Archive for Jesse Eisenberg

Titular

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2014 by dcairns

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“No, wait, we made that,” says Tony Randall at the start of WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? as he realizes that the film he’s introducing cannot possibly be called THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT. And he’s right, of course. Because why would you make a film that was already made?

I know there are possible reasons or excuses. Maybe it was OK for Vincent Ward to make THE NAVIGATOR after Buster Keaton had already made THE NAVIGATOR, since even though that film is one of Keaton’s best, it’s not his best-known. But it was surely goofy of John Boorman to make THE GENERAL, under that title, since Keaton’s GENERAL regularly makes top ten lists. And indeed, you never hear about that Boorman film nowadays. Perhaps the only reason Ward’s film isn’t completely forgotten is that everything he’s done since has sucked so very, very hard.

Night Moves

And so to Kelly Reichardt’s NIGHT MOVES, which is excellent — saw it in Rotterdam — but did it need to be called that? Arthur Penn’s NIGHT MOVES isn’t going away. In Reichardt’s film, the title is the name of a boat. Now, the boat didn’t have to be called that. In fact, Dakota Fanning actually lists a whole bunch of alternative boat names, although admittedly one of them, Gone With The Wind, might also have caused problems.

Still, quibbling aside, this is an excellent film. Fanning plays an aspirant eco-terrorist intent on blowing up an unpopular dam with the help of Peter Sarsgaard (a blithe bullshitter in the tradition of Bruce Greenwood in MEEK’S CUTOFF) and Jesse Eisenberg (wrapped too tight for Oregon). Fanning is touching, Eisenberg confirms his reputation as American cinema’s leading depressive, folding up into himself as the story unravels, like a man with ouroboros of the soul.

Reichardt and screenwriter Jonathan Raymond do the most amazing endings — usually bleak or at least potentially bleak, mysterious, uncertain, troubling. This one, laid in a sporting goods store, is the most inexplicably distressing retail experience since Anne Bancroft’s Harrods breakdown in THE PUMPKIN EATER.

Meek’s Cutoff [DVD] [2010]
Wendy And Lucy [DVD] [2008]
Old Joy [2006] [DVD]

Zombiethon

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2011 by dcairns

Purely by chance, we watched George Romero’s SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, Breck Eisner’s THE CRAZIES, and Ruben Fleischer’s ZOMBIELAND in a month. Not all in an evening or anything hardcore like that, mind you. Then, more recently, we watched the whole of Frank Darabont’s The Walking Dead in a day. That was somewhat hardcore, I grant you.

The Romero is the most underrated of the three — we’ve come to a pretty pass when the master and originator of the zombie sub-genre is so marginalized! And yet this is a fun film, essentially a western with a lot of Irish actors and a lot of zombies. Acting honours in the no-star cast go to Kenneth Welsh as the roguish patriarch. A few awkward moments obtrude, and the CGI gore effects look cheap. Romero is in very relaxed form, like late Hawks, not trying to be earthshaking, just having fun. The movie really is a western, something like THE BIG COUNTRY, complete with a zombie on horseback. Romero still pulls amusing variations on his original 1968 premise, and here he delivers the finest closing shot of his entire career. Long may he reign!

THE CRAZIES isn’t absolutely strictly a zombie movie, in the same way that 28 DAYS LATER isn’t, but… you know it is, right? A remake of Romero’s 1973 shocker, it’s much more expensive, much slicker, and delivers copious shocks and considerable suspense. The performances are fine, with Brit-playing-yank Joe Anderson the man of the match. It provides the most spectacular version yet of a climax that served for both RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and PONTYPOOL, and probably needs to be retired. As Fiona said, it’s stylishly made and has lots of good scares, but lacks the skin-crawling creepiness of the seventies cult nasty.

Scott Kosar and Ray Wright’s script does serve up some nice war-on-terror resonance, in keeping with the political tradition Romero’s always been part of (unlike the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, which doesn’t bother its pretty decomposing head about little things like meaning), and in the early stages I was impressed by the pace of the plot development and the intelligence of the characters, who figure out the whole situation and take sensible steps to contain the problem long before most real cops would, let alone the movie variety. It doesn’t do them any good. And unfortunately, as the crisis mounts, they seem to lose their wits and do stupid things like separating for no reason in locations which haven’t been secured.

What they need is a set of rules, like Jesse Eisenberg in ZOMBIELAND. You wouldn’t think there was room for another zom-rom-com after SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick use the zombie holocaust as mere bloodsoaked backdrop to a touching love story between a naive, nerdish virgin and a tough lady grifter. There’s actually a slight flavour of 1930s conman movies like BLONDE CRAZY here.

The cinematographer’s name is Michael Bondvillain, how cool is that? Oh, wait…

Also to be enjoyed — the titles, which use that interactive lettering thing that’s been spreading through cinema since the opening creds of PANIC ROOM, titles floating blimplike over Manhattan and casting their drifting shadows over the skyscrapers. Here, the artists’ names are scattered by falling zombies and their prey. This is a stylistic flourish driven by technology — had it been possible in the forties, Michael Powell would have had fun with the idea. In the sixties, Leone.

This is the first movie to explore the idea of zombie celebrities — expect more of this, someday. Romero introduced the incidental comedy of dead people still wearing the ridiculous gear they had on in life, back in DAWN OF THE DEAD — football players, Hari Krishna cultists, nuns (in fact, the nude girl in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is probably the first gesture in this direction), and ZOMBIELAND carries on the tradition with a zombie stripper, nipple-tassles spinning like rotor blades as she sprints bloodily after a victim, and a zombie father-and-son three-legged race could well be the greatest genre image of 2009.

Finally, The Walking Dead, Frank Darabont’s TV treatment of zombies, which delivers on suspense and gore and is compulsively watchable, as we discovered after five or so hours of viewing it. What it lacks is any new slant on the zombocalypse scenario, and any particularly novel or striking characters. The central perfs are all very good (as in THE CRAZIES, several Brits play Yanks), but nobody has the kind of soap-opera appeal of Hurley from Lost or Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica: they’re all a bit standard-issue. And if they’re not going to be decorated with quirks, I’d like them to be properly deep, which they’re not either. Only Michael Rooker (known affectionately to us as “Henry Portrait”, which is an old League of Gentlemen joke) has an excess of unpleasant personality to balance the mindless hordes.

Good zombies, though! Probably the most impressive designs of all the shambling undead above, and very good suspense situations, deftly delivered by Darabont and his colleagues, including Ernest Dickerson. My favourite TV zombie holocaust is still this one, though.

Available for cheap in UK:

Dead Set [DVD] [2008]

Zombieland [DVD] [2009]

Zombieland [Blu-ray] [2009]

The Crazies [Blu-ray] [2010]

The Crazies [DVD] [2010]

Survival Of The Dead [DVD] [2009]

Survival Of The Dead [Blu-ray] [2009]

USA:

George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead (Two-Disc Ultimate Undead Edition)

The Crazies [Blu-ray]

The Crazies

Zombieland

Zombieland [Blu-ray]

The Walking Dead: Season One

The Walking Dead: Season One [Blu-ray]

What are friends for?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2010 by dcairns

I really, really liked THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but I don’t know how much I have to say about it. Well, here goes.

First thing to strike is the rapid pace of dialogue, which is refreshing — I’ve been wallowing in pre-codes so it was nice to not feel I was being spoken to like a three-year-old. Also, the digital photography of Jeff Cronenweth is really beautiful, and particularly when doing what digital does best — showing night scenes without enhanced lighting.

(Is this going to be a checklist?)

Yay, John Getz! Stathis Borans himself (centre frame). In a cast as predominantly youthful as this, it’s good to have at least one face that isn’t inhumanly smooth, and craggy old Borans is a welcome sight. I don’t know why this guy didn’t make it bigger, he was good in THE FLY and BLOOD SIMPLE and then in THE FLY II, of all things, he was outstanding. And then he dropped off my radar completely. Here he’s that rarity, a sympathetic lawyer.

Whatever anybody says, I liked all the characters — there was something appealing about everybody, maybe because they were all so flawed and didn’t know it. Like Clouzot, I tend to find monstrously flawed characters more appealing than plain nice ones. And there aren’t many filmmakers around today who do nice well. Anyway, ZOMBIELAND’s Jesse Eisenberg and DR PARNASSUS’s Andrew Garfield are great, as is the satanic Justin Timberlake, the nastiest character, but one I still liked because he’s fun.

My viewing chums, Fiona and Marvelous Mary did regret the somewhat marginal roles played by the film’s female characters, but admitted that in a story of killer nerds, this was perhaps inevitable. Rooney Mara is very good in her pivotal role as the muse of Facebook, and I expect to see more of her, but it is a shamelessly boysie yarn.

Armie Hammer, a name which amuses me, plays twins, and Fiona immediately sussed that Fincher was more the kind of guy to use fancy digital footwork to achieve the effect than to indulge in a nationwide talent search for identical twins who can act and row boats. It turns out the technique used was precisely that which Olivia DeHavilland incorrectly believed was used to twin her in THE DARK MIRROR: Hammer played the scene with another, similarly-built actor Josh Spence, and then his head, sporting a different hairstyle, was filmed and inserted atop Spence’s body. At last, the technology exists to make DeHavilland’s mad dream a reality — somebody please call her up and tell her!

Fincher’s style is mostly crisp, fast-cut but with occasional longer and more fluid shots to break the pace — and then there’s a wildly indulgent trip to the Henley Regatta, where he breaks out a whole bunch of preposterous high-tech tricks. And the scene comes at the perfect point to offer relief from the rapidfire patter and jargon of the surrounding action.

I’m coining, and copyrighting, a neologism for filmmakers who want to be the new Kubrick — “kubris”. Fincher is definitely kubristic, with a mania for detail which advertises itself in every frame, but taken on his own merits he’s still an impressive package, with the special effects wizardry, loving detail-work, and enthusiasm for performance. Also, I think I’ve figured out that I’m going to instinctively know which Fincher films to go see — I had bad feelings about ALIEN 3, PANIC ROOM and BENJAMIN BORING BASTARD, and I was right, at least as far as whether I would enjoy them or not. Although it’s really only the last one that I regret shelling out shekels on.

For some reason, knowing screenwriter Aaron Sorkin largely by reputation (The West Wing etc), I hadn’t expected to be impressed by his work, but this witty take on “What shall it profit a man…” is superbly constructed and disposes of the acreage of exposition lightly and clearly. And I’m very curious how they cleared it with the legal department: a scurrilous tale from very recent history, dealing with a bunch of millionaires and billionaires who have already proved themselves litigious…

In spite of the technological subject and execution, I’d sell this film as a tragedy told in a very funny style, a pleasing combo with the added advantage of being really, really ridiculously good-looking. Dave Kehr finds the ending devastating, which just shows that one man’s devastating is another’s cute & well-rounded. But whatever your reaction, I think you’ll probably be glad you saw this one.

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