nearly 350 films, the folks of JUMP – Pat Race, Aaron Suring, and Lou Logan – have provided a creative outlet for Juneau filmmakers. The festival allows Juneau filmmakers an opportunity to hone their skills in front of a supportive, sometimes irrationally enthusiastic, crowd.

The JUMP society will air any submitted film that is under ten minutes and has a strong Juneau connection. This is a brave and trusting philosophy. You never know what you’re going to get and you may have to sit through something painful. Like, something made by me. But like Folkfest, if you can hold out for a few more minutes, there is always hope and promise in the next act. As the years have progressed, the ratio of painful to enjoyable films has decreased dramatically. Every festival has a number of “Wow!” moments. As local filmmakers improve their craft and technology advances allowing evermore sophistication, the quality of JUMP shorts is increasingly outstanding. Juneau is getting good at making films. Very good.

For that, thank the JUMP Society and their generous attitude toward submittals.

Nearly every past festival showing has occurred at the Silverbow Baker and Inn. Bless them and their yummy bagels for their consistent support of good film in Juneau. This weekend’s festival however will occur at our beloved Gold Town Nickelodeon, ground zero for independent and foreign film in Juneau. I look forward to seeing the shorts on a large screen. If you’ve never been to Gold Town, take this opportunity to experience the crowning shiny nugget of quality cinema in Juneau.

When you come in, there is often a jar for donations to the JUMP Society. The money is used to rent space, buy equipment, and otherwise provide an audience with a quality show. Give. Give as much as you can. For years, Pat, Lou, and Aaron have provided this festival on a shoestring and a bit of luck. They deserve our thanks and appreciation. They are not paid. There are no Hollywood producers to snap up the rights to their, or anybody’s, short. The efforts JUMP and Juneau filmmakers derive from love of the craft and our community. And how fun to have what was once a small curiosity on a Friday night morph into a Juneau arts institution.

The JUMP Society festival of shorts will show this weekend at our beloved Gold Town Nickelodeon Thursday, January 28th – 7:00pm, Friday, January 29th – 7:00pm with a 21 and older show at 9:00pm, Saturday, January 30th – 7:00pm, also with a 21 and older show at 9:00pm. Then, there will be one last showing at the UAS Egan Lecture Hall on Friday, February 5th at 7:00pm. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Movie Review: A Serious Man

(For the radio version, please click here).

The Coen Brothers have a history of creating enigmatic films. Their first, “Blood Simple”, and later the more illustrative, “Barton Fink”, were odd and beautiful films. The Coen brothers didn’t feel the need to spoon feed plot to viewers. The audience had to pay attention. Without the director and writers spelling out background information or telegraphing the “twist” at the end, these mysterious films were both funny and infuriating. (They also rewarded repeated viewings on VHS and DVD).

“A Serious Man” fits well within this oeuvre. So here is my warning, presented without judgment: there is a thin line between engagingly mysterious and obnoxiously obtuse; there is a thin line between respect for an audience’s intelligence and arrogant disregard for an audience’s need of context.

For now, I am willing to disregard that “A Serious Man” is random and seemingly ends before it really…ends. Sure, I’ll embrace the mystery. The acting is great. The writing is superb. And, above all, it’s a Coen brother’s film, and even a Coen brother misfire (and I’m not saying this film is) is still better than 99% of the movies released today. They are masters of the craft.

In addition to being bizarre, other elements of the film are classic Coen brothers. The film is a Coen brothers comedy, meaning there will be lots of drama. (As opposed to their dramas, which can be pretty darn funny). Also revisited is their habit to follow an everyman who faces increasingly absurd and often dangerous situations. Think William H. Macy’s Jerome Lundegaard in Fargo.

In “A Serious Man” the excellent Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, a man navigating the disintegration of his familial, professional, and marital life within the Jewish faith and the confines of late 1960s Midwestern suburbia.

Technically the film is interesting and an inside joke. A washed out, purposefully low budget feel metaphorically and literally hangs over the movie. They even purposefully screw up their shots in a specific way. By doing this, the Coen brothers pull you completely into a different time and place as if you were watching a movie made in that time. And they fooled me. Since I was once a projectionist I dismissively "tsked" the projectionist’s performance and actually complained. I was told by the projectionist the “problem” (in quotes) I was complaining about was on purpose. It then dawned on me: you got me Coen brothers, you got me. How infuriating. How funny.

“A Serious Man” plays this weekend at our beloved Gold Town Nickeldeon – the place to go see a mysterious film like this. This is Clint Farr, once again, Alone at the Movies.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Oughts Decade in Review

In a look back from 2000 to 2009, (the oughts, the noughts, the oh-ohs?), Andy Kline of KXLL (see at interviewed me for my top ten movies of the past decade.

(For the radio version please click here).

Whereas not a transcript of the interview, the following is my top ten and honorable mentions, plus a little synopsis. And please note, I live in Juneau Alaska. There's a ton of films I don't see. Your recommendations and comments are welcome. Thank you to the Gold Town Nickelodeon for bringing smaller foreign and independent films to Juneau.

By the way, do you underline a movie's title or put it in quotations?

“Top Ten Movies of the 2000s”
1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Old School (2003)
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2003)
Amelie (2001)
Lost in Translation (2003)
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Wall-E (2008)
There Will be Blood (2007)
Juno (2007)
Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 – 2003)

Honorable Mention
Forty Year Old Virgin (2005)
High Fidelity (2000)
Collateral (2004)
Memento (2000)
Ratatouille (2007)
Finding Nemo (2003)
Spirited Away (2001)
Shaune of the Dead (2004)
Hero (2002), House of Flying Dragons (2004), Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)
The Lives of Others (2006)
Sexy Beast (2000)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Gladiator (2000)
The Departed (2006)
Training Day (2001)
Casino Royale (2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Almost Famous (2000)
Traffic (2000)
O’Brother Where Art Thou (2000)
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Best Alaska Movie – Insomnia (2002)

Royal Tenenbaums
Really one of my favorite films. This third film by Wes Anderson remains his masterpiece despite some enjoyable follow-ups. Wes Anderson can make the quirky and random very specific and detailed. It’s quite a feat. Great performance by Gene Hackman, perhaps his best of the decade. And any movie Gwyneth is tolerable in means the director is excellent.

Old School
Old School shouldn’t have worked for me. Luke Wilson is a mystery to me; why do we care? Will Ferrel is funny but wearing. Vince Vaughn and Jeremy Piven are always engaging but also the same character. Ellen Pompeo is fine but under used. Juliette Lewis is probably the best part of the film in terms of acting and is on screen for no more than five minutes. But somehow, this film is the one that sticks with me, the one we bought on DVD, and the one that makes me laugh even after multiple viewings. Todd Phillips is very good at smart raunchy comedies and is latest, The Hangover, continues his streak.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
First, it was a delight to watch Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh actually act in a taut martial art film. Their subdued, well, suppressed love, maintains as much tension as the stunning fight scenes.

Amelie (and A Very Long Engagement)
Audrey Tautou was a relevation for me this decade. For the first half of the decade she starred in some my favorite and more interesting films, also including Dirty Pretty Things. Outside of the Da Vinci Code, she hasn’t done anything to reach Juneau in the second half of the oughts. I hope to see her soon. Also, Director Jeunet is one of the most visually smart and creative directors working in the world. I recommend any of his movies which include some 90s classics, Delicatessen and City of Lost Children.

Lost in Translation
A pitch perfect film about the trouble boredom can get people into. Bill Murray is at his understated best as a past his prime Hollywood actor shilling for whiskey in Japan. Scarlett explodes from obscurity as the bored wife of a photographer on assignment in Tokyo. From this film, had you any doubts, Bill Murray is a great actor of suppressed weariness, bemusement, and wisdom. Scarlett becomes much, much more than a pretty face and figure, portraying her role as intelligent and curious. Scarlett seared herself into the minds of the nation’s sensitive males with this one.

Lars and the Real Girl
It’s nice to see a movie where everyone behaves. This is a film that, despite a superficially ridiculous premise, reflects the basic decency in people that most of regularly encounter. Most films find their tension through people behaving badly. This film pulls of the trick of finding tension through people behaving kindly. For that, this is one of my best of the decade.

Oddly, the most dystopian view of human kind came through the g-rated eyes of a cute trash compactor. I could almost fill up my top ten of the decade with Pixar films. It’s tough not to. I think because each movie requires up to four years from conception to marketing they have plenty of time to build classic, layered, and nuanced stories. You can watch these films over and over and get something new each time. And when you have small children like I do, that’s a blessing. Pixar leaves the other animators, including Dreamworks Shrek and Madagascar series, in the dust (though I like the Madagascar penguins).

There Will be Blood
In my opinion the performance of the decade was Daniel Day Lewis; oil man in this movie. Under refreshingly restrained direction from Paul Thomas Anderson, this is an amazingly sparse, brutal, and beautiful film.

Few movies are perfect. Most don’t try and those that do try too hard. For me, Juno is a perfect movie. A well done and moving story that treats it’s teenagers like real and thoughtful human beings – while still being teenagers subject to poor decision making. Love this movie.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy
A storytelling and technical achievement, the movies defined cinema for the decade. Jackson’s ability to develop nuanced characters and a little humor amidst a war between good and evil in a fantasy world will forever stand as one of cinema’s greatest achievements. These films were rightly rewarded with big box office grosses and Oscars. Frankly, some of the best movies ever made. (And the DVD extras are like a film-making school)

Honorable Mention
High Fidelity (2000)- The last great John Cusack role (actor of the 90s)? Discuss.

Collateral (2004) – Certainly Tom Cruise’s best role of the decade. Michael Mann is a very effective director.

Memento (2000) – Part of the brain twisters trend.

Ratatouille (2007) – Keeps getting better, even after the 30th viewing.

Finding Nemo (2003)- A stunning achievement – tough choice between it and Wall-e.

Spirited Away (2001) (and the others by director Hayao Miyazaki like Ponyo and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Ridiculous and so much fun, with actual scares and emotional tension.

Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004), Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) - These are sumptuous adventures available from the singular talent of Mr. Zhange. These films are pure cinema, visually stunning and simply a joy to watch. I highly recommend this director.

The Lives of Others (2006) – A stunning little movie about eastern german spies (over 200,000) and those they monitored. One of the best endings to a movie this decade.

The Forty Year Old Virgin (2004) -The film launched a number of people into stardom and started the Judd Apatow streak of raunchy but kind comedies that made us laugh the last half of the 90s. The film introduced Steve Carrell to the nation beyond The Daily Show. It cast Catherine Keener, one of my favorite actresses because she can, you know, act. It was my first time seeing Romany Malco in a movie, who has since been doing great things on Showtime’s Weeds. Elizabeth Banks is a rare combination of looks and comedic timing who has done well since. And, then there is the incomparable Jane Lynch.

Sexy Beast (2000) - Great performance by Kingsley as British gangster forcing Ray Winston out of his retirement in Spain to return for one more job.

Gladiator (2000) - Russell Crowe’s breakout role after LA Confidential, this is a bloody, well edited, effective film.
The Departed (2006) - This was not the movie of a seasoned director. This was a gritty, angry, scrappy movie from a genius kid just out of film school. Scorcese continues to come up with fresh takes on a tired genre. Keep them coming. Great, great movie.

Training Day (2001) - My favorite Denzel performance of the decade. Ethan Hawke irks me for no good reason but was tolerable. The movie succeeded despite the casting of Tom Berenger, usually a death sentence. It was brutal and uncompromising; one of the meaner films of the decade. Denzel’s corrupt cop, had it not been for Daniel Day Lewis, would have been my performance of the decade.

Casino Royal (2006) - Thoroughly entertaining. I’ve never seen a film re-invent a franchise, certainly one as tired as James Bond, like Casino Royale. By casting a real actor and making it much less comic and more brutal, this film stands on its own. Also, Paul Haggis (Crash) provides his unique talents to a script otherwise penned by writers of previous Bond films The familiar bing-da-ding-ding of the opening credits is just a bonus.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) - Child performances are very difficult to pull off and this movie contains one of the best. The creation of an effective alternative universe here is completely unexpected and amazing. Movies should be visually effective, it’s a big screen after all, and this movie fits this bill better than many that were much more expensive. Violent , this movie is not for the kiddies.

Million Dollar Baby (2004) - I can’t say this is a perfect film. When Hilary Swank’s character spits out her pen and glares at her mother from her hospital bed I laughed. I think what sticks with me most was how good Eastwood was in his own film. Historically a limited actor, in Million Dollar Baby, he rips your heart out.

Almost Famous (2000) - Don’t let the nearly 10 years that have passed diminish the greatness of this film. The most heartfelt of Cameron’s films since Say Anything, this amazing little meditation on music remains a monument to the rock and roll dreams of sensitive writer geeks.

Traffic (2000) - Probably Steven Soderbergh’s last great movie. A great mute performance by Benecio Del Toro.

O’ Brother Where Art Thou (2000) - I needed to put at least one Coen Brothe’s film in my decade’s best movies since they had some great films. A bad Coen Brother’s film is still better than most of what is being shown. They are amazing. This film single handedly made US folk music hip again and for a while, teenagers were humming to Gillian Welsh. I believe this is Clooney’s break out role where we all recognized him as an leading to one amazing decade for the actor.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - Got to put a Kate Winslet movie in here. This was a fantastic and sad movie.

Inglorious Basterds (2009) - Tarantino’s best since Pulp Fiction.

Best Alaska Themed Movie – Insomnia – 2002 (That's right, better than Into the Wild or Grizzly Man)

Top “Trends” of the 2000s
Disney Pixar and Japanimation gave audiences plenty of eye candy in the 2000s. But much more important, they gave timeless stories and plenty of nuance to reward repeated viewings.

Mind Benders
"Being Johan Malkovich", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", and many lesser films at least made the attempt to twist traditional narratives and construct original narratives.

Audrey Tautou and Scarlett Johanssen
These were my favorite actresses of the decades. Certainly some like Meryl were in more movies and more successful movies, but these ladies are the ones I dream of. Oh, and Kate Winslet, but she occupies a place beyond mere "best of" lists.

Russell Crowe
My favorite actors are Denzel Washington and Jeff Bridges. But from luck or savvy, Russel Crowe probably had the best run of the 2000s. Okay, definitely an argument can be made for George Clooney, Matt Damon, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Viggo Mortensen, or even Bill Murray. I’d probably agree, but really, Cameron was in good films that also did well at the box office. Starting in 2000 with Gladiator, he then went on to star in some of the better bigger films of the decade:
State of Play (2009) .... Cal McAffrey
American Gangster (2007) .... Richie Roberts
3:10 to Yuma (2007) .... Ben Wade
Cinderella Man (2005) .... Jim Braddock
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) .... Capt. Jack Aubrey
A Beautiful Mind (2001) .... John Nash

Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson ended the 1990s with "Rushmore", a wonderful mature look at the odd-ones of high school. But he began the 2000s with a masterpiece. "The Royal Tenenbaums" was a pitch perfect look at the imperfections associated with genius. Set in New York, but not really, Anderson has an eye for nuance. Each frame is exactly that, framed. His attention to detail is astounding. Quirky, smart, unexpected and able to wrench performances out of actors not normally associated with great acting. He went on to make some of the more original films of the decade: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), and Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009).

Peter Jackson
"The Lord of the Rings", "King Kong", and this month’s "The Lovely Bones", and a production credit on the awesome "District 9" belong to Peter Jackson. Nothing of his past films in the 80s and 90s even hinted at the juggernaut he would become. His best pre-LOR was Heavenly Creatures which was magical and odd, but small too (and to Peter’s endearing credit, introduced the world to Kate Winslet, my star-crush, my muse,). Most of his films were brain splattering comic-gore, or Meet the Feebles, the craziest damn thing I’ve ever seen. So you can forgive 99% of the movie-going public when "Fellowship of the Ring" exploded into popular culture when they said, “Peter who?”

"Zoolander", "Old School", "Forty Year Old Virgin" and all the Judd Apatow films that followed, perfected a meshing of genres that should be recognized just for the audacity. In the guise of raunchy sex comedies reminiscent of the 80s Porkies knock offs, these films are actually – well – sweet; touching depictions of male bonding. None of them were masterpieces but nearly all of them were worthy distractions and a decent way to spend a few hours, be entertained, and not necessarily insulted.

Use of Good Actors in Action Films
The re-birth of James Bond with something approaching an art-house film was not only the result of writing and directing but casting Daniel Craig as the new Bond. Brooding, buff, and angry, Craig gave a 20-something movie franchise a shot in the arm unlike anything I’ve seen. I so liked "Casino Royale" I thought it should have been nominated for best picture. Never has such a hokey franchise been so successfully re-imagined. Also of note is Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, a series of movies I really enjoyed. Iron Man has Robert Downey Jr., Spiderman has Tobey McGuire, even the hulk was played at turns by Eric Bana and Ed Norton. These are real actors who elevated their films. It’s a real and welcome change from the Stallones and Schwarzeneggers of action movies past.

Female Directors and Screewriters –
Though still a small club, women made gains this last decade in writing and directing great films. "Lost in Translation" and apparently "The Hurt Locker", are great films directed by women. "Lars and the Real Girl" and "Juno" were written by women. By no means complete, a partial list follows:
Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
Jane Campion – In the Cut
Nora Ephron – Julie and Julia
Nancy Meyers – It’s Complicated and Somethings Gotta Give
Rebecca Miller – The Ballad of Jack and Rose
Christine Jeffs – Sylvia
Anne Fletcher – The Proposal, 27 Dresses
Mira Nair – Amelia, The Namesake, Vanity Fair, Monsoon Wedding
Karyn Kusama – Jennifer’s Body, Aeon Flux, Girlfight
Lone Scherfig – An Education and a bunch of Swedish Films
Lynn Shelton - Humpday
Drew Barrymore – Whip It; prod – Charlie’s Angels and Donnie Darko
Sofia Coppola – Lost in Translation and Marie Antionette
Tamara Jenkins – The Savages
Sarah Polley – Away from Her

Fran Walsh – LOR,
Diablo Cody – Jennifer’s Body, Juno
Marjane Satrapi – Persopolis
Tamara Jenkins - "The Savages"
Nancy Oliver -"Lars and the Real Girl" writer.
Sarah Polley "Away From Her"

Be it 9/11, the Iraq War, or some inkling feeling the world is in imminent danger of ending (be it from climate change, the rapture, or some combination), I think films have been much kinder over the last decade. Almost all the films I’ve listed, certainly not all, but almost, have undercurrents of kindness and loyalty, family and friendship. Even the crude comedies have been “nice”. Past movies seemed mostly ironic and amoral. In "Lars and the Real Girl", a town pulls together to help a damaged young man make it through a romance with a plastic blow-up doll. Seems crazy, but the people portrayed in this film reflect more the world I live in than any film depicting “gritty realism”. Heck, the most scathing condemnation of mankind was in a G-rated movie about two star-crossed robots. I’ve been all over and am still convinced that most of the time, most people, are mostly decent. I’ve enjoyed seeing that in the movies.

Least Favorite “Good” Movie
Little Miss Sunshine - Like opening up a can of indie filmmaking.