Decent, if hollow, entertainment. By no means as visually interesting as any other Ridley Scott film I can remember, Matchstick Men is actually relatively low-key.
Nicholas Cage is absolutely phenomenal as a grifter with OCD (his portrayal is very different from Jack Nicholson's in As Good As It Gets), and it is his performance that keeps the viewer watching as the final con is telegraphed from a mile away.
As usual, Hans Zimmer's score is worthless.
Once Upon A Time In Mexico
It doesn't get much sillier than this. I saw it with my friend Raz, who loathed it. I actually kind found it a lot of fun. Robert Rodriguez's third film in his El Mariachi trilogy (the second film was Desperado) takes its cue from Serio Leone spaghetti westerns, as the title implies, and features sweaty close-ups, moral ambiguities and a fantastic score, by Rodriguez, himself that alternates between mariachi guitar and large scale Ennio Morricone-style orchestra and choir epic cues.
While most of the cast are pretty utilitarian, Johnny Depp absolutely rocks as a CIA agent attempting to organize a coup in Mexico (how topical). His character is so much fun to watch that there are times when one waits for him to show up. He is gleefully immoral, although much more outgoing than this character's most direct antecedent, Corso in The Ninth Gate.
Lost In Translation
Now this was the most rewarding film of the recent batch of theatrical viewings. Sophia Coppola's film is slow, immersing the viewer in the world the characters inhabit.
The first half of the movie is riotously funny as Bill Murray uses his comic timing and skill as a physical comedian to wonderful effect as he deals with the alien landscape of Japan. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johannson attempts to explore the more spiritual side of the country. They don't actually meet for almost 40 minutes, although when they do, their rapport makes perfect sense. The relationship between these two characters is a rare but true thing.
The film utilizes muted colors and a new age score in order to lure the viewer into a hypnotic trance, but its interesting elliptical editing style (timecuts occur at strange, but appropriate, places) forces the audience to pay attention. It is the characters who are important here, not showing every detail of what is happening to them.
The film does not soften these characters or make the unfulfillment of their sexual tension an unnatural thing; when Murray's character commits adultery with a fake redhead floozy singer (she seemed... uh... quite familiar), Johannson's reaction is both silently chiding... with a good amount of wistful jealousy mixed in. Murray never apologizes to her for this, which makes sense (he did not do anything to her), though the event does cast a shadow over the rest of the film. Murray's guilt is totally palpable.
This film is refreshingly honest and intelligent. It manages to show how outlandish Japanese culture appears to the characters without neccesarily condescending, and the performances by Murray and Johannson are perfect.
This is one of Robert Altman's finest films. The new DVD marks the first time this 1972 release has ever been on video, and in a beautiful widescreen transfer at that.
Susannah York won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of a woman whose connection to reality seems to be rapidly deteriorating. Ostensibly about her descent into schizophrenia, the film can also be read as a conflict between her true self and her feminine "public" self. In many ways, it echoes Ingmar Bergman's film Persona (Altman would later make Three Women, which explores many of those themes).
Vilmos Zsigmond's photography is one of the film's main strengths. The visual design of the film benefits much from being shown in its 2.35:1 aspect ratio; match-cuts that were panned-and-scanned into mush in Images' infrequent Cinemax Vangaurd Cinema broadcasts now make perfect sense. Shooting through a myriad of filters and using light and shadow as an expressive tool, Zsigmond's cinematography is so amazing that I was marvelling about how it looked, now that it has been restored to its full Panavision glory.
The sound on the disc is not quite everything it should be, which is a shame because one of the other main strengths of the film is its sound design, which features one of John Williams' best scores, which features a beautiful minor-mode piano theme, a quasi-baroque secondary theme, but most importantly the enigmatic "sounds" by Stomu Yamash'ta, who played large metal sculptures, shouted, played a shakuhachi (Japanese flute). It is one of the most unique film scores, which sadly remains unreleased. It was nominated for an Oscar, and an album-length promo LP was circulated among Academy members, but a CD release appears unlikely.
This film is a work of true genius, and it is great that the DVD release will expose people to the more experimental side of Altman, who is one of the most important American directors. It will also introduce many to Williams' and Yamash'ta's score.
I watched the film last night for the first time since I was introduced to it in Royal S. Brown's class (oh, about... six or seven years ago now), and for the first time ever in widescreen. It was much more magnetic than I remember it (perhaps the letterboxing helped), and the struggle that York's character is going through resonated much more than I expected it to. The DVD has a couple of special features that I haven't checked out yet.
I got into trouble for having called in sick on Friday. Because the guy reading me the riot act was on the telephone and in a foul mood, I didn't argue. I do, however, think that the reasons for his ire was misplaced.
You see, apparently I was expected to call in at least four hours before my shift. Since I am due in at 8:00, that means I would have been expected to call them at 4:00. Ante-Meridian.
I was asleep at 4:00. I don't think it is reasonable to be asking people that, and I plan to check out the applicable labor laws on the subject because I didn't plan to get sick. A pre-law student I just spoke to said that to her knowledge it wasn't legal to make a rule that requires a mandatory four-hour pre-shift call.
Either way, I think that was unreasonable. There was no way for me to know I would need to wake up early to call in sick.