Wednesday, January 30, 2008

MYOFNF #4: Weekend (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

I can hear the howls of outrage from film snobs tear across the internets. "Weekend? You're diving into Godard and you start with Weekend? That's from his late-60s crazy Maoist phase! Why not Breathless? Why not Band of Outsiders? You suck, internet-based movie douche!" Yes, yes, I'm well aware that Godard's most revered films are his earliest ones, but having read a little about Weekend, I have to say it interested me more than a lot of the other options. There's a long-ass tracking shot (one of my favorite things in film) and hand-handed leftist agitprop. I'll get to Breathless later.

This is the first film I've watched during this project that really hit me in the gut. Godard is saying, in no uncertain terms, that western consumer society is dying, that cinema is dying, and that the only thing that will come afterwards is a hellish, blackened terrain of cannibalism and inhumanity. He obliterates every rule of narrative storytelling, breaking the fourth wall, grinding the film to a halt to allow characters to spout Marxist rhetoric for minutes on end, almost daring the viewer to stop watching. Godard is telling the audience that every cheap thrill they yearn to experience at the movies is trite and meaningless and the very format of narrative cinema an enabler of exploitation. Then, there are stunning scenes of visceral power, especially that amazing tracking shot of a massive traffic jam in the French countryside. It all feels incredibly dated and vitally relevant at the same time. Obviously, the political and artistic gotterdamerung that Godard envisioned hasn't happened yet. Still, watching the scenes of frantic, greed-crazed middle class boors mindlessly crashing their cars into each other it's hard not to think of the petrol-stinking corridors of America's exurbs. It's like an arthouse Deathrace 2000. Watching Weekend makes me want to watch those early, classic Godard films, but it also, perversly makes me want to watch the supposedly unwatchable early-70s left wing propaganda he made. Clearly, Godard was going through some sort of artistic and political crisis during the making of this movie, and watching someone with a clear genius for film technique try to smash the very notion of film in order to satisfy his raging urge to smash capitalism is exhilerating.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Michael Clayton

If There Will Be Blood sports the best closing scene of 2007, then Michael Clayton certainly takes the gold for best film opener. Over images of the darkened offices of powerhouse Manhattan law firm Kenner Bach and Ledeen, a voice spins a manic monologue recounting his crisis of conscience as a litigator for the same firm. The viewer takes in the sleek, immaculate, cold rooms as they are being cleaned by anonymous janitorial staff while the urgent, near whispering voice speaks of the revolting horrors that are perpetrated when those rooms are occupied. The speech comes to a frantic climax as the image cuts from an empty conference room to one bustling with dozens of lawyers rushing to and from, presumably carrying out the same evils that the voice had moments before been so forcefully lamenting. The scene grabs you immediately, suggesting that the prestigious amenities that are the rewards for toiling for a powerful corporate entity can become a claustrophobic prison for those who begin to question the morality of their work.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that most of the world’s evil is generated “in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice." Tony Gilroy’s elegant, powerful directorial debut asks the question: how do these well-manicured men at the heart of bureaucratic wickedness live with themselves? He asks this question through a plot about corporate conspiracies that recall the post-Watergate paranoid cinema of The Parallax View and Silkwood, but Gilroy is less interested in plot mechanics than in the close observation of people who struggle to define their humanity while trapped in the gears of an inhuman system.

George Clooney stars as the title character, a fixer for Kenner Bach and Ledeen who specializes in helping the firm’s rich and powerful clients get out of personal legal difficulties. In his own words, he’s a “janitor,” a vastly better paid version of the men who vacuum the firm’s office floors at night. He is charged with the task of smoothing things out when Tom Wilkinson (the man behind the opening monologue), either suffers a nervous breakdown or experiences a moment of moral clarity, depending on the perspective. Wilkinson has been the lead defense counsel in a class action law suit against an agribusiness giant accused of poisoning hundreds of small farmers across the Midwest. Then, one day, he strips naked during a deposition and professes his love for one of the main plaintiffs. Clooney’s Clayton is brought in reassure the client, and to get Wilkinson back on the team. He is a man who has accepted his place in the corporate food chain by focusing on satisfying family obligations and distracting himself from his doubts with compulsive gambling. When Wilkinson suddenly questioning all of the underlying realities of their line of work, it forces Clooney to take a penetrating look at how what he does for a living impacts who he is as a person. The film takes place largely in chilly corporate environments: glass fronted office buildings, plush offices, the interiors of luxury sedans. Meanwhile, the camera focuses on the eyes of the people trapped in these spaces.

Tilda Swinton plays the closest thing the film has to a villain, the in-house counsel for the poison-spewing corporation, but even her character struggles under the weight of expectations and the necessity of keeping up appearances. Gilroy illustrates her unspoken terror by cutting between scenes of her confident public presentations to stockholders and interviewers and the panicky rituals of preparation she goes through in her sterile hotel room that precede these presentations. She compulsively practices her speeches in front of the mirror, eyes silently screaming. It’s no accident that the pantyhose she dons before one big meeting are control tops. Swinton is the mastermind of the conspiracy that propels the film’s plot, but the real bad guy is a faceless corporate machinery that essentially bribes people into ignoring their consciences.
Even with the shadowy corporation carrying out murders and surveillance, there isn’t much conventional suspense in Michael Clayton. The drama lies in watching the self-loathing tear these characters apart and waiting to see how they attempt to reconcile the demands of their humanity with the demands of their livelihood. Swinton and Clooney make this struggle compelling by presenting subtle gestures that suggest the turmoil of their minds. Clooney in particular is fantastic: his character keeps his feelings extremely close to the vest in his dialogue, but his wounded eyes tell another story. Only Wilkinson is allowed to bust loose and swing for the fences in a theatrical turn reminiscent of Peter Finch’s Howard Beale from Network. That’s as it should be: because he is no longer at constant war with himself, suppressing his ethical instincts out of greed and facile self-justification, he has the freedom to be fully human.

Score: 9.0


There is a scene halfway through Atonement that encapsulates a lot of the strengths and weaknesses of the film as a whole. It’s a five minute long tracking shot of a trio of dazed soldiers walking along the beach at Dunkirk before the British evacuation. The camera glides along, capturing carnivelesque scenes of surreal apocalypse, a menagerie of war-crazed humanity, without a single cut It’s a jaw-dropping set piece, gripping and expertly choreographed. And it doesn’t really work. While the shot itself is an astonishing technical achievement, the impact is undercut by an overbearing, generic orchestral score similar to one you’ve probably heard in hundreds of period romance and war films. Also undermining the impact is the fact that, like most of the scenes in the film’s fragmented second half, it doesn’t seem relevant to that which comes before or after.

The first half is another story. For its opening hour, Atonement is a model of narrative economy, insight and empathy. On a hot summer day on an English country estate in the mid-thirties, a wealthy aristocrat Cecilia (Kira Knightley) and groundskeeper Robbie (James McAvoy) confront the long-simmering romantic feelings they’ve been harboring for each other. Meanwhile, Knightley’s precocious, literary-minded sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan) stumbles onto the couple in a romantic clinch and makes a decision that causes irrevocable harm to everyone involved. The entire sequence is compelling. It’s propelled forward by deft editing that conveys depths of emotions and entire personal histories without a word of dialogue and a percussive score anchored by the jarring report of Briony’s Smith Corona.

Unfortunately, the film cannot maintain the momentum or focus of these scenes. The film jumps forward four years, when Robbie has been conscripted into the British Expeditionary Force in France and a remorseful Briony avoids entering Cambridge in order to do penance for her transgression as a military nurse in London. At this point, the film alternates between hallucinatory scenes that carry serious lyrical power, and surprisingly cliché romantic iconography. None of the scenes gel in relation to one another, with this disharmony culminating in an abrupt twist ending that negates much of what came before it. The twist reveals that the film is not really about the enduring power of love, but rather the enduring power of storytelling. It turns out that the real interest of the filmmakers, and presumably novelist Ian McEwan, upon whose novel the film is based, is the way that people tell themselves narratives in order to organize and give meaning to their lives, as well as the damage (and kindness) that can be done when people try to impose their imaginary narratives on those around them. This means that a lot of the more formulaic romance film moments have less to do with the relationships of the characters than in our fantasy notions of idealized romance. Still, the meta-fictional gloss doesn’t make it feel any less eye-rollingly familiar when Robbie runs behind Cecilia’s bus as it drives away, with violins swelling on the soundtrack.

Score: 7.9

Thursday, January 24, 2008

MYOFNF #2-3: The Bicycle Thief (dir. Vittorio De Sica, 1948) Stray Dog (dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1949)

These two landmarks of post-war world cinema have a lot in common. They both offer up textured sociological examinations of two defeated nations in the aftermath of World War Two. They both feature desperate young protagonists searching hostile city streets for items that have been stolen from them. Um, they're both in black and white?

Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief is a ground-level portrait of desperation and powerlessness in post-war Rome. The plot, a newly hired poster-hanger has his bike stolen, and tries to find it, serves mainly to give the viewer a glimpse of life on the edges of survival in the shadow of the Second World War. Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog also spends some time in the gutters and flophouses of post-war Tokyo, but the story of a young homicide detective trying to recover his stolen sidearm is put in the service of a surprisingly western rumination on fate. Kurosawa's film is essentially a film noir commentary on the social displacement and anxiety caused by the war, coupled with a strongly existentialist worldview. De Sica, on the other hand, is more interested in documenting the corrosive effect that poverty has on the human spirit. They're both interesting glimpses into the traumatic hellbroth of the post-war world and the radically altered social and spiritual climate that people found themselves navigating.

Next Up: Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

2007 DVD Review: The Ten

You know those guys from The State who made Wet Hot American Summer. You know how hilarious that movie was? Well, they made another one, and it's not as funny as the first one, but its still pretty funny. It's a series of ten short films based on the ten commandments...for some reason. What distinguishes the film is its complete, total, extreme devotion to absurdism. As soon as you think you've seen the most ridiculous thing, another, wildly more ridiculous thing happens. Not all, or even most, of the jokes work, but even the jokes that aren't funny are admirable for their mad vision. Highlights: Oliver Platt as a bad Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator pretending to be the father of a pair of black twins, a cartoon animal orgy, and a busload of children dying of radiation poisoning while lifesaving CAT scan machines lie hoarded in a pair of locked suburban homes. Winona Ryder fucking a ventriloquist's dummy, while kind of hot, is not actually funny. It's a vignette movie, and as with most vignette movies, it's uneven.

Score: 7.5


Cloverfield is a monster movie for the twenty-first century. There's the recreation of 9-11 iconography-the collapsing buildings, the crowds running from plums of smoke, I wonder what it must have felt like to watch this thing in NYC- and well as the wholesale embrace of digital technology. Not only is the entire film shot from the perspective of the digital camcorder of a New Yorker fleeing a monster attack, but the filmmakers smartly acknowledge the degree to which documenting our every move has become an unthinking habit. When the head of the Statue of Liberty comes bouncing down Spring Street, people are taking pictures of it with their cell phones before it even stops spinning. This awareness of the place of digital technology in our culture gives the film contemporary relevance. While past generations experienced historic events through print, or. more recently, television images, modern history is largely seen through the grainy lenses of digital camera and viewed on the internet. Recognizing the compulsive need to record our surroundings on film, and also the growing roll of amateur footage in shaping our relationship to catastrophe also goes a long way towards making the film's central conceit, that someone would keep their camera running during a giant monster attack, seem plausible. It also neutralizes the accusations of crass exploitation made by those who are uncomfortable with the 9-11 imagery: since 9-11 is the defining media event of this generation, any cinematic portrayal of mass terror will inevitably reference it.

Cloverfield can also lay claim to the mantle of the first 21st century monster movie due to its savvy use of the internet. Yes, there is of course the inevitable, and tiring, online hype and "viral marketing" fuckfest, but more interesting is the way that internet has been used as a secondary platform for the continuation of the film itself. All of the inevitably disappointing and awkward exposition that most films of this ilk are obligated to grind to a halt in order to deliver, has here been completly excised and placed on-line. If you really want to know why a giant monster is trashing New York City, there are plenty of websites to consult for the answer. Meanwhile, the film itself can dispense with the clunky scene where some government scientist stops the action all together for ten minutes to let the audience know what is going on. Not only does this model allow for tasty viral marketing opportunties, it also ends up streamlining the film for maximum efficiency of awesomeness.

And yes, friends, Cloverfield is pretty awesome. The verite style creates a sense of identification with the protagonists that most monster movies fail to achieve. Usually, when a giant creature destroys a city, there are tons of crane and helicopter shots that make the viewer identify more with the monster than with the tiny, scurrying humans running beneath its feet. That approach can look good, but it isn't that scary. Conversely, keeping the camera in the hands of one of those scurrying humans, looking up to get a glimpse of the massive, terrifying creature twenty stories above, can't help but leave the viewer feeling vicarious vulnerability and fear. The initial scenes of the creature attacking are sheer terror, as is a later scene in a darkened subway tunnel that ranks in my personal pantheon of unnerving film sequences. The characters are thinly sketched, but that doesn't really matter in the context: the real protagonist isn't on screen: it's the viewer. The character holding the camera, yuppie chucklehead "Hud," is only there to provide some humorous commentary. He's essentially Duke Nuke'em, but instead of spouting ripped off Bruce Campbell catchphrases, he's spitting some surprisingly funny, realistic comic relief. Like a first-person video game, the viewer fills the void at the center of the screen with their own persona. This approach worked to an extent in Blair Witch Project, but is more fruitfully applied here. Since there is an actual budget that allows for some pretty kick ass special effects, there's more to look at than three stammering improv class drop-outs walking in circles for an hour before something interesting happens.

For all of the visceral thrills on display, though, I was left, as I usually am while watching an apocalyptic horror movie, wanting to spend more time with the harried, gun-toting military grunts than with the dazed, largely useless civilians. Rather than leaving me unsatisfied, though, it really just left me hankering for more. Let's get some sequels in the pipe, pronto!

Score: 8.4

Saturday, January 19, 2008

MYOFNF #1: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (dir. Luis Bunuel, 1972)

My first foreign classic of the year is Luis Bunuel's piece of deadpan absurdism. It's a series of largely plotless vignettes about five content upper class French drug dealers (and one crooked South American diplomat) trying to have dinner together while constantly being interrupted by complications of escalating weirdness. It's genuinely funny, the satire of upper class mores cutting. The characters don't really stand out as individuals, but that's the point: their monumental complacency has melted their personalities into oblivion. The only way they can continue to live comfortably while surrounded by such madness and cruelty is to keep their concerns and conversations as banal as possible. You can't live that way for long without it sandblasting the features right off of your personality. Bunuel directs with a mixture of elegant tracking shots and flat-footed stationary shots, and while there isn't a lot of emotional impact, there are several stricking tableau that prove substantially haunting: like the dinner guests finding themselves suddenly on a stage before booing audience members, and the recurring scene of the companions trudging silently down a country road, without a destination in sight.

American film it clearly influenced: early Steven Soderbergh, particularly Schizopolis.

Next: a double dose of post-war tumult and budding existentialism from Japan and Italy, a couple of countries that got their asses kicked: Akira Kurasowa's Stray Dog and Vittoria De Sica's The Bicycle Thief.

2007 DVD Review: 3:10 To Yuma

Many of the most well-regarded films of this past year dealt in some way with the images of the American frontier and man's* reaction to it. You had your neo-noir Western (No Country for Old Men), your revisionist Western (The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford), your West-as -metaphor-for-emotional-isolation Western (There Will Be Blood) and your West-as-metaphor-for-emotional-isolation-but-also-personal-liberation Western (Into the Wild). For all this wilderness and westy-ness, though, there was only one square-jawed, straight-shooting, old school Western released all year, James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma. This movie has a hell of a Western pedigree: it's a remake of a classic Glenn Ford film, which in turn was based on an Elmore Leonard short story. (Leonard was a very successful Western writer before he traded in sagebrush for city streets) Mangold does a good job of groking how Leonard uses dialogue to convey character and allow characters to size each other up. He's aided by Russell Crowe at his most rakish playing the bad-but-not-evil guy and Christian Bale projecting his usual glowering intensity as a struggling rancher who agrees to help escort Crowe to a prison train while being dogged by Crowe's gang of bandit pals. The film is made interesting by the way it handles one of the central questions of all Western films: how is order maintained in an environment with little enforceable law? The traditional answer of straightforward Westerns has been: through the rigorous maintenance of personal codes of conduct that transcend legality. 3:10 to Yuma echoes this consensus, but at the same time, the film takes pains to dissect just how and why these codes are transmitted and adhered to. The film also shows the essential madness at the core of these codes and the danger that they pose to those who insist upon adhering to them. At the same time, however, the film glows with respect for those with the courage to keep such codes, even in the face of certain death. The action elements of the film are pretty mediocre: the shootouts are competently portrayed, but the filmmakers seem too eager to keep the bullets flying. Action set-pieces pop up with mechanical regularity, and often without any rational justification. It's a shame, because the performances and dialogue are strong enough to hold attention in absence of constant leather slapping. In that way too, 3:10 to Yuma brands itself proudly as a four-square, no bullshit Western, if one with a bit more self-awareness than most.

Score: 7.6

* No, I'm not being sexist: all of these movies are sausage-fests.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Year of Foreign Non-Flops

Nathan Rabin, one of the stable of excellent film critics at the Onion AV Club, is just wrapping up a project that he began last January (just around the time that I started this here bolge) called My Year of Flops. Twice a week, Mr. Rabin has been watching films that failed commerically and critically upon their release and reevaluating them. It's been some of the funniest, most insightful pop cultural writing I've read in a while, and, of course, it pisses me off that I don't write that well, and that I didn't think of the idea first. What I'm going to do instead is something that will probably be much less interesting to readers, but hopefully pretty edifying to me. I like to think of myself as a movie fan, and as far as modern American cinema is concerned, I'm reasonably well versed. Like most everyone, there are huge chunks of film history, films from different eras, of different genres, etc, that I'm hopelessly ignorant of. While my biggest deficiency is probably movies from before 1960 (they're like Victorian novels: I just can't get into them), the deficiency that bothers me the most is definitely my lack of modern foreign film knowledge. Sure, I know the titles and, in many cases, the basic plot synopsis and artistic points of view, of a whole lot of seminal foreign films, but I haven't actually sat down and watched most of them. I don't usually go for New Year's resolutions, but this year I'm making one that I will stick with: I'm going to watch a different classic of world cinema every week for the next year and post my reactions here. Like Mssr. Rabin's project, there will be no rhyme or reason to the selections: whatever pops up next in my Netflix queue. Coming soon: Luis Bunuel's 1972 masterpiece The Discree Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Why start with this one? Well, I've heard it's really great, and the title is pretty neat. We'll see how that works out. Expect in the immediate future some Kurosawa, Herzog, Truffaut, Fellini, Godard, Rossollini, and, to mix things up, Alejandro Jadorowsky. Hopefully, a year from now I will be at least 52 times more pretensious.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Spoilers!

Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood deals with epic themes and settings: the emergence of modern American capitalism and religion on the wide-open California oil fields of the early twentieth century. What's remarkable about the film's approach is that these issues are largely pushed to the periphery of the frame. At the center of the frame, for nearly every shot in the this two and a half hour film are Daniel Day-Lewis's piercing, fiery eyes. The film is monomanically focused on the character of oil baron Daniel Plainview.

This is a radical departure for Anderson. His films tend to feature large casts of characters, all struggling to overcome their personal weaknesses and traumatic pasts and forge real connections with each other. There Will Be Blood never takes the focus off of Plainview, and his character arc is one of raging misanthropy and a repeated turning away from human trust and companionship. The viewer gets a long and harrowing view of the rocky outcroppings of Plainview's burning mind. Although larger issues of class, capitalism and culture are kept in the background, the film does offer a critique of capitalism that comes from a unique angle. While a character like Charles Foster Kane begins Citizen Kane as a young idealist who has his humanity sapped from him by his isolating wealth and growing power, Plainview starts out the film as an isolated, vengeful misanthrope, and it becomes apparent throughout the course of the film that he has sought out wealth and power explicitly to allow him to dominate those around him. Also, we see that his world-encompassing mistrust and contempt serve him very well in his frantic grasp for wealth.

The result is one of the most vivid and terrifying depictions of human misanthropy in film history. Jonny Greenwood's dissonant score suggests the demonic, and Anderson's camera captures stark shots of desolate California brush and an oil fire belching forth from the earth like a portal to hell with a grace and restraint his previous films have lacked. In the end, though, the film is mesmerizing because Day-Lewis is mesmerizing: it might be the most sustained, powerful performance I've ever seen. He is in almost every shot, and your eyes are drawn inexorably towards him, but at the same time the character is so closed off that he seems almost alien: his bizarre, mid-Atlantic accent certainly adds to that perception. What sense of the character the viewer does come away from is to be found in Plainview's relationship with his adopted son H.W. and his long-lost brother Henry. In these relationships, we see the constant battle within Plainview between his accumulated hatred of humanity and his real yearning for human connection. Now, whether that yearning is born out of an authentic desire for compansionship or a need to conform to the expectations of civil society is never made clear. It's just one of the many quandaries of the character that are left unanswered. After all, Daniel Plainview is a man who "doesn't care to explain" himself.

For all of Day-Lewis's bravura mastery of his role and Anderson's elegant set piece direction the film would not be nearly as haunting or powerful were it not for the brilliant, audacious and perfectly over-the-top final scene, in which the full flower of Plainview's rage and hatred come to bloom. In this scene, the damage that he has carelessly wrought on those around him, until now only hinted at, is made chillingly manifest. Plainview, rich and old and retired from the field of capitalist combat, has just disowned the son who provides him with his only tether to the human family. He is lying unconscious before a half eaten meal on the beautiful parquet floor of his mansion's personal bowling alley. He is in every respect a broken, deracinated husk of his former leonine self. Then, Eli Sunday, his old nemesis, comes into the room with a business proposition. What follows is a cinematic transformation as vivid, riveting and illuminating as any I've ever witnessed. As Plainview reveals himself to be the master of the situation and Eli realizesthe vulnerability of his position, Plainview grows monstrous before us, filling with vigor, rage and sadistic joy as the will to live drains out of Eli. Here we find Plainview in his moment of ultimate triumph: destroying another human being emotionally, spiritually and, in a act that is surely the happiest moment of Plainview's life, physically. This is where we find the only real use that Plainview has for the human race: they are his fuel. To vanquish people, to destroy them, to grind them beneath his heel is what sustains Daniel Plainview. It's the real reason behind his obsession with accumulating wealth and power: the better to eat you with, my dear. And, as befits a gentlemen of leasure, he calls for his butler to take away the remants of his meal when he's finished.

Score: 9.9

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2007 DVD Review: Shoot 'Em Up

Hey, Joe Carnahan, you know that movie you directed that came out in 2007? The one that seemed to promise balls-to-the-wall guns blazing action with hordes of hitmen blowing each other to hell for two hours? Y'know, Smokin' Aces? Well, I'm sure you don't need me to remind you that it sucked, and the few inspired action setpieces were spread extremely thin across ninety minutes of convoluted, pointless plot machinations and ludicriously extraneous character development. It's too bad you couldn't taken notes on the other action film released in '07 with an apostrophe in the title.

Yes, Shoot 'Em Up is everything Smokin' Aces tried and failed miserably to accomplish: namely, an action film that embraces everything that is ridiculous, awesome, and ridiculously awesome about action films, and cranks the whole mess up to eleven. Some have complained that all the BANG BANG BANG of this movie grows monotonous, but I disagree. Director Mark Davis does a great job of setting up a jaw-dropping piece of ballistic slapstick, then topping it in the next scene. It certainly doesn't hurt that Clive Owen is in his element as the hyper-efficient but cranky hero and Paul Giammatti's glorious scenery chewing makes a strong case that he should play the heavy in every single action film made from this point. Shoot 'Em Up is one of those strange hybrid films that seeks to both parody action tropes and glory in them. In at least one respect, it's more successful at this than another film of this type, Hot Fuzz. Now, in total, Hot Fuzz is a vastly superior film than Shoot 'Em Up, but for all of Hot Fuzz's brilliance, there really wasn't much actual action ass-kicking until the end. Shoot 'Em Up is essentially one long, escalatingly cartoonish gunfight, in which every death is rendered cool by the sheer inventiveness of the death, and the accompanying silliness.

One other note: just as CGI creatues are still too fakey to carry a film, CGI blood jets just aren't ready for prime time. Every film I've seen that features CGI blood is the lesser for it: as soon as that weirdly dark, pixel-rich splash hits the screen, the viewer is transported from a richly detailed cinematic realm to Castle Wolfenstein.

Score: 7.8

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


This film walks a tight rope between honest sentiment and self-conscious preciousness from start to finish, but it never falls off. Throughout the movie, I felt myself alternately connecting to the characters and annoyed by a surfeit of cutsey affectation, but never enough of either of those things to completely give myself over to the movie, or to reject it. Ellen Page's title character, while funny and charming, isn't really recognizably human. When the film really works, it's due to the relationship between yuppie adopting parents Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner: their interactions have the ring of truth, and the film does a smart job of undermining the audience's expectations of them. Bateman's character, in particular, is surprising and heartbreakingly human. He also provides a cautionary glimpse of what life looks like when you never let go of your youthful fixation on being "cool." It's a view that has a profound (if overly pat) effect on Juno, which goes a long way towards justifying some of the movie's more overbearing moments of glibness.

Score: 7.9