Wednesday, October 17, 2007

#23 Female Performance: Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson
Lost in Translation (2003)

Sofia Coppola's sophmore effort conveys the disillusionment and sense of alienation felt by its two main characters by intuitively creating a specific tone of melancholy through striking visuals, its shoegaze infused soundtrack and understated sleep-walking performances from Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. Influenced by European directors such as Godard and Antonioni, Coppola abandons traditional narrative conventions by creating a lucid dream-like atmosphere within her minimalistic story-line that is more driven by aesthetics rather than characters or plot. Instead, the film strives to portray a specific mood through self-reflexive means with the aid of contrasting image and sound (specifically music). Story-wise, Lost in Translation is not particulary ambitious and at times frivolous which in turn, reflects the attitudes and state of mind of Charlotte (Johansson) and Bob (Murray) who are both unsatisfied with their current positions in life and desperately seeking for some kind of enlightement vicariously through each other.

Johansson's quiet performance is understated in every sense of the word which doesn't rely on any kind of histrionics. She does an excellent job of internalizing her character's ennui and mediocrity. Charlotte is instantly relatable with the same emotional hang-ups of any pos-graduate plagued with uncertainty of the future. Her longing to find that special connection with someone also feels awfully familiar especially when miscommunication or lackthereof has become a popular norm in today's technologically motivated society. Charlotte's breakdown in the hotel room strikes a chord in its profundity as it reveals the overwhelming desire for finding a meaningful purpose in her life. Johansson's proclivty to internalize her character's existential turmoil is done with such subtley and natural conviction making her search for enlightenemnt all the more resonant.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Old Review: Antz (1998)

“I was not cut out to be a worker, I'll tell you right now. I feel physically inadequate. I, I... My whole life, I've never... I've NEVER been able to lift more than ten times my body weight.”

Due to the lack of updates, here's another review I digged up that was written in 2001. Seems like my writing hasn't improved that much at all.

When it comes to computer animated movies, Pixar is a tough cookie to compete against. Nevertheless, Antz which was created by a team from Dreamworks Studio is an absolute animated delight. What most impressed me was the way the team of animators was able to create such an infinitesimal world with striking detail. It’s truly a wonderful sight to behold. Each frame contains gorgeous animation that I would argue would be a worthy contender against Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and I personally find myself watching the former more often than the latter.

An all star cast of actors do an excellent job of providing the voices for their digital characters including Gene Hackman, Christopher Walker, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, Danny Glover, Ann Hesche, Dan Akroyd and even Jennifer Lopez. However, the star voice actor is Woody Allen who voices Z, the main protagonist of the story. Allen basically plays himself here, that neurotic type of character we have come to know so well in his movies. The script is original, witty and sharp which I believe Woody Allen himself contributed to because it seems to contain his trademark writing style and nuances. It’s a perfect blend of comedy, romance, action and drama.

Can one ant out of billions really make a difference? Darnell and Johnson explore the possibilities of this question and they succeed The story in a nutshell resolves around an ant colony that is governed by a communist dictatorship where General Mandible (Hackman) makes the major decisions with or without the Queen’s (Anne Bancroft) consent. Z is a worker ant, the lowest class in the colony that is forced into back breaking labor and has to comply with the orders given to him by the higher authorities. He wants his own independence and to put it in his words, “to think for himself.” Democracy, free will and equality come into play rather nicely but not in a heavy handed way.

The strikingly beautiful animation coupled with a great script and talented voice actors, Antz proves to be more than just an animated movie. It all feels so real, full of imagination, adventure, and humor provided by one of the funniest comedians ever; Mr. Woody Allen. It’s seems to have been forgotten in comparison to the more popular Pixar films which is a damn shame. Not only is it an amazing accomplishment but one that every one of all ages can enjoy. I can only hope that it in years to come it will be remembered as a pivotal step towards animated feature films.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

October Viewing Log

02/10: The Weatherman (Verbinski, 2005): [***]
02/10: The Proposition (Hillcoat, 2005): [****]
03/10: Mysterious Skin (Araki, 2005): [***]
03/10: Metropolitan (Stillman, 1990): [***1/2]
03/10: Children of Men (Cuaron, 2006): [****] 2nd

04/10: Sunshine (Boyle, 2007): [***1/2]
04/10: Deathproof (Tarantino, 2007): [**]
05/10: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer: [**** (M)] 2nd
06/10: The Lookout (Frank, 2007): [***]
08/10: Live Free or Die Hard (Wisemen, 2007): [***1/2]
12/10: Pleasantville (Ross, 1998) - [****]
12/10: 1408 (Hafstrom, 2007) - [***1/2]
16/10: Ratatouille (Bird, 2007) - [****]
16/10: Reign Over Me (Binder, 2007) - [***]
17/10: Monster House (Kenen, 2006) - [****]
17/10: Le Samourai (Melville, 1967) - [****]
17/10: Evil Dead (Raimi, 1981) - [**]
18/10: POTC: End of the World (Verbinski, 2007): [*] 2nd
18/10: The Lives of Others (Donnersmark, 2006): [***]
18/10: The House of Flying Daggers (Yimou, 2004): [***1/2]
18/10: Network (Lumet, 1975): [**** (M)]
23/10: The Third Man (Reed, 1944): [***1/2]
24/10: Night and the City (Dassin, 1950): [***]
24/10: Sleuth (Mankiewicz, 1972): [**** (M)]
24/10: The Bourne Ultimatium (Greengrass, 2007): [****]
24/10: Welcome to the Dollhouse (Solondz, 1995): [***1/2]

25/10: The Big Heat (Lang, 1953): [****]
25/10: 3:10 To Yuma (Mangold, 2007): [***]
28/10: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Hill, 1969): [****]
29/10: Bottle Rocket (Anderson, 1996): [***1/2]
30/10: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Box/Park 2005): [***1/2]
30/10: Battle Royale (Fukasaku, 2000): [**]
30/10: Sicko (Moore, 20007): [****]
31/10: Miller's Crossing (Coen, 1990): [****]
31/10: Rebel Without a Cause (Ray, 1955): [****]
31/10: Chicken Run (Lord/Park, 2000): [***1/2]

#21 Female Performance: Amy Adams

Amy Adams
Ashley Johnsten
Junebug (2005)

Don’t think for a moment that I had overlooked some of those great supporting female performances that have cropped up in the last 6 years or so. They deserve to be recognized just as much as main leading actresses do and sometimes even manage to steal the spot-light altogether. This is such the case with Amy Adams from Phil Morrison’s debut film Junebug. She plays Ashley, a high-spirited young woman from a small town in North Carolina who is in the last stages of her pregnancy. She couldn’t be more thrilled to have a baby and along with her uncontrollable eagerness to finally meet her brother’s new fiancĂ©, Ashley is on the verge of hyperventilating from all this excitement. Right when we first meet her, her shining optimism and wide-eyed innocence is infectious – it’s hard not to fall in love with her, albeit not instantaneously. Ashley may not be the most sophisticated of people and she starts out as annoying with frivolous questions and juvenile behavior. As the story progresses her immaturity translates into adorable charm and conclusively to sole wisdom as tragedy strikes a low blow to the family. There is a real star-quality to Amy Adams and whenever she isn’t on screen, the film feels that it is lacking a little spark. The rest of cast also does superb work in bringing depth to their characters through subtlety although it is Adams who goes one step further to delicately engage the script bringing her character to life and make it completely her own. She’s a one woman show, authentic and with plenty of talent to spare.

There’s a terrific scene where Adams proves why she was nominated for an Oscar that year. Ashley’s conceited husband who does actually love her even though he isn’t particular good at showing it is downstairs while there is a baby shower celebration going on upstairs. He knows that his wife has affection for mongooses and flipping through the channels he stumbles upon a wild-life documentary on the animal. He quickly scrambles to find a VHS tape to record it and is unsuccessful. Screaming in frustration causes quite a stir to the upstairs festivities and Ashley comes down to see what the entire ruckus is about. In a film that could easily fall into clichĂ©, you would expect Ashley to be furious with her husband for disrupting her guests but the filmmakers opt for a more simplistic alternative that reveals a great deal about the couple without saying much. She faces him and simply says, “God loves you just the way you are. But He loves you too much to let you stay that way.” Ashley says these words to him with utter warmth rather than conviction as a way of expressing how his irritable behavior has been since the beginning of the pregnancy; his displeasure at the soon future prospect of being a father. Her optimism becomes the driving force of the entire film and Adams sells every moment. This is the kind of performance you won’t soon forget.