Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Final Harry Potter Teaser Released; World Explodes With Glee

              Have you seen the new Harry Potter trailer? It cures cancer! It will bring peace to the Middle East! It’s in every way shape or form the greatest trailer to ever be created in the history of advertising. Well, that all might be a bit of a stretch, but the first teaser for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, which will be the final chapter in what will be a ten year old saga of eight films, finally coming to an end. As noted in the trailer, the film has been split into two parts, one released this November and one coming in the summer. This allows fan boys and girls to complain less when their favorite scenes are cut, but more importantly for Warner Bros, it means twice the money.

            That being said, the trailer looks surprisingly fantastic—David Yates, who directed the last two films with a photorealistic drowned out colored look, will be helming both parts, while screenwriter Steve Kloves once again is at the typewriter. The one sad omission though is cinematography Bruno Delbonnel, who did a fantastic job on the last installment. In his place though, is Eduardo Serra, who did a good job on both Defiance and Blood Diamond for Edward Zwick. Anyways, the trailer below makes sure that you are aware that this is the most epic thing since the man invented fire, and if you don’t see it, you are a generally terrible person. Judge for yourself below, but they might be right. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

'Airbender' Ready to Soar This Weekend

            While the summer of 2010 continues to have disappointment after disappointment at the box office, there is one summer tent pole release that I think is about to take the box office by storm. And no I am not talking about Twilight: Eclipse. I am talking about this week’s other huge release: The Last Airbender.

            The film, directed by M. Night Shaymalan (more on that factor later), is an adaptation of a popular US and Japanese anime show called Avatar: The Last Airbender. The title was shorted to avoid confusion with a certain film that kind of took the world by storm only seven months ago. I’m not exactly sure what the film is about, even after seeing the trailers, but it is a big special effects driven story about fighting factions that can control the elements—kind of like Captain Planet, but probably nowhere near as awesome. Paramount Pictures though, has a lot of faith in the production—reports have shown that the film cost about $150 million to make, and another $130 to publicize, and two sequels ready to go if it’s a hit. That kind of money is rare for this kind of project. The first Iron Man cost about the same, but the most recognizable star for this film is Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel, and most of the cast is of Indian origin. 

            However, the film has been tracking extremely well, and I’ve heard a lot of buzz from very different people, from at least three of the four marketing quadrants (male and female, over and under 25). The film’s PG rating gives it a kids appeal (and something non-CGI for the kids) and the action sequences in the trailers might bring a large teen portion in as well.

            Where the film may trip up though is in its direction, Shaymalan, who hasn’t had a successful film since Signs in 2002. However, with Mr. Shayamalan only in the director’s chair and far away from the script, as well as being in charge of a firmly studio production that needs none of his quirks as a director, as the focus is the special effects, Shayamalan, even if being put up on top of the title, is a non-factor in my opinion. I am personally uninterested in the film, and even less with Shaymalan’s name attached (unless the trade reviews start some buzz about this being quite entertaining). 
          When the box office numbers emerge for this July 4th weekend, don’t be surprised if The Last Airbender puts close to Twilight’s numbers. If families are going to the movies this weekend, that film has a much better chance of bringing in masses than boys who don’t want to sit through Edward Cullen’s pale body. If the summer is in need of a breakout hit, then The Last Airbender is certainly it. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Question Man Questions Our Intellegence

            Errol Morris is one of those guys that has an interest in the most unique of subjects. Take a look at any of his documentaries—Gates of Heaven follows the strange owners of a pet cemetery, The Thin Blue Line is an entire documentary made to prove a random convicted man innocent, and The Fog of War put one of the most controversial figures of US history front and center. Even his documentary on the Abu Grahib scandal was not about the atrocities, but the nature of photography and how they distort reality. Morris asks questions, and a lot of them, because he’s interested in things that most people have no idea about.

            Which brings us to Morris’s latest work: a five part essay in the New York Times on our ability to not know things, or the scary thing that he describes as the “unknown unknowns” (a phrase taken from Donald Rumsfeld, but with admiration instead of the condemnation the press gave him). Morris began by researching Dunning-Kruger Effect, an idea that is so obvious that…well…its stupid. The basic premise is this: the awareness of your intelligence correlates to your actual intelligence, meaning if you are smart, you are aware of what you don’t know (Socrates says in Plato's Apology that true wisdom is admitting one knows nothing. When you are stupid, you are completely unaware that you are actually making unintelligent decisions. As Cornell Professor Dave Dunning puts it in an interview with Morris, “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.”

            In the essays—now three parts in (which you can read here, here, and here)—Morris explores different types of anosognosia—a disability in which we are unable to become aware of a specific disability we have—and while it may not be a film, the findings are often funny, strange, and always insightful. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Get the Raid: 'Green Hornet' Trailer Debuts

            When a gang of 88 crazed soldiers working for O-Ren Ishi in Kill Bill: Volume I showed up wearing Kato masks: Bruce Lee fanboys only thought one thing—a Green Hornet film would be awesome. And soon enough, production began on a Green Hornet movie, working with a script from none other than Superbad scribes Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. While the production went though a number of changes—Kung Fu Hustle director Stephen Chow was originally set to direct and play the Hornet’s sidekick Kato—the line up of cast and crew was certainly formidable: Rogen in the lead, Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou as Kato, Inglourious Basterds phenomenon Christoph Waltz as the villain, and none other than Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) in the directing chair.

            Well, despite all the amazing talent both in front and behind the camera, the first teaser trailer, released today, shows off none of that talent. The trailer might become the new definition of generic. Nothing in this trailer is necessarily bad (Chou seems pretty amusing), but there’s nothing to separate Hornet from other superhero films being released. Gondry’s magical touch seems to be void from this project (was he really that in need of a paycheck after Be Kind Rewind?).

            The January release date and promotion of 3D don’t seem to bode well for the picture, which right now just looks like a bad combination of Spider-Man and Batman. Judge for yourself below.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Movie Review: Director with Very Strange Name Makes a Very Strange Movie

Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/Austria/France, 2006) 

           When I finally sat down to watch Syndromes and a Century, my first film I’ve seen by the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who humorously has told everyone in the world to call him simply “Joe,” I was fearful that I was sitting down for what I might fittingly call “World cinema art house syndrome.” Anyone who has watched enough Cannes film festival winners will know what I’m talking about—long dreary shots of absolutely nothing, with no relevance to the plot but also no relevance to anything at all, simply capturing what is on screen without any idea of what it all means. Some of these directors are quite good at this and do somehow create a captivating relevance—Abbas Kiarostami jumps to mind more than others. But my guess going into Joe’s film was that his was of the later category, and that’s why his two films—Syndromes and 2004’s Tropical Maliday—had made top decade lists everywhere like Cashiers du Cinema, Sight and Sound, and Film Comment.

            And to a certain extent, Syndromes is a series of compositions of real life captured without any narrative drive, as we watch Joe slowly contemplating what he is shooting before him. However, to my surprise, Joe is a filmmaker who is completely aware what he is doing, and knows how to bring us into his world, no matter how baffling it might be. I will not stand up and proclaim Syndromes as the masterpiece everyone else has, or begin to interpret the film’s greater themes and ideas, but I will say that for a film I expected to hate, I found myself oddly fascinated by the images and dialogue, and especially found Joe’s shot compositions to be stunningly beautiful—this is a filmmaker who has deliberately chosen every shot with careful thinking, and never wastes a minute of our time.

            As mentioned before, Syndromes has only a small formulation of a plot, as well as one very strange twist in the center of the film. The first half of the film follows two stories. It begins with a female doctor interviewing a new former military doctor who has recently received a position at their hospital in rural Thailand. We follow the female doctor as she is pursued by a man who seems to be a mental patient. At the same time, we follow the relationship between a dentist, who poses as a country singer at night, and the monk he is performing a teeth cleaning on.
And then the movie starts over with the same interview, except now we are in a high-tech Bangkok hospital, and we follow the military doctor instead. Strands of narratives are picked up and dropped from scene to scene in Syndromes, and while this could come off as frustrating, the beauty is that the individual sequences are so compact and so vibrant with not only a languid splendor but also a lot of humor. Joe’s film certainly has a logic to itself, and I think there is an understanding. In one sequence, the female doctor begins a story to her suitor to how an orchid farmer once loved her. He stops the story, not liking it, and the flashback ends, and we never hear the end of the story.

            The difficulty is keeping a film like Syndromes and a Century is keeping it all tied together, especially thematically. The interesting thing though, is that I’m not really sure what Joe is trying to say with his film, but I was still captivated. The film’s repeat structure, in which scenes happen to increasing orders of difference when played in the two settings, might at first suggest an appreciation for the rural country over modernization, but such a reading is too easy, and Joe’s camera is less angered in the second half as much as it is even more curious and more fascinated by the images around him. At the end of the film, Joe’s camera stares into a dark round pipe and the blackness inside, matching an earlier shot of an eclipse. I think Joe is looking for something in these two places about how we interact and our relationship to our spaces, not preferring one to the other.

            Best of all, Syndromes and a Century is often oddly hilarious. The film delivers its deadpan humor without a single wink at the camera, and it could be so easy to write off any of the humor as an accident. Yet Joe is too smart for a mistake like that, and I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud at some of the ridiculous lines that I couldn’t believe had made it into this film. Joe inserts the humor not as a gimmick, but because, like in real life, humor can be anywhere, and he is not afraid to show it.

            I chose to watch Syndromes and a Century in my inevitable preparation to watch Joe’s latest film, this year’s Palm D’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives, but after this fascinating film, I’m oddly curious to watch the rest of Joe’s small but fascinating filmography, as well as watch Syndromes again. This is not typical world art cinema, but someone who knows how to suck you in with a style that is uniquely original, and strangely captivating. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toy Story 3 is all the Buzz

If you've been hiding under a rock this weekend, you must've missed the news: Toy Story 3 is the greatest movie of all time! Not actually—my extremely positive but not perfect review can be found here—but both audiences and critics ate the film up.

As I predicted in my post yesterday, NY Press critic Armond White was one of three critics to give the film a negative review. He writes, "“The Toy Story franchise isn’t for children and adults, it’s for non-thinking children and adults. When a movie is this formulaic, it’s no longer a toy because it does all the work for you. It’s a sap’s story.” Responding to a comment in my post, I will reiterate my thoughts on Armond White quickly.  He is an excellent writer, even if his taste is specifically lashing out toward fanboys and critics. I think he might genuinely like trash cinema because it isn't pretending to be something its not. Also, when he is with the consensus, he never gets credit. And as Guy Lodge wrote wonderfully in his column over at InContention, does it matter that much? Movies are for our enjoyment; why should we let his opinion bother our own?

In other Toy Story 3 madness news, the film snatched up a bofo $110 million at the box office. This is the 11th #1 opener for Pixar, which is pretty good when you consider that ALL ELEVEN of their films have opened at #1. The great news for them however, is that it is also their highest opening ever, by $40 million (The Incredibles opened with $70 million). In a sign of the times, the film has finally succeeded after a number of summer films have flopped for one reason and one reason only: people like going to good, original films, and even if Toy Story 3 is a sequel, its not a rehash as much as it is a genuinely inventive film.

Finally, a couple Easter eggs. Lots-O Huggin Bear, the film's central new character, is adorable, and Pixar went as far to make two excellent viral videos: one an 80s commercial for Lots-O, and one from Japan. Enjoy!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Defending The Great White Shark

            At the current moment, this year’s most critically acclaimed film, Toy Story 3, sits atop the Rotten Tomatoes chart at 100% fresh, with over 125 reviews. This prompted film critic Roger Ebert to write on his Twitter: “World awaiting Armond White.” He's not the only one—it seems multiple people are waiting for the film critic to give the film a bad review, only so they can pounce on him. But why?

            For those who follow the film critic world, Armond White has a rap that is not exactly the greatest. Mr. White has been called many things, mostly a troll, someone who trashes good movies just to have an opposite opinion, and simply a bad critic. And they do so with good point—he just seems to like really bad movies, and hate the movies everyone else loves. No matter if its an art house film from around the globe, the little indie film that could, or the blockbuster that defies expectations, Mr. White’s reviews for the New York Press will trash it, and trash you for liking it.

            However, is there anything of credit to Mr. White? Sure he goes overboard. Last year he called Precious the most racist film since The Birth of a Nation and earlier this year had to defend comments about wishing that the mother of filmmaker Noah Baumbach had aborted him (when I asked my former professor Nico Baumbach, Noah’s brother, about the situation, he was truly confused why Mr. White had so much against his family).

            Yet one of the most fascinating things is reading classic Armond White reviews—the reviews that jump off the page, no matter if its praise or hate. If anyone has had the pleasure of reading Philip Lopate’s excellent collection American Movie Critics: An Anthology of Silents Until Now, the author and critic himself includes Mr. White along with over a hundred other critics, including the greats like Pauline Kael and James Agee. Mr. Lopate gives us two of Mr. White’s reviews: His carefully languid praise for Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and his insightful discomfort with the same director’s Malcolm X.

            Before you trash Mr. White once more, read these reviews. You should read them not because it means that Mr. White’s style hasn’t changed over the years, but because they are great pieces of criticism. In his article on Do the Right Thing, Mr. White connects the dots between the use of the radio, and the filmic style that reflects the radio throughout the film, creating a parallel world of mashes and mixes that collide both in terms of the audio and the visual in well. On Malcolm X, the critic attacks the standard approach Lee takes to the controversial figure, expecting something more brash and distinct that would honor the political leader in a way more appropriate.

            Mr. White is capable of great criticism, and despite what you may think, he does give valid reasons to why he doesn’t like the film. Let’s take a look at one of his most controversial reviews from last year—Pixar’s Up, which managed to garner only five negative reviews, the most notable of them being Mr. White’s (you can read in full here). White begins his review by putting on his flame suit, comparing Pixar to General Motors in its branding of all that is good and pure. Typical, but necessary for what he will set up.

            His first sentence on Up is an excellent thesis: 

“Up’s uninteresting story of an old widower who attaches his home to helium balloons and floats off to Venezuela with an overeager kid in tow follows the same formula as the previous nine Pixar movies.” 

White is going to attack how Pixar has delivered movie after movie by using the same formula. “Blasphemy already!” one may dare. Let’s see: 

“Pixar’s price sticker includes enough saccharine emotion to distract some viewers from being more demanding; they don’t mind the blatant narrative manipulation of a sad old man and lonely little boy.”

Okay, now we’re getting some meat. Is Pixar sentimental? Do they use their emotional strings to pull at our hearts? Pixar’s films, and especially Up, do have the advantage of making us cry. When I told people I saw Up last summer, one of they’re first questions (second actually after, “Great Pixar film or greatest!?”), is “Did you cry?” And it’s true. I cried like a baby, more than any movie I can remember in recent history. In White’s criticism of the film’s most memorable moment, the silent montage, he criticizes as such:

“Even the montage showing Carl’s marriage to childhood sweetheart Ellie (their wedding, companionship, childlessness, then Ellie’s illness and death), is over-sentimentalized. This silent interlude (which first seems to stretch the genre into seriousness) is no more daring than the utterly conventional Wall-E: It concludes with Carl, alone, holding a blue balloon at Ellie’s funeral. Sheesh. A parallel montage of Carl leafing through romantic-couple scrapbook photos is equally sappy—especially when you consider the logic of “Who took those pictures?” Reality is never a Pixar issue. Although Chaplinesque music underscores these maudlin scenes, they’re not emotionally pure like Chaplin; they preen. Critics who forget that movies should be about people defend this reduction of human experience. It’s part of their Pixar-corporate allegiance.”

Let’s piece through this shall we? White is taking issue with the actual construction of the images. There’s nothing wrong with these moments being put to screen for him, but instead it’s the construction of the images to make them to most emotionally manipulative, along with Michael Giacchino's over-the-top score. Pixar is not delivering anything close to real life, but it’s making you think its tackling serious issues in an adult and realist manner. That for him, is the crux of the Pixar problem: he constantly points over the Pixar, despite its approach to dramatic themes, glosses over some larger issues. When Pixar is at its worst, for White, it when its cute: “‘Cute’ is how Pixar oversimplifies the world.”

Now I don’t agree with Mr. White, but its not because he has written a bad review. I disagree on his philosophical approach to Pixar, that Up already has accomplished so much by at least attempting to offer adult themes while packaged in a conventional style. That montage works wonders not because its glossing over but because its trying to capture life as moments, and those moments are constructed. Mr. White’s argument would make Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, which is heavily constructed on dynamic imagery, a disaster as well.

But don’t call White a bad critic. White approaches films with the cut-throat brashness of Pauline Kael with the dynamic insights of Susan Sontag. He likes films for his own reasons, and when he writes well, he gives insightful points that one forgets, are always subjective. It’s sad sometimes because when White does fit into the mainstream of critical appraisal—he wrote a strongly positive review of The Hurt Locker, and unabashedly loved the new Tilda Swinton film I Am Love—his work goes unnoticed. People forget that Mr. White doesn’t care what you think of the movies. He only cares about what he thinks. So if he decides to trash Toy Story 3, I’ll gladly read his opinion, not because I want to change my own, but because it’ll be an excellent read. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

David Mamet and Winter’s Bone: Why Lessons from Hollywood can reign in the Art House

            Last week, I posted my review of the new independent film, Winter’s Bone, which not only has won acclaim from me, but also from critics around the United States (I also posted an interview with director and screenwriter Debra Granik). In my review, I wrote a sentence that may have thrown a few people off: I compared Winter’s Bone to David Mamet in the sense of its screenwriting.

            Now, Ms. Granik’s film doesn’t really feel in the mold of Mr. Mamet, the famed writer and director whose written truly wonderful plays like Buffalo 66 and Speed-the-Plow, as well as some great movies like Glengarry Glen Ross and the surprisingly underrated Spartan.

            What I’m talking about his Mamet’s screenwriting rules, the ones described in his famed book, Bambi Vs. Godzilla On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business. There’s a lot of material in Mamet’s book, but there is a truly excellent section on screenwriting for all those who are inspired. The best part of the book though comes when Mamet lays down three rules that your film should cover in every single scene:

1. Who wants what from whom?
2. What happens if they don’t get it
3. Why now?

Mamet argues that this is the key to keeping your audience interested and engaged. When the questions are unanswered, your audience is confused to why they are invested in this story. What is the protagonist’s main dilemma? Your audience needs to know. Side plots? Unnecessary unless they will be tied in. Mamet writes, “The film may, perhaps, be likened to a boxer. He is going to have to deal with all the bulk his opponent brings into the ring. Common sense should indicate he had better not bring one extra ounce of flab on him—that all the weight he brings into the right had better be muscle” (71).

This is why Winter’s Bone really floored me in terms of its screenplay. When I often see an art house film, part of that enjoyment is often extraneous. I don’t expect a film by Abbas Kiarostami or Jia Zhangke to even begin to think it should answer these questions in any scene. Hollywood films will answer these questions, but often it’s sloppy, misguided, or simply boring (and worst of all, extraneous). Yet Winter’s Bone does not do this in a single scene. The set up of the film can be answered in the three questions without even thinking.

1.     Who wants what from whom? Ree wants the information on her father’s whereabouts from her meth-cooking community.
2.     What happens if they don’t get it? Ree will lose possession of her home where she takes care of her mother and siblings, and that will most likely be the end of them.
3.     Why now? The cops have come and informed her about the bond on the home which her father has jeopardized because he put it up for his bond.

Almost every scene in this film is built on a variation of these answers. Ree wants information. Her kin have no interest in giving it to her. And she is going to have to fight her way through to get it.

            Winter’s Bone, noir-like but set in the Ozarks of Missouri, is a reminder that your art house film need not be a collection of images and philosophical statements thrown together (though that can be wondrous as well). Winter’s Bone has a hard edge not because of its brutal visual style, but because the script knows how to give and receive information with its audience. It understands that those rules that you learn in Screenwriting 101 aren’t just made to be broken—following them can make your movie more fascinating and much more tense. If we are going to follow characters, these rules get us invested. So when Ree’s hands have to reach into the murky water and she must face her biggest fear, we are right there with her. We'vex These rules have been used in dramatic writing from the beginning. Consider Oedipus Rex:

  1. Who wants what from whom? Oedipus wants the truth of his birth from those around him.
  2. What happens if they don’t get it? The plague will continue to ravage the city.
  3. Why now? A man has accused Oedipus of causing the plague
Mamet’s believes that you can answer these questions for every line, which may be a little ridiculous, but he has a point. Mamet is a tough guy, and writes like a tough guy for tough guys. He hates being extraneous, and the thing that pisses most people off about him is that he is always right. He ends his chapter on the Three Magic Rules this way: “They are, however, part of the unconscious and perpetual understanding of that group who will be judging you and by whose say-so your work will stand or fall: the audience” (86). 

For those in New York, Mamet has a play on Broadway entitled Race that is supposed to be quite good. 

'Never Let Me Go' Trailer Proves Adaptation Business Might Not Be Morally Bankrupt

This week, Focus Features posted the trailer for Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro, and they seem to have done a pretty good job. The trailer could come close to giving everything away, but it may have been my strong impressions from reading the novel and seeing all of the crucial scenes, even out of context. For those who know the book, the real question will be if the film follows the tradition of the novel of never truly revealing the truth of the world, but slowly revealing it through accidental bits of dialogue and narration (the wrist-buttons shown in the trailer I think might be too much, and discredit one of my interpretations of the novel). 

Too many trailers these days give away everything (except Chris Nolan’s wondrous looking Inception), so its nice to see something like this trailer, which highlights the strange visual world that Romanek (best known for One Hour Photo, which is good in parts) has created. Also, excellent cast—Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightly, Sally Hawkins, and my actor to watch, Andrew Garfield, who dazzled me in Red Riding: 1974.

Anyways, the trailer is embedded below. Enjoy!

The Journey Begins: Welcome to The Buza Beat!

Welcome to The Buza Beat! If you’re an avid reader of the original site, LabuzaMovies.Com, but are sick of the lack of content, you’ve come to the right place. The Buza Beat hopes to cover everything that isn’t covered over at LabuzaMovies.Com. Over there, posts are often limited to formal reviews and interviews, as well as essays of only the most classic of movies, and only publish once a week.

On the Beat, we can cover whatever we like—recent catch-ups, posts on film theory, movie news and buzz—as well as often as we like.. So look for some great content throughout the days. Our goal is to have at least one post a day, whether it be big or small.

And remember—the best way to follow the new content at both The Buza Beat and LabuzaMovies.Com is our Facebook and our Twitter, so join up and join in. Happy movie watching everyone!

PS—More than the regular content of my site, this is going to be your chance to talk with me and other readers! Let me know what you want in the comments, say an open thread to discuss new reviews, or a look back at a particular classic film.