Shadows and Fog (7/27/12)

Movie One Hundred Seventy Seven

In Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog, there is a serial strangler on the loose and a bookkeeper gets caught up in the town’s madness.

A vigilante mob on the search for a strangler wakes up Kleinman (Woody Allen) to help them track the killer down. Outside of town, a group of circus performers is staying. Irmy (Mia Farrow), a sword-swallower,  and Paul (John Malkovich), a clown, are having a dispute which causes Irmy to travel into town for a place to stay. She finds herself in a brothel, and after receiving $700 from a young patron (John Cusack), she is arrested. Kleinman is also at the police station and as the two are leaving, they become close to avoid any danger from the strangler still on the loose.

Woody Allen pays homage to German Expressionism in Shadows and Fog and apparently it was a huge miss with audiences and many critics. I found myself quite taken with Shadows and Fog, partly because of the star studded cast but also because of the natural comedy from having Woody Allen in a noir-like setting. On the surface, this is not a typical Woody Allen film but it’s definitely a Woody Allen film, it’s just in a different wrapper.

When I first heard of Shadows and Fog, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I imagined a serious film where Allen completely steps out of his comfort zone and does something totally unexpected. This isn’t the case, however, despite having a dark feel, having Allen injected into the film’s world significantly changes the tone. This is what makes Shadows and Fog so confusing. It’s clearly an homage to films like M, but Allen keeps you laughing more than worrying. I understand why Shadows and Fog was one of Gene Siskel’s picks for worst of the year, but I also found myself enjoying it.

As one of Allen’s most expensive pictures, Shadows and Fog was a huge flop at the box office and it seems to be fairly unknown from what I can tell. I’m not sure who the target audience should be for a film like this and I’m finding it difficult to even recommend it outright. I will say that I enjoyed watching Shadows and Fog because I was keen to try something new from Woody Allen.

I give it 4 Third Man tributes out of 5.

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High Fidelity (7/15/12)

High FidelityMovie One Hundred Sixty Eight

In High Fidelity, a record store owner details his “top 5 breakups of all time” after the end of his most recent relationship.

Rob Gordon (John Cusack) gets dumped by his girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), and recounts his previous relationships and, more importantly, breakups leading up to this one. The owner of a small record store in Chicago, Rob’s life revolves around music and top five *whatever* lists. As Rob commiserates with his employees Dick (Todd Louis0) and Barry (Jack Black), he discovers that his lack of commitment to Laura was really the problem and decides to rectify that in the form of the perfect mixtape.

In many ways, High Fidelity is a fairly typical John Cusack movie where he plays a broken-hearted, kind of dopey but lovable guy.  That may sound like a knock against both High Fidelity and John Cusack, but I assure you, it’s meant sincerely. One key difference here is that the film is from 2000, not the 1980s. This means Cusack is a bit older but playing the same roles as before and it works flawlessly. Rob is a guy stuck in his early 20s that laments days gone by. It could almost play as a sequel to an 80s Cusack movie where the lead character gets stuck in a rut after high school and has to get his act together.

Other than Cusack, the rest of the cast really delivers High Fidelity above average. Jack Black, who was still relatively unknown for a supporting role, brings his specific comedy sense to the film and has some of the best scenes in the movie. The biggest draw to High Fidelity may very well be the soundtrack which is diverse and colorful. The music follows the film and a song never feels out of place or forced in for marketing purposes.

High Fidelity is a film that is just a good watch if you enjoy John Cusack’s early work. While I don’t think anything will top Say Anything, High Fidelity ranks high on my list.

I give it 4 Jack Black “dancing”s out of 5.

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Being John Malkovich (7/10/12)

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A puppeteer takes a part time job in an unusual office and finds a portal that allows the person see what it’s like Being John Malkovich.

Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is an out-of-work puppeteer living with his wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz). He decides to get a job and lands one on the 7 1/2 floor of a building in a strange office. There, he meets Maxine (Catherine Keener) and immediately falls for her. One day while filing, Craig discovers a boarded up hole in the wall and decides to venture inside. The hole, he learns, puts him inside John Malkovich’s head for about 15 minutes before dumping him onto the New Jersey turnpike. After inviting Maxine and Lotte to also try being Malkovich, things get even more bizarre and John Malkovich himself gets involved.

To call Being John Malkovich a weird film is certainly an understatement, but the film is also incredibly sharp and funny. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is one of the most talented minds writing for film and his style meshes with director Spike Jonze’s perfectly here. Kaufman has such an odd sense of story and humor and Jonze captures this perfectly in Being John Malkovich as well as Adaptation. It has been too long since I had seen the film and I had forgotten how absolutely hilarious it is. It’s so deliciously absurd but it works so brilliantly.

John Cusack and Cameron Diaz are both almost unrecognizable in their roles here, Diaz more so. While I have a special fondness for Cusack, in Being John Malkovich his role just seems made for him. John Malkovich really shines here as well and it’s hard to picture any other actor in his role after watching the film. Some of the camera techniques used are also brilliant, particularly when someone is inside Malkovich. Even if the humor doesn’t strike you, the film may still be interesting and enjoyable, but the dark sense of humor is critical here.

As a recently released Criterion Collection film, the Blu-Ray for Being John Malkovich shines. I had always hated something about the previous DVD transfer of the film, it always seemed too dark or something. The Blu-Ray has remarkable clarity and picture quality, not to even mention the sound or extras. As with all Criterion releases, the entire package is the definitive version of the film to view or own. Being John Malkovich is one of the stranger films ever released, but I enjoyed it immensely.

I give it 5 John Cusack and Catherine Keener marionettes out of 5.

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Say Anything (3/1/12)

Say AnythingMovie Forty One

If I had to pick one 80s high school coming-of-age movie to watch for the rest of my life, I think I would pick Say Anything.

On the surface, one might assume the plot of Say Anything is just about teenagers falling in love but it is actually a much deeper movie than it lets on. While Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is a loveable outcast who falls in love with the school valedictorian, Diane Court (Ione Skye) without her really knowing Lloyd even exists. He convinces Diane to go to a graduation party blowout. They have that one magical summer before Diane leaves to study abroad but she is torn between her new flame and her father (John Mahoney). Mr. Court has his own problems with the IRS while all of this is going on, a storyline that I’ve understood much better as I’ve gotten older.

This is one of the rarer 80s movies where all of the characters learn from their experiences and it doesn’t feel cheesy. We do not know how things end for everyone, but we do not need to. I absolutely love the final sequence of the movie and it gives me goosebumps every. Single. Time. There are several scenes that either choke me up or give me goosebumps, actually. For my generation, I would call Say Anything a must-see and for all other generations I would give it my highest recommendation.

I give it 5 IN YOUR EYES out of 5.

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