Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Daddy Longlegs

Oh man, it's been way too long since I blogged last. As we approach midterms here, the homework keeps piling up. And when I get done with my homework, I'm too tired to write a crappy blog entry. Anyway, the return (ugh...) of winter weather has me in a really sluggish, "I-wanna-sit-at-the-computer-all-day" kind of mood. So here we go. I'm gonna start out with three movies that can all be described as disturbing in their own sweet way. (That last sentence was a cool little Dave Brubeck reference). The first two are the last remaining nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture that I had yet to see.

127 Hours (2010, dir. Danny Boyle)

I like Danny Boyle. In the three movies I've seen by him (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, and this one), I've noticed three aspects they all have in common: 1) A defined visual style (28 Days Later's style is slightly different from the other two, but still very interesting), 2) (spoiler alert?) happy endings, and 3) they all have really good music, including a fairly well-known song placed conveniently at a certain point. When Boyle combines these things with his knack for finding actors that are perfect for the parts they play, his movies turn out to be intensely entertaining. One maybe wouldn't think that a movie about a guy stuck in a canyon for five days wouldn't be much of a movie, but it really is. The brilliant James Franco once again shows here that he is one of the most promising young actors in the business today. Franco pulls off the happy-go-lucky, rambunctious Aron Ralston, who, after a painful fall off of his mountain bike, takes a picture with his digital camera to capture the moment. But as Ralston begins to examine the life he has lived and the people he has loved, we see his introspective, emotional side, and Franco is just as convincing. As a result of spending quite a bit of time looking at Franco's face during the movie, the viewer sees this complete emotional transition. Richard Roeper describes 127 Hours as a "hardcore version of 'It's a Wonderful Life,'" and that is true, but there is no guardian angel that saves Ralston. He realizes that the only person who can save Aron Ralston is Aron Ralston. He must free himself and he must fix what he has done wrong in his life. There is no other option. Unfortunately, the only way he can get out of the situation is - well, you know the story. It leads to quite a release at the end of the movie. But, as they say, getting there is half the fun. I have talked to several people who didn't have the same reaction as me, but, for me, the amputation sequence is one of the most intense pieces of cinema I have ever endured. It's truly disturbing. I was sweating by the end of the scene. In Roger Ebert's review, he mentions that "the worst moment is not a sight but a sound." I completely agree with that. At the moment he refers to, I jumped out of my skin. Nevertheless, after sitting through a five minute scene that feels like twenty, the end, as I mentioned earlier, is a huge release both for Ralston and for the audience. Ralston by freeing himself has opened up a new door of opportunity in his life. The audience has become so invested in his character by this point that they feel the same relief. Then, Boyle implements another happy, uplifting ending as Sigur Rรณs's happy tune "Festival" drives the audience and Ralston to an unprecedented height. You can tell how much I cared about this movie from how much I've written about it. It solicited the widest range of emotions I've had from a movie in a long time, while still being immensely entertaining. Isn't that what a movie should be all about? You should see it. Maybe if you get a little queasy sometimes you should look away during the gruesome bits, but you'll love the ending. I highly recommend this movie.

The Fighter (2010, dir. David O. Russell)

Unfortunately, the last Best Picture nominee I had left to see I didn't like quite as much as the last movie. The Fighter is getting a ton of critical acclaim, mostly directed towards its actors. All four big leads - Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo - have been highly praised. But my problem with The Fighter isn't with the actors. It's the plot that's just not up to par with the rest of the movie. Micky Ward, who is played by Wahlberg, has a terrible family. They think they are being supportive when in fact they are inhibiting Mickey's success. He has a bunch of sisters, all of which are total trash. His mother Alice, played by Leo, is his manager, but has no idea what she is doing. And then there is his half-brother, Dicky Eklund, is his trainer, but spends most of his time in the local crackhouse. Up until about the last twenty minutes or so, Micky's family effectively helps everything go wrong for him. Dicky is in and out of jail, and Alice gets him into fights he can't win. The first part of this movie, driven by the actions of Micky's idiotic family, is truly hard to watch. It's just depressing the whole way through. It's disturbingly real, and all the performances are very effective, but that aside, I couldn't stand watching the family screw up time and time again. I'll go ahead and compare it with Winter's Bone, another very real and effective movie in which the protagonist gets no help whatsoever from the people around her. The difference is, in Winter's Bone, the characters are surrounded by poverty, and although they don't do anything to help themselves, there are no opportunities for them to get help from the people around them. In The Fighter, Micky's family is just a bunch of screw-ups who can't do anything right, and don't really care either. Although Dicky once had a chance at a title himself, he'd rather sit in a crackhouse all day. Towards the end, it changes tone, but at this point it just felt forced to me. The ending is very cliche. I realize that it's based on a true story, and the filmmakers had to end it like they did, but I just don't really buy the uplifting boxing movie formula they've followed. I'm not sure whether I'd recommend it or not. The performances are very good, especially Christian Bale, but the rest of the movie just doesn't match them in quality. I'm a little disappointed that I watched this one last. I wish I would have saved 127 Hours for last and ended on a high note.

Seven (1995, dir. David Fincher)

This 90s classic was $4.75 at Target and I bought it. I've been wanting to see it for a long time. Ever since I saw The Social Network I've been pretty interested in David Fincher's movies. This is his second feature, and it stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as two detectives who are attempting to track down a brutal serial killer who kills his victims according to the seven deadly sins. Seven's cinematography and set design is very interesting. It reminds me, oddly enough, of the movie Lucky Number Slevin and maybe a dark, 1940s film noir. It's clearly trying to portray its setting as dark and bleak, and it certainly does that, but in a really weird way sometimes. This movie is known for its disturbingly gruesome scenes, and at the time when I watched it they didn't really affect me that much, but more and more I'm thinking that they did, because I can't get them out of my head. The same thing happened to me for a while after I watched 127 Hours. The biggest problem I had with this movie is that Brad Pitt, I thought, got pretty annoying at times. But the great Morgan Freeman makes up for that. Seven works with pretty much everything it attempts. It's an intense crime thriller, and a pretty shocking horror movie. Its dialogue is even witty at times. The ending might be a cop-out, but the execution of it makes it entertaining and effective. I recommend this movie. I think if you want to be able to talk about movies from the 90s at all, Seven is probably one that you should see.

I'll close this entry with some jumbled thoughts about some stuff and a nice video.

Radiohead surprised everyone last week with the announcement of their latest album, The King of Limbs. When it was released Friday morning, I went to the website and impulsively bought and downloaded it. My first impression of it is pretty good. It's very mellowed out compared to previous Radiohead albums, even compared to 2007's In Rainbows, their last release. Some of the drum loops and and static melodies made me think of Portishead, and I certainly welcome the shift in sound. The King of Limbs isn't as catchy or as fun to listen to as In Rainbows, but I'm sure that it will grow on me.

In my last post, I promised reviews (or something like a review) of three albums: Gutter Rainbows, by Talib Kweli, James Blake's debut full-length James Blake, and Destroyer's homage to 70s jazz-rock, Kaputt. The only one of these I've listened to enough to even have a first impression of is Kaputt. I first saw Destroyer RIGHT HERE ON CAMPUS at 2009's WIUX CultureShock show. This new album sounds completely different from what I heard at that show. It reminds me of a number of 70s-era classic rock bands, but especially Steely Dan. My problem with Kaputt right now is that it starts to all sound the same after a while, but it will probably grow on me, too. It's catchy enough to keep my attention for a while, though.

As I said earlier, midterms week is rapidly approaching us, and my work is picking up significantly, so this might be my last post until, like, spring break. So I sure hope this holds you over! I leave you with a nice video of my favorite artist of late, the wonderful Joanna Newsom. The girl has gotten me through many a cold walk across campus in the last few weeks.


  1. Another well-written post, Jacob!

    I was a little more moved by THE FIGHTER than you were, maybe because all I knew about it before seeing it was that Marky Mark plays a boxer. The family drama came as a nice surprise. But yeah, it does seem a little amateur-hour in its construction compared to the masterful and efficient 127 HOURS.

    Also, I think KAPUTT might be one of the best records of our time. Maybe I'll beat you to a review of that one to justify this grandiose accolade.

    PS - I like that you keep the reader guessing at what the title means until the very end of the post. Think I'm gonna listen to some HOOM now.

  2. Yeah, I haven't really listened to Kaputt all the way through yet, so we'll see.