Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Battle of the Aughts: James Frazier on Burn After Reading

When I reviewed “Burn After Reading” upon release, I rewarded it a 3.5 out of 5. I wrote “‘Burn After Reading,’ the latest film from the Coen Brothers, is a dark comedy and spy farce that unfolds like a chemical reaction, its plot elements combining, mixing, then igniting briefly before fizzing out.” I got it right until that last part.

“Burn After Reading” is a quintessential example of those films that work like a stick of dynamite with a long fuse, sitting there gently for a while until they explode in utter brilliance. I’m willing to forgive myself (and anyone else) for not catching the genius the first time around; the Coen Brothers’ assemble a script whose characters are all unlikeable, narcissistic buffoons, cast them with A-list talent, and unleashes them into a labyrinthine plot that mixes pathetic infidelity, meaningless espionage, and one bizarre home-made masturbatory implement. It’s a version of what Roger Ebert deemed the Idiot Plot, only the Coens intended for their characters to be as moronic as possible. The brothers, off a career high from the enormous critical and commercial success of “No Country For Old Men,” exhibit a fearless willingness to tell the story they want to. Not many auteurs would employ Brad Pitt as a dimwitted gym trainer that meets a shockingly unceremonious demise halfway through their story, but it’s that kind of nerve that makes their work go beyond unconventional and into the realm of subversive.

Detractors are prone to accusing the film of existing without meaning to its action, themselves accidentally tapping into the theme: that life’s a mess, nothing adds up to much, and we can all play the role of the fool. The closing dialogue between two confounded CIA observers sums it up:

CIA Superior: What did we learn, Palmer?
CIA Officer: I don't know, sir.
CIA Superior: I don't fuckin' know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir.
CIA Superior: I'm fucked if I know what we did.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir, it's, uh, hard to say
CIA Superior: Jesus Fucking Christ.

Life’s hilarious like that, sometimes.

- James Frazier

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Battle of the Aughts: Final Round

And the winner:

"[Children of Men] inspires genuine hope even in the bleakest of possible futures... Cuaron just made a huge leap from a great up-and-coming director to one of the most important voices in cinema today." - me

"Cuaron, like Kubrick in his later films, plunges the audience into the world of the film without pausing for exposition or character development, and it's a lot to handle on the first viewing. Heck, it's tempting just to groove on the film's visual design the first time around- with its production design combining crumbling cities with cutting edge technology and its cinematography which is both luminous and hardscrabble, this is the supreme technical achievement of last year. But as overwhelming an experience as Children of Men can be, it never once loses the audience, a credit to Owen's rock-solid presence and especially the visionary direction of Cuaron. In the end, Children of Men is a hopeful film, one in which life doesn't merely endure, but prevails." - Paul Clark

"A convincingly imagined dystopia and filmmaking that's both staggeringly virtuosic and emotionally involving. All this and early King Crimson on the soundtrack." - Glenn Kenny

"Cuaron fulfills the promise of futuristic fiction; characters do not wear strange costumes or visit the moon, and the cities are not plastic hallucinations, but look just like today, except tired and shabby. Here is certainly a world ending not with a bang but a whimper, and the film serves as a cautionary warning. The only thing we will have to fear in the future, we learn, is the past itself. Our past. Ourselves."
- Roger Ebert

"The miracle of Cuarón's films is that he presents the sanctity of our feelings for our children in ways as rugged, terrifying, and unsentimental as childhood. Children of Men is about a lot of things, including a sense of wonder in ourselves: how we're able to persevere in the face of our own mortality if we're just given (reminded of?) a cause worth fighting for." - Walter Chaw

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Battle of the Aughts: Round 6

With his latest film having been killed by Scientology, maybe P.T. is due for a victory?

Punch-Drunk Love (11)
Kill Bill vol. 2 (8)

Children of Men (12)

Inglourious Basterds (6)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Battle of the Aughts: Round 5 - QT vs PT (milk vs. shakes)

Punch-Drunk Love (10)
Up (5)

Kill Bill vol. 2 (8)

The Royal Tenenbaums (5)

Children of Men (8)

WALL*E (5)

Inglourious Basterds (7)

There Will Be Blood (6)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Battle of the Aughts: Round 4

Sadly, this round's parings don't really inspire any clever titles (Ed Asner vs. Stephen Tobolowsky was considered but seemed like too much of a reach). However, the pairs of directors and, in one case, a much-loved studio that have made it thus far give hope for more cleverness in the future. Unless PT, QT and Pixar are due to get knocked down a peg or two...

Punch-Drunk Love (11)

Mulholland Drive (9)

Up (9)
Memento (7)

Kill Bill vol. 2 (9)
Spirited Away (7)

The Royal Tenenbaums (11)
Pan's Labyrinth (5)

Children of Men (12)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (3)

WALL*E/There Will Be Blood (tie - 8 each)

Inglourious Basterds (12)
Yi Yi (6)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Battle of the Aughts: Round 3 - Chihiro vs. Ofelia

9/10 Edit - By some misbegotten stroke of the delete button, two of the pairings seem to have been omitted. So if you haven't voted on Spirited Away/Pan's Labyrinth, Ratatouille/The Royal Tenenbaums or Jesse James/WALL*E, please do. My apologies to Messrs. Miyazaki, Del Toro, Bird, Anderson, Dominik and Stanton.

Punch-Drunk Love (10)
Dancer in the Dark (2)

Mulholland Drive (8)
Dogville (5)

Up (7)
No Country For Old Men (6)

Memento (7)
American Splendor (6)

Kill Bill vol. 2 (11)
I'm Not There (2)

Spirited Away/Pan's Labyrinth (tie - 2 each)

The Royal Tenenbaums (3)
Ratatouille (1)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford/WALL-E (tie - 2 each)

Children of Men (10)
25th Hour (2)

There Will Be Blood (8)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (5)

Inglourious Basterds (8)
28 Days Later (5)

Yi Yi (6)
Happy-Go-Lucky (2)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Battle of the Aughts Round 2 - Spike Lee vs. Spike Lee

Note: Happy-Go-Lucky, which received the most votes out of any non-winner last round, returns to fill out an odd number of winners.

Punch-Drunk Love (9)
In the Mood For Love (6)

Dancer in the Dark (8)
Pulse (2)

Mulholland Drive (8)
The New World (4)

Dogville (8)
Jackass Number Two (1)

Up (10)
Flight of the Red Balloon (1)

No Country For Old Men (12)
American Psycho (1)

Memento (10)
Primer (2)

American Splendor (5)
8 Women (4)

Kill Bill vol. 2 (10)
Almost Famous (4)

I'm Not There (5)
A Prairie Home Companion (3)

Spirited Away (8)
Y tu mamá también (4)

Pan's Labyrinth (7)
No Direction Home (3)

Ratatouille (5)
Sideways (4)

The Royal Tenenbaums (9)
Amélie (3)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (7)
The Beat That My Heart Skipped (0)

WALL*E (8)
Before Sunset (3)

25th Hour (5)
Before Sunset (4)

Children of Men (8)
The Dark Knight (3)

There Will Be Blood (11)
Zodiac (2)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (8)
Beau Travail (1)

Inglourious Basterds (9)
Time Out (1)

Yi Yi (4)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (3)

28 Days Later/Happy-Go-Lucky (tie - 4 each)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Battle of the Aughts: FYC - Star Trek

"I like to have fun when I go to the movies. I don't really notice the lighting or how a shot is framed until the second or third viewing. I want to be engaged with the characters and story first and foremost. Otherwise why go to the movies? Star Trek is why I go to the movies. After 10 movies and numerous t.v. shows, J.J. Abrams manages to reinvent Star Trek without losing its spirit. In every moment I feel the spirit of what Gene Roddenberry created. Every character is perfectly cast, from Captain Pike to Scotty. These actors bring the essence of the original characters without turning them into a parody, which could have easily happened. I am truly engaged with these people and care about their outcome.

"If that wasn't enough, the sets are amazing. They are grand without distracting me from the story. The ships are massive and complex, with beautiful lines. They're not the boxy models of yesteryear. They are smooth and sexy. They are impressive and truly makes me feel as if I'm in the future. The worlds are real but distinct. The action is also well balanced with the regular banter scenes. Its perfectly paced and truly an adventure. A joyful journey from beginning to end." - Annabelle Proulx

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Battle of the Aughts Round 1 - Spock vs. Frodo

I matched up the films in round 1 randomly, which makes the super-geeky titular battle much funnier. I'm happy that there are a number of offbeat pairs below - everyone who sent me their top 10 helped make this a very eclectic contest. Thanks, guys. Each round will last approximately 72 96 hours. I can't wait to see how it all pans out.
In the Mood For Love (5 votes)
Happy-Go-Lucky (4)

Punch-Drunk Love (10)
A Christmas Tale (0)

Pulse (4)
Reprise (0)

Dancer in the Dark (8)
Half Nelson (0)

The New World (8)
Run, Fatboy, Run (2)

Mulholland Drive (10)
Irreversible (1)

Jackass Number Two (4)
The Consequences of Love (1)

Dogville (5)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (1)

Flight of the Red Balloon (3)
Electric Dragon 80.000 V (1)

Up (6)
Silent Light (1)

American Psycho/Primer (tie - 3 each)

No Country For Old Men (10)
Talk to Her (1)

Memento (8)
Secretary (4)

8 Women (4)
Shotgun Stories (1)
American Splendor (5)
In Praise of Love (1)

Almost Famous (4)
Blissfully Yours (1)

Kill Bill vol. 2
Synecdoche, New York (4)

A Prairie Home Companion (5)
Running on Karma (0)

I'm Not There/Y tu mama tambien (tie -3)

Spirited Away (4)
Hamlet (1)

No Direction Home (2)
The Best of Youth (0)

Pan's Labyrinth (5)

Adaptation (4)

Sideways (3)
Werckmeister Harmonies (2)

Ratatouille (5)
Exiled (0)

The Royal Tenenbaums (7)
Waking Life (2)

Amelie (5)
Gerry (2)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (4)
The Devil's Rejects (2)

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2)
Old Joy (1)

Before Sunset (4)
Zombieland (3)

WALL*E (6)
24 Hour Party People (2)

Inside Man (4)
Audition (3)

Children of Men (9)
Burn After Reading (1)

The Dark Knight (4)
The Son (2)

Zodiac (7)
In the Bedroom (2)

There Will Be Blood (5)
Bad Santa (3)

Beau Travail (1)
Survive Style 5+ (0)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (8)
The Brown Bunny (1)

Inglourious Basterds (8)
The World (0)

Time Out (2)
Black Hawk Down (0)

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (5)
Star Trek (4)

Yi Yi (3)
Southland Tales (0)

28 Days Later (6)
The Aura (0)