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REVIEW: Public Enemies

Posted in review with tags , , , , , on July 8, 2009 by Digger (Not Phelps)

Without question, the movie I was most looking forward to in the summer of ’09 was Public Enemies. So many great parts coming together. A lot of people were excited to see heavyweights Johnny Depp and Christian Bale on screen together, and so was I. In a film about John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis no less! Sounded almost too good to be true. Billy Crudup and Marion Cotillard in supporting roles were also big draws for me. Most importantly, though, Michael Mann was at the helm of a gangster film. There was no way it wouldn’t be awesome.

Well, I think it was the first real disappointment of the year for me. I think.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have lofted such high expectations on the film, but, come on. Look at this sample of Mann’s resume:

Last of the Mohicans (Awesome.)

The Insider (Awesome.)

Collateral (Awesome.)

Miami Vice (Awesome. Yes. I said “Awesome.” And yes, I do mean the Colin Farrell/Jamie Foxx movie.)

Heat (Best crime film since The Godfather II.)

I love this guy!

The only potential worry I had was whether Mann’s infatuation with digital cinematography would mesh well with the film’s period setting. I knew the approach would be jarring. The question was whether it would be “draw you in and give you an interesting new spin” jarring, or simply distracting. Unfortunately, too often it was the latter.

I say “too often”, which brings me back to saying that I think the film was disappointing. I can’t make up my mind. Perhaps I should wait a week or so to write this review, but I want to give my most honest reaction, which is this: For two hours, Public Enemies is so wildly inconsistent that I couldn’t fully settle into it, but the film’s final fifteen minutes are so damn good that I found myself wondering if I loved it.

The film opens at the Indiana State Penitentiary, with Dillinger (Depp) apparently being brought in for a forced stay. Actually, though, he’s breaking in to get some of his buddies out. It’s a solid scene that gives a lot of insight into a number of things that will come later. What comes later? Dillinger and his gang rob banks. J. Edgar Hoover (Crudup) is trying to get his fledgling FBI up and running with a healthy portion of notoriety by taking down Dillinger and other criminals like Babyface Nelson. His top G-Man is Melvin Purvis (Bale), who becomes the public face for FBI agents and leads the hunt for Dillinger.

Dillinger robs banks. Purvis tries to catch him. Dillinger falls for the beuatiful Billie Frechette (Cotillard). Purvis tries to catch him. Both crime and crime-stopping in America are changing.

The acting across the board is high quality. Depp and Bale are their extremely reliable (as long as Bale isn’t in a McG movie) selves, though I didn’t feel like either created something really fresh. Billy Crudup, on the other hand, is outstanding as Hoover and, though he’s underutilized, should garner some awards consideration come year’s end. Cotillard provides a very believable foil for Dillinger in her first scenes, and really hits the mark in her bigger scenes near the film’s end. The second act of the romance seemed a little undercooked, though.

Overall, the script falls into the historical drama trap of moving from one event to another without creating the sort of flow that great films either have or purposefully toy with. I was never able to settle into it, but never felt that I was being intentionally unsettled. That said, the film’s finale and epilogue tie so many things together so well and pack such a punch that I want to see the film again to give the rest of it another chance.

Now, to Mann’s direction and vision for the film. I think I can honestly say that I would have loved the movie if Mann had just picked a coherent, cohesive visual approach to it. I’m not anti-digital. Some great films have been made that way, including some of Mann’s own. The problem is he employs a number of different cameras here, achieving a variety of looks, and there rarely seems to be a rhyme or reson as to why. In addition, there are some scenes that honestly look no better than student projects I saw in film school classes. I’m not saying every film of this stature has to look Hollywood clean and pretty, but plopping down really amateurish shots right next to some absolutely gorgeous ones is just distracting. Whatever Mann hoped to achieve with them, he didn’t. At least, not in my viewing experience. this was my biggest problem with the movie and it was very difficult to get over. Mann was drawing a lot of attention to his camera, and I just found that often to be an unwise decision.

Also, the sound editing in a number of scenes is just bad. Again, first film school effort bad. And again, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it.

That’s what’s so frustrating about Public Enemies. When it’s good, it’s really good. Clearly, there’s a great film lurking inside it. I think I’ve even pieced it together in my head in retrospect, and I’m no one to begrudge someone wanting the audience to have to work for it. But, as far as actually viewing it goes, there are too many technical distractions to really enjoy it and rank it with Mann’s best work.

One last note: Yes, the gunfire does kick serious ass. It’s still Michael Mann, after all.


Review: UP

Posted in review with tags , on June 9, 2009 by Digger (Not Phelps)

I was talking with a co-worker today about Up and how something that really irks me sometimes is the way movie trailers often spell out an entire film for you. You see the trailer, and there’s little reason to see the movie; you already know everything that’s going down. Take Terminator Salvation, for example. I cared very little about the revelation of Marcus Wright as a machine midway through the film, because I knew it was gonna happen all along. It was the focus of the trailer, after all. No surprise. up1

Then there are Pixar’s trailers. See, Pixar is the most reliable brand name in the movie business. Heck, in the entire entertainment industry. This is pretty indisputable. So all they need to do to market a film is say, “Hey, there’s a new Pixar movie coming out,” and everyone will go see it. They don’t have to spell it all out in the trailer. They just give you the basic concept – “It’s a rat that cooks”, “It’s a cute robot”, “It’s an old man who ties balloons to his house” – and put the Pixar stamp on it. You can still be surprised by what’s laid out for you. This was especially true of last year’s Wall-E, to great effect in my opinion.

With Up, I had very little expectations for the plot other than the brief synopsis of an old man flying his house to south America. However, all that I heard about it going in was how moving it was, how human the story was, how it went way deeper than even your average Pixar film. And all of that is so, so true. But only in the film’s first fifteen and final ten minutes. Sandwiched in between that was a very silly, slapsticky adventure filled to the brim with a gang of talking dogs and oversized birds, and it took me a while to embrace that.

It was similar to my experience with Star Trek last month. In both films, the opening sequence is so incredible, so beautifully done, so moving, and just so darn perfect that it’s almost a letdown to move into what is essentially a comedy I wasn’t prepared for. Even though every joke lands and I was laughing right along with it, I remained a good deal reserved about the tonal shift and longed for the brilliance of the film’s beginning.


Regardless, Up is a thoroughly enjoyable film; one that I’m sure I’ll enjoy even more with repeat viewings and about as good as family films get. The animation is gorgeous. The voice-work is your typical Pixar greatness. And it is a wonderful story. While it doesn’t rank up with Pixar’s best (Wall-E and The Incredibles), it still towers above the competition and will surely deserve its spot alongside the year’s other top films, animated or not.


Wake up with Zach Galifianakis / Hangover Review

Posted in advice, review, Silly... with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2009 by Digger (Not Phelps)

So I saw The Hangover this weekend and, in short, it’s really really funny. I laughed many many times. However, the funniest part of the movie was the 65 year-old woman who was sitting in front of my brother and me and fell asleep and started snoring and got slapped awake by her friend.


The Lankster believes The Hangover might be the funniest film of all time. I don’t agree, but it definitely has as many laughs per minute as any movie in the last couple years. And there were a lot of lines I missed because everyone was laughing so loud, so it could be even funnier than I am currently aware of.


The thing that keeps it down a notch in my book is that the script seems like a couple of dudes had a concept, and then just got drunk and sat around coming up with a bunch of random shit that could happen to the characters. Fair enough, because, as I mentioned above, it made me laugh quite a bit. And I’m still quoting it, yada yada yada. But the story doesn’t really work toward anything worth taking away from it. There isn’t a cohesive whole. That doesn’t keep it from being funny; it just keeps it from ranking up there with films like Superbad or The 40 Year-Old Virgin, to name a couple recent Apatow-Universe instant classics.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying a comedy needs to have a moral to the story, or people have to make big changes in their life, etc. For me, it just elevates the funny moments and makes the film more memorable if I feel there’s something whole there, and not just a collection of funny moments. Even when those moments come in great quantity, such as in The Hangover.


One thing this movie does have going for it that most others don’t is Zach Galifianakis. He was about 94.3% of the reason I was excited to see the movie and hopefully now he’ll become a household name. Or, at least, a more common dorm room name. Though, I’m not sure he would really want the celebrity. Point is, he’s one of the funniest and most interesting entertainers around today and it would be a shame for you not to be well-acquainted with his stuff.

SO…here is an absolute barrage of ZG material for your face. Needless to say, this stuff is not appropriate for children or most places of work. Or a dog kennel.

Here’s a segment from his Live at the Purple Onion DVD, which, by the way, is totally worth your 60 minutes and $15….

Zach doing some characters, from the same DVD…

From the Comedians of Comedy documentary, one of my favorite Zach moments. Seriously, watch this whole thing…

Berating an audience member at the good ole’ Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro…

For some reason, Absolut Vodka thought it would be a good idea to hire Zach to do an ad campaign. He agreed, but only if they gave him money up front and then let him do whatever the hell he wanted with it. Here’s part one of the resulting three-part series of “ads”…

Zach on The Michael Showalter Showalter. Showalter is another person whose comedy you should be terribly interested in…

Zach interviewing Michael Cera on his show, Between Two Ferns. Which takes place between two ferns…

Here’s his twin brother Seth on Kimmel…

And, finally, awesomely, Zach and Will “Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy” Oldham’s video for Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothin'”…

Your welcome.