Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Place for History?

When I went to the Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screening, the producers stuck around to do a Q&A with the audience after. One of the things that they spoke about was the place that historical movies, in particular "historical epics," which they called Button, have in Hollywood today. Onyx, as our resident historical drama writer, you might want to cover your ears now.

The outlook was grim, to say the least. There was general consensus that historical films are now one of the hardest to make. This is due to a number of things, probably, including the immense budgets they demand, the often limited ability to compete at the box office (hmm... Victorian era couples playing "who gets who" or Batman 7?), and their often limited audiences - you know, because who wants to hear people talking funny and wearing weird clothes? (all my speculation). On top of all of that, many historical films, dare I say more than half?, are also long. Really long. BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR are both long, but they're filled with action and blow my mind every time I watch them. But there are a number of other, tamer, more subtle historical dramas that are nearly as long as those, yet much quieter and about people and not fighting.

While the producers of Button were hopeful that their film could remind Hollywood not to drop this genre from future slates, I think I might have to disagree slightly that historical pieces are completely disappearing. There have been a number of celebrity driven epics tat take place before, say, 1900 recently. (How many times have you seen Orlando Bloom not dressed in something that you could only get at a costume shop? Once?) Historical epics are crowd pleasers, especially if current times are less than stellar. Not only can you escape to see people whose lives are far more difficult, but they also whack at one another with swords, and how great is that? The key is to keep the language contemporary enough, the action (if it's there) big enough, and the film star-studded enough. Can you make the argument that those "requirements" taint the genre? Yeah, probably, and you're welcome to do it in the comments section below.

But I don't think either audiences or filmmakers want to see the genre disappear totally yet.

MSPaint Movie Review: Wendy and Lucy

Girl loses dog.

Sometimes a film's premise can just be that simple and still knock you over with its depth. It's not that I'm oversimplifying all that much - sure, you could boil Lord of the Rings down to "Dwarf discards ring" but that hardly describes the story, does it? What makes Wendy and Lucy different is that you'd be hard pressed to find much else to say about the film's setup if you were being quizzed about it. That's really all it is.

A girl loses a dog and it's engaging as hell. Ah, the beauty of simplicity.

From the film's website:

Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is driving to Ketchikan, Alaska, in hopes of a summer of lucrative work at the Northwestern Fish cannery, and the start of a new life with her dog, Lucy. When her car breaks down in Oregon, however, the thin fabric of her financial situation comes apart, and she confronts a series of increasingly dire economic decisions, with far-ranging repercussions for herself and Lucy. "Wendy and Lucy" addresses issues of sympathy and generosity at the edges of American life, revealing the limits and depths of people's duty to each other in tough times.

Director Kelly Reichardt and co-writer Jonathan Raymond (who also wrote the short story the film was based upon) are able to work magic with what amounts to one girl, a dog, and only a few other, minor characters. The key is in the emotional realism that's brought into the film, both from excellent performances all around and the slow but natural pacing of the film. It's like an artist painting a masterpiece with only a basic watercolor kit - they were able to build something amazing with so very little.

Bresson made films like this. Vittorio De Sica, too - but that was roughly five decades ago. It's so nice to see someone approach film in that style in this day and age.

Because this is what you're REALLY here for, my MSPaint Review of Wendy and Lucy:

Go check it out. In the meantime, add her last film, Old Joy, to your queue.