Install (2004, Kataoka Kei)

I watched Install because I was curious to see Ueto Aya in a non-Azumi role. She’s good in Install, though it’s impossible to determine whether or not she could have been bad. The film’s constructed very carefully not to put her–or any of the actors–in difficult situations. Acting situations. Ueto narrates the film and the beginning is classy–the film’s nicely shot, cinematographically speaking, and beautifully edited–so I had some high hopes for it. Install does something different with music in a drama–the music reacts to what’s happening on screen. It’s not a revolutionary practice, films have been doing it for specific moments since… what, 1933? But Install takes it a step further by never stopping with the music integration. Unfortunately, besides the opening theme, the music in Install is incredibly annoying. It’s carnival music and it repeats over and over and over again. It was driving me nuts. But the film’s still nicely edited. Great editing.

However good the editing, Install fails. Ugh. I was about to say the install fails to complete. Sorry. Ueto’s character is a teenage girl, apparently reeling from her parents’ divorce and not having at boyfriend. Well, maybe on the boyfriend part… She doesn’t have much conflict, but the film’s goofy and I’m not sure she really needed much. She’s just floundering and a floundering girl is an interesting character. Install even sets up an indigenous agent of solution–a similarly floundering (or so it seems) ten-year old boy. The opening scenes with the kid and Ueto are great. Install’s first twenty minutes are mostly narrated summary scenes, but the twenty minutes moves. Then, once the kid is introduced, the film starts to crawl as the hook is introduced. And once the hook is introduced, Install craps out.

The direction doesn’t help the film at all. Kataoka Kei is fantastic at one person shots, but once he’s got two in the frame, he does this silly distorted long shot and he does it every time.

Ueto was never going to be some great dramatic actor, but I had hoped Install would have been, well, watchable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kataoka Kei; screenplay by Omori Mika, based on the novel by Wataya Risa; director of photography, Ikeda Hidetaka; edited by Omori Shin; music by Iota Rita; production designer, Isoda Norihiro; produced by Kuroi Kazuo; released by Kadokawa Pictures.

Starring Ueto Aya (Nozawa Asako), Kamiki Ryunosuke (Aoki Kazuyoshi), Nakamura Shichinosuke (Kouichi), Kikukawa Rei (Momoko-sensei), Kojima Hijiri (Kayori), Tanaka Yoshiko (Kasa Megumi) and Ôkôchi Hiroshi.


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Pocket Money (1972, Stuart Rosenberg)

Pocket Money is, in addition to being an excellent film, an example of a couple interesting things. First, it’s a 1970s character study, which is a different genre than what currently passes for a character study (if there are character studies at all anymore, since Michael Mann and Wes Anderson stopped doing them). The 1970s character study (Arthur Penn’s Night Moves is a good example of another) works in a kind of short-hand with the viewer. While the first act of Pocket Money takes maybe twenty minutes, Paul Newman’s character is fully established in the first five. Paul Newman’s a movie star, so there’s an expectation of him and Pocket Money breaks that expectation, but then sets him up again… in about those five minutes. Maybe six. There’s no established goal to these films (more modern character studies add a goal, something to give the story some drama). Pocket Money is following some cowboy, who isn’t too bright, but is amiable. The film never raises a single expectation of what’s going to come next. I can’t imagine what the trailer must have looked like.

Second (I almost forgot–not really), Terrence Malick wrote the screenplay. Pocket Money would have been his highest profile work at that point, followed by Badlands the next year. Obviously, Badlands looks and sounds different from the rest of Malick’s work, but Pocket Money sounds a lot like Badlands. This Malick is the one who still enjoys dialogue for dialogue’s sake, who likes to make people laugh. Since the film co-stars Lee Marvin, who delivers Malick’s comic lines (Newman’s got plenty of comic lines and a few of the exchanges sound a lot like Lucky Number Slevin of all films) with his gravelly, earthy voice, they are a lot of great comedic moments in the film.

Stuart Rosenberg directed Pocket Money. He directed a number of other Newman films, Cool Hand Luke being their most famous collaboration. Actually, he seems to have replaced Martin Ritt–Newman did a number of films with both directors and when Ritt stops, Rosenberg starts. Whatever. Rosenberg’s impressive. He distances the viewer from the actors at the right times and he pulls them in at the right times. Pocket Money’s got a great supporting cast–Strother Martin, Wayne Rogers and Hector Elizondo–and Rosenberg knows how to use them.

Since DVD’s advent and AMC’s full commercialization, a number of films have fallen to the dust. I was just thinking this morning about the difference between DVD enthusiasts and film enthusiasts. A DVD enthusiast is passive, he or she takes what is available. A film enthusiast has to look around, has to find things. Pocket Money is no longer particularly hard to find (it just aired on INHD, so there’s a beautiful print of it–it has great Laszlo Kovacs cinematography–for the someday DVD) and I hope people try to see it. While it’s never as outstanding as the first twenty minutes, it’s an excellent film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg; screenplay by John Gay and Terrence Malick, based on a novel by J.P.S. Brown; director of photography, László Kovács; edited by Bob Wyman; music by Alex North; produced by John Foreman; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Jim Kane), Lee Marvin (Leonard), Strother Martin (Bill Garrett), Wayne Rogers (Stretch Russell), Hector Elizondo (Juan), Christine Belford (Adelita), Kelly Jean Peters (Sharon), Gregory Sierra (Guerro Chavarin) and Fred Graham (Uncle Herb).


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The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972, Paul Newman)

Paul Newman must have had an interesting experience directing Man-in-the Moon Marigolds. His wife played the lead and their daughter played her daughter, the film’s protagonist. The mother’s awful (Joanne Woodward isn’t awful, the character is awful) and Newman sticks with her. Woodward manages to infuse her with some humanity, but only so much is possible. There isn’t very much tension whether or not things will be all right (they won’t), but the last act is structured with lots of moments of immediate dread, so many I forgot the inevitable and it still came as a surprise at the end.

Watching Man-in-the-Moon is watching an exploration. It’s not a character study, since Woodward’s character isn’t the protagonist, and the differences between the film and a character study make it all the more interesting. We learn all about this woman, who we’ve prejudged–there are a few moments when we might be wrong about her, but there’s really only like three–and the film goes and confirms everything we’ve already decided. It’s a strange formula, since it breaks one of those major tenets of good fiction, never let the reader prejudge the character. The reader engages a work to make that decision. This observation leads me to Man-in-the-Moon’s quality as fiction. I’m not sure it’s particularly good. It comes from a play and Newman does a great job making it not feel like a play, but the film wallows in a stifling helplessness. It’s good, but it’s good because the writing–by Alvin Sargent, who also adapted Ordinary People and knows how to make things work–and the acting and the directing all go together. There’s also the setting, some sad Connecticut town, populated with people who never went anywhere. Idealism is absent from Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and Newman makes you work for anything positive.

As a director, I’m not sure who Newman learned from. Some actors (George Clooney) have very obvious influences, but Newman’s beyond quiet. He does let composer Maurice Jarre carry some of the weight, but otherwise, the camera isn’t even present. Still, its absence doesn’t make the adapted play feel stagy, Newman just doesn’t let the viewer interact with him. It’s a great approach and probably the one to make this material work.

All of the performances are perfect, not just Woodward and real-life daughter Nell “Potts” (you’ve seen her on the Newman’s Own labels), but also the other sister, played by Roberta Wallach (Eli Wallach’s daughter–love that IMDb). After seeing the film version–and I know Woodward is a big supporter of the theater, so I’m sure this reaction wasn’t at all her intent–I have no interest in seeing a staged version. It couldn’t be as good, which is the greatest compliment an adaptation can get.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Paul Newman; screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the play by Paul Zindel; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by Evan Lottman; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, Gene Callahan; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Joanne Woodward (Beatrice), Nell Polts (Malilda), Roberta Wallach (Ruth), Judith Lowry (Granny), Richard Venture (Floyd) and Carolyn Coates (Mrs. McKay).


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Superman Returns (2006, Bryan Singer)

My expectations for Superman Returns were incredibly high (especially since everything Bryan Singer’s done since The Usual Suspects with the exception of the “House” pilot has been dreck). Three stars. I don’t bother putting star ratings on The Stop Button, since whenever I see them in reviews, I look at them and then at not the review. Also, the New York Times doesn’t do it. Watching the previews for Superman Returns, I realized Singer wasn’t just making a sequel to the originals, he was structurally remaking the first Superman. That prediction proves true, but it’s not a bad thing. The first Superman film has a fine structure and it isn’t as though Returns was ever going to be as good as the first film. For moments during the film, it seemed like Superman Returns might get up to that three star level. The film runs two and a half hours, so there’s a lot of time for it to make up for early faults. During the first hour and a half, Singer cuts between Superman and company and Lex Luthor and company, which doesn’t work particularly well and there are major dips because of the pacing–and it takes a long time for Superman and Luthor to seem like they’re in the same film. The Luthor scenes have a comical, winking with the audience feel, while the rest doesn’t.

On an episode of “Boston Legal,” there was a line about winning a case in the closing testimony–going on and on and on until you’ve won the jury over. Singer implements that practice in Superman Returns. It doesn’t exactly have multiple endings–in fact, it doesn’t really have one–but he goes on and on until he’s gotten the film to where he can let it go. Singer obviously loves the film he’s made and there’s a lot to love about Superman Returns. While it never achieves the wonderment of the original film, the flying scenes in this film are breathtaking. Green screen special effects and computer compositing have finally gotten to good spot. But that ending trouble, it isn’t something inherent in the film, it’s all because of Singer’s structuring. Superman Returns has some great scenes, but whenever–with one exception I’ll get to–Singer deviates from that appropriated Superman structure, the film gets long.

As for the cast… Brandon Routh is fine. He’s good as Clark Kent and fine as Superman. Here’s the problem. Not enough Superman–and when there is Superman, Singer doesn’t let Routh do much. I wonder if there was a trust factor involved–I’m sure Singer wasn’t willing to let Routh end his career. Kate Bosworth is adequate as Lois Lane, but Superman Returns reconfigures her character so much, she’s not really Lois Lane anymore. She’s been domesticated. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane never had long hair because she would have thought it too much of a fuss. Bosworth looks like she spends as much time combing hers as Marcia Brady. James Marsden plays Lois Lane’s fiancé, one of Superman Returns’s best innovations, and he’s actually really good. His action scenes are the exception I talked about before, where he shows human heroism, which nicely offsets the guy who can lift continents. I’d only seen Marsden in X-Men and thought he was the pits, but he gives the second best performance in Superman Returns. The first is Parker Posey. She’s great (she’s also been on “Boston Legal,” though not in the episode I was talking about). Kevin Spacey occasionally has fun as Lex Luthor, but he never embraces it like Gene Hackman did. I kept waiting for him to do it and it kept seeming like he would, but it never gets there. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, but not worth name-checking.

While my fiancée has no interest in ever seeing Superman Returns again–as she told me in no uncertain terms–I’m curious how a rewatch might affect the experience. I imagine it would have a positive effect, but I’m not sure how much (no matter how many times I watch it, for example, John Ottman’s score will never get better). For this entire post, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to lambaste Singer’s Ripley into the lava shot, which might have been all right, if the music weren’t so overbearing, but I’m having trouble–but now I think it’s the music’s fault. The music stops working at a certain point in the film. It stops relying on the John Williams score and it starts to sound cheap. Leaving the Williams score behind is a bad idea, given Superman Returns’s agreement with the audience is solely based on the images the score conjures and breaking that agreement is what gets Superman Returns into the most trouble. And the little kid. The little kid gets real annoying.

While the film didn’t earn the three I wanted, it did get two and a half, which isn’t bad–even with all the problems, it’s still Superman.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, based on a story by Singer, Dougherty and Harris, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Elliot Graham and John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designer, Guy Hendrix Dyas; produced by Singer, Jon Peters and Gilbert Adler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Brandon Routh (Clark Kent/Superman), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), James Marsden (Richard White), Frank Langella (Perry White), Eva Marie Saint (Martha Kent), Parker Posey (Kitty Kowalski), Sam Huntington (Jimmy Olsen), Kal Penn (Stanford) and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | SUPERMAN.

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