Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


harrypotter14
Originally uploaded by chuckmo
All right, those who know me know I give Chris Columbus a lot of crap. He is definitely on my list of least favorite directors. However, that being said he did great things for the Harry Potter franchise – just not in terms of directing.

While the character of Harry Potter has not yet entrenched itself as wholly and globally as something like Superman (you’ll see kids in jungles with no technology wearing a Superman shirt) almost anyone can tell you the basic concept of the series; the secret world of wizards that coexists with our own and Harry is the main character against a villain that no one will name. At least that’s as basic as I’ve had it described to me by people who have never read the books or really paid attention to the movie. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first book/film in the series and chronicles Harry’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry and what begins to happen to Harry’s life when he starts to uncover the truth of his magical lineage.

Chris Columbus drives me nuts as a director because he somehow manages to insert no feeling or vibrancy into his work, he also doesn’t do background action well; Columbus is also a director that does not like the darker side of themes, but likes the cheery, easily explained side of life. All of this shows in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Though it is a good movie, it falls flat on many levels because of the directing. I remember seeing the movie for the first time (without having read the books) and thinking that I didn’t understand why Harry was important and why the Voldemort guy was so scary. All of that becomes the fault of the director.

What saves the entire Potter franchise and Columbus’s films is the fact that the man is a very good producer. I give him enormous kudos for being phenomenal at finding the right actors for the right part and for putting an excellent team of behind the scenes crew together. That is the reason the franchise works and the first two films are viewable. Columbus himself has less style and panache than even Brett Rattner, but he is saved by his skill at producing.

I must also give Columbus kudos for being the first director to bring Harry Potter off the page and into reality. While it is true that Harry’s world and ours overlap the magical world and all of its characters are entirely different than anything that has been seen onscreen before. Columbus had to invent how it would look to have living portraits, students that would fly on broomsticks in a game called quidditch, and even what it should look like to teach magic. He had to translate J.K. Rowling’s rules to screen without anything but some words on a page to guide him. I can tell you from experience how difficult translating words to images can be; writer’s don’t have to think about the physics of actually doing, they only have to put the words down and then float them off to the director who must now take those abstract words and make them reality. It’s tough, no matter how much special effects and CGI you have access to and it’s something you can’t quite fully understand unless you’ve done it yourself. I can’t imagine the pressure Columbus was under knowing that billions of fans were waiting to see their beloved world come to life.

In the end Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is still a good, but lack luster movie. If it were not the first in a franchise but instead a standalone film it would have been a entertaining but forgettable film; however, since it does have 7 other films to follow it Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone instead just feels like a slow start.

Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Steve Kloves
Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger: Emma Watson
Professor Dumbledore: Richard Harris
Professor McGonagall: Maggie Smith
Hagrid: Robbie Coltrane
Aunt Petunia: Fiona Shaw
Dudley: Harry Melling
Uncle Vernon: Richard Griffiths
Professor Quirrell: Ian hart
Molly Weasley: Julie Walters
Percy Weasley: Chris Rankin
Fred Weasley: James Phelps
George Weasley: Oliver Phelps
Neville Longbottom: Matthew Lewis
Draco Malfoy: Tom Felton
Nearly Headless Nick: John Cleese
Professor Snape: Alan Rickman

Ron: It's spooky! She knows more about you than you do!
Harry: Who doesn't?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

So I really, really do love Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. It is a very strange movie, but I love it so. I think that if you can get past the nearly absurd concept of the plot and just hang in there for more than twenty minutes that anyone can enjoy this movie.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is written by Sane Black who a true buddy cop film lover will know is the same man that wrote Lethal Weapon. The man is considered a pioneering screenwriter and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was his directorial debut. Having watched this movie over and over again I will again say that I really wish that Shane Black would step up to the director’s chair again and give me another movie. I think he has the potential to be one of the writer/director powerhouses that can really make his mark in the industry.

Watching Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang also reminds me of how much I do love Val Kilmer. The man may be crazy but he is a dang good actor. The man is currently voicing K.I.T.T. on the new (but soon to be if not already canceled) version of Knight Rider. He needs to stop that and get back to serious acting. From Doc Holliday to Gay Perry Val is one of the few actors who can genuinely disappear into a role and bring something special to the film – that’s the reason crazy as he is that people keep working with him. You work with Val and he becomes your character instead of just embodying the character.

I know it seems like I am on an insane Robert Downey Jr/comic book/holiday movie kick but I swear I am not. My mini-Robert Downey Jr. steak in the last few films was completely unintentional. I swear.

Perry: You don't get it, do you? This isn't "good cop, bad cop." This is fag and New Yorker. You're in a lot of trouble.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Home for the Holidays

I remember reading reviews for Home for the Holidays that were pretty lack luster, admonishing the film for being too cynical & in bad taste, but in 1995 when the film came out I did not have a knowledge of film, or criticism that would have allowed me a desire to see the film or rebuff the critics. However, now that I have seen Home for the Holidays I can say that I can and will rebuke the critics of this film, especially the ones that call it too cynical and dark, one reviewer even chastised the film for being cynical and dark without meaning too be. Home for the Holidays is a cynical, darkly comedic film about what happens when you as an adult get together with your family for a holiday – the darkness and the cynicism is intended to underscore the fact that these individuals you grew up with can become complete and total strangers to you, or perhaps always were but only time & distance can bring this out in your relationship. However, what most of the critics ignored is the underlying bond and love that is the ultimate point woven into this film by director Jodie Foster.

Home for the Holidays has the most basic plot you can imagine. Claudia Larson is having a terrible week, she was just fired from her job restoring art because they lost their funding, she “accidently” made out with her boss, her daughter Kitt just dropped on her that she plans to lose her virginity and on top of that she has to go home to visit her parents for Thanksgiving without her daughter or her little brother Tommy there to help her. Distraught Claudia calls Tommy and leaves a tearful message on his machine wishing him and his partner Jack a happy Thanksgiving but unthinkingly telling him she really needs him at her parents house this year. Claudia arrives home to the exact awkwardness she expects from her too affectionate/observant parents and is surprised in the middle of the night when Tommy arrives to spend Thanksgiving with the family claiming he never got Claudia’s message, and bringing not Jack but co-worker Leo Fish in tow. The holiday unfolds with Tommy being his wacky self, their prim sister Joanne obsessing over everything and insulting Tommy at every turn, and senile aunt Gladys bringing up the past.

In an odd way I liked Home for the Holidays because the relationship between Claudia and Tommy reminds me of what I think the relationship between my little brother and I is like. If one or the other of us were in a situation where we genuinely needed the other person to be there we would do it – and this is Tommy and Claudia. Of all the members of the Larson family these are the two that love each other as unconditionally as everyone says you are supposed to love your family and it shows in their relationship. Both Tommy and Claudia are there for one another whenever the other needs them and defend each other from the craziness of the rest of the family. As much as we all love our families most of us know that our family members are also the people that can hurt us the most because they know us so well.

Claudia is falling apart because so much has happened to her in such a short, stressful period of time and the one she reaches out to is Tommy. Her well meaning family does nothing but make her feel worse until Tommy arrives. Tommy resists telling her at first that he came home because he got her message, but through a series of events it is revealed that Tommy not only got Claudia’s message but decided to leave Jack and their friends for Thanksgiving to be there for Claudia knowing that it was not going to be a pleasant experience for him to spend the time with his family. Without thought for himself Tommy came to Claudia to be the buffer that she needed him to be.

Tommy himself is very similar to Claudia but his greatest trait within the family is his over exuberance in any situation, Tommy does not blend in nor does he want to and he always puts on a brave face, something only Claudia can see through. Though it is alluded to for awhile that their sister Joanne does not like Tommy it seems that her distaste only stems from the fact that Tommy is loud & boisterous and she is all about being neat and orderly. However, an accident occurs at the Thanksgiving table & Joanne releases her full fury on her brother revealing that her true distaste for him stems from his lifestyle not his wacky behavior. Though Tommy claims none of this bothers him, later alone in the kitchen where Claudia & Tommy finish their Thanksgiving dinner the brother and sister share an embrace that gets to the real soul of their relationship.

I think that Home for the Holidays was not necessarily well received because the audience does not want a holiday movie that is going to point out the flaws of the holiday or of our families, but they want a holiday movie that is going to be light, sweet and fluffy – but that is not what Home for the Holidays is and it shouldn’t be judged by the same scale. This movie is not Miracle on 34th Street and should not be entered with such a mindset. However, as with some of the more off beat, dramatic American films I do get the feeling that if this film wasn’t an American film but instead something from another country Home for the Holidays would be lauded as a fresh look at the reality of American holidays but instead the critics didn’t know what to think of it.

Director: Jodie Foster
Writer: W.D. Richter
Claudia Larson: Holly Hunter
Tommy Larson: Robert Downey Jr.
Adele Larson: Anne Bancroft
Henry Larson: Charles Durning
Leo Fish: Dylan McDermott
Aunt Gladys: Geraldine Chaplin
Walter Wedman: Steve Guttenberg
Joanne Larson Wedman: Cynthia Stevenson
Kitt Larson: Claire Danes

Claudia: You don't know the first thing about me.
Joanne: Likewise, I'm sure. If I just met you on the street... if you gave me your phone number... I'd throw it away.
Claudia: Well, we don't have to like each other, Jo. We're family.

Iron Man


ironman27
Originally uploaded by Alessandra Ogeda
Iron Man. I really think this is up there with Batman Begins as the movies in my collection I’ll just pull out and pop on whenever I just want something to watch. In my opinion Iron Man is everything a good “popcorn movie” should aspire to be. Instead of being brainless, pointless drivel a good “popcorn movie” should be fun and entertaining but still manage to have a brain. I can turn Iron Man on and pay attention and be deeply entertained or simply watch with a limited attention span and it’s still very entertaining.

I am very intrigued to continue to see how the success of Iron Man is going to affect the careers of Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau.

Christine Everheart: You've been called the DaVinci of our time. What do you say to that?
Tony Stark: Absolutely ridiculous. I don't paint.
Christine Everheart: And what do you say to your other nickname, the Merchant of Death?
Tony Stark: That's not bad.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Valkyrie


Valkyrie Poster
Originally uploaded by AsceticMonk
What I am about to say will upset comic book geeks everywhere.

Bryan Singer needs to stop making comic book movies.

That’s right. I am calling Bryan Singer out to stop jumping on board with the likes of X-Men and Superman Returns and keep up with what he does best – movies about bad guys and characters in impossible situations – movies like The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie.

I have been waiting for Valkryie with baited breath for over a year because it is made by the team that made my favorite film The Usual Suspects - Singer and Christopher McQuarrie. However, the film was bounced around like a ping pong ball and rumors were flying about it to the point that I was fully prepared to hate the film, but I have a soft spot for Singer and had to give it the benefit of a doubt and so I saw it as soon as possible after Christmas was done.

To begin my review I feel that I need to begin with what the audience and the studio believes are the flaws of the film: the lack of the German language, Nazi’s as protagonists and Tom Cruise.

I was one of the many people that was upset that Valkyrie very obviously ignored the use of German in the film and instead gave all of the character American accents. In a day and age where we can make humans fly on broomsticks in a magical game called quidditch it seems fitting that a group of actors playing characters based on real Germans should at least fake an accent if they can’t fake the language. I will be the first to admit that I was wrong. I thought the lack of a German “feel” to the language was going to drive me insane as I watched the film – but it didn’t. In fact the way Singer manages to get around the use of the language points out how incredibly strange it would have been to watch the entire film with such familiar multi-national actors speaking a language not at all similar to their own, and for the sticklers German writing is all over the film and in the beginning of the film Tom Cruise actually does do a voice over in German and that slowly fades into English – the opening credits are even done in German and English.

The largest obstacle to the plot of the film and to the studio being able to market Valkyrie is the mere fact that all of the characters are Germans in World War II, all fighting for mother Germany. Almost everyone around the world has been universally brought up to believe that all German’s of that era were Nazi’s, evil to the core and Hitler’s minions. This subconscious thinking is inescapable to the studio, and yet something that must be faced because this story is real. You cannot substitute G.I.’s in place of Germans – this is a remarkable true story of a group of German soldiers and politicians who say Hitler for the evil he was and were bold and brave enough to try and do something to stop it. The other giant obstacle that studio faces in this film, and what Singer and McQuarrie faced is the fact that if you’ve been alive in the past handful of decades you know that Hitler lived until the end of the war and was only killed when he committed suicide – in other words the characters in Valkyrie are defeated and anyone paying attention to the concept of the film knows this going in. It is incredibly hard to make a film where you audience already knows the ending but somehow Singer and McQuarrie manage to still create tension and empathy where none should exist. That is a skill that cannot be taught and must be viewed by anyone who appreciates great efforts in filmmaking.

Finally, the last and what some might argue to be the biggest obstacle in Valkyrie’s path is Tom Cruise. While Cruise was once the biggest movie star in the world his ego and eccentricies got the better of his public image in the past five or so years and his star has gotten more and more tarnished. Luckily, Cruise has finally figured out that he needs to stop touting what no one wants to hear and start being the movie star we all used to love. He started this with Tropic Thunder and the buzz was so great around him for that film that the studio finally dared release Valkyrie at a time that would help it instead of hinder it.

Don’t let the image Cruise has created in the media recently get in the way of your opinion of the acting. Remember that this is the man nominated for Oscars for multiple films, and a man that should have won one for his performance in Magnolia - Cruise is capable of being more than you think he can be. In Valkyrie Cruise once again returns to dramatic acting and he is fabulous. While I do not think that Valkyrie is his best role it is an amazing, conflicted character that he plays and he plays it expertly. Stauffenberg was a man torn between his love for his country and the oath he swore to a man he hated and Cruise pulls that off in a way that makes you wish this German soldier had been able to succeed in a treasonous act.

While this review may have rambled on for far too long it still cannot express accurately how much I loved and was enthralled with Valkyrie. While I no longer hold hope that this movie will get the critical acclaim it deserves, I can hope that at least the film will reach DVD before too long and gain the large following it deserves. I hope that Singer and Cruise take a note from Valkyrie and each return to the roots of their careers and do what they do so well.

Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie & Nathan Alexander
Colonel Stauffenberg: Tom Cruise
Major-General Tresckow: Kenneth Branagh
General Olbricht: Bill Nighy
General Fromm: Tom Wilkinson
Nina von Stauffenberg: Carice van Houten
Major Remer: Thomas Kretschmann
Ludwig Beck: Terence Stamp
General Fellgiebel: Eddie Izzard
Dr. Goerdeler: Kevin McNally
Colonel Quirnheim: Christian Berkel
Hitler: David Bamber
Colonel Brandt: Tom Hollander

Henning von Tresckow: We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler's Germany.

From Russia With Love


From Russia with Love
Originally uploaded by CinefilSite
From Russia With Love is one of the Bond movies that I’ve never seen. It’s an early Bond film from before the gadgets, explosions and Bond girls got in the way of Bond. It’s a Bond film that really shows you why exactly Bond is the spy he was built up to be in fiction, why Connery is considered the best Bond to this day, and contrasts sharply with the Bond films of the past two decades and is a sharp reminder of why exactly is was necessary to scale Bond back to a movie more about the spy than the spies trappings – in essence why it was necessary for Craig et all to take Bond back to what everyone is calling a rip off of Bourne. Let me tell you this – the new Bond films are not imitating Bourne, they are emulating their predecessors.

Unlike the later Bond films From Russia With Love is a genuine spy movie, very convoluted in detail yet pretty perfectly worked out. Unlike a lot of other Bond movies what makes From Russia With Love unique is the self-awareness it possesses so early in the series – the villains want Bond out of the way permanently and they try to accomplish this by seeking a femme fatale on Bond knowing that he will be unable to resist a tempting and willing woman. What follows is a complicated plot that has Bond questioning everyone that surrounds him, falling for a woman that he knows he can’t trust, and trying harder than anything to foray through the foreign spy game of Turkey & Russia to win the game for England.

An early bond film cannot be discussed without discussing Sean Connery. While Connery is audibly Scottish, the bravado and charm he exudes as Bond makes it obvious that he is Bond body and soul. From the dashing smile to his ability to wrestle with a foe you never doubt Bond is anything but lethal, an opponent who is always several steps ahead of his enemy but waiting for them to make a move that will expose their entire charade and leave him the victor.

While I wholeheartedly feel that I need to see this movie again to really follow and appreciate it, I cannot recommend From Russia With Love enough to any Bond fan that hasn’t seen it or to anyone who wonders why the Bond franchise has been around for over twenty films.

Director: Terence Young
Writer: Richard Maibaum
James Bond: Sean Connery
M: Bernard Lee
Moneypenny: Lois Maxwell
Red Grant: Robert Shaw
Tatiana Romanova: Daniela Bianchi
Rosa Klebb: Lotte Lenya

Donald "Red" Grant: Is any of the opposition around?
James Bond: Not in any condition to be worried about.

Elf


elf (2)
Originally uploaded by ebaycoach
The more I watch Elf the more I realize how much I genuinely love this movie. I really think it is one of my favorite Christmas movies ever made. As integral a part as Will Ferrell, James Caan and the rest of the cast is to the magic that makes Elf I truly believe that Jon Favreau is the glue that makes Elf work.

After the disappointment that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull I was astounded to realize that Jon Favreau did with Iron Man what I expected Spielberg to do with Indiana Jones - Favreau made a Spielberg-esque film that delighted and enraptured on every level and brought you into the characters so that you identified with them all. Iron Man reminded me of something I never realized before; Jon Favreau is a damn good director. Looking back at Elf I would venture to say that he is one of the best directors of his generation.

You may want to disagree with me saying this about Favreau but you need to stop and look at the evidence. The mark of a good director is very obvious traits that should appear very subtlety because they need to fit the film the director is composing – compare a good film to a bad film and you will see it – you may not be able to identify it but you will be able to tell there is a difference. That difference is the hand and mind of a good director. A good director will have a beautiful film where the visuals fit the world they are trying to create, every shot works to build pieces of the puzzle and more than anything a good director draws you into the story and the characters in such a way that the two are indelibly connected and you empathize with the characters and want to watch them on their plight.

Elf like Iron Man has all of this and the common trait between the two films is the man at the helm – Jon Favreau. If Elf was handled by a different director it would have been an entirely different film. Chris Columbus for example would have been static in his shots, used little to no background action except where absolutely necessary and in the end you would have walked away laughing at Ferrell and not remembering much else about the film; if someone like Tyler Perry had directed Elf the jokes would have been heavy handed, the look of the film far too exuberant and characters would have paused at the end of jokes waiting for reactions.

The point is that while a good director doesn’t want to be noticed, once you start paying attention you should be able to see the marks of a good director all over their film. Jon Favreau is a good director and because of his handling of Elf his film has been added to the Christmas must-see list of countless fans world wide.

Buddy: Did you have to borrow a reindeer to get down here?
Miles Finch: Hey, jackweed, I get more action in a week than you've had in your entire life. I've got houses in L.A., Paris and Vail. In each one, a 70 inch plasma screen. So I suggest you wipe that stupid smile off your face before I come over there and SMACK it off! You feeling strong, my friend? Call me elf one more time.
Buddy:He's an angry elf.

Christmas Vacation

Again I watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s a Christmas movie and people wanted to watch it on Christmas day, what can I say? Watching this movie again so soon after I last saw it made me appreciate the yuppie neighbors that live next to the Griswold family – Todd and Margo.

While the Griswold’s have their faults and would undoubtedly be annoying to live next to Todd and Margo are equally annoying in a while different way. Todd and Marge are the yuppie perfectionist couple that you have to hate. From their matching work out clothes to ultra modern CD player and tasteful lack of a Christmas tree Tood and Margo are the kind of couple who wouldn’t have a dog because it might track dirt into the house. They detest living next to someone so loud, disorganized and utterly un-modern as Clark Griswold. The comic disdain that drips from Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest as this couple is perfectly overstated and bring the perfect contrast to Clark and Ellen Griswold.

While I really don’t need to watch this movie again until at least next December I do still like this movie. However, I do think it is a film that if I watch it too many times too close together the charm will wear off and I will simply be annoyed by Clarks oh-so-clumsy antics. As much as I like Chevy Chase he is no Dick Van Dyke.

Margo: I hope he falls and breaks his neck.
Todd: Oh, I'm sure he'll fall. But I don't think we're lucky enough for him to break his neck.

Fred Claus


Fred Claus
Originally uploaded by AsceticMonk
I rented Fred Claus because I wanted to see Vince Vaughn playing with some elves, I really didn’t intend to like it – but I did. I really, really did. Much more than I should like a silly Christmas movie that is all surface and fun. However, it’s in that layer of gloss and frivolity that an entertaining and enjoyable comedy waits, you just have to accept the Christmas roots and mythology that is set up in the film and if you can do that you are good to go.

The precise reason Fred Claus is so enjoyable is because it’s about the mythology behind Christmas, but it is not about Santa Claus, it’s about his older brother Fred and “naughty” children everywhere, because you see by growing up with Nicholas his saintly younger brother Fred became bitter at being overshadowed and thus became naughty himself. Fred is the black sheep, the dirty laundry that the Claus institution cannot afford to air. However, being an actual saint Nicholas has a soft spot for Fred and when Fred calls on Nick for a helping hand Nick offers him a job at the North Pole – this turns out to be the worst timing possible for Nick as Clyde an efficiency expert arrives at the North Pole and threatens to shut Santa down if he can’t meet the impossible goals Clyde sets for him.

I will admit freely that my enjoyment of Fred Claus was partially guaranteed by having Kevin Spacey cast as the villain. My enjoyment of the film was cemented once it was revealed that the final important plot device of the film was a Superman cape and Kevin Spacey declaring that he wore his glasses because Clark Kent wore glasses. David Dobkin and screenwriters thus put two of my favorite things (Spacey & Superman) on screen together and it’s like a disease – part of me is going to love it no matter what (don’t even get me started on my conflicted feeling and constantly changing opinions on Superman Returns).

This film would be nothing though without the believable relationship between Giamatti and Vaughn as Nick and Fred; perhaps I can identify with Fred because I am a middle child who on some level always feels a little upstaged by the siblings on both sides of me, but I felt that Fred and Nick genuinely had a loving, yet conflicting relationship that sums up so perfectly what so many siblings face when they love each other but can’t manage to each exist without somehow injuring the other. Granted this is pumped up in the world of fantasy, but the underpinnings are very real to anyone that has a close sibling.

All in all, Fred Claus is not the holiday classic that Elf is but it is by no means a stupid holiday movie. I quite enjoyed it and I think many other movie goers would as well.

Director: David Dobkin
Writer: Dan Fogleman
Fred Claus: Vince Vaughn
Nick (Santa) Claus: Paul Giamatti
Willie: John Michael Higgins
Annette Claus: Miranda Richardson
Wanda: Rachel Weisz
Mother Claus: Kathy Bates
Charlene: Elizabeth Banks
Clyde Northcut: Kevin Spacey
Slam: Bobb’e J Thompson

Nick 'Santa' Claus: I never realized. You hate me.
Fred Claus: I don't hate you, Nick. I just wish you'd never been born.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yes Man


Yes Man Poster
Originally uploaded by AsceticMonk
I expected to dislike Yes Man. While I love Jim Carrey I kind of feel like a lot of his recent comedies have all been the same thing. Despite seeming like Yes Man is a retelling of Liar Liar the film is actually quite original and really is a grown up version of Carey’s comedy.

Carey plays Carl Allen, a divorcee who works at a seemingly dead end job and has decided to check out of life. He doesn’t hang out with his friends, he doesn’t talk to his co-workers – unless he’s forced to do otherwise all Carl will do is sit at home, ignore his phone and watch DVD’s. The thing is that Carl messes up big time by accidently blowing off his best friend’s engagement party; his friends anger sets Carl in motion and he makes it to the Yes! motivational seminar where he makes a covenant with the leader to say yes to everything that is presented to him in order to bring about positive change in his life. Carl takes this covenant literally and sees where life takes him and suddenly he begins to enjoy being himself again.

While this movie is by no means perfect it is a really fun movie to watch and a really enjoyable piece to watch Carrey in. there is a drunken bar fight between Carl and a muscle clad man that still has me laughing if I think about it. I also enjoy that unlike most comedies now adays anything shown or mentioned in a joke or otherwise actually comes back up to have a point in the movie. Nothing is just a laugh. Also, the 300 party may have you cringing.

I am also a little in love with Terence Stamp as a motivational speaker. Not only was he just so darn believable as the egotistic leader, but it reminded me of why I have loved Stamp since childhood – Zod. I just kept wanting him to grab the mic and shout “Kneel before Zod!” Yes, I am aware I need some serious therapy.

I would love to see Jim Carrey get the acclaim he deserves for his dramatic roles. I honestly believe that he is an amazing dramatic actor and I don’t think anyone that has seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can disagree. However, I am glad that he continues to do comedies - I just want them to stay as adult as Yes Man.

Director: Peyton Reed
Writers: Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel
Carl Allen: Jim Carrey
Allison: Zooey Deschanel
Peter: Bradley Cooper
Norman: Rhys Darby
Rooney: Danny Masterson
Tillie: Fionnula Flanagan
Terrence Bundley: Terence Stamp
Lucy: Sasha Alexander
Nick: John Michael Higgins

Slumdog Millionaire

I loved Slumdog Millionaire but I don’t know if I can explain it in any way that does it justice. If I was writing a logline I would have to say that Slumdog Millionaire is City of God with a happy ending.

To put it in a simple nutshell the main character goes on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and is one question away from winning 20 million rupees and saving the girl of his dreams and the film flashes back and forth between preset and past to explain how Jamal got there and the mob and the police are involved as well. The mob because Jamals brother Salim has pulled himself out of the slums and into the mob and the girl of Jamal’s dreams Latika because she is the mob bosses girl and the police because Jamal is accused of cheating on the show because no one believes there could be another way for a “slumdog” like Jamal to get that far on the show.

The film is effervescent, colorful, engaging, and absolutely one of the most surprising films of the year. While I don’t believe that Slumdog Millionaire is the best movie of the year I do believe that it deserves the critical acclaim it has been getting and is worthy of a wide audience. Slumdog Millionaire is a powerful depiction of the life of this orphan in India and shows so well what happens to his life because of circumstances in and out of his control.

One thing that I found out about this movie amazes me. Danny Boyle shared the directing credit by listing Loveleen Tandan as co-director. Loveleen began as the casting director for the film and Boyle convinced her to stay around for production and as he learned how much she knew about India, the actors, etc. he used her more and more until she took charge of the second unit and finally Boyle decided she was the co-director of the film. I think that is a brave thing for Boyle to do and I love that he didn’t let ego get in the way of him giving credit where he felt it was deserved.

For fans of Danny Boyle it is very important that you stay through the end credits as you will love seeing the Bollywood sequence – and you never expected something that poppy to come out of the man that made Trainspotting.

Director: Danny Boyle
Co-Director: Loveleen Tandan
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Jamal: Dev Patel
Middle Jamal: Tanya Chheda
Youngest Jamal: Ayush Mahesh Agrawal
Salim: Madhur Mittal
Middle Salim: Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala
Youngest Salim: Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail
Latika: Freida Pinto
Youngest Latika: Rubiana Ali

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas in Connecticut

If you haven’t figured out I am trying to put myself in a merry mood by watching Christmas movies, so I let my mouse do the clicking on Netflix and I found Christmas in Connecticut. Somehow I have never seen this movie or even heard of it. While Christmas in Connecticut is a fun movie made during the end of WWII and reflects the effervescent spirit Americans needed to deal with the conflicts overseas.

In the film Elizabeth Lane is touted as the best cook in America; she writes a monthly magazine column about her life as a housewife on a Connecticut farm with her husband and baby. The problem is that there is no baby, no farm, and no husband. Elizabeth can’t even cook. However, Elizabeth has gotten to where she is because she is tenacious and men adore her. Her friend Felix is the real cook who brings her monthly recipes, John Sloan is a successful architect who wants to marry her and actually has the farm in Connecticut and her editor has allowed her to fabricate all of this and get away with it for so long. The problem comes into this screwball comedy when her editor grants a wish from a friend to have recovering soldier Jefferson Jones stay with Elizabeth Lane and her family on their farm for the holidays. Suddenly Elizabeth is tapped and she has only one option to keep her job and not be exposed as a liar – she need to get the farm, the husband and the baby.

What I truly love about this movie (and a lot of classic movies similar to it) is the obvious pro-feminist message it gives that is ultimately squashed by the end of the movie due to either the censorship board, studio or other means. Elizabeth Lane is a powerful single woman with a job of status and doesn’t need or want a man, but when a moment of trouble comes she is running to Sloan to get married – marriage will literally solve all of her problems in the film. She narrowly avoids marrying Sloan to pretend to be his wife, and ends up falling for Jones instead who is in love with the ultra feminine guise that Elizabeth writes under. By the end of the film she is jobless and running to get married again – but this time because she wants to. It’s rather humorous to watch.

I do enjoy this movie and recommend it for Yuletide watching but be aware that while it is very entertaining it is a silly movie.

Director: Peter Godfrey
Writers: Lionel Houser & Adele Comandini
Elizabeth Lane: Barbara Stanwyck
Jefferson Jones: Dennis Morgan
Alexander Yardley: Sydney Greenstreet
John Sloan: Reginald Gardiner
Felix: S.Z. Sakall

John Sloan: Having babies to boost your circulation takes time.

Christmas Vacation

When I was a kid my favorite movie to watch during the holidays was National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. To this day I don’t know if anything in my young life made me laugh harder than the first time I saw the squirrel and the Christmas tree. I partially blame this film for my little brother’s obsession with Christmas lights.

This is a modern screwball comedy at its best. Christmas Vacation is what we have nightmares about actually happening when we are forced into large family holiday gathering lived out by Chevy Chase and his fictional family. It becomes funny because it’s extreme cases of holiday situations – and it’s not happening to us. From chopping down his own Christmas tree to lighting the house Clark wants his Christmas to be perfect and doesn’t want to admit that his plans have gotten way out of hand and everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

I do recommend watching this movie at least once a Christmas and it will help to cure some of the holiday blues. After all, I don’t think most of us have to deal with a trailer park cousin dropping in unexpectedly and dumping his RV’s sewage tank into our sewer creating a methane gas buildup that later blows the front yard to hades. You’ll find something to laugh at.

Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Writer: John Hughes
Clark Griswold: Chevy Chase
Ellen Griswold: Beverly D’Angelo
Audrey Griswold: Juliette Lewis
Rusty Griswold: Johnny Galecki
Clark Griswold Sr.: John Randolph
Nora Griswold: Diane Ladd
Art Smith: EG Marshall
Frances Smith: Doris Roberts
Cousin Eddie: Randy Quaid

Clark: We're kicking off our fun old fashion family Christmas by heading out into the country in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols.
Audrey: We're not coming all the way out here just to get one of those stupid ties with Santa Clauses on it are we?
Clark: No, I have one of those at home.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Holiday


Hday_1280x1024_01
Originally uploaded by ns520za
If you know that I loathe most romantic comedies and holiday films you would be surprised to find out that I adore The Holiday. In fact, I am a little shocked that I like The Holiday as much as I do. However, I do blame this on another of my likes and dislikes – I love movies about movies and The Holiday has a main character that edits trailers, one character that is a film composer and another character that was a screenwriter in the golden age of Hollywood.

At its core The Holiday is a film about Iris and Amanda. It’s Christmas time and Iris, a columnist from England is heartbroken to discover Jasper the man that has been leading her on for two years is engaged to one of her coworkers and didn’t even have the decency to tell her before making the announcement. In the states Amanda makes movie trailers and has just dumped her boyfriend Ethan for cheating on her with his secretary. Both women are devastated and don’t want to stay home for the holidays; through chance Amanda finds that Iris has listed her home on a home exchange website and the women decided to switch houses for the holiday. Iris heads to Hollywood and meets Miles a film composer who seems to have her luck in love, and Arthur who is Amanda’s elderly neighbor and a prolific screenwriter from a Hollywood era long gone. In England Amanda meets Graham, Amanda’s brother and the two hit it off only for Amanda to discover that he is a widower with two small daughters. Both women begin complicated relationships with the men – Amanda’s romantic and Iris’s at first purely friendship with both men, at first.

I do have to say that I have nothing against the characters in England but the storyline of Iris, Miles and Arthur are my favorite part of the movie. Not only do I love the old Hollywood influence in the story but I find Iris to be the character that I can empathize with the most. I also adore Kate Winslet and Jack Black together which I didn’t think was possible. It’s an odd pairing but it’s kind of like Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, once you see Billy Crystal in the role you can’t imagine anyone else playing that – I think Jack Black did that in The Holiday. I think Kate Winslet needs to be in more movies. I love watching her act.

I really think that The Holiday is just a really good film, not just a holiday film. It is able to transcend it’s categorization because it uses the time of the year as a catalyst, not as an overarching theme by which the movie is driven.

Director & Writer: Nancy Meyers
Amanda: Cameron Diaz
Iris: Kate Winslet
Graham: Jude Law
Miles: Jack Black
Arthur Abbott: Eli Wallach
Ethan: Edward Burns
Jasper: Rufus Sewell
Maggie: Shannyn Sossamon

Arthur Abbott: Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.
Iris: You're so right. You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god's sake! Arthur, I've been going to a therapist for three years, and she's never explained things to me that well. That was brilliant. Brutal, but brilliant.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)


TDTESS
Originally uploaded by haley.tittle
Friday I participated in the desire to see Keanu Reeves play an alien in The Day the Earth Stood Still. There is not a whole lot I can say about this film besides the fact that it’s just kind of a movie. The film is not terribly bad, but it’s not exactly good either. It’s just kind of in the middle. All of the pieces are there to make it an entertaining film and yet is just kind of misses the mark and I can’t put my finger on how – it’s just not that compelling.

One thing that truly bothers me is that The Day the earth Stood Still is another in a long line of “save the earth” message movies. For some reason this pro-planet message didn’t bother me as much as usual, it could be because it was clumsily inserted into the film or because I knew going in that the film would be a message movie because the original film is a message movie. What actually bothered me is that the message was changed from the original message. The message in the original film is very obviously anti-war – Klatu comes out at the end of the movie and tells humanity this in a moment straight out of a Greek play; the change in message bothers me because this an anti-war message would still be 100% relevant today.

I was also incredibly disappointed in Gort, but that is a personal thing. Gort kicked ass in the original and half way through this version he disintegrates into metal bugs? I don’t get that choice.

What was good about this remake was Keanu Reeves as Klaatu. While I enjoy the original film Klaatu was a very happy go lucky figure that seemed a bit strange to have in a Cold War setting; in this update Klaatu is very alien and serious, he is an individual that is not part of this world and does not understand the desire to want to be. Reeves may not be the world’s best actor but this is a role that fits him incredibly well and he is the best thing to watch in the film.

The egregious error in this film (besides feeling like a slow version of Independence Day) is the lack of a certain phrase. People familiar with the original will be incredible disappointed that they don’t get to hear Keanu utter the classic line “Klaatu barada nikto.” How do you remake the film without its most memorable line?

All in all I would suggest that you wait for home video on this one. You won’t lose much in the translation.

Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer: David Scarpa
Klaatu: Keanu Reeves
Helen Benson: Jennifer Connelly
Regina Jaskcon: Kathy Bates
Jacob Benson: Jaden Smith
Prof. Barnhardt: John Cleese

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dune

I first read Dune I think when I was still in high school. I know that it was prior to 9/11/2001 because I had never heard the work jihad before and I had to look it up in the books glossary. Dune to me is one of the most compelling science fiction stories I’ve ever read, and I also think it has to be one of the hardest series to translate to film. I’ve seen the Sci-fi channels miniseries version but had never seen the David Lynch version. Netflix to the rescue.

I don’t know if everyone in my generation is familiar with Dune. The story takes place in an empire of planets probably not even in our reality. Young Paul Atreides is the son of Duke Atreides and Jessica a Bene Gesserit witch who was ordered to produce only daughters to the Duke. Paul is a gifted young man and is feared by the Bene Gesserit Revrend Mother because she fears he is the long prophesied Kwisatz Haderach (messiah) and that she will not be able to control him. Duke Atreides is sent by the emperor to Arakis (aka Dune) a desert planet to take control from his ancient rivals the house Harkonnen. Though Duke Atreides smells a trap brewing he cannot refuse the emperor and takes the position only to be ambused & killed by the Harkonnen’s and Jessica and Paul flee into the dead desert to discover the fremen the indigenous people and Paul plots revenge on the Harkonnen’s.

David Lynch’s version of Dune is not amazing; if you haven’t read the book I think you would be deeply confused by the film. In fact, I read the book and I couldn’t understand some of the choices that Lynch made – but it is very much a David Lynch science fiction film. Do you really think that the man that made Blue Velvet could make a normal movie?

The single most bizarre thing in this movie for me was seeing Patrick Stewart as Gurney Halleck. Gurney is an ass kicking, tough as nails man in the Duke’s employ and he is forever embedded in my consciousness as Capt. John Luc Picard. Very different mental pictures. Plus he had a mullet.

I do think this movie screams for a remake. So far the Sci-fi miniseries is the best representation out there but I know that not many people want to sit through an entire miniseries. However, I do wonder if a “shortened” version of the story can make any sense. If you’re not sure what I mean read the first book.

Director & Writer: David Lynch
Lady Jessica: Francesca Annis
Piter De Vries: Brad Dourif
Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV: Jose Ferrer
Shadout Mapes: Linda Hunt
Duncan Idaho: Richard Jordan
Paul Atreides: Kyle McLachlan
Princess Irulan: Virginia Madsen
Baron Harkonnen: Kenneth McMillan
Duke Atreides: Jurgen Prochow
Gurney Halleck: Patrick Stewart
Dr. Kynes: Max von Sydow
Alia: Alicia Witt
Chani: Sean Young

Princess Irulan: A beginning is a very delicate time. Know then, that is the year 10191. The known universe is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam the Fourth, my father. In this time, the most precious substance in the universe is the spice Melange. The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness. The spice is vital to space travel. The Spacing Guild and its navigators, who the spice has mutated over 4000 years, use the orange spice gas, which gives them the ability to fold space. That is, travel to any part of the universe without moving. Oh, yes. I forgot to tell you. The spice exists on only one planet in the entire universe. A desolate, dry planet with vast deserts. Hidden away within the rocks of these deserts are a people known as the Fremen, who have long held a prophecy that a man would come, a messiah, who would lead them to true freedom. The planet is Arrakis, also known as Dune.

The Dark Knight

Of course I bought the deluxe edition of The Dark Knight the day it came out and I bought the Target exclusive version that had the cowl packaging. I actually sat around all day at work, excited that I would own the DVD in a few hours. Yes, I am a dork, but you all knew that. However, my love of this movie goes well beyond my adoration of Christian Bale. I am one of the people that truly thinks this film is one of the best Batman stories committed to the Batman cannon.

One of my favorite things about The Dark Knight is the script itself; everything about this movie begins with such a well written script. It has been hard to place what is my favorite moment in The Dark Knight but waiting for it to come out for me to own, and watching it again I realized what it was. There is one image, one scene that has stuck in my head since the my first viewing. [Do not read if you do not want to be spoiled.]

Batman is in the high rise building with the Joker pinning him down, he manages to turn the tables and flip Joker off the ledge to what you assume will mean he is plummeting to his death; instead Batman fires one of his handy grappling devices and catches Joker by the feet hauling him back to the ledge and suspending him upside down. Joker blows in the breeze and laughs maniacally. What makes this scene work for me so well is the synchronicity of the dialogue and camera work that comes next as Joker delivers a speech that sums up the relationship of Batman & Joker perfectly starting with “this is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object”.

Verbally every line that is delivered in this monologue is perfect and succinct. Joker will never give up and he loves having an opponent like Batman to fight, he knows Batman will never give up because he can’t have peace in a world where someone like Joker exists but he will not cross the line that it takes to defeat men like Joker. Joker & Batman know that to defeat Joker, Batman would have to become like Joker. This speech is hook, line and sinker the perfect summary of everything Joker is an always has been in any serious form of the story – he is a psychotic, conscious-free villain to the very core who doesn’t wreak havoc for the profit but for the joy of it.

While this beautiful bit of writing is going on visually Chris Nolan clues his audience into the meaning of this exchange. Batman strong and powerful is consistently large and visible in his shots, but Joker goes on a visual journey. When Batman first hoists him up he is portrayed visually as powerless – upside down and swaying, he has no control. However, as he verbally defeats Batman the camera begins to turn until Joker is right side up, visually this is a more powerful and dominant position to be in. When you combine the visuals with the monologue it becomes incredibly obvious – Batman has won the battle, but Joker is fighting the war.

Joker’s speech is a perfect one from an intellectual stand point. I have been sitting and wondering for quite awhile between Joker and Batman who is the “unstoppable force” and who is the “immovable object”. Immediate evidence would suggest that Joker is the former and Batman the latter, but when you really sit down I am pretty sure you could come up with evidence for the other side as well.

For all the people clamoring for the follow-up film I have one thing to say. Be patient. There was about three years between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight but it was worth waiting for wasn’t it? Nolan & Bale’s next movie’s won’t be Batman movies, but this doesn’t mean they won’t make another; both of these men are seriously committed to their craft and don’t want to make a movie just to make some money. So ignore the rumors about who’s been cast as Catwoman, Riddler, etc – they are fake – and just let the men work at their own pace otherwise you’ll end up with a movie more like Spiderman 3 and less like a genuine tale worth telling.

The Joker: You just couldn't let me go could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible aren't you? You won't kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won't kill you, because you're just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.
Batman: You'll be in a padded cell forever.
The Joker: Maybe we can share one. They'll be doubling up, the rate this city's inhabitants are losing their minds.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Laurel Canyon

Laurel Canyon is a really dang good movie, but I have a feeling it will infuriate some people.

When the story begins Sam and Alex are moving from the east coast to the west coast; Alex is getting her PhD to go along with her MD and is working on her dissertation and Sam has earned a psychiatric residency at a prestigious southern California hospital. Sam’s mother Jane is a record producer and they will be staying in her lavish Laurel Canyon home while she is away having just finished a record. The problem is that when they arrive they discover that Jane has not finished her record and she (and therefore the band) are inhabiting the house. Thus begins the real problems – Sam hate the world his mother forced him to grow up in and doesn’t realize that Alex is utterly drawn to Jane’s world because it is utterly different than her own.

This movie truly is not carried by one member of the cast but all three of the leads. Frances McDormand, Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale are phenomenal under the direction of Lisa Cholodenko. While this is a very broad statement I do think this may be one of the best movies directed by a woman that I have seen in a few years. While a large chunk of how much I enjoyed this film can probably be attributed to the incredible talents of the cast Cholodenko’s skill shines through in everything from her music choices to the shots she chose to edit together. Perhaps it is merely my recent distaste of Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight talking but you can see the purpose behind ever shot that Cholodenko uses in a scene and they draw you further into the characters and the story. While this may seem like the most basic element of filmmaking you would be surprised to see how many people cannot do this well.

Part of what I like is that Laurel Canyon in my opinion raises questions about which character did the worse thing. You may assume Alex because she physically cheats (and who it happens with), Sam because he emotionally cheats or Jane because she enables all of this to happen. There is no way to truly calculate each parties guilt and through all the emotion and caring each person has for the others they still all messed up.

Perhaps the best thing about Laurel Canyon is how very real it feels. The open ending adds to this and is one of the primary reasons Laurel Canyon will divide audiences. Sam and Alex being the film in a nearly picture perfect relationship but by the end of the film they are not ready to walk blissfully into the sunset – in fact you don’t know where they characters would go once the film ends. The emotional turmoil that the characters go through in the movie makes you wonder what you would do in that situation and be very glad you are not in their shoes.

Director & Writer: Lisa Cholodenko
Jane: Frances McDormand
Sam: Christian Bale
Alex: Kate Beckinsale
Sara: Natascha McElhone
Ian McKnight: Alessandro Nivola

Alex: We just hadn't planned on a change of plan.
Jane: Well who plans on a change of plan? I mean, that would be sorta paranoid, don't you think?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life


WonderfulLife049Pikturz
Originally uploaded by Pikturz
Though I know it will be on a major television network at least once before Christmas Day I could not resist the opportunity to see It’s a Wonderful Life at a flashback screening. I am glad I did. Having only ever seen the film on television I was reminded how often I don’t truly pay attention to movies on TV. Though I have seen It’s a Wonderful Life at least once a year I cannot recall the last time I sat and watched the film from start to finish.

As usual with any Jimmy Stewart movie I was struck by how fabulous he really is. There is just something about that man that is utterly relatable, the everyman, all while being the perfect embodiment of his characters. This man truly is one of my favorite actors of all time and I believe will deservedly be idolized by actors and cinemaphiles for years to come.

What I never truly appreciated about It’s A Wonderful Life is how truly funny it is. I always appreciated the dramatic elements of the film, the story structure, the tragedy, etc. but I never really paid attention to the great humor. While the movie isn’t a comedy the warmth and natural delivery brought to the script makes the gentle one liners and witticisms standout as endearing and memorable.

I did sit and wonder last night why It’s a Wonderful Life has not been remade. The answer is pretty obvious, other films have been based around the same concept, but if you were to actually remake It’s a Wonderful Life and update the film any studio would have a full fledged outrage on their hands. This movie is truly placed in the very scant “perfect movie” category in Hollywood and I don’t think anyone would risk touching it. The only person I can even think of that I would trust to remake this film is probably Steven Speilberg who is essentially the modern day Capra.

While I know that It’s a Wonderful Life is not a perfect film, it has been caught up in such an idealistic cloud over the past decades that I cannot find any real flaws in the film – every aspect about it just seems to make the movie that much more endearing and timeless.

Director: Frank Capra
Writers: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett & Frank Capra
George Bailey: James Stewart
Mary Bailey: Donna Reed
Potter: Lionel Barrymore
Uncle Billy: Thomas Mitchell
Clarence: Henry Travers

George Bailey: Now, come on, get your clothes on, and we'll stroll up to my car and get... Oh, I'm sorry. I'll stroll. You fly.
Clarence: I can't fly. I haven't got my wings.
George Bailey: You haven't got your wings. Yeah, that's right.

While You Were Sleeping

While You Were Sleeping is a silly little movie but I love it. I think it’s a great combination of holiday movie, romantic and screwball comedies. In a way it reminds me of the cute, light comedies of Hollywood’s golden age and I make sure to watch the movie at least once every holiday season.

If you’ve never seen While You Were Sleeping the plot can be quite confusing on paper. Lucy works at the L and sees Jack every day when he commutes to work. On Christmas Day he is mugged and thrown on the train tracks unconscious, Lucy saves him from an incoming train and accompanies him to the hospital and he lapses into a coma; at the hospital a nurse makes the mistake of thinking she is Peter’s fiancée and informs Peter’s family of such. Having grown distant from Peter his family goes along with the assumption and welcomes Lucy into open arms giving Lucy a family for the first time in years, the only problem is though Peter is Lucy’s dream man his brother Jack is the man that Lucy is finding herself drawn to and she can’t do anything about it as she is supposedly Peter’s fiancée.

What I love most about this movie is Peter’s grandmother Elsie; the woman is opinionated, senile and quirky to the T. Elsie has some of the best lines in the film not only based on her delivery of these lines but on how she is randomly inserted into conversations with no idea what people are talking about. It really is just like that relative we all have that feels the need to be in everybody’s business. The fact that Glynis Johns who plays Elsie was also Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins is another great bonus.

This film is airy and light but it is everything it advertises to be. Unlike the popcorn fluff that usually gets made now a days there is actually enough wit and grace to this film that it is safe for the whole family and can be enjoyed on multiple viewings.

Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writers: Daniel G. Sullivan & Fredric LeBow
Lucy Eleanor Moderatz: Sandra Bullock
Jack Callaghan: Bill Pullman
Peter Callaghan: Peter Gallagher
Ox Callaghan: Peter Boyle
Midge Callaghan: Micole Mercurio
Mary Callaghan: Monica Keena
Saul: Jack Warden
Elsie: Glynis Johns
Joe Fusco, Jr.: Michael Rispoli
Ashley Bartlett Bacon: Ally Walker
Jerry: Jason Bernard

Lucy: If I tell Jack I lied to his family he will *never* speak to me again. And Ox and Midge and Mary and Saul.
Jerry: Saul? Who's Saul?
Lucy: The next door neighbor. But you know what? Actually, he knows.
Jerry: Lucy, you are born into a family. You do not join them like you do the marines.
Lucy: So what should I do?
Jerry: Pull the plug.
Lucy: You're sick.
Jerry: I'm sick? You're cheating on a vegetable.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Twilight

I put myself through the pain of Twilight again. I was really hoping that it might be a movie that improved on repeat viewings. I was wrong. It was worse than before. Not only did it point out to me even more that Catherine Hardwicke directed the movie in the dark, but I realized some of the truly horrendous choices she made. I actually got up and went to the bathroom during one scene that was especially painful for me on the first viewing – I never leave the theatre during any film. However, there was one thing I noticed this time that I can’t believe I didn’t notice the first time.

There is a sparkle sound effect.

Fans of the book know that Meyer’s vampire’s don’t burn in the sun but sparkle…Hardwicke gave someone the instruction that this sparkling should have a chime sound effect. Stupidest thing ever.

The one bright spot of the film was as before Billy Burke who plays Charlie Swan. Poor guy had to be put in such a bad movie.

I still hold that I can learn lots from this movie – just not because it’s well put together.

Four Christmases

The holiday movie season has begun. This means two things – 1: it’s Oscar season so we’ll get Oscar-bait, 2: we are going to be bombarded with holiday themed movies. Four Christmases is not Oscar-bait but one of the standard Christmas fare that comes out between Thanksgiving and New Years; movies that are typically cheapish to make, star cute actors and are designed to capitalize on the few brief weeks of holiday cheer. Most holiday movies are not really that good like Surviving Christmas (which I dare you to remember who stars in that one without using IMDB) or Jingle All the Way there are always exceptions to that rule – movies like Elf, Christmas Vacation and Scrooged are among a few of my most enjoyed comedies and they are Christmas films. Four Christmases is not a great Christmas movie, but it is a lot better than you would expect it to be.

If you’ve seen the trailer for Four Christmases you can guess every plot point in the film – Brad & Kate can’t stand their families and would rather be anywhere else for the holidays. As a result they make an elaborate lie every holiday season that gets them out of going while they sneak off to an exotic destination and relax in peace, the hitch is that their flight gets canceled and they get caught at the airport by a live TV broadcast which all t heir relatives see so they are roped into seeing everyone they were trying to avoid.

Four Christmases suffers because the plot hinges on fog – literally; fog grounds their plane and though it obviously burns off they couple continues to make the rounds with their relatives. If you think too hard about the monologues delivered by both Brad and Kate at the beginning of the film you will realize that actually sticking with their copout and visiting their families once the fog lifts seems really out of character; they are painted as two people that wouldn’t care enough to keep up the charade with as miserable a time as they are having.

However, the reason that the film overcomes this fault is the unexpected chemistry between Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon. As Brad and Kate they are an adorable couple and stand so far apart from their families that you do see them as aliens in a foreign land when they are forced to interact. To the tribute of the screenwriter the situations they are put in are believable enough that you can empathize with them – not because Brad’s brother is a UFC fighter who wants to beat him up but because we all have that embarrassing relation that we love but cannot understand no matter how hard we try.

While most of you will just shrug this off to my obsession with Iron Man, my absolute favorite character was Brad’s brother Denver played by Jon Favreau. I have been a fan of Favreau’s since I first saw Swingers and I have to say that seeing him muscled, tattooed and with a mohawk was a memorable experience. Knowing that he and Vaughn have a great friendship (hence the supporting role in Vaughn’s picture) also makes the relationship between Denver and Brad funnier to me.

Four Christmases is not one of the best holiday movies I have ever seen, but it is funny, fresh and genuine. All things considered it’ll probably be one of the better Christmas movies this season.

Director: Seth Gordon
Writers: Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson, John Lucas & Scott Moore
Brad: Vince Vaughn
Kate: Reese Witherspoon
Howard: Robert Duvall
Paula: Sissy Spacek
Creighton: Jon Voight
Denver: Jon Favreau
Marilyn: Mary Steenburgen
Pastor Phil: Dwight Yoakam
Dallas: Tim McGraw
Courtney: Kristin Chenoweth

Australia


Australia Poster
Originally uploaded by AsceticMonk
Baz Luhrmann doesn’t follow the trends; he doesn’t pay attention to what is popular at the theatres now and try to emulate it – he just makes the movies he feels need to be made and Australia is one of these films. I will heartily admit that I have a slightly biased opinion of Australia as I was able to see a preview screening before seeing the finished film; therefore, I know where the film came from and was able to chart its progress. I will also admit that Australia does have its melodramatic impulses and other flaws that it has to deal with – sometimes it conquers these flaws and sometimes it doesn’t. However, I must also admit that I loved this movie.

Australia is a grand, sweeping movie that in my opinion is not meant to be taken as a genuine historical reenactment like a Saving Private Ryan or even Apocalypse Now; Australia is a love story framed by the spirit of the land it takes place in and the events that surround the characters. The indigenous people of Australia and their traditions of magic play a huge role in the plot of the film and the story and characters of Australia must be filtered through the use of “magic” as well – this magic influence cannot effect one character only – if it is used in the plot it must be used universally for all.

I bring the above up because of the character Nullah, the mixed race aboriginal boy that Lady Sarah adopts when his mother dies. Nullah is the son of a witch doctor, and believes he is a magic man himself; Nullah frames the story as the narrator and is the reason the characters overcome several nearly devastating events – all based on his use or belief in his magical powers. This plays heavily into the end of the movie – Nullah claims responsibility for the lack of a character dying. While I slightly preferred the original ending of the film (where the character did die) this ending does fit with the magical framework surrounding the film – if we believe Nullah can stop a heard of stampeding caddle before they push him off a cliff then why can we not believe he can avoid a bullet?

What I do need to address as I saw the original ending to the film months ago is what was changed with that ending – if you don’t want to be at least slightly spoiled stop reading. Originally someone is shooting at Nullah in Darwin and Drover and Sarah see, Drover rushes out to get Nullah out of the way and succeeds in keeping Nullah from being shot but he takes the bullet instead. Sarah rushes over realizing that the wound is bad, they have their typical last lovers speech about how he cares for her and wishes he’d told her then he dies before help can arrive. Sarah and Nullah continue back to Faraway Downs to avoid the Japanese Army and along the way they meet up with King George and this time she lets Nullah go on walkabout. It was sad, but it was poignant and made Sarah grow further; what didn’t work about that ending was that Hugh Jackman’s Drover is a more compelling character than Kidman’s Sarah Ashley – killing him made his arch seem incomplete. This led to the new ending that is on the film.

In this new ending Drover lives because Nullah’s magic keeps the bullet from both of them and all parties live. Rather than a dying speech about how he loves Sarah and Nullah the Drover actually continues his arch, breaking his mold by returning home with them and seeing his influence on Sarah when she lets Nullah go.

Both endings work for me. The original ending because it makes the movie more of a traditional epic, and the existing ending because it makes the movie more of the magical, reality tweaked setting that I have loved so much from Baz in the past.

I think this movie is going to divide people if nothing else because the MTV/youtube generation cannot sit through a two hour forty-five minute movie well and continue to pay attention if there is not fast cutting and explosions. However, I do think that Australia is the kind of filmmaking that needs to be celebrated; in the way that Moulin Rouge! brought musicals back to the theatres I can hope that Australia will have some kind of influence on current theatre trends as well, bringing back less Michael Bay “epics” and more sweeping, grabbing stories.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Australia

On October 5 I was surprised to see that the preview screening I got to be a part of was Australia by Baz Luhrmann. This was a very rough version of the film, the color timing wasn’t finished, visual effects were rough at best, and the film did not have it’s score in place amongst many other things.


I’m going to start with the negatives of the film, but keep in mind that as this was a rough version it is doubtful that my negatives will stay negatives once all of the films elements are put together. First, there are tonal shifts in the film that don’t feel completely out of place, but they do feel clunky. However, I have full confidence that once the film is finished these tonal shifts will not feel out of place. Also, there were a few things that were kind of hard to follow – characters moving from a to b, etc. but again, I think this will go away.


I’m also going to address what I think people will really object to in the film – it’s length. The film clocks in at almost three hours at this present time, and that is without titles. I believe it is perfect at that length. Yes, it’s long, but I do not think there is anything that could be trimmed from this movie without eliminating an entire necessary point of the film. Australia is a rich old fashioned film, with many characters, plot lines and elements that are all intertwined through the course of the film. Removing even one scene would necessitate removing entire storylines from the picture. Just sit still, get pulled into the story and you will not notice the time.


Now to the positives. I knew after seeing Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge that Baz can direct a film and do it beautifully, and I knew that Australia would be in a different style. What I did not expect was for the movie to be as sweepingly beautiful as it is. Baz needs to win a best director Oscar some day and I think he can possibly do it for this movie – and that opinion is based on a rough cut of the film.


Another HUGE positive is the actors in the film led primarily by Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. They are phenomenal in this film and really seem to connect with the material in a very personal way since it’s about their home country.


The journey Kidman takes from tight-laced ice queen to open hearted maternal figure is utterly genuine and so gradual and motivated that you can’t see anything else happening to her character. This is a character that is forced to grow up and mature in a whole other way than an adolescent would and watching her do it is fascinating.


That being said I think that Hugh Jackman steals the show. I truly thought his performance in The Fountain was mesmerizing and Oscar worthy, and I think his turn in Australia again proves that he is one of the best actors of this generation. He truly is the stuff of old Hollywood and has a charisma that would rival Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart – the man was discovered in Australian theatre to play a comic book character and has somehow parlayed that into mainstream Hollywood and art house films. When he walks on screen he immediately captures the entire audience male and female and I think Baz Luhrman needs to count his lucky stars that Russell Crowe dropped out of the role because Hugh brings an almost boy-next-door quality to the Drover character that Russell Crowe just doesn’t have in him.


It is my hope and prayer that 20th Century Fox does not mess with this movie before it is released, and I hope to be just as thrilled when I see the final theatrical cut of the film which I will be reviewing as well.



Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood, Richard Flanagan
The Drover: Hugh Jackman
Lady Sarah Ashley: Nicole Kidman
Nullah: Brandon Walters
King Carney: Bryan Brown
Neil Fletcher: David Wenham
Kipling Flynn: Jack Thompson
Dutton: Ben Mendelsohn
Katherine: Essie Davis

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Twilight


Twilight--MAKEOUT!! lol
Originally uploaded by hvyilnr
Twilight was the number one film at the box office over the weekend; we all knew it would be because Harry Potter was pushed to the summer. I read the books and from the trailer and advanced footage I was able to see I knew the movie was going to have issues; unfortunately, I was right. The filmic version of Twilight reads like it was A) directed by someone who never read the book and B) put out by a studio that simply wanted to push out a movie based on a hot commodity ASAP.

One of my biggest issues with Twilight was the editing of the film – I do not have a bone to pick with the editor, but the director. It’s a basic filmmaking rule that every cut you make and shot you choose needs to have a purpose. Catherine Hardwicke seems to have forgotten this. More than once she will cut away to something like the camera moving through trees, or hand held, canted, swinging camera shots that pull you away from the characters and the emotional impact of what is happening and make you think about what the camera is doing. When she should be sticking with the characters she goes elsewhere.

Then there is the random cutaways in the movie to the villains activities (which are totally unnecessary) and the cuts to the flashbacks (also totally unnecessary). Both of these pull you away from something crucial that is happening to our main characters. While I understand the desire to show the villains before they confront our main characters this also takes away some of the impact of our villains – they lose some of the scare factor when you see them “playing with their food”.

The flashbacks and dream sequences were another kind of bad entirely – not only were they pointless, but they were really stupid. The flashbacks were filmed in sepia and when they were used even though they were being narrated by characters they seemed entirely unmotivated – I am really not sure how that was accomplished. Rather than having the flashbacks add to the story they detracted from it because they were so incredibly different than everything else on screen and thus pulled you again out of what was happening to our characters and made you feel like you were watching a TV documentary.

The dream sequences were very similar to this. Instead of helping the movie they hindered. Most specifically there is one image that kept repeating that was not only out of character for the film but having read the book it had no place being associated with Bella our lead character; this would be the classic gothic image of Bella in a black dress, draped across a bed with Edward in classic Dracula-esque attire draped over her. This is the image of lust of both for blood & sex – it’s the image of fear not endearment. One of the crucial things that makes Bella and Edward different from the characters in an Anne Rice-type novel is that they are not defined by their lust or the traditional image of the vampire and victim – Bella and Edward fight any urges that would make them into this stereotype for the safety and well being of the other.

I also took issue that Bella all too often seemed afraid of Edward. One of the most crucial things about Bella is that she is never afraid of Edward. Between her dreams, and her reactions to Edward Bella very much seems to be frightened of Edward at crucial moments – her actions do not fit her dialogue.

One of my biggest problems with the films structure was actually the last shot of the film. Instead of remaining on our lovers Edward & Bella who again, should be the focal point of the story we are taken to Victoria one of the villian’s of the piece. It is an obvious trick to set up a sequel and it is unnecessary as the story is already left open for the next chapter by Edward and Bella in the scene before.

On the technical side of things I had to major issues – the makeup and the special effects.

Let’s start with the makeup. All of the Cullen family looked painted white – not only was this unimaginative, but it looked bad. On top of this the makeup staff did not take the time to blend the color into the characters necks or other exposed skin so the vampires looked two-toned. This oversight was student film bad.

Then you come to the special effects; I understand that this film didn’t have a huge budget, but with a film that requires a certain amount of effects and CGI you make sure that you get the best bang for your buck and that it all works in the story instead of detracting from it. One of the major differences between Twilight’s vampires and traditional vampire mythology is that these vampires are not hurt by sunlight, the reason they do not go into the sun is because it would attract attention and show them as otherworldly – they sparkle in the sun. When my friend and I saw Edward step into the sunlight we actually laughed – the effect was cheesy and unfinished looking – it merely looked like they’d sprinkled the actor with glitter. Then you have the fun of the fast moving, quick reacting, super strong vampires – it looked cheap and out of place, not to mention it was used at the oddest times; if you can’t afford the shots find a way to shoot around it without cheating your audience.

There were some good things about this film, but I will save that for if I review this movie again. I do feel like I could study Twilight more and it would be beneficial for me to diagnose why the movie did and did not work; parts of the movie were good and captured the characters decently well, but these were so few and far between that they could not overpower what was not done well in the film. I have seen movies that are much better than Twilight, but I have also seen movies that are way worse than Twilight. In the end I really think that if you handed me the existing footage I could edit the film into a better movie.


Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg
Bella Swan: Kristen Stewart
Edward Cullen: Robert Pattinson
Charlie Swan: Billy Burke
Esme Cullen: Elizabeth Reaser
Charlisle Cullen: Peter Facinelli
Alice Cullen: Ashley Greene
Rosalie Hale: Nikki Reed
Jasper Hale: Jackson Rathbone
Emmet Cullen: Kellan Lutz
Jacob Black: Taylor Lautner
Billy Black: Gil Birmingham
Laurent: Edi Gathegi
Victoria: Rachelle Lefevre
James: Cam Gigandet

Edward Cullen: And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.
Isabella Swan: What a stupid lamb.
Edward Cullen: What a sick, masochistic lion.

The Day The Earth Stood Still


The Day The Earth Stood Still
Originally uploaded by twm1340
The Day the Earth Stood Still is a science fiction classic. I have been trying to see it for years and only successfully saw it when I got it from my Netflix queue a few days ago.

On principle I shouldn’t like The Day the Earth Stood Still because it is a message movie, but I do; the message in this movie is give up your nuclear arms and wars or you’ll pay the consequences. This is the entire message Klaatu braved hundreds of thousands of miles in space to deliver. This all makes sense for the film when you realize that it is a cold war film and people across the globe were afraid of the bomb.

Despite being a message movie at its core The Day the Earth Stood Still is quite entertaining; the characters are fully developed, all the relationships make sense and the plot moves at a nice speed that unfolds information for the audience as they need it not before.

I think that Klaatu is a great member of the annals of film aliens. While he represents a different view of the otherworldly outsider than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did this year, it is a view of the alien type that probably influenced Spielberg when creating his earlier science fiction works like E.T.. There is both a fear of the outsider and a curiosity about what they can bring to us.

However, I do have to say that my single favorite thing in The Day the Earth Stood Still was Gort. A giant (mind you eight foot tall was big for special effects at the time) robot that was capable of destroying everything in its sight and who only Klaatu could control – that’s my kind of cold war paranoia. Gort is not only a protector of Klaatu but you find out that the robot is some sort of intergalactic peace officer created by Klaatu’s people.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a highly enjoyable film even if it has slightly suffered from being so era specific; however, seeing the original has me highly excited to see the remake when it comes out next month. Just imagine Gort with modern cgi.

Director: Robert Wise
Writer: Edmund H. Noth
Klaatu: Michael Rennie
Helen Benson: Patricia Neal
Tom Stevens: Hugh Marlowe
Professor Barnhardt: Sam Jaffe
Bobby Benson: Billy Gray
Gort: Lock Martin