Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Academy is Confused

I was really confused by the Academy choices last night. Could I have been more off on my choices?

Anyway, here's a review of 'The Lives of Others.'

The Lives of Others presents its audience with a compelling story that is far more relevant to our times than we’d like to admit. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has struck artistic gold with his Oscar contending, directorial and screenwriting debut. The skill of this filmmaking is terrifying in its own way as it forces us to think, to put ourselves in morally ambiguous situations and compels us to see the both the humanity and the inhumanity in each of us.

Donnersmarck has proven himself as a master story teller as he delves into the dark world of Socialism, East Berlin, and espionage. The story follows Stasi (German Secret Police) Captain Weisler (Ulrich Muhe) as he tries to determine the loyalties of playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) who has drawn attention to himself by being the only non-subversive playwright in Eastern Germany. Dreyman is involved with stage actress Christa-Maria Seiland (played sensually by Martina Gedeck) who, unbeknownst to Dreyman, is involved with culture minister Hempf. In his own plot line, Hempf is attempting to have Dreyman removed from the picture so that Seiland will become his own.

Donnersmarck uses this main storyline to weave a complex tale that certainly isn’t lacking in moral dilemmas. Donnersmarck poses some very interesting questions that can’t be answered simply. What is art really worth and what are we willing to sacrifice for its existence? Where exactly does government overstep its bounds in the name of protection of its citizen and in the name of the state? But most importantly, we see Donnersmarck’s belief that over great odds, humanity can triumph over even the evils of Socialism.

Despite these ever present, important themes, Lives doesn’t fail to deliver the goods on screen. Donnersmarck shows his skill at building palpable tension in one particular scene at Stasi headquarters. In an attempt to bring the equality Socialism to all levels of life, Weisler and another officer sit next to low level Stasi office workers. Without noticing the commanding officers, one of these young men starts to tell a joke about the then GDR leader, Erich Honecker. Upon realizing the step out of bounds, the young man backtracks quickly as the officers confirm this was a career ending move for him. The intensity at this moment could be cut with a knife. In other, lesser films, scenes like this can seem campy, overdramatic and unbelievable. Donnersmarck uses these chilling moments to shine as the audience is sucked into the overwhelming terror of such a dictatorship.

The true brilliance of the film comes in watching the complexity of the characters and the changes they go through. The no-frills screenplay allows us to see true human drama in a way that’s obviously not contrived. On top of these accomplishments, Donnersmarck manages this without drawn out action scenes, without gratuitous violence or sex. Don’t get me wrong, the gritty love story between Dreyman and Seiland is one of the main, and most compelling story lines that keeps the audience interested.

As we follow this masterpiece, the viewer becomes a part of both the Stasi and a part of the underground resistance. We understand the decisions made by both parties and this is what makes The Lives of Others so compelling. Watch this movie. Don’t be afraid of the subtitles, and you’ll be vastly rewarded.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Top Oscar Picks

This is last second, but I thought I'd post my picks for tonight's Oscar ceremony before I went off to the Oscar party. So, here they are:

Best Picture: No Country For Old Men

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)

Best Actress: Julie Christie (Away From Her)

Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bordem (No Country For Old Men)

Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There)

Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody (Juno)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men)

Best Directing: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)

I certainly don't agree with some of these, but Academy politics dictate that these will be the winners.

Here, in my opinion are the should-be winners:

Best Picture: There Will Be Blood

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)

Best Actress: Laura Linney (The Savages)

Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bordem (No Country For Old Men)

Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There)

Best Original Screenplay: Tamara Jenkins (The Savages)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Christopher Hampton (Atonement)

Best Directing: I honestly don't know who was a better director this year, Joe Wright, who wasn't even nominated for Atonement, or Paul Thomas Anderson with There Will Be Blood.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oh my

If you choose to watch the video below, just be warned, it's sad.

Parts of me like to think that this is part of a movie because this couldn't really exist right?

Other parts of me think, this isn't really what I watch at 5 in the morning for entertainment, right?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Long Live Radiohead

Enjoy this tidbit from Radiohead's latest webcast.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Damn the Man

I'm not even really sure I have a subject for a blog here. I was hoping to bitch about school, but it just sounds so whiny and self-indulgent. I am however facing a peculiar problem in my film class. I chose the class because it's title, 'Writing About Film and Theater.' Film is something I'm definitely interested in. Obsessed really. So much so, I find the lines blur sometimes between real life and reality. Is this healthy? Probably not.

I also enjoy writing about films. I don't know why. It doesn't matter. Either way this class made perfect sense. I knew it would be intensive, being an honors 300 level course, but I'm up to it, I review at least a movie a week on my own volition, so why not get a grade for it?

Here lies the problematic situation though. I've never wanted to be so involved in the learning process before. I actually want to be an over-achiever. Going to class is/was exciting. However, despite my best efforts made in class and out, I'm thwarted time and time again by my professor.

After a month of not writing anything, not watching any movies, or patronizing the theater, I finally submitted to my professor some reviews I did on my own. I asked not that they be graded, just that she make some comments on my voice, style and reviewing capabilities. She never responded to this e-mail. After trying to discuss it with her in class, I received some sort of non-committal brush off and still, there's no response.

I had a question about some of our assignments, how I could do them, what ways would be best, she never responded to my e-mail or voicemail.

What am I supposed to do about this? I actually want to acquire knowledge and I'm getting shut down. I've finally decided to stop asking questions, stop trying to be an active participant and do whatever is asked of me through the syllabus. This actually is kind of a buzz kill, making this class feel like some sort of general ed like physical science. And who's fault is it? I honestly don't know. Maybe it's me, maybe I'm going about things wrong. Maybe the professor just has trouble communicating with me, maybe I'm just meant to stop bitching about it.

We finally had our first assignment over the weekend. We were to attend BYU's latest production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and write a two to three page review of the performance. The play was ridiculous. I had to sit through three hours of slap-stick physical comedy that even John Heder would be ashamed off, not to mention break-dancing fairies, more than obvious racist tones of the play, and actors that turned Shakespeare's iambic pentamenter into this sing song-y children's nursery rhyme recitation. Even though I know my professor thought 'it worked in a lot of ways,' I made my opinions known in my review. It will be interesting to see if I'm graded on my ability to write, or on my abilities to agree with the professor.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Too Little Too Late

Sundance has been over for a week now. I went through this weird withdrawal/movie fatigue phase after it was all done. I was confused when I'd get up for the day, or after I'd get off work and there was no direction for me. I wasn't supposed to hop in my truck and drive to the mountains to see movies. I had nothing to do. Well that's how I felt anyway. I eventually found other things to do. I rediscovered 'Celebrity Rehab,' 'I Love New York' and various other VH1 productions. I did a little homework and I even started reading for pleasure.

I ended up seeing eight movies, all of varying degrees of quality. I think I've waited too long to write anything coherent about the films and I'm debating whether to even try.

First was Michael Haneke's remake 'Funny Games.' It was disturbing. Horrifying. The acting was brilliant. But I quickly remembered why the original had made such an impact on me: it's one giant slap in the face for seeking violence as entertainment. And as well made as it was, and as effective as it was as a social commentary, it's not a fun watch. The only disappointment I took with me as I left the theater is that the movie was a carbon copy of the Austrian version. The same shots, the same script, same soundtrack. I'm not sure what I was expecting. Maybe Haneke was completely satisified and felt no need to change. I guess I expected him to use the past ten years to some how build on his ideas or maybe I expected a change of opinion. Who knows? I've posted the trailer's at the end of this blog of both the Austrian and American versions. That terrifying, feral, howling song by John Zorn and Naked City that can be heard in the Austrian trailer is also heard in the American version. It's a shame they didn't use it in the trailer.

The truly disturbing element of the movie is how Haneke makes the viewer feel complicit with the 'bad guys' that terrorize the victim family. Although the majority of violence takes place off the screen, Haneke focuses the camera on the reactions of the nearby family members that are forced to watch which takes violences out of it's glamourous video game mode and turns on the humanity. What actually made me disgusted and angered in the film is this: at the points in the movie that are truly the most hopeless and sadistic, the parts that really make you feel deseperation, the audience surrounding me laughed. In one particular scene, immediately after the mother and father of the family watched their son murdered, the mom gets ready to go for help (the father was crippled by the villians). The father sobs uncontrollably and askes his wife to forgive him for not being able to protect 'his family. Heartbreaking, yeah? The other Sundancers thought this was hilarious. Haneke's point was that society has turned into this weird, soulless, entertainment whore that feeds off violence as entertainment and even worse, no one seems to feel that there's anything wrong with this. Towards the end of the film, the mother asked why the boys won't just kill them and end this, to which they answer: You mustn't forgot the importance of entertainment. In the Austrian version of the same scene, the boy answers, 'We haven't reached the length of a feature film yet!' Some may feel that this opinion is unjustified, but I was one hundred percent convinced that this is true as I saw people eating their Milk Duds and laughing at the torture and murder of an innocent family.

So, there are seven more, but I don't think I can invest the time, and I think it's probably boring to read about anyway. However, two other movies definitely deserve mention: Alan Ball's 'Towelhead,' and Clark Greg's 'Choke.' Both have been purchased, so I'm sure everyone will have the opportunities to see them. Be warned, they'll both probably have to have things cut out of them to keep an R rating.

Well, as bitchin' as this is, The Flavor of Love is on.

Oh, and New Kids on The Block are back together. They have a new album coming out.