Monday, February 25, 2008

The Simpsons Movie

Early in The Simpsons Movie, Homer stands up in the middle of an Itchy & Scratchy film and shouts, "I can't believe we're paying to see something we get on TV for free!" It's an acutely self-aware moment from a franchise that's never been short on self-awareness. But making a joke about it doesn't make it not true.

There's nothing particularly wrong with The Simpsons Movie, but there's nothing particularly great about it either. It really is just an 87-minute long episode with better production values. It's a pleasant waste of an hour and a half, if that's the sort of thing you're looking to do.

The plot? Okay, if you want. Homer--through an act that's 75% idiocy and 25% negligence--causes Springfield to be declared an environmental disaster area by the EPA, who then promptly cover the entire city with a gigantic dome. The Springfield citizens form an angry mob (as they are wont to do), and only a way-too-convenient twist of circumstance allows the Simpson family to escape with their lives. On their own, the Simpsons try to make a new life for themselves in Alaska, but Homer alienates his family by being too selfish to help the Springfield residents he left behind. Eventually (spoiler alert?) Homer learns the error of his ways and saves the day.

The plot, of course, needs only to be thick enough to hang the jokes off of, and it meets that requirement. In fact, it's kind of impressive how the show's creators manage to keep a selfish, brainless, boor like Homer just sympathetic enough that we hope he wins in the end. The selfishness, brainlessness, and boorishness are, of course, a surprisingly fecund supplier of comedy, but the show's (and movie's) real magic moments come from its more subtle gags--such as Marge, after Springfield has been enclosed in the dome, writing "Dome Sweet Dome" in her needlepoint, and later "Nome Sweet Nome" after the family has moved to Alaska.

It's hard to imagine spending $10 (or even $7, depending on where you live) to see this movie in theaters--you'd have to be really set on seeing a movie and there would have to be precious little else out. And, unless I were interested in accumulating as many Simpsons collectibles as possible, I wouldn't purchase the DVD either--it contains an appalling paucity of special features (a few mediocre deleted scenes, the highlight of which is Mo's line: "Many dead, I'm afraid. Many others ... also dead.") If you want to see this movie, I recommend seeing it the way I did--by borrowing it from your roommate, who got the DVD for Christmas.

In the end, it seems a rating of 4 is appropriate. The Simpsons Movie is doubtless on the positive side of the scale, but, ultimately, it's exactly what it was created to be: disposable entertainment.

(A movie like this really calls for an iconic lines section.)
Iconic Lines:
[Bart is skateboarding naked across town]
Ralph Wiggum: [brightly] I like men now.

Tom Hanks
: Hello, I'm Tom Hanks. The US Government has lost its credibility so it's borrowing some of mine.

Todd Flanders
: I wish Homer was my father.

Ned Flanders: ...and I wish you didn't have the devil's curly hair.

Monday, February 18, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Initial Reaction: Some combination of "Wow!" "Oh Dear..." and "huh?"

You may be led to believe from my initial reaction that I didn't like There Will Be Blood. Sorry to mislead you...I did like it, but there is a caveat: I wouldn't watch it again. I find that there is a growing category of film that is defined as "greatly liked but only watchable once." TWBB neatly falls into this category.

Though the title was a bit off-putting, the fact that I had only seen one other Oscar nominated film motivated me to see this one. And while I was adequately warned that there would be blood, it wasn't overkill. No pun intended.

If anything, TWBB is worth watching for the sheer skill of Daniel Day-Lewis. Even though he is known for his quality acting (and his intense devotion to method acting), I would say that this is the performance of a lifetime. He plays the character of Daniel Plainview, a self-proclaimed oil man in the early 20th century. The film begins with an anonymous miner digging a site by himself. This scene is pretty intense, and perfectly suited to setting us up for the rest of the film. We learn that the man is Daniel, most likely starting out in his mining career.

There Will Be Blood is based on Upton Sinlcair's novel Oil! Overall, the movie is a timeline of Daniel's oil mining business, showing us a glimpse of his past, focusing on a chunk in the middle, and fast-forwarding to later in his life. The chunk in the middle is about an opportunity he gets to drill for oil in Little Boston, California. At this point in his life, he is accompanied by his son H.W. who is 9 years old and learning the trade from his father. Daniel hears about potential oil from a character named Paul Sunday (played by an impressive actor by the name of Paul Dano.) Paul lives on a goat ranch with his parents and siblings (including his twin brother Eli, also played by Dano) where they can't really grow anything. It's a poor family, but Eli isn't stupid, and understands that oil found on their land is a very big deal. Daniel finds out that there is indeed plenty of oil. Conflict ensues.

It doesn't take long to figure out that Daniel is a pretty bad person. The plot follows him as he convinces the people of Little Boston to sell their land to him so he can access whatever oil is there. Sounds pretty straightforward, but there's a twist: Eli is a man of God. He is the preacher at the Church of the Third Revelation and is officially "on fire" for God and filled with the Holy Spirit. Daniel clearly hates religion, but because of the oil is forced to deal with the people he can't stand. (Side note: In my opinion, the best scene of the film is when Daniel agrees to be baptized so that he can buy more land.)

There Will Be Blood is so good because of its effectiveness. I mean, it's about this evil man and his unquenchable thirst for oil. This may not sound very impressive, but I found Plainview fascinating: because you know he's bad, you can't help but sadistically want to see what he's going to do next. Acting-wise, Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano rock. Their characters are opposites--and yet are so similar in so many ways.

It's a very interesting study in human behavior; it's about Daniel and the choices he is forced to make in life, where those choices lead him, and his attitude towards everyone around him because of those choices. The entire experience is intense and affective, which is the reason why I don't think I'll see it again. It's like watching The Passion of the Christ or Hotel Rwanda (though not as disturbing). Not many people who have seen The Passion say to their friends "Hey! I just bought The Passion of the Christ! It's really good, I'm in the mood to watch it again. Want to come over and join me?" No. Once you see it, you admire the quality, appreciate the message and lesson that is present, and move on with your life. That's where TWBB fell for me, though it may not for others.

My one (dare I say?) problem with the movie is the ending. It's not that it's bad or confusing, it's just...sudden. Made me scratch my head a bit and consider what it meant in relation to the rest of the film. But I'd be pleased to discuss said ending with others who have seen it.

Rating: 13

There Will Be Blood is not funny, action-packed, romantic or thrilling. By no means is it a feel-good movie. However, it's an excellent film that is a well-balanced, interesting, meaningful work of art with superb acting. Because of this, it goes beyond entertainment. There Will Be Blood gives us a fascinating view of an evil man's psyche, and by doing this, nudges us to take a look at our own.

Iconic Lines:

"I am a false prophet! God is a superstition!"

"That was one goddamn helluva show."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Michael Clayton

I could never be a lawyer. It’s too expensive, it takes too much studying, I’m not good at public speaking, and as Michael Clayton taught me, it’s too dangerous. If I want my car blown up, I’ll go to the demolition derby.

Not just an educational experience, Michael Clayton is a great movie, and a nominee for Oscar’s Finest Honor to boot. Atonement may have been groomed to win the award, but it’s a movie like Michael Clayton that you really want to see win it. It’s smart and unassuming, features grand performances, and is understated in a “little engine that could” way. We as Americans naturally root for the underdog, and Michael Clayton has a lot to root for.

It stars George Clooney in the title role, and he’s his usual spectacular self in it, but the reason you’re going to see the movie is Tom Wilkinson. And if it isn’t, it should be. To use an analogy from a college professor of mine, Wilkinson takes the top of your head off and throws it into outer space in this movie. He plays Arthur Edens, a top-notch lawyer at a top-notch firm who’s a little nutty… Alright, he’s totally freakin’ insane. He speaks the very first words of the movie, while the screen is still black, and it’s clear from the get-go that this is man who’s frighteningly bonkers. But he’s not bonkers in the off-the-wall, silly sort of way. Insanity is really easy for an actor to play badly, but to play it convincingly takes a real pedigree, which Wilkinson proves that he is. Seriously, if he doesn’t win Best Supporting Actor, I’m moving to Canada.

But let’s not forget George Clooney, who plays close to type, but plays it well. Michael is dark, brooding and jaded, which George does very well. His distance from his son, his weakness to addiction, and his lack of ambition all play to Clooney’s strengths, and I can’t actually imagine anyone better for this role. Tilda Swinton is very sympathetic, and plays her blood-sucking corporate juggernaut with complete humanness and vulnerability. Writer/director Tony Gilroy, while peripherally guilty of being within 500 yards of Armageddon (he did some work on the screenplay), does very well with this one. Despite that this is his first time in the director’s chair, he sets up some brilliant shots. On the same token, he has great actors to work with, and with dynamos like Clooney and Wilkinson, a large chuck of the work is done for him. The script, penned by Gilroy, reveals a lot of skill in the craft, with smart dialog and great pacing.

I can’t say if this deserves the Best Pic Oscar, as I’ve only seen one other film that got the nod. I’m hoping to see two more by the 24th. But I can confidently say that it deserves to be seen. Wilkinson is phenomenal in it, but the other elements that go into a Best Picture nod are there, too. It was a little hard to keep up with, but I managed to do it. It’s not flashy or overblown, but instead delivers a subtle and rewarding package that makes you glad you spent your $8.00 on it.

Iconic lines:
“Pretend it’s not just madness!”
“I am Shiva, the god of death.”
“Do I look like I’m negotiating?”

22 Rating: 14

Particle Man

Monday, February 04, 2008


Imagine being pregnant at 16. You might not imagine that situation to have many laughs or moments of levity. However, Juno, starring Ellen Page, proved to be the exception to this rule.
We are introduced to Juno as she guzzles Sunny Delight and waxes poetic about a chair in the front yard. We learn that she had sex with her "boyfriend” recently and suspects that she may be pregnant. She walks to the local convenience store where the clerk, played by Rainn Wilson, tell her that she should stop taking pregnancy tests because they are going show that she is pregnant. Juno then goes on to tell those in her life about the baby and deals with the decision of whether or not to abort the baby and the ramifications of that decision.
I was not expecting this movie to be funny. I had not seen many advertisements. I was told by a co-worker that it was funny, but our senses of humor tend to differ. However, the number of laugh out loud moments caught me totally by surprise, from Rainn Wilson’s one scene in the movie to Ellen Page and Michael Cera’s conversations to Allison Janney and her dog obsession I found myself laughing a whole lot.
One person I feel I must give kudos to is Jennifer Garner, who plays the prospective adoptive mother of Juno's baby. Her acting pleasantly surprised me. Her character is someone who is at first seen as extremely controlling but as the film continues you see deeper into her persona and begin to understand where that controlling demeanor stems from. While Jennifer Garner’s character seems to grow as the movie goes on, Jason Bateman, who plays her husband, seems to regress as the movie goes on. He starts out very likable but as you see his character more in the movie his sketchiness definitely comes out.
While I was impressed by those surprising portrayals, the one that blew me away was Ellen Page. Her character in this movie goes through a growing process that is atypical at the age of 16 but she portrays it in a very believable way. Most movies that have the characters going through situations that make them grow up, force their characters to grow up too soon. This is deftly avoided in this movie. I think Ellen Page definitely deserves the nomination for Best Actress. I was stunned by her portrayal of something so sensitive in a comedic way. She is an exquisite actress.
Immediately after the movie, I gave it a rating of 11. However, after thinking about the movie for this review that rating has significantly gone up to a 16. There was excellent acting and the plot was interesting and entertaining. In short this movie had all the ingredients of an excellent movie.