Month: September 2016

Watch The Simpsons with commentary

Watch The Simpsons with commentary

I check out plenty of dvds from the public library. It’s one habit I acquired since I came to live to the US for the first time a couple years back. The racks are full of outstanding material (of course there’s also plenty of crap). One of my favorites dvd sets are The Simpsons seasons. Everyone in the crew seem to have a high-quality grasp of developing a succesful comedy show.  

My personal favorites are the Al Jean and Mike Reiss (seasons 3 -4) era and the David Mirkin era (5-6) Mirkin is famous for giving the show a little more surrealism. But Jean and Reiss tell you a lot about the early days. Especially Al Jean, who seems to be the nerdiest of nerds. And Mirkin is probably the funniest, sarcastic of them all.  Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein are very funny as well. 

Of course Matt Groening, David Silverman, Dan Castellaneta and the rest of the crew are also grest people, and you notice how friendly they are at the same time mocking each other so you get the same laughs you’d get if you were watching without commentary. I highly recommend anybody interested in this show, animation or general filmmaking to listen to these commentaries. They area really great source of information and you will have a great time listening to them listening to many reference explanations and development issues they had when this show was at its peak.

Oh and there’s a commentary wih Homer Simpson speaking along the crew. It’s hilarious. I wont’t say which episode, just get your hands on these sets, watch the whole thing and have a blast.

Tiny Furniture

Tiny Furniture

September 13, 2016

 

Tiny Furniture (2010) starts with Aura (Lena Dunham) who just came back home from college and is looking for some answers, tips to figure it out, you know the kind. She stays with her mom and sisters (who are actually Dunham’s real mom and sis). They fight, they argue, they lie around the loft. She reencounters an old friend, Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), a half-British-accented girl whom she’s been avoiding for years. When we first meet her in a brief party scene, she seems like a sole aberration but when they get to hang out we realize she is a better person than Aura thought she was. She is easygoing and doesn’t think too much about outcomes, just like the movie itself. Kind of like a Cosmo Kramer (and Aura says she sees re-runs of Seinfeld in a scene). At times you think she is someone who’d be interesting to spend time with. At others she’s just troublesome.

 

Her mom is an artist. She takes pictures of tiny things. She doesn’t bother Aura when she is being lazy. She probably was in the same situation at her age. But she does bother her for other personal little details: that she ate her frozen food, slept in her bed, or that there’s a frozen hamster in the fridge. And her sister doesn’t help, who is perfect in every aspect and, contrasted with Aura, good looking. Aura is also trying to be an artist; she makes YouTube videos in which she relishes semi-naked in public fountains. There are plenty of nods to DIY artistry. Which nowadays is a situation that sometimes looks like the best choice for our generation. One of the videos is actually shown in an art event later in the film, it wasn’t what Aura expected but it’s probably better than the job she had as a hostess in a small restaurant.

 

As the movie progresses, we get to meet a couple more characters. Two guys, Keith and Jed, one is an asshole who is cool and the other one a cool guy who is an asshole. Aura disappoints one of them, and the other one disappoints her. I’ll let you figure it out. She has somewhat interesting moments with them. For instance, she talks about porn, something called “tentacle rape” and fucks inside a pipe in a random street, but many bits feel lazy or nonsense. There’s another side-story about Aura and her college best friend that concludes ambiguously, or maybe just doesn’t conclude at all.

 

In addition to nonsense talk there are also nonsense moments. She reads her mom’s diary and later reads it out loud on YouTube, and you think that will be used later in terms of drama or something, but it doesn’t. There’s also a Chantal Ackerman-y scene when she takes care of a Spider-Man-dressed kid that only lasts a couple seconds. I couldn’t see the point; we never see anything related to it again. That’s the basis of the whole movie, I presume. To portray lack of importance in detail and “chill personalities” in the film, and she succeeds in that (if that was the purpose) but many of them feel like unnecessary points.

 

I hate and really feel bad when I attack an independent movie that feels like a sincere effort but the story didn’t work out for me. It feels like many parts could’ve been cut, or more drama (or comedy) added. Anyway, it is an interesting movie at times. You can feel Aura’s struggle in almost every scene; hopefully she made it as an artist like her mom said she would. The last conversation she has with her is the best part. Although in real life we know Dunham became very successful after Tiny Furniture, and that’s essentially what gives reciprocal importance to this movie that could age as a great portrayal of this generation. It does touches factually interesting conversations, makes references to a couple good things and has low budget paraphernalia that feels natural. You can’t really discard a movie made by someone in her twenties. That said, Lena Dunham’s who wrote it, directed it and starred in it, pulled off a solid product full of varied personalities, but she did not deliver a great movie. Who am I to say that? See you next time.

From Worst to Best: The Wes Anderson Films

From Worst to Best: The Wes Anderson Films

September 12, 2016

 

Wes Anderson has made great films in his unique way. From stop-motion to absurd-fantasy films. An ever-present impressive aspect in his features is how he can create all these worlds that some haters have claimed are the same film done all over again (and he uses always the same ensemble). If one keeps a close eye in his films, however, you will soon realize how many different types of people he has created. It’s shocking. And amazing.

 

Moreover, it is a painstaking task to rank his films but I decided to finally give it a shot. I’ve been trying to do this “From Worst to Best” series inspired by stereogum.com’s lists of a certain artists’ albums in the same manner. This is just a personal list and I am not pretending to claim this is the actual order of greatness of his movies. Here it goes. NOTE: The list only includes his feature films.

 

 

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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It was claimed, when it came out, that The Grand Budapest Hotel was Wes Anderson’s opus. That may be the case in terms of cinematography, layers of storytelling and scenario. But other than that, the characters here (although they are outstandingly performed by their actors) are not the best he has created. The dialogue and story are also not the funniest which makes this the “worst” Wes Anderson film. I would still give this movie an eight or nine out of ten (or 3.5 stars if you are into all that critique maneuver). On the other hand, if the movie were food, the nutrition facts would be as rich as in a multi-vitamin pill container. Anyone with a general taste in storytelling should enjoy this witty tale from beginning to end just like that young girl in the bench.

 

 

  1. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

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The first half of the Darjeeling Limited you might think you are watching the best Wes Anderson film yet. The first part of the movie provides some of the funniest moments in his career. And the way Peter, Jack and Francis are being introduced to us in the train leaves the viewer savoring every detail about the story with finger-licking delight and hard laughs. It was also fun to see Adrien Brody in a WA film for the first time. The second half, however, weakens in some ways; its confusing path and some even boring bits that had never been present in a Wes Anderson movie to that date make it inferior than others, although it’s beautifully concluded and the music is great.

 

 

  1. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

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There’s actually a lot to say about this one. But I won’t. I am aware that Fantastic Mr. Fox is a masterpiece in its own. As a Wes Anderson enthusiast (whatever that means), I am putting Fox a little low in the list. Why? Because it feels like a different entity, lonely as that wolf, it’s a different work of art. It does have the elements and camera movements and quirky dialogue your average Wes Anderson movie delivers. But on some other level, the film doesn’t compare with other of his mundane features. It’s more like a masterpiece whose contenders are other animated films of the kind. Some might consider it a dream come true. Non-related-with-Wes-Anderson movie viewers might find it a really weird and experimental movie.

 

  1. Bottle Rocket (1996)

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The one were it all started. This used to move from place to place on my top 3 a couple years back. After some re-watches of the whole Wes Anderson work it has gone down a couple places but that doesn’t mean it is a story to discard. Bottle Rocket is the easiest WA movie to enjoy if you are not into his style. For a viewer trying to get into something simple out of a small set of not-so-simple people, this is a good place to explore. The truth of the matter is that Wes Anderson’s first feature is as funny and entertaining as the ones that followed, done with little detail in mise en scène that would be exaggerated for good in his next films. All in all, this is a very darn-fine film to launch a career in the movie world. Ask Martin Scorsese if you don’t believe my word.

 

  1. Rushmore (1998)

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Film history tells us this is Wes Anderson’s breakthrough into cinema, the one that opened the door to that artistic freedom. Anderson tends to write compelling and powerfully original characters, but many will claim he never wrote a better one than the beloved Max Fischer. He is one for the ages with such a strange and unique personality. A young Wes Anderson, whose young mastermind was already showing viewers what a creative individual he was, magnificently constructs the little world that all these people inhabit: Rushmore Academy and its surroundings. It is also trivially important because it was the first in a series of collaborations between Anderson and Bill Murray that has been impressively consistent to this date.

 

  1. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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For me, Moonrise Kingdom worked in every level. It is probably Anderson at his weirdest. The movie contains scenes with little kids making out, violent chases, lonely people, and infidelities. If you thought Wes Anderson had already written his more miserable characters, this got you by surprise completely. This is the film where you see the director can make you laugh without any of his characters smiling at all. It’s pure dark humor, and and his first period movie (although in his previous films sometimes it’s hard to tell the time setting). The absurdity is present in every particle of the picture, and there’s a visual nightmarish last stand with a delectable calm after the storm.

 

  1. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

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I don’t even want to say that much about this one or I will get annoying with my praises. Life Aquatic is, in many aspects, the funniest Wes Anderson film due to its carefully placed small jokes, highly absurd plot, and how our oceanographer friend Steve Zissou tries to demonstrate his people and the world (or maybe just his critics), that he is not full of shit. It is also the closest Wes Anderson has gotten to make a fantasy movie. Owen Wilson plays a personal favorite role in his whole career. Plus, the underwater Sigur Ros scene (I won’t spoil it) can easily be considered one of the most beautiful bits in modern cinema. Life Aquatic makes us ensure that the Wes Anderson movies will go further anything we’ve expected after watching this one. I should stop there.

 

  1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

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This is Wes Anderson near perfection. The Royal Tenenbaums has every element existent in his other films, even the ones that followed. The Tenenabums are displayed as the quintessential comical dysfunctional family. Every performance is outstanding as well as miserable. Think One Hundred Years of Solitude. Think The Corrections. Think The Simpsons. Think The Sopranos. That level of dysfunctional family portrayal is shown in this movie with unceasing detail. Think Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) might be one of the funniest characters ever crafted in cinema. The women are also at a high level of astonishment here. Every character in the movie, despite being always gray in personality, is contrasted with colorful places (and wardrobes) that dominate the eye of the camera; each character has strange hobbies, philosophies, personal tragedies, and bad decisions made in life. It’s a magnificent analysis of humanity that at the end, like it did with Eli Cash, makes you feel part of the family. Also, kudos to every secondary character here: Pagoda, Dudley, Dusty, Ari & Uzi, Walter Sherman and so on.

 

 

This is it. I hope to do another one of these rankings in the near future. Thanks for reading. Please share your ranking and any complaints you may have. I am always open for film discussion.

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To Wes Anderson: thanks for giving us all these wonderful characters and stories over the years. I hope you don’t die soon. Can’t wait to see what’s next. (Rumor is he is making another stop-motion feature with Bryan Cranston on the lead).

 

Pretentious smiles in Autumn Sonata

Pretentious smiles in Autumn Sonata

September 11, 2016

 

“A mother and a daughter. What a terrible combination of feelings and confusion and destruction.” Says Eva (Liv Ullmann), our main character in Autumn Sonata (1978) directed by Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, the film is similar to some other works of his like The Passion of Anna (1969), Cries and Whispers (1972), and Scenes from a Marriage (1973). Grief invades these characters everyday. Eva has a sick sister, Elena. “Lena” stays with her. Eva takes care of her and her desperate, nonsense screams. Another problem is Eva’s son, Erik, who drowned before the day he was four. His room is kept intact and she sometimes lies there to meditate, suffer and wonder what could have been. One may think that actually enjoying this film is a type of masochism.

 

The main problem in the film, however, is Eva’s mother, Charlotte, wonderfully played by Hollywood-legend actress Ingrid Bergman. The title of this post is because the first half of the movie is filled with pretentious smiles, Eva pretends she is happy to see her mother, who visits her house for a couple days, they pretend they are happy to see each other. This goes on for a while. But problems start to arise. Her mother easily mocks her piano skills (they are both artists, so you might imagine the temperaments). Eva later explodes in a series of declarations, a scene a half-hour long of pure grievance, with no physical violence, no bloodshed, and the film still feels as violent as an early Peter Jackson movie.

 

Eva’s husband, Viktor (Halvar Bjork) also smiles as if he was a happy man. He only suffers. He talks to us, the camera, the audience, saying how unhappy her wife is, and how deeply he actually loves her. He doesn’t know how to combine the words to express his feelings. He knows he is not loved. She told him when they met, but he still insisted. He spies his wife, he sees her suffer. He listens to every conversation she has with his mother. Eva sometimes insults him, not hesitating to at least articulate it euphemistically, as if she is sure he is not listening. We just see the pain being send from his ears to his heart, to his unloved soul.

 

After the final confrontation between mother and daughter, the movie feels like a revenge film. But as soon as we see Charlotte in a train, traveling with some sort of lover, Paul, played by Ingmar Bergman’s regular Gunnar Bjornstrand, in a role that feels more like a cameo: he acts solely as a listener, his mouth only moves to deliver a doubtful chuckle. Why do I write doubtful? He seems to hear this lady with despair as she enjoys leaving her children behind. She expresses of Lena, her sick daughter as: “Why don’t you die already?” So there you have it.

 

We know Charlotte doesn’t give a crap. Early in the film, while she is in bed, reading a book that she hates by an author that supposedly was crazy about her that she also probably hates (the fact that she is reading it only supports her deranged personality), she plans to give her daughter a new car. She later says she won’t, talking to herself. She takes away a nice detail without even giving it in the first place. She enjoys being evil without anyone else noticing. That’s a pure portrayal of antagonism.

 

I am lucky to have one of the sweetest moms, but I know there are mothers (or monsters) like Charlotte. I’ve seen them. They exist. And their children, especially the daughters suffer quite several. Like Charlotte says at one point in the film, “I was always the same, just my face and body aged.” That is the immaturity case that condemns many children in many families. In a great parallel word she would be always top 3 in the worst villains in film history.

 

The movie is still strangely beautiful in many ways. We see that outside the house the autumn evenings look calm and gorgeous, as if the problems are only inside. Anyone who can sense drama as pure action will be completely entertained for 90 minutes by Autumn Sonata, one of Ingmar Bergman’s greatest. My question to anyone who knew the Swedish auteur: How can he write such a powerful film if he was neither a daughter nor a mother? Hell: it’s significant that an artist can portray these problems in such a powerful picture about regular people struggling to find happiness.