fourteen actors acting

actor jesse eisenbergThe New York Times has an incredible feature on their website right now called Fourteen Actors Acting, wherein the aforementioned thespians act out classic screen types in gorgeously filmed black and white videos. No sound but the harrowing music by Owen Pallett. All shorts were directed by photographer Sølve Sundsbø.

Be sure to see the accompanying still photos from Sundsbø.
There's also a nice (though brief) behind-the-scenes about the whole project.

True Grit (1969)

I was kinda pumped the first time I saw the trailer for the Coen Brothers' take on True Grit. I figured, though, that I oughtta give the John Wayne classic a whirl, seeing as it earned him his only Oscar, and tread the ground of Charles Portis' 1968 novel first (I intend to read the novel next, actually).

So yeah. John Wayne, whose acting I typically find a bit tepid, was quite good in this movie. This movie with its gorgeous location shots. This movie with it's frequently awkward editing choices. This movie with the weak-sauce supporting job by Glen Campbell.

The stand out for me in this movie, however, was the character of Mattie Ross. Mattie, played reasonably well by Kim Darby, is a strong female lead. I may have been more than a decade from nativity when this film released, but there's still a relative dearth of wide-release movies* with female leads as competent and confident as Mattie. She's portrayed as independent, intelligent, business-savvy, and capable of keeping up with grizzled veterans of the open range. Bold and fearless, she's a teenager chasing down a killer without regard for her own life, but still looking out for her travel companions. I'm sure this was rare enough in '69, but it's a shame we don't see more characters like hers in contemporary cinema without it being an underdressed pistol-weilding Angelina Jolie.

The movie, overall, was pretty entertaining. John Wayne's dialog was fantastic. I really wish the directing and editing had been better executed, but it was still worth the watch.


* This inference based on the top 10 grossing films each year for the past five years.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

So I just got home from watching Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with Valerie. Two things must be said before anything else:

1. My wife is a trooper and sweetheart for actually wanting to see a comic book movie with me, especially one steeped in video game and indie rock nerdery.
2. Regardless of my feelings about this movie, you should go see it. It's a cinematic achievement for the visuals alone - not because it's broken new ground in special effects technology, but because it's extraordinarily creative in the translation of the books to the screen. While there are many direct visual quotations of certain panels, there are plenty of cleverly designed extras and embellishments along the way that help merge the worlds of fantasy and reality.

But what did I think? Well I loved it...mostly.

Besides the joy of seeing a beloved piece of visual literature on screen, I appreciated many of the acting choices, the directing glory of Edgar Wright, and the sound track. Seriously, there was some tasty and grungy-dirty rock in this movie. The pace was exhilarating without feeling rushed. The references to video games (both visible and audible) activated my nostalgia gland. There were movie and television tropes galore used simultaneously as parody and loving homage.

So why the "mostly"? Well it has to do with some of what didn't make it from the books to the screenplay. And no, I'm not hemming and hawing about picky details that I would have loved to see (THE EXISTENTIAL HORROR THAT IS HONEST ED'S, for example). This movie was nearly two-hours and it flew by. So it wasn't simply that anything was missing; important character-development elements were missing. Some missing details made a few relationships and decisions hard to believe in the movie. And there were crucial bits left out that relate to Scott's maturity and reconciliation with his own bad behavior. So while don't mind that it wasn't a 6-hour canon-fest, some of the emotional weight that makes you care about Scott, Ramona, et al. just wasn't there.

I wonder, to some extent, whether this problem comes from the film developing simultaneously with some of the later volumes of the book. I can only speculate.

Ultimately I enjoyed this movie, though. I'll likely see it again, and I'm quite likely to buy the movie when it comes out. It lived up to 99% of the hype in my mind, but that missing 1% means a lot to me.


black and white and Rome all over

As much as I love to cook, the main reason I've been such a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain is his writing. I've never eaten food prepared by the guy, but I've consumed his words on many occasions, and they're almost always fantastic. I'm also a huge fan of his show No Reservations on the Travel Channel. Here my love for food and travel mixes with my love of good film making as his crew has continued to push the boundaries of documentary television production.

With the love of his writing and No Reservations in mind, Mr. Bourdain's post today about the upcoming Rome episode is outstanding. The episode could end up being a flop, but reading about it was entertainment on its own. The care for detail, nerdy film references, the willingness to take risks even while riding high in critical acclaim, all rendered expertly in words that were a joy to read.

But I have a feeling the episode won't be a flop. I'm quite looking forward to it.

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Vicky Christina Barcelona is Woody Allen's 2008 romantic comedy and, man, it was kind of a snooze.

Valerie's latest arrival from Netflix gave me mixed feelings; on the one hand I was looking forward to wading in a bit more to Allen's catalog, but I wasn't particularly excited about this flick going in. I don't think that later sentiment interfered with my viewing experience. I think, rather, that a number of elements of the film got in the way...

It was no help that the film started off giving me more than a few bad first impressions. Intrusive and awkwardly-voiced narration. Characters who are more concept than real. An image of Barcelona that I might see in a tourist guide. Add to all that a script that felt like it was written by an advertising copywriter and acting like a community theater audition, and you have a recipe for a mostly wasted movie.

Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz both acted quite well and saved it a bit, but I was repeatedly dragged back to negativity by cheesy scene transitions (an awkwardly jarring dissolve...oi) and Scarlett Johanssen's bland rendering of the screenplay.

Maybe I just need to bump Annie Hall to the top of my list to see what the real fuss over Woody Allen is about.