Thursday, January 24, 2008
Well, the Oscar list is out and I have a favorite -- "No Country For Old Men" by the Coens. It is a nasty piece of work, but the best suspense flick I've seen since Hitchcock was at his peak. Its only credible competition seems to be "There Will Be Blood" which I have not yet seen, but intend to.
"She Who Must Not Be Named" and I recently saw another nominated film -- "Juno" which has turned out to be a cultural marker of some significance. It is the third major film this year in which a woman, faced with an unwanted pregnancy, decides against having an abortion and this has generated a lot of attention from the ideologues on all sides.
"Juno" is actually a very nice little film with an outstanding lead actress (Ellen Page, who has been nominated for best actress). There is also some wonderful work done by J. K. Simmons and Allison Janney, two of our best character actors, in supporting roles.
Much has been made by critics by the zingy, ironic, cynical, mocking dialogue voiced by the main character and her friends. Most of them loved it -- I found it annoying. I'm not into quirky or sassy and halfway through the film I was ready to leave, but then something happened. "Juno" grew up.
"Juno" is a coming of age film like so many produced by Hollywood's overgrown adolescents in recent years and for a while it seemed to be following in that shallow groove. At first the characters, particularly the adults, were stereotypical and for the most part unsympathetic, the dialog inane, the plot situations insensitively portrayed -- in short a typical teen-themed film. But over time the characters began to grow and deepen. Seemingly attractive characters revealed their dark side, unsympathetic ones developed admirable qualities -- the boring stereotypes evolved into complex and fascinating people.
And this is the triumph of "Juno". The film matured along with the title character. The slick superficiality of the early scenes, upon which so many critics fixated, reflected the shallow adolescent perceptions of Ellen Page's character at that point in the film and the gradual emergence of complex adult personalities in the supporting characters reflects her growing understanding of adulthood with all its complexities and contradictions. There is far more to "Juno" than snappy dialogue and a provocative political stance. It's not the best film of the year, but it is far better than most critical reviewers realized. It fully deserves a nomination if not the Oscar.
We also saw "Cloverfield". Here the critical reviews are spot on. It is nothing more than the Blair Witch meets Godzilla. The characters are shallow but pretty, the acting mediocre, the narrative primitive, the FX silly, and the queasy-cam technique..., well..., quease inducing. All that being said, it is an exciting, kinetic, immersive film experience. In part this is the triumph of the run and gun camera technique which imparts high energy to a film while covering up a wide range of weaknesses, but I would also note the excellent sound engineering on display in "Cloverfield." The diegetic sound is brilliant, adding depth and resonance to confusing images. It, more than our visual senses, tells us what is happening. I should note, though, that the non-diegetic sound track (the songs playing in the background) are atrocious, especially the horrid percussive score that plays behind the closing credits.
This is a film to be seen in theaters. It is an exercise in total immersion that will not translate well to the small screen. It's not a good film, but it is worth trundling down to the cineplex to see. Check it out.