Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Review: Oscars ´09 (Part Two)

Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard)

Ron Howard is the quintessential Oscar director. And thus, if you wish to bring to mind a true Hollywood film maker, don’t go with someone as famous as Spielberg, go with the lowly coil behind such so-and-so endeavors as “The Beautiful Mind“, (before getting drunk and beating lots and lots of people up, Russel Crow was an exaggerated mathematical genius) “Ed TV“, (Woody Harrelson’s lesser take on the “life as reality show” theme, unnoticed in the coattails of “The Truman Show”),“Apollo 13” (check this shit out: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris – whoah, dude, mind blowing 90s Hollywood lineup!)… I could go on and on with this. Ron’s also the cog behind “The Da Vinci Code”, and as such, is hell bent on exposing another sinister Illuminati scheme with upcoming shitfest “Angels and Demons”. So how is it possible, then, that between this varying quality of toiling around, he’s made one of 2008´s best pictures, “Frost/Nixon”, an elegant, somber real-life duel between Richard Nixon and a British talk show host?

Well, it starts off with the screenplay. Adapted from a Broadway play, which in turn was written by one Peter Morgan. Aside from “Last King of Scotland”, Pete also wrote, drum roll... “The Queen” – one of this decade’s greatest movies. I don’t know what’s up with this writer, (does he secretly lust for power?) but he sure can write a believable politician. Be it a mad African god-king or a diminishing British royal, Morgan’s figures of power remain documentary, while still reaching that grand Hollywood spectacle. All this of course goes for “Frost/Nixon” as well. Richard Nixon is a masterfully written character.

Enter thespian Frank Langella. You won’t remember him from anywhere, unless you’re a Broadway buff. Like many a great American actor, before this, his visible projects were supporting roles. He also did Nixon in the stage version so he brings that Richard III quality to the film. It’s all “now is the winter of our discontent…” and while Nixon has been compared to his namesake, Richard III before, never is it more obvious than in Langella’s lumbering, massively baritone delivery. It’s the kind of voice that makes you close your eyes and somehow try to soak it in, even deeper. A thunderous rumble, he’s basically singing.

Nixon’s “worthy adversary”, the interviewer David Frost is surprisingly enough – even better. Making himself known in “The Queen” as Tony Blair, Michael Sheen takes center stage here. While 400 million people watch, the resigned former president meets the British talk show host in an epic battle of a dialogue. The interviewing side wants to give Tricky Dick the trial he never had, while Dick wants to make a political comeback. Only one can win. The whole interview is 100% as it happened, while everything off the camera is dramatic license. Frost, the interviewer, was not exactly the favourite in this match of wits. Many thought he was way over his head and Sheen does an amazing job portraying this kind of cocky but secretly self-doubting international playboy. The trick here is how he reveals himself intellectually inferior to both his well-played team of researchers and Nixon himself, while becoming ever more sympathetic for it. Rarely has something that’s basically shallow been as identifiable with.

While the script’s attempts at compressing an historical event into the confines of dramatic rules fail in the epilogue, the beginning and middle parts are very, very exciting indeed. Don’t think of it as a political movie at all, the interview plays out like a massive sporting event, with an underdog you will most definitely root for. Or an action sequence even! It will have you nervously holding on to the edge your seat.

So what does Ron Howard have to do with all this? Well, not much really. Goes to show that a director is not always the most important thing about a movie. In Frost/Nixon’s case Langella, for example, needs no direction at all, just copying his theater roll. The screenplay is what really makes it, while Ron just does a good job at not fucking it up. Out of all the five Oscar movies this year, this is the only one that comes recommended. 8 / 10

Milk (Gus Van Sant)

Milk – a manipulative gay rights saga from Gus Van Sant. Gus Van Sant – an indie/commercial director who doesn’t always tread those waters very well.

Rooted in indie film he then branched into one of those dreaded “good directors”, making his fair share of “ing” movies on the way. You know, the ones that purvey a ridiculous Oscar atmosphere and have an “ing” the title. His rather enjoyable “Good Will Hunting”, I would consider a positive example, “Finding Forrester” is a wholly different ordeal. Van Sant's no stranger to “Best Director” Academy nominations, “Good Will Hunting” did the trick, all the actors got the awards, but not the director himself. Which is understandable, as his indie roots make him an actor’s director. Gus has a knack for getting a glamorous, easy-on-the-ears-and-eyes performance from his actors. His commercial leanings are not that well implemented, resulting in performances devoid of interpretational depth and memorable, dare I say, mystical moments.

Oh, and he’s also a music video director, never one to shy away from a film or few about the last days of Kurt Cobain and such. Which all goes to say Gus is a marginally interesting liberal douche. Sorry, guys I know he’s quite admired in certain circles, I just can’t seem to be all that impressed. I must, of course, confess that I haven’t seen “Paranoid Park”, which might tilt the scales from what I’ve heard.

“Milk” doesn’t. Tilt the scales, I mean. It deploys every manipulative trick there is to get you aboard the cause of this gay rights advocate and polititian, called Harvey Milk. It’s “a true story” and thus has all the trappings of a Hollywood rendering of a “true, political story”. It’s fast paced and easy-going, with a “stellar performance” at it’s core. This time it’s Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. And although he’s pleasant to watch on screen, there’s really nothing more to it. He does a soft, emotive, slightly “fabulous” thing, mixes it up with some politicking and then stares, dissassosiatively, at an opera billboard or something, as he dies from numerous bullet wounds. You know, that glazed over, “dying is elegant and beautiful” thing. You gather correctly – Milk was assassinated.

Before he was assassinated, he tried, five consecutive times, to get appointed in some political position that goes as unexplained here as it goes in education in general. He finally won, but as to what power he got, I am amiss, and so are the rest of the uneducated masses. It’s here that “Milk” misses it’s oportunity to rise above an easy-going, pop biopic. Since the backdrop – a gay LA getto – and it’s central themes and characters are lightweight and camp, “Milk’s” glamorous content could have benefitted from some more serious politology. For once, I could have used an in depth look into how exactly a minority gets it’s representative elected, how change is possible in a strict, legislative sense. “Milk” was at it’s best when it stopped centering on the performances and started getting into the strategies employed by Harvey’s campaign.

Some great stuff gets said. For example: frustrated by his forth failed campaign Milk rips to pieces a former campaign slogan with the words “Harvey Milk vs. The Machine” on it, saying he doesn’t want to see anything that says “the assembly” around his headquarters any more. He’s tired of being “the faggot loser”. This is great, humorous insight into the way minorites shouldn’t set themselves out as losers from the beginning on, by being too openly antagonist. It’s an image thing.

But stuff like that just flies by as usual in “Milk”. It’s filler, detail, the camera stays fixed on some high quality, but eventually meaningless performances instead. Oh, and the way Milk’s conservative opponents are portrayed is comic-book ridiculous and again – unpleasantly manipulative. Which is symptomatic of a liberal Hollywood biopic. You might - for some reason - still want to see it, but heed this warning: it ends with a river of candles as Milk’s mourners march the streets. If a river of candles is not your thing, don’t go there. 5 / 10

The Reader (Stephen Daldry)

Daldry is a somewhat boring, but critically bulletproof director, with a celebrated background in theater. He isn’t terribly prolific, it’s been six years since his last, “The Hours” which is indeed, worthy of note here. This 2002 menstrual depression epic gave Nicole Kidman one of her most memorable roles, plastered up in incredible prosthetics to look like Virginia Woolf - Queen of Uteral Gloom. Unlike Van Sant, the work Daldry does with actors is unexceptionally impressive, his movies have a sort of precision mechanical feel to them, emotions, undercurrents get pinpointed, actors, especially actresses become furious machines. Unlike Van Sant he isn’t bogged down by any kind of lackluster music video aspirations either. It’s quite pleasant indeed, to watch Daldry present the story as the centerpiece, calmly framing it with realistic, well lit scenes.

“The Reader” moves along these lines as well, though, as a whole it’s not quite as strong as “The Hours” was. And lets get this out the way before the kritiks kick in again – whereas Kidman got her career high in Daldy’s last, Kate Winslet is far more impressive here. And she should be the sole subject of conversation, in a role that’s especially difficult to sympathise with – making her performance that much grander. None of the reviews I’ve read of “The Reader” have quite succeeded in making it look like the “oh, I’ve got to see this” thing it actually is, perhaps because it’s situated in a movie, about which, if you spill the beans, you have to spoil it to some extent. So, excuse me if I ruin some of the plot twists for you, it’s not like “The Reader” is a twist movie anyway.

Winslet is an illiterate German woman, who’s responsible for the deaths of more than 300 people during ye old Holocaust. After the war she’s been hiding out in Neustadt, Germany, where she passes her time seducing a 16 year old boy. She has both her prisoners in the camps and “The Kid”, as she calls him, read out books for her. She loves books, you see. In the beginning, where we don’t know of her murderous past, Winslet plays the character as a gruff, angry woman, with a strict German accent (not embarrassing, mind you). She’s not set out to be sympathetic at all. Which is a great trick, as she leaves some serious weepy eyed magic for when she’s later put on trial for the bad stuff she’s done. The performance is godly, never begging for sympathy, instead carefully revealing herself as an admirably complex and tender, well… woman.

In fact, she’s so good, many prestigious film critics have made cases in US media against the “The Reader’s” nomination. I can see where they come from as well. She makes the droopy death camp survivors and their “books about the horrors” look seriously annoying in court, while there’s something otherworldly going on the her red, moist eyes, a strict, mechanical regret. When the crowd yells “Nazi” at her, you start getting these weird emotions, you see. I won’t go further here, let’s just say: the script itself isn’t revisionist, the performance comes dangerously close. Oh, and by the way: Winslet is surprisingly sexy in the role as well. Although she “lets it all hang out” and her physical self is far removed from the likes of, say, Jessica Alba.

I wish I could just keep on going about how good she was, but unfortunately, there’s the rest of the film to consider. Which is a so and so Holocaust pic, set in Germany, after the war. But nothing very special. Raph Fiennes does his usual “reeking of history” thing here, seriously underwhelming. His younger self, “The Kid” is a talented young German actor and Bruno Ganz (“Der Untergang”) cannot resist the lure of the Holocaust (again), turning in a majorly impressive moral supporting role. The problem here is footed in Ralph Fiennes´ boring future framing device and the subsequent de ja vu that surrounds these proceedings. Ralph Fiennes, Holocaust, light brown tones, bla-bla-bla… In the end, I wish they´d have left out the future part, centering their sights on the dangerous moral implications of the court drama in the middle. This had potential to be the first major Hollywood movie to take a controversial, and thus intriguing look at the Holocaust. It didn’t, though. 7 /10

13 comments:

  1. hmmm kuradi hea inglise keel, lihtsalt pidin mainima.

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  2. Aitäh. Inglise keel on nagu näitlemine, ma siin üleval näiteks etendan üht jobust USA filmikriitikut, kirjutan oma peas Slate´i või Onioni AV-klubi jaoks netitarutust. Tore, et väga piinlik pole.

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  3. Siia Frost/Nixoni filmi kõrvale soovitan huvi korral vaadata seda intervjuud originaalis:

    http://thepiratebay.org/torrent/4559772/Frost_Nixon__Watergate_(Not_the_Movie__the_Docu)

    Tegemist on siis viimase osaga sellest saadete seeriast. See ei ole muidugi nii meelelahutuslik, filmi-Frost ja filmi-Nixon olid märgatavalt värvikamad kujud, aga enda harimise mõttes, et kuidas nad koos siis päriselt välja nägid ja olid, tasub see poolteist tundi ära küll.

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  4. Yo, thanks! Me just Youtube´ist otsisime seda raskelt aga ei leidnud. Põhiline koht, mis huvitas oli see, kas Nixoni pisar oli päriselt ka ikka olemas seal. Olen kuulnud sellele viidatavat varem ka, et Dick ühe poetas aga päriselt NÄINUD (veel) ei ole.

    Also, Jüri, ma saan aru, et sulle meeldis siis see film?

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  5. No see pisar, eksole, seda pisarat näed sa seal, kui sa natuke oma fantaasiat kasutates juurde paned. Et midagi justkui on, aga nagu ei ole ka. Langella tegi oma Nixoniga seda, mida ta tegema pidi. Näitles, lisas dramaatilisust, pani juurde.

    Film mulle meeldis küll. Närvipinge ja kütkestatavuse kvaliteedilt sarnanes mu vaimustus tundega, mida tekitas näiteks 'Zodiac'i esmakordne nägemine, millest on ikka omajagu aega möödas juba.
    7.5/10 tuleb pärast päris intervjuu vaatamist. Lõpuks on see ikkagi 'mängu'-film ja sellisena ehk mõnevõrra eksitav.

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  6. 7.5 jah? Paneb mõtlema, et võibolla mu 8.5 on liiga palju. Et äkki see, et kogu okariposu nii üksluiselt okei oli, tõstis Frost/Nixoni ebaõiglaselt kõrgele. See oli neist ainus, mida vaadates tekkis see "päris ägeda filmi" tunne, et unustad hetkeks ära vaatamise vaeva ja tunned kohalolekut. Langetan kaheksale, teen nagu see oleks päris.

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  7. Teate ju väga hästi, miks kino alles on jäänud, kuigi telekas ja eriti arvuti on valiku ja aja mõttes mugavamad? Sest kinos on filme parem vaadata. Iga viimane kui film on kinos parem, kui arvutis.

    Alles kinno tulevate filmide ette ära tõmbamine ja vaatamine ei ole mõistik tegevus, härrased!

    Tulenevalt ülalkirjeldatud põhimõttest olen ainult kahte neist filmidest näinud, B. Button (oh, dear!), ja Frost/Nixon (tund aega tagasi).

    Frost/Nixon on super, paneks isegi 9/10. Ühe punkti kaotab sellega, et süžeeliselt ei üllata millegagi, ja et mõned odavad lahendused on sisse jäetud (Frosti lineaarne paranemine jms kulminatsiooni vundamendi ehitamine, minu meelest mõjus kunstlikult). Aga filmi subjekt ise, need kaks peaosa (äramärkimist Eriti Sätendav rubriigis leiavad kodanike hääletämbrid ja Frosti triiksärgid) – see oli kõik väga-väga hea.

    Hiljem mõtled, et see film oli kõik ühest intervjuust, kuidas on võimalik et see 2+ tundi ekraanil nii huvitav on. Kordagi isegi ei mõtle ajalises plaanis kui kaugel film on (ma olen nii püsimatu, et teen seda peaaegu iga filmi puhul).

    Button on mõttetu saast, seest õõnes värviline lelu. “Hästi tehtud”, “nunnu mõte”, ja “sa saad sellest paremini aru kui sa vana oled” ei ole vabandused, kui kuude kaupa on haibitud midagi, milles tuleb välja, on 20 minuti jagu süžeed, kõledad elutud tegelased, ja arusaamatu eepilisuse-taotlus igas stseenis.

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  8. Selle kohta muidugi kirjutatakse palju, et need auhinnad lähevad iga aasta üha rohkem pekki. Selle aasta nomineeritute peamine kriitika on, et liiga vähetuntud filmid, keegi ei vaata neid. S.t. kui ikka Dark Knight ei ole valiku seas, siis kedagi ei koti, sest mis vahet on, mis film võidab, kui ühtegi näinud pole.

    Et võiks ära otsustada, kas valitakse parimaid populaarsete filmide seast, või üldse parimaid. Antud juhul on siis mingi mittetöötav kombo, kus valitakse mingeid imelikke keskmisi.

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  9. Millised oleksid siis 2008 väärilised nomineeritud Ameerika filmid?

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  10. Kui mina, eksju, KUI MINA OLEKS OSKARITE NIMISTUT KOKKU PANNUD! (Kujutage mind ette taevasse kõrgumas, kasvamas, nagu Doc Manhatten Watchmenis...) siis ma oleks parimate filmide kandidaadid teinud sellised... (filmid ei pruugi kõik olla mitte "parimad" vaid antud auhinnagaala mõttes parimad, eksju)

    "The Wrestler" (Darren Aronofsky)
    "Doubt" (John Patrick Shanley)
    "Frost/Nixon" (Ron Howard)
    "Rachel Getting Married" (Jonathan Demme)
    "Slumdog Millionaire" (Danny Boyle)

    Nagu sa näed, siis okei, ma oleks selle Danny Boyle´i asja sinna sisse jätnud. Mulle ta ei meeldi aga publikuga käib see film ikkagi suht professionaalselt ringi, selle pooldamisel on mingit indulgentset vaimu a la "käisin Slumdog Millionaire´i" vaatamas - toetasin India nälgivaid lapsi or something. Ja selline värk oskaritele sobib. Samas on film ikkagi suht väikse budjetiga ja näeb selle kohta ülikallis välja. Parima filmi oleks ikkagi "Doubtile" andndud. See oli selle aasta Hollywoodist ainus, kus midagi valesti ei tehtud. Miski ei jäänd kriipima.

    Oskarite point, muuseas, on selline:
    1) tõstame esile blockbusterite varjus ebaausalt tähelepanuta jäänud filme, teeme nad vaadatumaks.
    2) vahepeal anname mõnele irresistable blockbusterile (Titanic, Forrest Gump) ka auhinna, et Oscar nende glamuuriga kokku määrduks ja siis kui me selle hiljem mingile veits kunstimale asjale anname, siis Titanicu glamuur määrdub kunsti külge ka.

    Ühesõnaga, see peabki olema selline nöörilkõndmine. Akadeemia ei taha olla nii indie, et neil enam masside arvamuse üle võimu ei oleks aga samas nad ei taha seda võimu ka üle miljardi dollarilise box office´iga filmi (TDK) peale raisata. All and all, see on väga lahe strateegia. Ma tahaks aint, et nende indi-maitse oleks veits parem: "Doubt" mitte "The Reader" näiteks.

    Miks Ben Button, aga, seal nimekirjas oli, ei oska keegi öelda.

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  11. Ning veel - see sama nöörilkõndimine on neil ju hiilgavalt hästi välja tulnud. Inimesi ikka raskelt huvitavad need kujukesed! Vinguvad küll ühed cinefiilid, et nõme kommerts ja teised cinefiilid, et pohkenz üldse need oskarid, meil Jaan Ruusiga on omad Oskarid ja seal võitis see aasta hoopis Taani film ühe perekonna vaikivast ringkaitsest. Ja vinguvad samas ka Keitlin (lemmikfilm ´08 - "Twilight") ja Toomas ("The Dark Knight - Heath Ledger oli filmi parim osa!)
    aga kõik ikkagi vinguvad väga valjult ja panevad hästi tähele, mis toimub!

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  12. Mingi küüniline komöödia oleks ka võinud olla valikus. See aasta oli nii palju häid komöödiaid, In Bruges, Vicky Barcelona, ja Burn After Reading tulevad kohe pähe.

    P.S. Eelmise nädala Ekspressis hr. Feldmanis kritiseerib Frost/Nixonit suht adekvaatselt, tehes ainult selle (suure) vea, et vaatab seda "tegeliku" intervjuu kontekstis, ja leiab siis palju sisulisi möödalaskmisi. Mis on paljuski päris teravad (ja ilmselt kuskilt maha vehitud), aga ses mõttes mööda, et seda filmi võiks hinnata ikka peamiselt eraldiseisva meelelahutusena, ja selles see oli suurepärane.

    K.

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  13. Ajaloolist autentsust taga ajav kriitika on minu arust algusest peale valel rajal. Kui tegemist on meelelahutusega, siis publik niikuinii teeb omad korrektuurid juba enne vaatamist. Ega seda pealtnäha igavavõitu poliitilist draamat niikuinii lapsed vaatamas ei käi, kes arvaks, et nii oligi, nüüd kirjutan sellest ajaloo referaadi.

    In Bruges oli tõesti hästi ladus ja omapärane asi aga mitte oskarikas.

    Muuseas - vaatasin ära parima dukumentaali auhinna saanud asja. Sellel on ka väga tuus nimi: "Waltz With Bashir". Pealkiri muutub eriti tuusaks kui sa tead, kust see filmist tuleb. Film on selline ennenägematu ja minu arust hiilgavate võimalustega žanr nagu seda on - animeeritud dokumentaal. Räägib Iisraeli-Liibanoni sõjast 80ndatel. Heli, muusika, animatsioon... kõik on väga hea. Lõpp pani mulle vähemalt väikse genoka-põntsu ka. Et siis - soovitan: 8 /10

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