Archive for the ‘Films of 2007.’ Category

Corbijn’s “Control” A Stand-Out Biopic

June 7, 2008

Sam Riley as Ian Curtis.
R, 122 minutes, The Weinstein Company

There is always speculation and a healthy amount of reluctance when any kind of biopic is looking to go into production, with worries of whether or not the easy wrong turns could be made and thus failing to do the subject rightful justice on screen. However, when it comes to musician stories specifically, despite all the reluctance and whatnot, the fact is that it’s an inevitable thing that they will all eventually be made, and luckily they have paid off into respectful films over the last few years. Hollywood in particular has found it to be a mission to grind out at least one legendary musicians biopic a year now, at least it seems that way, because films like Ray and Walk the Line are automatic Oscar bait. What we haven’t seen all that much is the independent perspective of a biopic, but it was certainly the point of view necessary for Control, a film showing us the fast rising and even faster crumbling world of Joy Division’s chief creator, Ian Curtis. Anton Corbijn, the widely appreciated music video director and photographer, was very much an ideal choice to adapt Deborah Curtis’ autobiography into a film. Not only was Corbijn an early collaborator with Joy Division on music videos and stills, he has a deep understanding and appreciation for the passion behind the tunes and words that Curtis poured from inside. Knowing the band personally is essentially the big factor that made Control such an authentic and respectful piece of film to experience, I’m assuming staying extremely true to Ian’s widow’s book of recollections.

Beginning in the early years of the 70’s while Ian was still in high school, Control takes the right steps in letting the audience become a part of the young man’s life and his surroundings. From the beginning on, the entire process gets a chance to breathe and never treats its subject like he’s something larger than life, like he is some “rock star” with overblown, limelight production that would make us feel like we are too small and underprivileged to actually know him. Whatever the budget on films like this may be, whether they be on the Hollywood or independent level of cinema, it is a make or break situation in the choice of casting the lead role, for no matter how sharpened the research or how well a film executes its storytelling, if the lead performer is not up to par in creating a believable resurrection of the subject, all will drop to failure immediately. In this film, arguably more than any other biopic I have ever seen, the lead actor not only completely embodies the main subject, but could easily pass for an identical twin of Ian Curtis, or more realistically, his unknown son. There are no adjectives or phrases or praises that could do Sam Riley’s performance in this film enough justice, and although he was rightfully rewarded at small film festivals upon the movie’s release, it will have to be seen in time if his portrayal will be recognized among the best in the history of the biopic. Corbijn shot the entire movie in black and white, and the sharpness of that combined with his stunning eye for the right angle at the right time, make the movie that much more of a singular experience.

Playing the true heart and soul and grounding figure in Ian’s life, Debbie Curtis, is the vastly underrated Samantha Morton in another strong performance. Marrying him and having a child at a very early age with Ian, Debbie stands strong, faithful and hopeful throughout all of the times, no matter if they were good (which there were plenty of) or scary (hearing of Ian’s epileptic fits while on the road) or awful (dealing with Ian’s affair stints with a foreign woman). The entire cast is extremely good all around in this film, but it is Riley and Corbijn’s passion to respect the humanity and vulnerability of Curtis, that makes Control a masterpiece and one of the best films I’ve seen in quite some time, ranking with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Atonement. If you’ve been a Joy Division fan for some time, they you already understand just how tragic the circumstances were that surrounded the demise of the troubled Curtis, but even for those who had little to no knowledge of the man’s story or the music beforehand, watching this film will both make you believe in true and honest filmmaking, as well as make you want to dig deeper into the work of Curtis and Joy Division. This film is alive and well, as if to say “I am not a movie, I am reality”. It’s the closest thing to reality as a biopic could possibly be.

Career Highlight for Cusack in “Grace Is Gone”

June 4, 2008

PG-13, 84 minutes, The Weinstein Company

Throughout the entire winter season for cinema in 2007, (which happened to be a mighty fantastic one!) the James C. Strouse film, Grace Is Gone, was always in my top five most anticipated. The performance by John Cusack, in which he plays a father of two girls who learns of his wife’s death in Iraq and must find a way to break the news to them, garnered a nice little bit of attention in the fall with even some talk of a possible first-time Oscar nomination for the tremendous actor. That buzz, coupled with the fact that it received both the Waldo Salt Screenwriting and Audience Award’s at Sundance a few months earlier, made me think that it would easily find its way across at least Arts theaters in the US. Sadly, that never happened. It received about as limited of a run as a movie with a solid lead actor and award talk could get, never opening anywhere near here and ultimately totaling box-office numbers that were hard-pressed to topple $50,000. To add to the pain of waiting, the video release was rather long compared to most of the swift-paced rush to shelves for most films nowadays, with about six months of time from theater to DVD player. Nevertheless, on May 27th I finally had no more reason to nag and complain, for Grace Is Gone was here. It is a film, and in particular a performance, that I will never forget.

Cusack plays Stanley Phillips, a middle-aged man whose face blatantly shows a dissatisfaction with himself, some disappointment because he is not the family member who is strapped up in military gear and fighting in Iraq. Due to limitations in his eyesight, Stanley was denied from serving at a very early age. But his wife, Grace, with whom he married after meeting in the military continues to serve, which leaves Stanley at not only a feeling of guilt but in the position of raising not only two children, but two girls, and by himself. There is no questioning the love he has for his family, it’s just the level of confidence he lacks in himself that’s what stopping him from handling the regular parenting things the way he could. Each day that Grace is absent from their lives is another day the girls grow older, and it becomes more difficult for Stanley to get a grasp on the entire situation. But he is doing his best, which is all he can hope to do until she comes back. When he is approached at his doorstep by two men who inform him of his wife’s death in battle, Stanley enters an understandable state of shock. When his children come home he attempts to find the right way to tell them, but instead reverts to spontaneous propositions that they’re not accustomed to seeing from him, in particular asking if they want to take a sudden road trip to a popular amusement park, Enchanted Gardens. There are devastating emotions in the most subtle of facial expressions as his mind races faster and faster, through countless ways to find it in himself to let his children know that their mother is gone.

The road trip itself is like a coming-of-age-quickly excursion for Stanley and a chance, albeit under the most unfortunate of circumstances, to come closer to his girls, especially with his oldest, Heidi, played by Shelan O’Keefe in one of the best adolescent performances in recent memory. Strouse has created a simple and straight-forward screenplay that is very good, but in finding the right lead actor it becomes memorable and near fantastic. This is one of those movies that can find a level ground with everyone who views it, even those who disagree about the many directions and actions American government have taken on the war, because it doesn’t act like it has answers for anything. Strouse chooses to simply tell the story of how it all affects our regular families and those who extend from there on out. Cusack digs deep as Stanley, creating a character that can certainly be added among the most impressive in a career filled with outstanding performances. There are moments in this film, especially near the finale that will stay with you forever if you have any sort of feelings inside. Clint Eastwood was so impressed by an early cut of the film, that he agreed to do the score for it, which turned out to be a wonderful companion piece. Stanley was prevented from serving in the military and thus destroying his aspirations of becoming an identifiable American hero, but he still has time to realize that he can be a good, caring father, which in the eye’s of two children can be seen as heroic as anything anyone’s ever done on a battlefield.

Katz’s “Quiet City” A Quiet Triumph.

June 2, 2008

Official Theatrical Poster
Not Rated, 78 minutes, Benten Films

A sophomore full-length effort that truly lives up to the promise of its maker’s debut, Aaron Katz’s Quiet City is a simple and gorgeous little film filled with the small moments of everyday life that are often put aside in mainstream American cinema. The overall premise that Katz put in place for the movie is a perfect and most realistic one to make, considering the budget of nothing that he had going for him. In his first film, a project with bits of brilliance called Dance Party, USA, Katz mildly expressed interest calm, almost meditative shots of certain vacant portions of the city, both inner and outer, and the vast differences between day and night. In Dance Party he was working with the surroundings of Portland, Oregon, and for Quiet City he shifts across the entire country, to Brooklyn, New York where we are treated to a wonderful marriage of both patient nature shots and handheld conversation photography as Katz and cinematographer Andrew Reed share a mutual eye for what was trying to be accomplished. The film begins and ends with Keegan DeWitt’s subtle keyboard scoring wonderful subway photography. Erin Fisher plays Jamie, a twentysomething from Atlanta who has just arrived to see her good friend for the first time in a long while. Trouble is, her friend is not answering her phone and all Jamie has is the name of a cafe where they were supposed to meet. It is so late at night that the subway area is as bare as it could be, with only one other person roaming its tunnels. Jamie asks this person, named Charlie (played by Cris Lankaneau), if he could give her directions to the cafe. This is where the first of countlessly realistic, awkward, and just easy to relate to dialogs begin between the two. Charlie is stuttering in his explanation of the location of the cafe, so he decides to just walk her there.

Jamie’s friend never shows up to the cafe, but Charlie stays with her in case she were to be without a place to go. There is an uneasy manner to the way Charlie approaches the inevitable proposal of her spending the night at his apartment, but it’s not the sort of awkwardness that is uncomfortable, not for the characters nor for us the viewer, it’s exactly the opposite. In an interview with the cast and crew at the New York premier, it is told that although the script reached well over 100 pages it was still essentially an outline that served as a jumping point for the actor’s to improvise with, which is why both Fisher and Lankeneau are credited along with Katz as co-writers. Choosing not to work strictly by the script was the major reason why Quiet City resonated with me long after it was over. There is never anything but a sense of real-life to every inch of the movie, because that’s exactly what it is and it understands that it shouldn’t step away from it. We are treated to tiny vignettes of Jamie and Charlie’s 24-hour excursion through various areas of Brooklyn, conversations that are arguably about random nothingness but mean absolutely everything to the moment, the time, the people, and ultimately the world of the film. Katz and the aforementioned Andrew Reed do more with the streets, sunsets, parks and subways of Brooklyn than they did with Dance Party‘s green Oregon, and coupled with a perfectly fitting DeWitt score, they manage to successfully cast the landscapes as a co-lead itself.

I had heard a lot of good things about Katz over the last year, and getting the Cassavetes Award nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards sort of automatically put his name up there with the “bigs of the small”, often hearing his name alongside Joe Swanberg’s (Hannah Takes the Stairs), who happens to appear in the movie in a small but memorable performance, as an odd fellow who thinks cole slaw is vastly under appreciated. I am happy that I have finally gotten around to seeing both of Katz’s films, and although I can’t say I liked Dance Party, USA, I knew this guy was on the brink of creating something special. That something special came very quick. It’s called Quiet City, and it’s beautiful.

My 30 Favorite Films of 2007.

February 6, 2008

Last week I finally caught a showing of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, a film that goes beyond bold risk and delves deep into madness. I had a strong feeling of obligation to see the movie before completing my favorite films of 2007 list, and I was right. Now the book can pretty much be closed for last year, at least for the sake of this list’s construction…

30
DISTURBIA
29
I’M NOT THERE
28
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
27
BREACH
26
THE SAVAGES
25
THE DARJEELING LIMITED
24
A MIGHTY HEART
23
GONE BABY GONE
22
3:10 TO YUMA <thanks to Bob for the mention!
21
SUPERBAD
20
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
19
WAITRESS
18
RENDITION
17
AMERICAN GANGSTER
16
EASTERN PROMISES
15
KNOCKED UP
14
THE GREAT DEBATERS
13
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
12
NO END IN SIGHT
11
AWAY FROM HER
10
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
09
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
08
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
07
THE KITE RUNNER
06
INTO THE WILD
05
ZODIAC
04
ONCE
03
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
02
JUNO
01
MICHAEL CLAYTON

The 10th Annual Fergy Film Awards – WINNERS

February 5, 2008

BEST FILM

BEST DIRECTOR

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
(No Country For Old Men)
BEST DIRECTING DEBUT

Tony Gilroy
(Michael Clayton)

BEST ACTOR

Daniel Day-Lewis
(There Will Be Blood)

BEST ACTRESS

Ellen Page
(Juno)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Tony Gilroy
(Michael Clayton)

 BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
(No Country For Old Men)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Roger Deakins
(No Country For Old Men)

BEST DOCUMENTARY

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Javier Bardem
(No Country For Old Men)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Ryan
(Gone Baby Gone)BEST EDITING

John Gilroy
(Michael Clayton)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Jonny Greenwood
(There Will Be Blood)

BEST  SOUNDTRACK

BEST CAST

BEST ANIMIATED AND/OR FAMILY FILM

BEST EFFECTS

Beowulf

MOST UNDERRATED FILM

MOST SURPRISING FILM

BEST SOPHOMORE DIRECTING EFFORT

Jason Reitman
(Juno)

MOST OVERRATED FILM

MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM

MOST MEDIOCRE FILM

WORST FILM
TIE