I mention in another post how I’ve reacquainted myself with the joys of the Netflix streaming library. I’ve watched several smaller movies from 2011 that I enjoyed quite a bit and look forward to reviewing. Tonight, though, I saw one that, as much as I looked forward to seeing it, I just can’t recommend. Tonight’s movie was The Trip, a mockumentary starring British comedians and actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as, basically, themselves. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, who directed Coogan in 24 Hour Party People, a film I do recommend, The Trip is a quasi followup to the collaborators’ work in A Cock and Bull Story, another sort of mockumentary from 2006 that I had heard great things about. The Trip was actually edited down from a six part BBC mini series into about a two hour film, and it involves Coogan and Brydon teaming up for a restaurant tour of Northern England. Coogan and Brydon attempt to send up hyper versions of themselves by laying on super thick scenes of themselves riffing off one another. The whole thing, on paper, sounds like it should be loads of fun. And there are individual scenes that work, with a couple that are laugh out loud funny. But for me, the irony of this movie is that while they are trying to make us laugh at a fictionalized version of their characters’ self absorption, instead of being funny, it mostly just comes across as actually self absorbed. There seems to be a tremendous amount of self satisfaction in this movie that really shouldn’t stick out in a truly well done comedy. I will readily allow that I knew only a small amount about Coogan, and nothing about Brydon coming into the film. It likely would have helped to know more about their public personas, allowing me to be more “in” on the jokes. And I suppose the bits would have been funnier and easier to take in the shorter TV episodes the film was based on. In the end, though, the constant and never ending impressions of other celebrities and incessant one upsmanship that is the core of the film came across as almost hectoring. Much of the film takes place while the two are driving, and I found myself thinking I would have hated to have been trapped in the car with these guys. Even though this is supposed to be a mockumentary focused on the two stars, director Winterbottom produces some truly beautiful scenes and photography of the English countryside, as well as the food the actors eat on their travels. Unfortunately, as I watched these scenes, it sort of sums up my view of the film that I thought there may have been an interesting movie in there somewhere if Coogan and Brydon just not been in it. The Trip received overwhelming critical praise upon its release, so part of me assumes I just missed something about it. But I can’t recommend it as even a film to stream.
Monthly Archives: January 2012
One of the great things about Sarah and I rolling out this blog has been thinking about movies more, wanting to see more movies, and getting more in touch with the types of movies I like and why I like them. Right around the time we decided to go ahead and get trianglemovietalk rolling, I received my first gift issue of Film Comment. A really nice Christmas gift from my father in law, Film Comment has long been a magazine I’ve thought about actually subscribing to. For me, it’s the perfect combination of exposure to foreign and smaller films, but written in a very accessible way, and in a form that doesn’t snobbily ignore the big Hollywood blockbusters. As pure coincidence, the first issue I received included the Best of 2011 list that culls together critics’ lists from all over the world into a comprehensive ranking of the “best” films of 2011. It being a critics’ list, you end up with the usual mishmashed combination of the well known and more obscure. As I breezed through the list, I realized that I had seen most of the larger, more well known films and hardly any of the foreign and more independent selections.
Enter Netflix. My wife and I have the obligatory Netflix membership, the combination DVD/streaming deal that is so convenient. As most of you who have Netflix will already know, the Netflix DVD catalog is super comprehensive, while the streaming library can be pretty hit or miss. I’m going to save it for another post to talk more in depth about where we are and where we are going in how we get our media content. Streaming, the cloud and a move away from physical media is definitely the wave of the future but, for now, the producers and owners of content are still trying to figure out how to get us there (and make money for themselves in the bargain). For now, we’re left with an ever changing puzzle of legit and not so legit outlets to access films online. And that leaves us with the hit or miss Netflix streaming library I mentioned. Search for recent releases in the Netflix streaming catalog and you might stumble across one or two, but by and large they won’t be there.
That is not the case, though, for smaller independent films, documentaries and foreign films. Going through the best of list from Film Comment, I could find almost none of the larger US films on the list. But the best documentaries, indies and, especially, foreign films on the list are ready for viewing. This is an awesome development, since unless you live in New York or LA, your chances of ever seeing any of these sorts of films in the past were almost nil. It’s also great for the artists who make these films, as they are more than happy, obviously, to find larger audiences for their work. It always used to frustrate me to read a great review of a smaller film in one of the more upscale movie magazines, knowing I may never see it unless my local video store was a little hipper than most and had a good independent or foreign film section. Now, though, almost all of these films are available to the masses and available without leaving the comfort of your home.
So, one of the things I’m going to try to do over the next several weeks is try to cull through the Film Comment list and pick out the best of some of the more obscure stuff, in addition to hitting the Oscar faves and movies in our local cinemas. Now that we can all find these little gems, it’s very well worth it to take a look at them.
First off, get down there and read the Sarah’s Double Feature post. I’m a little nervous about this and definitely unsure about how often this will happen in the future, but I couldn’t agree more with her takes on both Ides of March and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. As I was reading her reviews of both films, I was thinking that there wasn’t much to add, really. But when she mentioned I should add my $.02, I figured I’d go ahead and do so. Not so much because I can shed a better light on these movies than she did, but because I was so thrilled that she thought my opinion was worth a full $.02.
Ides of March is definitely worth a rental or stream, despite its flaws. Right up front, the ultimate problem for me was that this is a movie that is as cynical as it gets. There really are no redeeming people working in politics? None? Even as a narrative tool, this is a pretty bleak world view and while this was the world the characters live in, watching a film where no one has a moral center ultimately leaves a little bit of an empty feeling. Director Clooney vacillates between a movie that could have been a reasonably cracking drama about the world of politics (a step or two below something like The Insider) and a what’s around the next corner thriller. The drama parts mostly work, the thriller parts mostly don’t. Cliches and obvious plot twists abound. As Sarah says, of course Clooney sleeps with the intern. Of course everybody on both sides of the political aisle stab everyone else in the back constantly. Of course politics is just a game where ambition always trumps virtue. And of course they all cash in in the end no matter what happens. Having said that, for the acting alone this film is worth a view. It says all I can say about Ryan Gosling that he was brilliant in this movie and it was still only his third best performance of the year behind Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love (a poor movie that was mainly held together at all by Gosling). Clooney’s role was tailor made for him. Philip Seymour Hoffman (watch for his closing scene with Gosling to sum up the view of politics this film basically has) and Paul Giamatti, Giamatti especially, gleefully chew scenery like starving woodchucks. And I mean that as a compliment. Plus, in a film dominated by men, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei more than hold their own. Tomei, in particular and as always, adds a ton more than you might expect playing a journalist digging into the unfolding drama. Tomei’s character’s interactions with Gosling in many ways were the best parts of the film, perceptively portraying the you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours way the press and political candidates use each other to get what they both need. My only beef with the way that was played is that Tomei somehow seemed to be the only reporter covering Clooney’s run for the presidency on a daily basis. This was a minor point but one that distracted me throughout. All in all, completely agree with Sarah. Worth a rental, not more than that.
I also agree with Sarah on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. One of the better thrillers you’ll see, of films in recent years Tinker, Tailor is sort of loosely comparable in style to Munich. As the movie opens, you’re instantly transported back to the Cold War, and you can feel the 70s style film making ready to roll. And for me, the excitement grew as the characters are introduced in the first 10 minutes or so and you ride through a series of “Hey, it’s that guy” moments, which will have you rubbing your hands together and settling into your seat with anticipation. The acting and writing in Tinker, Tailor, as opposed to Ides, is smart, restrained and pitch perfect. This is, after all, a world where every character is hiding something while pretending not to. It’s easier said than done, I think, to effectively write a screenplay that reveals to the audience what we need to know while the characters continue to hide things from each other, especially when the characters are talking to each other as much as they do in Tinker, Tailor. In a way, I suspect it was easier for John le Carre to write the book than it was for Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan to adapt it all into a two hour movie. I really can’t say enough about the job they did to make it all work so well. Because of that, if you’re the type of person that likes to try to “figure out” the puzzle of a great mystery as it unfolds, a little advice. Don’t. At least not while watching Tinker, Tailor. Spend time trying to solve things and you’ll miss out on the joys of the brilliant writing and clenched, protective performances of the sensational ensemble cast. Kudos go out to Colin Firth, Toby Jones and Ciaran Hinds as key British operatives. Tom Hardy gets to play the one character who unhinges under the pressure cooker of the closed world, but he doesn’t overdo it. And Svetlana Khodchenkova shines in a relatively brief, but crucial role as a player on the other side. But it is Gary Oldman, finally getting his Oscar nomination, who is the glue that ties it all together. Stoic, subtle and thoughtful, Oldman’s performance is spot on at showing us little but telling us what we need to know when we need to know it. You can’t “see” him thinking, but you know darn well he always is. Oldman’s one showy scene, a moment where he bonds with his young assistant by letting his hair down with a few drinks and revealing that his control is as much a coping mechanism as anything else in a double dealing world that even a man as competent as he can’t keep up with, is riveting and electric. As Tinker, Tailor slowly turns over its cards one by one, you’ll smile to yourself as you realize why you love the movies. A must see and, by the way, a travesty that it was not nominated for Best Picture.
So I decided to partake in a mystery/thriller double feature, watching the Ides of March last night and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy tonight and, while doing a combined review is sort of like comparing apples and pineapples, I’m going to do it anyway.
I assumed going into Ides of March that I would like it; I generally do like movies within the political genre and I’m not going to say the movie fell flat, but it did leave me wanting in some way. It was a “serviceable” flick, to use a term my furnace guy just used to describe my duct work – not the best, but by no mean the worst political drama I’ve ever seen with an ensemble cast, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, George Clooney, and Ryan Gosling, all turning in decent to strong performances. I think the problem is that director George Clooney was aiming for political thriller and landed in political drama – by no means a bad place to land, but still short of the target. In addition, the plot twists weren’t really that twisty. The plot was in fact pretty predictable. (SPOILERS!) I mean, c’mon, George Clooney running in the Democratic primary for president, of course he slept with the intern. Just, of course. That being said, Ryan Gosling turned in a strong performance. It is no wonder there was some Oscar hype around his performance as Stevie, a political spin doctor and media consultant – who spins from idealistic crusader to morally bankrupt cynic in the span of a day. The key to carrying the audience with the story was to make that particular 180 believable, and Gosling just manages to pull it off. It took some real talent to carry off passable material in a stark movie and keep the audience invested so, for Gosling’s performance alone, I’d say add this one to your queue!
Now Tinker Tailor is another matter altogether. If Mr. Clooney ever wants some tips on how to really carry off good intrigue, he should check this movie out. (I assume he has already as Gary Oldman is the competition come Oscar night.) While Gary Oldman is nominated for Best Actor for his performance as George Smiley, it seems unlikely that he’ll win the category, but I am certainly glad to see him – and the screenplay – get the nomination. It is a common balancing act that the Best Actor category tends to carry and one that the last two years has pitted subtle performances by Colin Firth against more emotional and easier to judge performances. But I firmly believe that portraying the subtleties on screen and making it believable is usually the bigger feat and Gary Oldman does just that. As an ousted spy in the “circus”, MI6, Gary Oldman never shows his cards, but somehow the audience knows that he sees everything and knows even more. The wheels are always turning in Mr. Smiley’s head and it is palpable. Speaking of Colin Firth, his performance is also stellar and understated as Bill Hayden, another MI6 agent. To be fair, I don’t think their was bad performance in the movie, perhaps a tribute to director Tomas Alfredson. Another tribute to the filmmaker is his ability to hold the film just on this side of dingy, instead keeping the atmosphere of the film gritty, tense, and believable. At the end of the day, while everything seems to be wrapped up neat and tidy, one can’t help wondering if this hasn’t all been a long con and that maybe Mr. Smiley still knows more than he let on. All in all, I’d say this one is worth the full price of admission at the theater.
Posted by Sarah on 1/26/12 (but I expect Doug will add his $0.02)
Here we go. It’s Oscar season finally, and Sarah and Doug give day of Oscar nominations first impressions. Plenty more to come on worthy/not worthy films of the year, but let’s get the talk started.
SARAH: Well, Oscar nominations came out today. It’s hard to really encapsulate the noms in a few quippy sentences, especially given the range of movies honored by a nomination, but I’m going to do it anyway. There is probably no single commonality or theme to be seen in the nominations in the major categories like Best Picture and Directing, but several of the films do seem to be celebrating the art of filmmaking and love of cinema. The obvious examples are Hugo and The Artist, both of which feature filmmaking as part of the plot, but Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life also seem more like indulgences by the filmmakers. Midnight in Paris, which was generally regarded as a long shot for a nomination actually received both a Best Picture and Directing nominations. The film, while fun, seemed more like an excuse for director Woody Allen to feature Paris in the ‘20s and several of his favorite literary and artistic legends. Meanwhile, Terrence Malick was so intent on being innovative with The Tree of Life that his picture turned out self-indulgent and insufferable.
I was disappointed to see that The Adventures of Tintin didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Animated Feature Film. Overall, I would say that the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards held a few surprises, but are mostly as expected.
DOUG: It’s tempting to say that the Academy played it safe when it came to Oscar nominations this year. But it’s probably more accurate to say film makers in general were the ones to play it safe. My theme for the year, particularly in the Best Picture category, is nostalgia. A lot of it enjoyable nostalgia to be sure and, as Sarah points out, many films celebrating the joy of movies and making movies. I can’t argue with the fun factor in films like The Artist, Midnight in Paris or Hugo. And there are certainly worse ways to use valuable screen time than worthy efforts such as War Horse, The Help or The Descendants. Every one of these films has value to be recommended. But as enjoyable and comfortable as it can be to look back, where is the excitement, the reach, the edginess, the moves forward that are often what make movies so exciting? I thought the extra nominations were supposed to be for recognizing a broader range of efforts. Part of me can’t blame the Academy for such bland nominations because 2011 seemed very much like a year for safe movies. But what about Drive, what about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, even Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for Best Picture? If for no other reason than to recognize where films can go, not just where they’ve been (or maybe at least where they are).
Sarah and I are headed for a showdown on The Tree of Life, the only movie this year that aspired to be great art and pulled it off, excuse me for saying it, so artfully. Tree of Life was the one truly dazzling effort out of Hollywood this year and in a year so relatively staid, it’s great to see such a sincere effort at something more rewarded. I will say I’d love to see one of the extra slots in the Best Picture category go to a worthy foreign film. Why can’t we nominate A Separation? I don’t think history would be too horribly shaken if, say, Moneyball didn’t get a Best Picture nom. It was nice to see the snap of the screenplay for Margin Call getting a nod, but disappointing to see the brilliance of Senna overlooked in the documentary category. And Berenice Bejo in The Artist as a supporting actress? If ever there was a lead performance in a film, it was hers. There will be plenty of time for us to break down the categories in more detail over the next few weeks, and I look forward to it. May the best work win.