Sunday, April 26, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd: 19th Century Soap Opera...In a Good Way

It really bugs me when people get all down about "the world of today" and how people eat up things like the lives of the Kardashians or the latest Lifetime movie. Honestly, people have always had a flare for drama; it's not something that's limited to poor taste today. Women used to get flak for reading too many novels including works like Far From the Madding Crowd, a movie that basically plays out like an 1870s soap opera (much to my delight!).

When we first meet Bathsheba Everdeen (not to be confused with Katniss), she's helping out her aunt on their farm. Bathsheba is a headstrong girl, unusual for the times, and likes to do whatever she wants. When she meets Gabriel Oak, a neighbor, they seem to strike a chord with one another and he promptly asks her to marry him, but she declines. Not long after, they have a reversal of fortunes, with Bathsheba inheriting her uncle's farm, and Gabriel becoming a worker for her. The movie then follows her as she makes terrible romantic decisions with a soldier and a gentleman, and Gabriel has no choice but to be her friend and offer her advice.

Lolz dating hasn't been invented yet.

One of the really neat things about this film is how progressive it is for a period piece (which, it must be noted, may or may not be due to artistic license taken with the original material, the novel Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy). Many examples of this kind of era drama end up punishing the feminine protagonist for being wayward or careless with romance, but it's nice to see that while Bathsheba makes a lot of different mistakes that affect her wild personality, she escapes unscathed for the most part. And for being set in the 1870s, it's impressive that she takes charge of the farm that was given to her in the same manner that most men would. I found this really refreshing.

Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.

But again, the driving delight in this movie is its overblown drama. It involves love triangles, untimely death, fakeouts, honor, jealousy, and everything that one might find in a trashy novel. But it's executed pretty well. When she meets the soldier, she's taken by his devil-may-care attitude and soon becomes smitten. But on the other side of the coin, her neighbor Mr. Boldwood can offer her the stability that every woman at this time would've wanted. What's a mid-19th century girl to do!?

If Nicholas Sparks had been around in the 1870s, he could have written this piece. But the fact that it's set 150 years ago keeps it from getting overly sappy and dragging. The sets, cinematography, and especially the great acting by Carey Mulligan keep a delightfully unrefined tale from getting stale, predictable, and eye-roll inducing. And anything set in the English countryside is going to be gorgeous.

7 outa 10 for this chick; but you might not love if you're not into romantic drama.

Monday, April 13, 2015

True Story: The Rules of Writing and the Meaning of "Truth"

I'm just gonna say it: it's weird to see Jonah Hill and James Franco in roles where they're not telling inappropriate jokes and romping into each scene kicking up mayhem. However, they both seem to hold their own in True Story.

And they're not even telling potty humor jokes.
Hard to believe, I know.

Hill plays Mike Finkel, a writer for the New York Times. When Finkel compromises the verity of a story that he's written, he's immediately fire from the famed newspaper. But not long after he's moved back to Montana (who the hell decides to move to Montana, btw?), he receives a strange phone call. The man on the other end informs him that a child murderer has been arrested and that he was found to be using Mike Finkel's own name. Finkel then meets this killer, Christian Longo (Franco), and decides that there may be something to be discovered here. He then dedicates himself to the task of attempting to tell Longo's own version of the story. With a book deal in the mix, he may be able to salvage his writing career. But getting close to Longo proves to blur the lines of truth. Can he really trust this guy? And what is it about him that reminds Finkel so much of himself?

Honestly, I was impressed by these two performances. Franco has a tendency to act in a variety of roles and Hill is starting to get more and more attention with each movie that he comes out in, but these roles were pretty tricky to nail and both actors come out on top. They're deceptively subtle, each of them. Hill is believeable as the ruined journalist looking for a way out and finding it in a man who is creepily like himself. And Franco's likeability sustains throughout almost the entire film, until you get towards the end and the horror of what he's done resurfaces.


The movie's big question seems to be about telling the truth. Finkel gets fired from the NYT because he's embroidered upon a story about impoverished young children in Africa in order to buy them more attention (he says). And then the rest of the movie is dedicated to trying to figure out whether Longo is innocent or not, through his 80-page letters, deep conversations, and other interactions with Finkel. It isn't until the story begins to taper off that we start to realize the true character of Longo, and that makes the end of the movie pretty damn creepy.

The title and backstory of the movie are also delightfully meta. The story of Mike Finkel and Christian Longo is incredibly true. But is True Story really a true story? How true is it? How much can we trust the verity of biopics and stories that claim to be true if they're spun into a form that's meant to entertain and engage as much as it is to inform? And it's those questions that make the film so thought-provoking.

Good stuff and hats off to Hill and Franco. 7 outa 10.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

It Follows: Pretty Scary, But Still Not As Scary as I Heard

If there's one singular thing that constantly ruins movies for me, it's hype. The sentence "THIS IS THE BEST MOVIE I'VE EVER SEEN." is a one-way ticket to Less-Impressed Town. And I'm sorry to say that this is A BIT of the case with It Follows. But let's discuss what it's actually about, shall we?

It Follows is the tale of a girl named Jay. Jay has gone out on a few dates with a guy named Hugh and things seem to be going pretty well, until the first time they sleep together. After she gets chloroformed and tied to a chair, Hugh explains to her that he's "passed it on" to her, that she'll start getting followed by something. It can be a stranger or it can be someone close to you, it can look like anything, but it will follow you. It's slow, but it's smart. You can outrun it for a little while, but it will find you. You can pass it on to someone else but if it kills them, it comes directly after you. And the rest of the film follows her actions as she and her friends try to outsmart, outrun and hopefully outwit it.

First of all, I can see why this movie is getting so much hype. In the horror genre, it's hard to break out of the cheesy-scary/super gory movies and into ones that haunt your mind for hours or even days afterward. It Follows is successful in that it creates a feeling of deep unsettledness. Everything in the movie is just a little off. From the difficulty that you have as the viewer in trying to place what time period it's set in, to the jarring soundtrack, to the unexpectedness of how pretty much everyone accepts and believes Jay's story. The movie harkens back to horror movies from the 80s and 90s in its cheesy synth soundtrack, but gives a definitive flavor of bored hipster that's decidedly present. The resultant mash-up is intriguing stuff. It sets a tone of all-over "strange" that makes the film even more disturbing, and for that I have to give them props.

It's also nice to see a throwback to themes from old horror movies like Halloween, in which people are being followed but are refreshingly aware that they are being followed and should be on guard. The director, you can tell, also took pains to not make any of the characters overly emotional, making the blank character of the monster even harder to distinguish from Jay's real friends. This, I think, is what has so people freaked out about this movie, and which had me jumpy and looking over my shoulder upon leaving the theater. The fact that a predator can so easily blend in is a large part of why it's so scary in the first place. Is it going to take the shape of your friend? Your mom? A total stranger? The anticipation kills you. And nothing is creepier than the feeling that the people you love aren't really who you think they are -- especially when these entities have it out to kill you.

But while I really appreciated the fact that this movie is so different, and that there's definitely something to be said for that incredibly uneasy feeling of being followed, I have to say that I didn't find the movie totally terrifying. Or at least not as terrifying as I had heard.

Horror is such a tricky genre. There are so many things that scare so many different kinds of people. If invasion and stalking are your main bugaboos this will probably scare the shit out of you. But that's not really something that terrifies me. Maybe that's one of the reasons I feel the need to disagree with all the critics.

The lack of real character development and dynamic in this also struck a bit of a dissonant note for me. Being a sort of patchwork quilt of indie horror and Wes Anderson throwback, the movie ends up seeming like the Napoleon Dynamite of horror. The characters don't make a ton of sense, the setting is kind of bewildering, and it could very very easily turn into a TV horror movie from the early 90s at any moment.

I will say, though, it did have me pretty paranoid walking home.

7.5 outa 10. Points for being different.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Play Misty for Me: Hope You Like the Sound of Mouth Breathing

I'M ALIVE! And I'm still watching things, I swear. I'm just not having my usual energy levels because I got a new job (cue the "Hallelujiah Chorus").

Anyway, since I'm trying to get back on my Netflix DVD game and I've been catching up on some old flicks that I had heard about a trillion times, I decided to watch Play Misty for Me, one of Clint Eastwood's first movies (bless).

Aw, lil guy.

The plot follows suave radio DJ (like there is such a thing) David, a guy who lives near Carmel in what I can only assume is California. After meeting a nice woman named Evelyn at a bar, he takes her back to her place, they have a talk about having "no strings attached," have a one night stand, and call it a day -- OR DO THEY? So Evelyn keeps on popping up all over the place, namely David's house, and cooking him food, buying him stuff, etc. And David's starting to get a little creeped out at this point, so he tells her to back off. But she doesn't. As the plot continues, Evelyn becomes less and less passive and more and more obsessed with getting to David, who she thinks is her one true love.

Don't they just scream true love?

The whole "stage 5 clinger" storyline is far from new. Leave Her to Heaven, Fatal AttractionMisery, Single White Female, and a whole bunch of other ones. What is it that we find so fascinating about people that don't take "I don't love you" as an answer?

Whatever the answer is, Play Misty for Me is indulgent, dated drama. It's not bad, but it was hard not to laugh at it for being so over-the-top at points.

On that note, Play Misty for Me is pretty dated, coming from a modern perspective. Why is David so into jazz? Were radio DJs really that cool back then? Did everyone have a blind hair stylist for this film?

Seriously, what's happening here...

One thing that really stood out (and drove me BONKERS) was the sound editing in this. While you could make the argument that the sound of heavy breathing over action shots is interesting editing, I'm gonna call it like I see it -- no one likes mouth breathing. And Evelyn's craaazy shrieks against the quick zoom-ins to Clint Eastwood's eyes are just so cliche for this time period. It's hard not to giggle.

Also what the heck is up with the soundtrack here? Why is Evelyn, a girl who seems pretty fashionable for all her crazy, so into terrible jazz? Why is David so into terrible jazz? Was terrible jazz a thing that was cool in the past? Were these the original hipsters? What is happening??

Play Misty for Me. Or, y'know...dont'...whichever...

5 outa 10.

"You're not dumping me, Buster Blue-Eyes!" I just...can't. Also, what is this music??