Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Silence of the Lambs (1991)


I saw this movie in HD. I'm not sure I completely recognized the brilliance of this in the VHS, post-widescreen world because of it having been pan-and-scanned down to 4:3. (Although I believe 4:3 is the ratio of the gods, it doesn't mean I think pan & scan is good for movies composed for 1.85 or 2.35).

Silence of the Lambs is not great because of Anthony Hopkins. It's not great because of Jodie Foster or because of its script. They give great performances, but the movie is great because of the composition during dialogue. This entire movie is told from point of view, that is what makes it awesome.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie before or since that had so many characters speaking directly into the camera. Usually, it doesn't work because the audience feels they are being spoken to like a bad anti-drug commercial. Jonathan Demme made it work perfectly here because he carefully crafts the way he leads into a POV (point of view) shot.

When Clarisse and Lecter are down in the jail, notice that Jodie Foster doesn't look into the camera until way, way later in the conversation. She looks just to the left of the camera to lead into the POV shot of Lecter. Lecter then speaks directly into the camera throughout. But did you for one second think he was speaking to you, the audience? No. You were in Clarisse's shoes. Demme sets you up that way.

There are many, many examples of the POV shot in this movie. Essentially you are in the shoes of the people speaking to Lecter. Clarisse, the doctor, and the senator speaking to Lecter -- you are also placed in her shoes for the scene in the airplane hangar. But Clarisse talking to her boss, looking around the room of cops in West Virginia. The entire movie is from behind Clarisse's eyes.

However, there is a twist: Buffalo Bill. We get placed in his shoes in this movie. It starts when he puts on his night vision goggles at the very beginning and doesn't stop until he gets shot (hope I didn't give anything away). We constantly look down on the victim in the well from his point of view, or looking in the mirror, etc.

The dialogue in this movie would have been really, really cheesy if Demme hadn't put it together so well.

BTW, the artist who sang that song "Goodbye, Horses" when Buffalo Bill is dancing naked in the mirror... she has her own Myspace Page. Speaking of long tail.... a one hit wonder from 17 years ago has her own myspace page.

JSS Rating: Good/Good. This movie easily deserved Best Picture.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A.I. (2001)

I gave this movie a chance -- 6 years of chances. I've seen it many, many times. Here's what I've decided:

This movie is terrible, ridiculous, and, most of all, it insults the legacy of Kubrick. I think it might be the new gold standard of a Bad/Good film, replacing Forrest Gump. Yes, A.I. might be the worst Bad/Good movie of all time.

You know you're in for a treat when A.I. starts off with a voice over telling us that the ice caps have melted due to all of those greenhouse gases. At the time the movie came out it was shades of Waterworld, and today that plot is even more ludicrous simply because it seems so human-race-hating and politically motivated.

It's unfair to say that this movie hates the human race because at the end, robots from the future repeatedly tell the recently unfrozen Haley Joel Osment how humans were the most perfect creation in the history of the universe. No, I am not exaggerating and I don't care if I just spoiled the movie for you. You deserve better than any of this, so spoiling it is no problem.

The only credit I can give this movie is that the first 10 minutes are very Kubrick. Spielberg was channeling Kubrick in a lot of ways. As soon as Osment enters the picture, that all goes to hell. The pacing is way off from anything Kubrick would have made and the dialogue is absolutely atrocious. Let me give you an example. When it came to "imprinting" Osment (the robot boy) with Monica to be his programmed love-mother forever and ever, this great bit of irreversible dialogue took place between Monica and her husband:

"Monica, don't imprint David until you are absolutely sure."
"Silly man. Of course I'm not sure."

Holy shit, can you believe Steven Spielberg, who wrote A.I. actually sat down to write the words "silly man," then actually told an actress to utter those words, then let the camera roll on those words, and then, in editorial, left those words in, and finally, actually let the studio print thousands of reels with those words and ship those words to theaters worldwide? That's like two or three years of knowing the words "silly man" would be in this movie.

Steven Spielberg did that. This is supposedly one of the greatest directors of our time and the director of my favorite movie (Raiders of the Lost Ark).... Are you frickin' kidding me?

More gems of screenwriting:

Monica: "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the world!"


David: "I'm DAVID! I'm unique!! I'm special!!" <*smashes with lamp*>

When this movie was being made, it was with insane levels of secrecy. Few people got to read the script. Now we know why.

The movie takes a slight uptick when it becomes a buddy/journey picture with Jude Law, but just when you think it might get better, it again becomes a futuristic movie of whateverness where everything is over-art directed. I really can't stand movies about the future that add details that make zero sense for the sake of cool art direction. When that random art direction tries to look like Tron, like the "hounds" on motorcycles, ya gotta wonder exactly why someone bothers to make the movie.

Spielberg tries to force this movie to be good throughout. He throws in lots of long, symbolic, meaningful, desperate shots of Osment to try to make some point about humanity and love. Many of the hero shots play like they came directly from the art director's gouache tube. The specter of Kubrick was looming over Steve's shoulder and he felt the need to make something deep. Contrast this to Minority Report with its very limited amount of sappy material. That movie obviously came easily to Spielberg, and resulted one of his best movies in ten or fifteen years.

When this movie came out, most people found the third act to be the most offensive. I didn't agree with them at the time, and I think I know why. The two hours of setup for the ludicrous third act make that part of the movie actually seem pretty imaginative. Spielberg defended the end of this movie by claiming that it was Kubrick's idea. Yup, blame the horrendous parts of your movie on the dead. Nice job Steve. CLASSY!

Rating: Bad/Good. Possibly the worst movie ever that was actually supposed to be good.