Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Armchair Film School #4

A word before I post my latest Armchair Film Review. My reviews do NOT follow the typical structure of many film reviews, where the critic provides detailed scene examples. I’ve strayed away from providing too many scene details, as I believe that it has the potential to ruin a thoroughly enjoyable viewing. There have been several occasions where I have read a review and then watched the film, only to have the impact of certain scenes dulled because I knew exactly what to expect or, even worse, was influenced by the critic who may have loved or loathed that particular scene.
I offer these reviews as a way of introducing films that people may want to add to their future viewing queue. My two cents belong in only my pocket, and won’t buy you very much. One man’s treasure trove is another’s waste deposit. Please feel free to offer your own thoughts on the films I’ve reviewed. The biggest goal for me is to learn from these movies, and feedback is a valuable learning tool.
The Lover
Rating: R
Genre: Foreign Drama
Dir: Jean-Jacques Anode
Length: 103 min
Year: 1992
Summary: This Oscar-nominated film explores the coming-of-age of a fifteen-year-old French girl sent off to boarding school in 1929 Saigon.

My 2¢: This film may be way too much for some to handle, as it blends the coming-of-age genre with a more sensual and erotic theme. The story unfolds romantically - not so much in terms of plot, but stylization- while making great use of its location. Although, at first, I had a problem with the exploits of the main characters, in time, I grew to understand their loneliness and longing, not just for love, but for their own defined place in this world. While the young girl will have years to come into her own, all seems lost for her lover, and it is this juxtaposition that makes for an engaging tale.
Plot: strong, though unsettling in nature. I didn’t feel that the film set out to shock, but to merely remain true and honest to the people who populate its world.
Character Development: I felt the heroine of the story was developed rather strongly. Although she is only fifteen, she has almost mastered the art of manipulation - and, at times, it felt as if she was reaching out and manipulating me, the viewer (in this particular case, the voyeur). The hero/lover of this story is complex; and while initially you want to despise him, by tale’s end, you grow to pity him, and not in a despiteful way, but in wishing his life could have turned out better.
Acting: Jane March’s (many will recognize her from The Color of Night) innocence was tainted as a result of this film, as she was later referred to as “The Sinner From Pinner” due to the many explicit sex scenes and the rumors it garnered. That aside, she gives an alluring and somewhat muted sensual performance. Tony Lung Ka Tai gives a strong performance as well - you hate and pity him with equal intensity.
Cinematography: The film makes great use of its location - filmed in Vietnam (though the sex scenes were filmed in Paris).
Why watch: An interesting interpretation of the coming-of-age story.
Why skip: If you follow American critics, they hated this one.
The Ugly Truth
Rating: R
Genre: Romantic comedy
Dir: Robert Luke-tic
Length: 96 min
Year: 2009
Summary: In hopes of gaining the man of her “dreams”, a fiercely independent-minded television producer allows a chauvinistic TV Host to manipulate her words and thoughts.
My 2¢: For me, the appeal for this movie was 110% in the visual - Gerard Butler is HOT! BUT, hotness alone cannot save a sinking ship; it only makes it burn faster. This movie had a lot of potential, but failed to get past the sometimes mean-spirited sparring between the two leads, failing to dig deeper into character development. This, oddly, felt like an anti-man and anti-woman film simultaneously. While the chemistry between Butler and Heigl was certainly there, the material made no solid use of these sparks. I would love to see these two paired up again with something that makes better use of their flirtatious natures.
Plot: It seemed a bit forced at times.
Character Development: Heigl’s character could have been fleshed out a bit more. Her backstory didn’t seem strong enough to compete with Butler’s. Also, a lot of her motivations just rang false and, at times, seemed forced.
Acting: As I mentioned, these two are natural flirts, and with a really meaty character script (does not have to be romantic, nor comedic), there could be some interesting play.
Cinematography: The camera work seemed to mimic that of live television, which played nicely against the plot; however, there were times when this was a bit jarring and momentarily took me out of the story.
Why watch: For the chemistry and potential. Those of you writing romantic comedy might want to pay close attention to the banter between these two - there are times it plays out well. Also, most important - GERARD BUTLER.
Why skip: Something just underneath is very mean-spirited. Heigl’s character is a walking contradiction - strong, fiercely-independent, desperate, needy, dreamer - that’s a lot going on.
Dear Zachary
Genre: Documentary
Dir: Kurt Keene
Length: 93 min
Year: 2008
Summary: A filmmaker attempts to document the life of his slain childhood friend in hopes that it may serve as a sort of scrapbook to friend’s son, who never met his father.
My 2¢: I had this film in my Netflix queue for a while; however, the subject matter was not something I felt eager to pull up a chair and relax with. Finally, I gave it a viewing, and I’m very glad that I did. What was interesting about this documentary was the process, and how unforeseen and tragic circumstances forced the film to grow organically. The filmmaker set out to create a “memory book” for a newborn who would never personally know his father, but ended up creating archival footage showcasing the justice system failing miserably. This is not an easy film to watch, but for those of you interested in criminal law and the justice system - it is a must. Just a little more info without giving a lot away, the suspected killer is the baby’s mother - and I use suspected very loosely.
Style: Very simple and basic - no camera work or auteur vision getting in the way of telling this important, but tragic, story.
Editing: It’s clear that a lot of changes had to be made from what was intended from the onset. I got the feeling that there was so much footage to go through, and I think the editor and filmmaker did an excellent job in presenting a cohesive and complete story.
Why watch: Here, real life is so much more fascinating, tragic and surreal than fiction could ever be. This film is raw, real and honest.
Why skip: The subject matter is heavy and does not have a happy ending. This film reminds the viewer how vulnerable we all are, and how life can change in an instant.
Art Copy
Genre: Documentary
Dir: Doug Pray
Length: 88 min
Year: 2009
Summary: A close look at the world of advertisement.
My 2¢: An interesting documentary on the history of modern advertisement and the big players who stepped-up the game. To be quite honest, I’d never heard of many of these companies, but I knew their work all-to-well. I wasn’t bored watching this, and I felt I’d been given a window into a world that had always been closed right in front of my eyes.
Style: Highly stylized and artistically filmed. There is a mixture of art and commerce at play here, and the camera work brings this theme home. At times, the style can be a bit intrusive, but it works for the subject matter and brings weight to the argument the film is attempting to make.
Editing: I think it could have done with a bit more editing - a lot of shots are way too long and slows down the pace at times. That being said, the editing is key, and crucial, to how well this story unfolds.
Why watch: If you love commercials, this is a behind-the-scenes look at those who created some of the most memorable slogans.
Why skip: If you skip right past commercials, this might not hold your interest.
Man Vs. Food
Genre:TV Reality Food Show
Year: Seasons 1 and 2 (2008-2009)
Summary: Adam Richman’s food road-trips.
My 2¢: Okay, this is my first TV series review (I may venture to do a few more), and for one great reason: it is so damn addictive. The fact that this man can eat all that he does and never passes out - pure entertainment. My son, the hubby and I watched back-to-back-to-back-to-back episodes nightly while we... you guessed it... ate dinner. Some episodes made me wish I was chowing down on what he was shoving down his throat, while other episodes just made me want to puke. I soon want to make a trip to Boston and Atlanta just for the eateries he’s showcased. I’m looking forward to the new season and some more of those infamous “ghost” chiles.
Style/Cinematography: It’s not just the food that’s showcased beautifully, but the locations and restaurant decor keep your eyes roaming the screen. Some of the cities are breathtaking, and many of the eateries are definitely conversation starters. The structure of the show works well, as he introduces the city/town, showcases two eateries and, at the third, performs a food challenge that he doesn’t always win.
Editing: Nothing special, very similar to many travel shows - quick, collage-style of locations in order to present a quick overview.
Why watch: If you are a self-proclaimed foodie - like me - this is a show you don’t want to miss. If, when you travel, you check out the best restaurants in town, then consider this show necessary research.
Why skip: If you’re not into traveling and you hate food shows, then skip.

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