Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cool Hand Luke (****)

"What we've got here is... failure to communicate"
-Captain, Road Prison 36

Few movies have caught and inspired the mindset of the public so well as Cool Hand Luke. And even fewer of those films remain fresh and relevant today. Cool Hand Luke is a movie that was rebellious in every way. From its plot, to music, to cinematography, it broke old rules and has truly made its mark on American film.

First, the cinematography. This is easily in my top ten most beautifully shot films list. It hardly looks forty years old. The camera work isn't just beautiful, its innovative. Few movies have been this inventive with their cinematography. The film cuts between extreme closeups to extreme (and symbolic) long shots, with some breathtaking shots dollying in between the two.

The plot features a central character who is an antihero and a Christ figure (whoops, spoilers). He is the opposite of a traditional Hollywood hero. When confronted with a challenge he always takes it, but doesn't always win. He doesn't even conform to the Hollywood bad guy cliche, as he went to prison for disabling parking meters, something that seems insignificant when compared with the crimes of his bunk mates.

With all the recent remakes and adaptations coming from Hollywood (and more on the way), we can see that the American movie industry is running out of ideas and imitating its previous successes (as it always has). When Cool Hand Luke came out, it broke many of the formulaic molds of the movie industry. In the light of the rather uncreative Hollywood of today, Cool Hand Luke still feels like a breath of fresh air. Cool Hand Luke challenged the status quo of filmmaking in its own era and continues to do so today. If only we had more films like that.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Prairie Home Companion ****

"Every show is your last show. That's my philosophy."
-Garrison Keillor

The concept of this film is so bizarre that I cannot do it justice in words. It is the most fitting possible tribute to the wonderful live radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. It is an account of the final show of a fictional live radio show, also called A Prairie Home Companion, which is almost identical to the actual show, but I suppose this allows the filmmakers to take some liberties with it (like Meryl Streep as one of the show's longtime singers and Kevin Kline as Guy Noir, recast as the show's security man). (Interestingly enough, a few weeks after the film came out, Meryl Streep sang on the actual show)

It is very fitting that Robert Altman's last film should explore death so much. Death is the film's major motif. It even has a character symbol of death, a mysterious angel (credited as 'Dangerous Woman'). She shows up not only to take people away when their time is up, but also to comfort those in grief. "The death of an old man is not a tragedy," she reminds one grieving woman.

A Prarie Home Companion is a testament not only to the skill of Robert Altman, but also to the skill of every performer. He gave a very "hands-off" approach to directing the film and captured performances with multiple cameras at all times. "This stuff was caught, rather than captured," he says in one interview. Every actor in this movie is great. It really feels like you are watching their life, rather than a movie. This movie also has wonderful music, which not only is enhanced by the expressions of the performers, but also provides a masterful soundtrack to the events occurring backstage.

I love this movie. Everything about it is great. I have not mentioned yet that it is a comedy. Yes, it has a major theme of death, but Garrison Keillor's signature dry humor is sprinkled all around. Kevin Kline gives us a laugh out loud hilarious experiment in slap-sticky awkwardness. I have seen few movies that blend substance and entertainment really well. This is one of them.

My Kid Could Paint That ****

"Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth"
-Pablo Picasso

This film is a fascinating documentary about a young girl, Marla Olmstead, whose paintings were selling for tens of thousands of dollars. It goes on an intimate journey with the family, recording their frustrations as the media become cynical about the origin of Marla's paintings. The film also chronicles the filmmakers' own doubts about the paintings and his resulting discomfort.

This documentary is presented like a mystery movie. It gradually presents evidence for or against Marla as the author of the paintings and, in the end, lets you decide. Video footage of Marla painting 'Ocean' is presented, but when the painting is being sold, a potential buyer expresses her doubts about the quality of the painting. Bar-Lev shows us, side by side, 'Ocean' and her some of her previous attributed works and lets us decide. My opinion? Marla provided the intitial painting on the original paintings, but her father finished up and added the polish and style that is apparent when Marla's earlier and later paintings are compared. I, however, am not denying that the original works were great art, and I do beleive that whoever did the paintings had consdiderable talent.

My Kid Could Paint That is an excellent documentary which really asks the question, "what is art". It asks this question particularly of modern art, but also of the documentary itself.

Have you seen this movie? Who do you think painted the paintings? Be sure to comment. Please subscribe! You can do this via rss or email by clicking on the links in the top left.