Friday, May 02, 2008

Recent viewings 05.02.2008

Summary: Miss'em all, save for maybe Gone Baby Gone.

Into the wild
Based on the heartbreaking chronicle by Jon Krakauer (haven't read a turkey from the man, yet) about an unfortunate boy who buys into the "return to the wild" bullshit that a lot of young college boys do. My persona - and not very generous - opinion (both when reading the book and watching the movie) is had the guy had some legitimate adversity in his life, he probably wouldn't have gone looking for it. (See post above for the "I am free" graffiti by someone who's clearly suffering with the same affliction of a lack of adversity.)


Gad I hate Sean Penn as a director. You can just smell his ego wafting from the screen, and it smells like Brut aftershave with a hint of musty penis, as in the Lynard Skynard song "That Smell." He labors under a particular form of maudlinism that he probably sees as realism.

And this movie didn't need to be over 2 hours. Meh.

Read the book.

Dan in Real Life
A surprisingly boring misfire that obviously was trying to be one of those charming ensemble movies, but really just ambles along until the obvious conclusion where he gets the girl (and if you think that's a spoiler, bless your heart and I'm sorry).

The mom character especially stuck out as a character of fiction. Every word that comes out of her mouth is either contrived, or mean, or both. See, Dan is a widower, and yet she sticks him in the laundry room by himself (instead of his kids) when the whole extended family gathers at the patriarchal/matriarchal homestead. No one, including the mother, says anything nice to him. They accuse him of being talentless, yet he's the only person in the family talent show who can do something. And all of their advice to him is bad.

If that's Dan's real life, I feel sorry for he poor bastard.

Gone Baby Gone
Now, Ben Affleck is going to be a good director if he keeps this up. Unlike Penn above, he keeps his dick away from the proceedings, tells the story, and tells it well. Kevin Smith has said that Affleck is one of the smartest guys in the business and that he could really do anything he wants to and succeed. I think I believe him.

The only misfire is hiring his brother as the lead. Casey just doesn't have the charisma to carry such a big role.

Any movie with a "child in peril plot" has to go a long way to win me back, btw, and this one barely did it. Folks like me who just don't enjoy that kind of a premise should just skip this one.

The Brave One
This is essentially Jodi Foster's crack at being Travis Bickel in Taxidriver. A very flat-footed and poorly thought out movie.

One especially cringe-inducing montage was in the beginning where Foster's fiance and she are attacked by thugs. They cut back and forth between the beating and the couple in bed making love. There is no clear reason ever given why this is done. It has no payoff later. And it just yanks you out the narrative to wonder, wtf?

Skip, skip, skip.


Anonymous said...

Dude! I've got to stand up for Sean Penn directing Into the Wild. Could you offer any more specific criticisms of Penn's direction other than that you don't like the smell? Any particular scenes, framing, lighting choices, anything at all that stuck out as bad? Because I can point to a lot of things that stuck out as good:

1) The small stuff: the text from the kid's diary overlaying the screen in the opening scenes; the soundtrack; the narration that helps the story along without ever becoming obtrusive or annoying; and the fact that he avoids the trendy habit of modern directors of moving the camera around a lot.

2) The scenery shots. Most of the Alaska scenes were actually filmed elsewhere (much cheaper) but Penn included enough wildly beautiful mountain and forest shots to convey the setting. Also the Arizona scenes - he even made the desert look beautiful.

3) Casting choices. You remember that old hippie guy with Catherine Keener? He's not an actor - he was the boating consultant that they hired to help with the kayaking scenes. Penn looked at him and listened to him talk and offered him the role. And it worked. For that matter, I can't gripe about any of the real actors here. For example, I've never particularly liked Vince Vaughn, but he actually fit into his role as the cocky but reasonable farm crew chief. Given that some of the actors here have given inferior performances elsewhere, you've got to figure that part of the reason for their success here is the director.

4) For that matter, you've got to give Penn major props for getting the kid's family to agree to help with this thing, even to the point of having his real sister do some of the narration. I can easily picture a typical Hollywood director coming across to normal people as arrogant, condescending, dismissive, or all three at once. He clearly did not.

Criticize the actual story here all you want (and I agree that the kid was probably an arrogant and self-focused brat, unworthy of having his life story told by anyone outside his family), but the fact remains that Penn did a superb job of telling the story, which after all is what he was hired to do.


Yahmdallah said...


Sure. **** SPOILERS FOLLOW ****

I didn't like the way he framed everyone's faces near the beginning. It was handheld, too close, and too obvious on the attempt at symbolism. "They're boxed in. He's feeling claustrophobic."

Too many showy "Look ma! I'm directing" stylistic choices, like the one above.

The length was just pure indulgence. There were too many scenes that lingered over-long (a common trait of a director in love with himself - every frame is brilliant). A good half hour could've been cut from the film, and it would've made it better.

Penn seemingly has no sense of humor, either. There are no real humorous moments in the film. Tragedy is always better leavened with a little humor. And it did exist in the source material.

And the final shot, when we see the kid die with a rapturous smile on his face. I think that was egregious editorializing, and it undermined the truth. That kid died in an ugly way, and to beautify it seemed like a lie.

Props, of course, for a couple things you mentioned: the scenery shots were good, the kid's diary floating past, and I like that he had the family so involved.

Compare it to Affleck's much more assured direction of "Gone Baby Gone". Not a lot of waste. Nothing that draws attention to itself as a film technique (that I recall anyway). He even had to do the Rashomon thing were he had to film overlapping, differing memories on the same event, and he did it without "giving things away" or seeming contrived.

There! That's the word that coins it for me for Penn's directing: Contrived.

Anonymous said...

Well, it looks like we're just going to have to disagree. I'll grant that the film is too long, but I will not grant a lack of humor. There were several moments where I laughed out loud: like when the hippie said, "That poor girl's about ready to vault herself onto a fence post." Or the lady at the homeless shelter who wants to help him until she says, "Your name is . . . Alexander Supertramp?"

That rapturous smile on the kid's face when dying was the result of him thinking about returning to his family. He had spent two years freeing himself from all human connection - even to the point of turning down a heart-throbbingly beautiful girl who offered herself to him - but in the end he wrote "Happiness not real unless shared" and died thinking about his family. This is not the editorializing you describe.

Anyway, I probably need to rent Gone Baby Gone. Haven't seen Affleck directing anything yet.


Yahmdallah said...

Alas, we will.

But thanks as always for bringing an alternative view, dude.