Tuesday, August 31

Review: The Apartment

Bear with me here.

The Apartment is a romantic comedy made in 1960 and shot in black and white. I know that a lot of people who watch movies as entertainment would find this enough reason too dismiss a movie as old and boring. Please, please don't. I say this as both a (wannabe) film critic and someone who just plain loves movies: The Apartment is great. 

When the movie starts we see an office building from the inside. There is a seemingly endless row of desks, behind which the John Does of the world make their living. We then zoom in to perhaps the least significant of them: C.C. Baxter (played wonderfully minimal by Jack Lemmon). He is one of those sad, lonely guys who comes home from work every day and finds his apartment empty. But Baxter has pulled an even shorter straw. His apartment is used by his superiors as their personal fuckshack, and he can wait outside until they are finished with their bimbo du jour. And to make things even worse: the lift lady whom he is secretly in love with, mrs. Kubelik, has an affair with his (married) boss. Who then asks Baxter if he can use his apartment to have sex with Kubelik.

Not that I blame him for wanting too.

Most people would draw the line just about there. Not Baxter. He is a wonderfully strange man: shy and spineless, but also selfless and caring. He just keeps on going, completely keeping his own desires and needs out of the equation. I won't spoil too much of the plot, but rest assured that this attitude will give him a world of trouble.

The Apartement
is a romantic movie that contains very little on-screen romance. It is a comedy in which enough drama occurs to fill a decent soap-opera season. And it's a christmas movie that doesn't even have a single ho-ho-ho. Normally, this would make a rom-com depressing and sluggish. It is a testament to Billy Wilder's (who wrote and directed the movie) skill that he managed to make these things work in his advantage. Keeping the romance virtually out of his movie (there isn't even a kiss-off) he manages to keep the story engaging and interesting throughout. Oh sure, we know what the outcome will be, but how in the world Baxter and Kubelik are ever going to overcome all their problems and get together keeps us guessing. The drama might hit some very dark tones (even by contemporary merits), but it makes you genuinely and deeply care about the characters. And leaving out the whole christmas bit... well, it doesn't exactly take a genius to see how that would improve the movie.

Seriously, F*** this Movie

The Apartment is one of the funniest, most endearing and best-written comedies I have seen in a long time. An absolute recommendation for just about everyone.


P.S. The movie also has some great pacing, so you don't have to fear Once-Upon-a-Time-in-the-West-esque slow-burning drama. This movie goes as fast as any movie nowadays, which only improves it.

This song might be a bit of a standard today, but it is just as everlastingly delightful as the movie.

Wednesday, August 25

Pulling Rabbits: On Jason Reitman

There seems to be some sort of divide in indie music nowadays. On one side there are the bands that play noisy, rough pop with harsh and streetwise lyrics, inspired by The Velvet Underground. Think The Black Keys, The Dirty Projectors and Mark Lanegan. On the other side is passive-aggressively sweet music which sounds smooth as butter, inspired by The Beatles. Think Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura and Air.

What this has to do with movies? Well, I think the divide can be noted there as well. Think of Darren Aronofsky, Lars von Trier and (arguably) P.T. Anderson in the first vein, and Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson in the second. The directors in the second category often even incorporate the music of the second category in their movies. So what has any of this to do with Jason Reitman? Well, I think he might use the "smooth" style both more true to form and better then anyone nowadays.

Despite his rapist beard.

Jason Reitman has directed three movies so far: Thank You For Smoking, which was about lobbyists, Juno, which was about teen pregnancy and Up in the Air, which was about the personal tragedy that the current economic crisis has caused. Yet Reitman has the cunning ability to make delightful comedies off of these heavy topics without making fun of them. The jokes arise from the characters themselves, not from the (rather dire) situations they're in. If anything, the lightness of his tone in juxtaposition with the brevity of his topics might just make them more palpable.

And his tone is very light indeed. The dialogues are incredibly smooth and snappy, the music is quirky and the colors are shiny and happy (although a little less so in Up In the Air). But there is always some inescapable solemnness in his scenes, something that keeps it from silly. Be it Juno's pregnant belly, be it the briefcase that George Clooney's character drags around in Up in the Air. To make the connection back to the music; it's the same I-don't-know-what that makes Belle and Sebastian songs so happy and so sad at the same time.

Or Calvin and Hobbes.

Reitman does a thing with comedy that the likes of Chaplin and Wilder have done in the past: mixing hilarity with important issues and getting away with it. I'm not sure whether he deserves a place among those giants jet, but if he continues this way I am sure he will get there.

Also, he finally has given J.K. Simmons some decent roles. That deserves some praise at least.


This was obvious.

Monday, August 23

Review: The Aviator

I think some apologies are in place.

First, it is my turn to apologize. In the past I have called Martin Scorsese an overrated director. I was wrong about that. Mister Scorsese, Martin, I'm sorry. Just because I didn't like the subject of some of your (earlier) movies gave me no reason to overlook the skill with which you handled it. It took an unusual movie to see it, but I'll say it right here, right now: Martin Scorsese is one of the best.

Secondly, I want every single person reading this to think very hard. Have you ever said Leonardo DiCaprio was a bad actor, just because he was in Titanic? If so, I want you to say sorry. Out loud. Now.
I am amazed how many people still call the man out one bad movie, despite the fact that he made almost only good films and played well in them. This is not Robert Pattinson we're talking about, people. This is a man who has shown himself a versatile, competent actor and we ought to recognize that.

Okay. Now we have that out of the way, let's get on with the review.

The Aviator tells the story of Howard Hughes Jr.  In case you don't know who that is: he was one of the richest men of all time, a filmmaker, a builder of airplanes, husband to both Katharine Hephburn and Ava Gardner and a sporter of fine mustaches.

Will you look at that.

He also had severe OCD, fits of paranoia and a perfectionism that bordered on creepy. He was, in short, a very interesting man. And he got what he deserved: a very good movie.

The story of mr. Hughes' life is told in a rather straightforward way; it starts at the point he started being interesting, and stop when he ceases to be. This practically means from his 22nd to his 42nd year, or from 1927 to 1947. That means that we don't only get a biopic, but also an insight into the world (and particularly it's more famous inhabitants) during those years. Kate Beckinshale plays Ava Gardner, Gwen Stefani (no, really) plays Jean Harlow (one of his starlets) and Jude Law has a very funny cameo as Errol Flynn. But who absolutely steals the show is Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn. She puts so much life in the role that just watching her golf and ramble about art and politics to Hughes is nothing short of blissful.

If this woman ever plays a bad role I will eat my own shoe

But although the movie is very solid in its depictions off the times of the man, it stays behind a little on the man himself. Hughes was someone to whom a lot happened: he built the fastest airplanes of the day and crashed twice, he was sued and tried by his competitors and a corrupt senator (he won the trial), he has some very deep depressions and fits of OCD, the list goes on. Hughes in the movie is very busy this way, but we rarely ever get a deep insight in the man himself. DiCaprio plays pretty damn good, but Hughes remains enigmatic. And not in a Lawrence-Of-Arabia-esque way in which you can speculate on his true self, but more in an I-don't-get-it way.

But don't let these small flaws keep you from watching and enjoying the movie. It might not be perfect, but it's a damn good movie by some damn good artists about a damn interesting guy.


P.S. Has everyone seen Inception yet? I'm not going to review it because I don't feel I have anything meaningful to add to what has already been said about the movie, but it is without a doubt one of the best movies of the year and reminder that just because something isn't art doesn't keep it from being incredibly well put together. Seriously, see Inception.

Okay, so the only connection between the song and the movie is the time they are set in, but screw you. Cole Porter kicks ass.