Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Day of the Dead

I have now completed the original Dead trilogy with Day of the Dead. My opinion is really mixed on this film because there are some things I really enjoyed about it and some things that kind of disappointed me with it.

Day of the Dead does take place well into the zombie epidemic and there are very few living persons still out and about; basically, people are in shelters or the dead walking the earth. Sarah and a team of scientists are in a shelter with a military team; along with seeking out survivors the scientists are doing research on the epidemic. However, while Sarah wants to find a cure Dr. Logan (a.k.a. – Frankenstein) wants to find a way to control them, and the soldiers merely want to flee. As such the soldiers and the scientists cannot get along and the already tense atmosphere in the shelter begins to rip itself apart until of course the zombies become an even bigger threat once again.

I think where my main issue with the film comes in is that the mere concept of Day of the Dead lends itself to so much possibilities with subtext about science vs. instinct, government vs. citizens, control and power, etc. and yet in Day of the Dead very little is done to explore this merely because it is the surface of the film – you already have a very obvious two groups of people each struggling for power over the situation and beyond the actual trappings of the story there is no way to delve deeper in that than what is shown. The soldiers are obviously bad and the scientists and citizens are obviously good. All the cards are on the table for you and you don’t even have to look at your hand to know what is in it.

It simply makes me sad because of the four Dead films I’ve seen three have very rich, era-transcending subtext and yet Day of the Dead lacks that same finesse. I’ve been told the subtext is about the Regan era military/government but that again strikes me as upsetting because that would mean the subtext isn’t capable of being understood by an audience in any era – at least not like racism, materialism and classism can be.

What I did love was the character of Sarah. George Romero had used a strong female central to the story in Dawn of the Dead but Sarah is pulled straight out of 80’s feminism right down to her tough as nails attitude that remains unafraid of the men in the film. The only time she backs down from a stand is when one of the characters threatens to shoot her, and even then she waits until it becomes obvious that this will actually happen and not be an empty threat.

I also loved that you had a scientist that has crossed the line from research to a twisted fascination with the zombies. His experiments are macabre and inhuman yet no one feels the need to stop him because they are still bewildered by the situation.

I am torn because on one level things like Sarah make Day of the Dead a candidate for my favorite Dead film, but the lack of subtext disappoint me so much that I appreciate Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead more. Possibly my opinion of this film is colored because I have already seen Land of the Dead and this film seems like a stepping stone to get into the story in Land of the Dead where society has begun to be reestablished. I adore the subtext in Land of the Dead, characters, plot and was gloriously entertained by that film. However, I don’t think Day of the Dead should be missed.

Director & Writer: George A. Romero
Sarah: Lori Cardille
John: Terry Alexander
Capt. Rhodes: Joseph Pilato
William: Jarlath Conroy
Miguel Salazar: Anthony Dileo Jr.
Logan: Richard Liberty

Sarah: Maybe if we tried working together we could ease some of the tensions. We're all pulling in different directions.
John: That's the trouble with the world, Sarah darlin'. People got different ideas concernin' what they want out of life.

Monday, October 27, 2008

3:10 to Yuma

3:10 To Yuma
Originally uploaded by patchdrury
I am a self-described Christian Bale junkie. As such it is a wonder that I have a few films in my collection starring Bale that I have not yet watched. This needed to be rectified so I began by pulling out my copy of 3:10 to Yuma which I received as a birthday present last February even though I had never seen it.

I actually do have quite a few movies in my collection that I have never seen, but the funy thing is that I attempted to see 3:10 to Yuma when it was in the theatre – it just didn’t want to see me. Between projection problems and the print being uncared for the film broke twice in the first five minutes and I walked out refusing to sit through a movie I really wanted to see knowing that it would probably keep having glitches all the way through; but I digress, I received it about nine months ago and for some reason it has sat on my DVD shelf ever since. What can I say? I have a DVD collection that numbers in the triple digits.

3:10 to Yuma is a remake, but do not count that against it. The film is one of the most moving, poignant westerns I have ever seen. While I have not seen the original I cannot imagine weighing this version of 3:10 to Yuma against anything but itself it is that good. This is an action film/western that is actually very moving character piece about two men and how the choices they have made in their lives have led up to the moment they meet each other – each man changes the other in an indelible way.

The film centers around two very different characters, Ben Wade is a ruthless outlaw known for robbery and murder who is in charge of an equally ruthless gang and Dan Evans is a civil war vet who lost his leg to the war and has spent his time since caring for his family on a ranch in Arizona. Dan is perpetually down on his luck and feels the constant wane of his families respect. The two men come in contact when Ben robs a armored carriage near Dan’s ranch. Dan later goes into Bisbee (the nearby town) and inadvertently runs into Ben again and manages to help in his arrest. From then Dan agrees to help the group assigned to take Ben to Conviction city where they can get him on the train to Yuma prison. Ben goes along knowing that at any time he can outsmart the men and that his gang will be tracking him down. However, what he does not expect it to be so fascinated by Dan and through the journey though the two men do not really like each other they develop a kind of mutual empathy for the other which causes Dan to finally want to do the right thing to make his children proud of him and watching Dan changes Ben forever.

This is a western in the truest since and you can feel the dirt and grime that shooting on location created. James Mangold manages to take a very action filled story and turn it into a character piece about a good man who is down on his luck and a man who appears to be rotten to the core who turns out to have a little bit of good left in him. The action in the film is spectacular, but more than anything Mangold manages to make you interested in these characters which is something so many action movies seem to forget about.

I could watch Christian Bale read the dictionary, but I truly believe he is one of the best actors of our times and he again proves how capable he is of disappearing into a role in this film. I’ve heard directors speak about Bale and say that the best thing about him is that he isn’t as interested in the trappings of the script but that the character changes throughout it, and I think you can tell in his performace that he truly dedicates himself to this transformation.

Even if you don’t think you like westerns I implore you to take a chance on 3:10 to Yuma. The film is worth your time. After this film and Walk the Line, I am very excited to see where James Mangold will take me next.

Director: James Mangold
Writers: Halsted Wells, Michael Brandt & Derek Haas
Ben Wade: Russell Crowe
Dan Evans: Christian Bale
William Evans: Logan Lerman
Grayson Butterfield: Dallas Roberts
Charlie Prince: Ben Foster
Byron McElroy: Peter Fonda
Doc Potter: Alan Tudyk
Alice Evans: Gretchen Mol

Dan Evans: I've been standin’ on one leg for three damn years waitin’ for God to do me a favor... and He ain't listenin.

Dawn of the Dead

George Romero knows how to take a movie and make it interesting on multiple levels; he may not be revered among the greatest artists of the film cannon but I tend to think filmmakers like Romero and Wes Craven tend to be pigeon holed because of the genre in which they have found their career. Dawn of the Dead is yet another example of a film that remains socially relevant to this day and yet is a dang entertaining horror film.

I know that there are at least two cuts of Dawn of the Dead available, the European and American versions and I watched the American version; I believe the plot is basically the same but I believe the European/international version probably does not stray away from some of the gorier aspects of the film.

While Dawn of the Dead takes place in the same “world” as Night of the Living Dead I believe the two movies are meant to be in about the same timeframe despite the obvious decade jump ahead in the styling of Dawn of the Dead. The film takes place as the zombie invasion is still sweeping the nation only now the government is trying to deal with the problem albeit pretty ineffectively; cities and residences are being evacuated and people are attempting to flee to less populated areas. Stephen, Peter, Roger and Francine flee together via helicopter and decide to take refuge in an abandoned mall where they can find shelter and supplies and hopefully wait out as much of the situation as possible.

However, what Dawn of the Dead is really about is the power of the media and more importantly the obsession with materialism that drives our lives.

While I did enjoy this film it is one that screamed for a remake simply because (in my view) unlike Night of the Living Dead the style of this installment makes the film a bit more dated, and the dialogue was much more heavy handed than I would have liked. On the plus side, the film will hold up over time (as it has) simply because it is based on a universal message rather than something topical like a politics, etc. that changes with the wind.

Director & Writer: George A. Romero
Stephen: David Emge
Peter: Ken Foree
Roger: Scott H. Reiniger
Francine: Gaylen Ross

Francine Parker: They're still here.
Stephen: They're after us. They know we're still in here.
Peter: They're after the place. They don't know why, they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here.
Francine Parker: What the hell are they?
Peter: They're us, that's all, when there's no more room in hell.
Stephen: What?
Peter: Something my granddad used to tell us. You know Macumba? Voodoo. My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth."

Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married is an interesting film; while I don’t think the title quite explains the movie at the same time I really don’t think that you could name the film anything else. The name Rachel Getting Married evokes thoughts of romantic comedies and light hearted fare, but the film actually revolves around deep seeded trials, tribulations and demons that Rachel’s family has lived through; however, the entire film is propelled by one simple action – Rachel getting married.

At the beginning of the film we discover that Kym is just being released from rehab where she has been for quite awhile and her father and step-mother are taking her home for her sister Rachel’s wedding. Kym is a deeply troubled young woman who has been in and out of addictions and rehab for most of her young life. When she arrives home she has to maintain her desire to stay sober while dealing with the pressure she feels from her family, the pressure she puts on herself and the demons that plague her through every action she takes. The film explores the relationship between the sisters and their father and estranged mother and how they can go on when so much in their past tries to push them apart.

The way the story unfolds in Rachel Getting Married is one of the most organic story telling processes I’ve ever seen and fits perfectly with the way Jonathan Demme decided to shoot the film. Watching Rachel Getting Married feels like you are a fly on the wall in this families life until after the wedding. You learn things as characters learn things, watch as characters have different experiences, and share in every event that happens to Kym. No one lays out any information before the characters themselves bring it up to start or resolve a conflict and that leaves the audience to learn the families trials, choose sides over who they empathize with and more than anything feel things when the character feels them.

By choosing a naturalistic cinema verite style Demme lets the audience absorb the events at a slow steady pace and thus takes away what could be overdone elements of melodrama and replaces them with genuine human emotion. The best thing about this is that it shows that Demme trusts his audience enough to come to terms with what is happening on screen without forcing them to feel a certain way. He shows slowly and surely the casual linkage behind events and how no matter how we try some things can never solely be blamed on one individual or event, and he shows a family that is struggling with dealing with these things and yet still trying to love each other.

If awards season goes the way I think it might I would not be surprised to see Anne Hathaway get a nomination from SAG, the Globes, the Oscars or any combination of those shows. Her performance as Kym is amazing to the point where she pretty much disappears into the role and you forget you are watching a Hollywood starlet that the tabloids buzz about. Much praise has been given to her performance in this film and I do not think it is unwarranted.

Rachel Getting Married is a very good movie, and by the end you will feel like you attended Rachel’s wedding.

Director: Jonathan Demme
Writer: Jenny Lumet
Kym: Anne Hathaway
Rachel: Rosemarie DeWitt
Kieran: Mather Zickel
Paul: Bill Irwin
Carol: Anna Deavere Smith
Emma: Anisa George
Sidney: Tunde Adebimpe
Abby: Debra Winger

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Night of the Living Dead

I just made a zombie movie and it occurred to me that I have never seen the entire, original Dead trilogy by George Romero. Now that I am gone with production that is my goal and even though I have already seen it I had to start with the one that began the trend Night of the Living Dead. Night of the Living Dead now strikes of clichés for first time viewers, but what you have to remember is that George Romero created these clichés – the slow moving, slow to evolve zombie that is a metaphor for some greater problem is all from or perfected by Romero.

There cannot be a film that is much simpler on the surface than Night of the Living Dead. Barbara and her brother go to lay a wreath on their father’s grave and while there are assaulted by a zombie, though they don’t know what it is. Her brother dies and Barbara manages to flee to a local farm house where she encounters Ben who takes charge of the situation and two other couples, one with a little girl. Together they try to stave off the zombies and survive until they can either get to a shelter or wait to be rescued but of course, anything that can go wrong does go wrong. However, the real meat of Night of the Living Dead lies in the sub text just below the actions on the screen.

Night of the Living Dead is about race relations. At least that is my take on it. Barbara is a young white woman, Ben is a young black man, and the other survivors are Caucasian men and women of various ages and backgrounds. The primary conflict of the film becomes not the zombies (or ghouls as they are referred to in this film) but the struggle for power and control over the situation between Ben and Harry, the Caucasian father and business man. Romero doesn’t stray away from making sure that the audience knows the race situation is not fixed either as anyone who has seen the end of the film can attest.

I know that Zach Snyder remade Dawn of the Dead and others have remade various other films in the Dead trilogy, but I implore you not to ignore the originals in an effort to see better special effects. This film is worth your time.

Director: George A. Romero
Writers: John A. Russo & George A. Romero
Ben: Duane Jones
Barbra: Judith O’Dea
Harry: Karl Hardman
Helen: Marilyn Eastman
Tom: Keith Wayne
Judy: Judith Ridley
Karen: Kyra Schon
newscaster: Charles Craig

Newscaster: It has been established that persons who have recently died have been returning to life and committing acts of murder. A widespread investigation of funeral homes, morgues, and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead have been returning to life and seeking human victims. It's hard for us here to be reporting this to you, but it does seem to be a fact.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

So I finally got along to seeing Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen’s latest take on love and romance. I do have to say that the film was worth the wait.

In traditional Allen fashion this is a confused and tangled story of characters looking for their life, their passion and their loves. Vicky and Cristina are best friends though they are as different as can be and decide to head to Vicky’s relative’s in Barcelona for the summer; Vicky is engaged to Doug a devoted but boring man and working on her Masters in Catalan culture, Cristina is a flight artist that cannot decide her medium and doesn’t know what she wants in a romance. Out for dinner one night they meet Juan Antonio who invites them to Oviedo with him for a weekend of culture and love making – he does not hide that this is his motive. Cristina is intrigued by Juan Antonio an pressures rigid Vicky into accompanying her with Juan Antonio. Though Vicky and Juan Antonio don’t immediately hit it off they do end up carrying a flame for each other that they hide as Juan Antonio begins a relationship with Cristina that becomes incredibly complex and eventually includes his ex-wife Maria Elena.

I am someone who has never been affected by the charms of Penelope Cruz, I really don’t think she is that good of an actress – in English. I think too much is going on in her head to translate from Spanish to English and as a result I have never really enjoyed her performances; however, she speaks mainly Spanish in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and I was amazed how large a difference it made in her performance. I can now begin to see the kind of talent that she really has, and I hope she can bring it to an English language film.

It is common knowledge that Scarlett has become Allen’s new muse. The funny thing about Scarlett’s muse status is that Allen didn’t want to work with her. In her first role with Allen in Match Point another actress was slotted in her part and dropped out at the last minute – Scarlett stepped in. Since working with her Allen can’t get enough of her. What was most interesting to me in their latest endeavor is that I believe in essence Scarlett was playing the traditional Allen character. Cristina is the Alvy Singer character who has impossible neurosis, quirky mannerisms, talks far too fast and is the crux of the tale – Cristina is the backbone of the story.

I used to consider Woody Allen an overrated filmmaker. However, in my post-film school life I have actually found a place for him in my film catalog. I deeply enjoy his movies and think that he is a filmmaker that has contributed to the art of film. I thank Scarlet Johansson for taking a last minute role in Match Point and reigniting Woody Allen’s zest for filmmaking.

Director & Writer: Woody Allen
Cristina: Scarlett Johansson
Vicky: Rebecca Hall
Juan Antonio: Javier Bardem
Maria Elena: Penelope Cruz
Doug: Chris Messina
Judy Nash: Patricia Clarkson
Mark Nash: Kevin Dunn
Narrator: Christopher Evan Welch

Juan Antonio: We are meant for each other and not meant for each other. It's a contradiction.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist is billed as one of the scariest movies of all time. Having just seen it for the first time I can see why that would be true, granted I don’t usually get scared at movies but I can see the signs of a truly scary one and identify it. Plus, The Exorcist did make me tense a time or two so that is in its favor too. I knew how the movie ended (thanks to Angel and film school) and I was still impressed by the power of this story.

What impressed me first and foremost is that The Exorcist is a horror movie tried and true; the film is allowed to build slowly and organically and doesn’t rely on the gore “porn” so many horror movies now rely on for frights. While there are a few gross moments in this film, every single frame leads up to something important and you are actually scared because you have developed empathy for each and every major character.

Most people know what The Exorcist is about, but I have to assume there are those out there like me that have never seen it and need a little recap so here goes.

Chris MacNeil is an actress making a film in Washington DC with her daughter Regan who has been having some problems recently that the doctors have not been able to pin down. Father Karras is a priest who is also a shrink and is struggling first with his slowly building lack of faith and then with the health issues then death of his mother. Regan’s problems get worse until finally medicine cannot solve them and a room full of shrinks and doctors recommend who think that Regan’s possession is merely a psychological manifestation of some other problem and recommend that she get a priest to perform an exorcism so that Regan will believe the possessive personality she’s created is gone. Chris does not take the advice but finally when there is no other explanation than a literal possession Chris is referred to Father Karras; when he first sees Regan he is not ready to believe that Regan is genuinely possessed, but eventually can see no other option. When he has a exorcism approved by the church Father Merrin is called in to perform it and have Father Karras assist.

The beauty of this film to me is in the direction. The whole reason this film is one of the greatest horror movies of all time is because of how it was crafted. This movie is beautiful in all respects from the acting to the score and I know in the end that can all go back to William Friedkin; a movie cannot be this tightly crafted without a strong director. The only part that felt a little hard to tie-in for me was the opening sequence in Iraq, but even then it came partly back around through other elements in the movie.

The Exorcist is a masterpiece of a film in a genre so stylized now by quick edits and torture that comes nothing close to being remotely it’s equal. This is not a film every viewer can handle, but I would highly recommend checking it out if you are a film buff or a lover of the genre. The scariest thing of all is that this film is based on true events.

Director: William Freidkin
Writer: William Peter Blatty
Chris MacNeil: Ellen Burstyn
Fathe Merrin: Max Von Sydow
Lt. Kinderman: Lee J. Cobb
Father Karras: Jason Miller
Regan: Linda Blair

Father Merrin: Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant but anything beyond that is dangerous. He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, and powerful. So don't listen to him. Remember that - do not listen.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Iron Man

As most of you know Iron Man 2 is being fast tracked by the studio. They have realized that Iron Man is a hot commodity and want to strike while the iron is hot, pardon the pun. Who can blame them? Because of Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. is hotter than ever and Jon Favreau can write his own ticket in Hollywood for the time being. If it wasn’t for the sweeping success of The Dark Knight, Iron Man may have been the #1 film of summer 2008.

Iron Man came out on DVD a few weeks ago and of course I bought it the day it came out. How could I not? I spent more than enough money watching it on the big screen, I think it was time for it to transition to the small one for me. And I do mean small – I have a thirteen inch TV.

It occurs to me that I’ve never really talked about the writing in Iron Man, but it is as equally brilliant as the rest of the film; that’s true for most great films, they usually come from a great screenplay that is paired with the right acting, directing and production talent. While good actors and directors can take a mediocre script and make it better, they can take a good script and elevate it to the stuff of cinema legends. It’s what writers hope for when they hand their work over – that it not be butchered but that it be honored and produced in the way the writer saw it.

The dialogue in Iron Man and the cohesion of the story prove that it was very well written and very well planned before it ever reached the first day of production. While rewrites, ad libs and various other things undoubtedly happened during production the basis from which it started had to be strong. That is why Iron Man is such a good character piece, the writers took time to stay true to the source material, make the character human and not stray away from his flaws.

Because Iron Man is such a dang good story it holds up over multiple viewings and doesn’t get stale or old in any way. I should know. I’ve seen it at least a half dozen times by now.

The only news that makes me sad about Iron Man 2 is that it is not being written by the same team; however, an equally good writer is taking the reins, Justin Theroux; Justin wrote another movie you would have seen recently – Tropic Thunder.

Nick Fury: "I am Iron Man." You think you're the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe. You just don't know it yet.
Tony Stark: Who the hell are you?
Nick Fury: Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Tony Stark: Ah.
Nick Fury: I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dead Alive

Dead Alive is perhaps one of the most audaciously gory movies in existence. Just to give you a clue there are three separate make-up, prosthesis and effects titles in the opening credits – that’s how important the gore is to the movie. What keeps Dead Alive different from something like an Eli Roth film is the fact that it is Peter Jackson, and it is a B-movie. The gore is in the movie for the sake of seeing how far they can push the reality button and still make a movie. I would even venture to say that the gore isn’t intended to scare, it’s simply intended to see how much they can get away with.

This movie is a zombie movie, but it doesn’t really follow the conventions of any zombie movie I’ve ever seen. The zombie infestation is brought on by black magic whose vessel is a rat monkey forcefully taken to the local zoo against the warnings of the tribal people. However, the crux of the story is brought on by young Paquita who desperately wants to find her true love, so her grandmother reads her fortune and Paquita discovers that her love is Lionel a local with a very controlling mother. On their first date Lionel and Paquita go to the zoo and his mother follows them to spy only to be bitten by the rat monkey. Within a few days she is a zombie; Lionel can’t bring himself to kill her so he keeps her trapped in the basement. But as the problems are with zombies they multiply and before he knows it Lionel is keeping a whole team of zombies trapped in his basement, his uncle is trying to stake claim on Lionel’s inheritance, and Paquita believes that Lionel’s distance from her is because he wants to break up with her.

This film is filled with classic Peter Jackson visuals, but in a way that you have never seen before if you are not familiar with his early work. Though gory, this film is beautifully composed and is one heck of a tale, it really does entertain.

If you haven’t seen one of Peter Jackson’s films prior to Lord of the Rings I high recommend you take a look at one of his New Zealand films. I don’t recommend Dead Alive for everyone though, if you’re looking for something a little less grotesque I would go with Heavenly Creatures, but be aware that movie is disturbing in its own way.

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Stephen Sinclair, Frances Walsh & Peter Jackson
Lionel Cosgrove: Timothy Balme
Paquita: Diana Penalver
Vera Cosgrove: Elizabeth Moody
Uncle Les: Ian Watkin
Nurse McTavish: Brenda Jendall
Father McGruder: Stuart Devenie

Paquita: Your mother ate my dog!
Lionel Cosgrove: Not all of it.

**The International Title of this film is Braindead**


Originally uploaded by dustinmew
Alright, alright. I know it’s not really appropriate to be excited about Christmas yet, but for some reason for the first time in forever I really am stoked about the holidays. I’m making a Halloween costume and I felt like watching Elf (though I can kind of blame that one on my Iron Man obsession). Elf is a great holiday movie, and just a genuinely good comedy. I really do think it’s a modern classic.

Elf is the story of Buddy who wiggles his way into Santa’s sack when Santa visits his orphanage and Santa doesn’t know until baby Buddy crawls back out of his sack at the North Pole. Papa Elf always wanted children so Santa lets him raise buddy as his own and so he grows up believing he is an elf until one day he overhears a few of the other elves discussing how sad it is that Buddy doesn’t know he’s a bad Elf because he’s actually a human. This leads Buddy onto the journey of his life as he goes to New York to find his real father and discovers the wonders of the real world. When Buddy enters New York everyone assumes he is crazy as he so fiercely believes he is an elf, but with his persistence he infects everyone around him with a joy and innocence they had long forgotten.

While I am not a giant Will Ferrell fan, I don’t dislike him; I genuinely think that no one else could have played Buddy. Job Favreau knew what he was doing when he cast the actors in this film. Ferrell stands out in sharp contrast to everyone else because of the goofiness he is capable of exuding while still being committed to the genuine goals of the character.

Watching this movie makes me realize even more that I truly am a fan of Jon Favreau as a director. Elf is yet another example of how Favreau is incredibly capable to put together a good, worthwhile movie and make it one that is not dated, or tired after repeat viewings. He knows how to cast a movie, how to compose shots, and just how to make you care about a character.

Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: David Berenbaum
Buddy: Will Ferrell
Walter: James Caan
Papa Elf: Bob Newhart
Santa: Ed Asner
Emily: Mary Steenburgen
Jovie: Zooey Deschanel
Michael: Daniel Tay
Gimbel’s Manager: Faizon Love
Miles Finch: Peter Drinklage
Deb: Amy Sedaris

Santa: That's another thing... Buddy you should know that your father... he's on the naughty list.
Buddy: Nooooo!

Body of Lies

Body of Lies is an interesting film. It is a film that tries to make a poignant statement about our current political situation (intervening in countries overseas, the war on terror, etc.) and it actually managed to not turn me off while doing so. Trust me, that is high praise from me for a political film. Body of Lies is a highly enjoyable film; it is populated by good acting, spy thrills, and lots of action.

Primarily, Body of Lies is a character piece. The film centers on the US war on terror through two individuals, two halves of the same team – Roger Ferris and Ed Hoffman. Ferris is the man on the ground who knows the contacts, culture and CIA side, and Hoffman is blissfully removed as the head agent in Washington DC. The conflict comes in from the fact that Hoffman thinks he knows how to run the war but ends up making big messes and getting people hurt while getting results whereas Ferris operates in effective and less damaging ways but must submit to his superior officer.

Make no mistake the biggest joy in Body of Lies is watching Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio try to out act each other – this is an acting equivalent of a peeing contest.

Russell Crowe has done a fabulous job over the past few years in trying to distance himself from his gladiator robe wearing, phone throwing persona and roles like this one help him to do so. Crowe is the biggest SOB in this movie, and yet is so damn believable you can see his personality in almost any modern politician –he’s right, he’s the only one that’s right and there is no way he can pretend he’s not right. Ed Hoffman believes he is representing all of America and Crowe plays that beautifully so that you begin to forget it’s Russell Crowe.

Leo needs to thank his lucky stars that Martin Scorsese put him in Gangs of New York and continued to use him from there; it has become obvious that Leo has managed to free himself from the teen heartthrob status he held so securely after Titanic and Romeo + Juliet and managed to get to the point where he can prove to the world he is a real actor with genuine talent. Body of Lies is another film in a series of his that shows that he is not just a pretty boy. In the film Leo is the main character and does not shy away from being dirty, beaten and at times unsympathetic. He did not let himself be outshone by Crowe.

The basic downfall of Body of Lies is the fact that the film tries to do so much, and show so many issues that it ends up being a very muddled film. You can follow it to the end and decently enjoy it, just don’t expect to remember how exactly it got to that point.

Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: William Monahan
Roger Ferris: Leonardo DiCaprio
Ed Hoffman: Russell Crowe
Hani: Mark Strong
Aisha: Golshifteh Farahani

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pride & Prejudice (BBC)

pride & prejudice-020
Originally uploaded by kapvera
I know that this is not really a movie either, it’s a mini-series, but I never saw it on tv – in fact, the first time I saw Pride & Prejudice was on VHS and I checked it out from the library. Yeah, that sounds so old and gives me fond memories of high school. The reason I am including this mini-series here is that prior to the recent Joe Wright version of Pride & Prejudice the mini-series was the definitive version.

This mini-series is about six hours long and I never thought another adaptation of the book could be made that could top this version. What the BBC mini-series has that no other filmic version does is save for the books epilogue the entire story is in the mini-series. To the best of my knowledge no film version of Pride & Prejudice has been able to include everything in the novel.

However, after seeing the newest version I do have to say that I like the cast in the Joe Wright version just a little bit more. Both casts are excellent, but the BBC version uses actors that are pretty obviously not the same age as the characters, and what bothers me most is that they are semi-close to the age but obviously skew older. This stands out to me most in the character of Lizzie who is supposed to be about 20 through most of the tale and very obviously looks to be at least in her mid-twenties.

What I find most interesting though is the differences in the characters between the two versions; I think it is a perfect example of how a different director/writer can totally change the feel of something. This is most obvious through Mr. & Mrs. Bennet (played by Benjamin Whitrow & Alison Steadman in the BBC, and Donald Sutherland & Brenda Blethyn in the Wright version). In the BBC version the parents are shrill, aggravating and seem to dislike each other intensely, and very rarely seem to get along with or really care for their daughters and Mrs. Bennet seems to only want to get her daughters married to get money; in the Wright version Mr. Bennet is calm and caring, showing affection for all of his daughters and even his wife, and Mrs. Bennet’s obsession for getting her daughters married obviously seems to stem from wanting them to be taken care of.

Both versions are very good, and I highly recommend watching both if you’re interested in seeing the differences in how the same story can be adapted. However, I do have to say that if push comes to shove I would chose the Joe Wright version over the BBC version simply because of the choices that were made in putting that film together to make it a beautiful whole.

Director: Simon Langton
Writer: Andrew Davies
Lizzie: Jennifer Ehle
Mr. Darcy: Colin Firth
Jane: Susannah Harker
Lydia: Julia Sawalha
Mrs. Bennet: Alison Steadman
Mr. Bennet: Benjamin Whitrow
Mr. Bingley: Crispin Bonham-Carter
Kitty: Polly Maberly
Mary: Lucy Briers
Miss Bingley: Anna Chancellor
Mrs. Hurst: Lucy Robinson
Whickham: Adrian Lukis
Mr. Collins: David Bamber
Charlotte: Lucy Scott

Elizabeth Bennet: Lady Catherine, in marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman, I am a gentleman's daughter. So far we are equal.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Heart and Souls

I remember watching Heart and Souls when I was a kid and loving it, but I remembered nothing about it. I mean nothing. I discovered it again while on my mission to watch Robert Downey Jr. movies.

Heart and Souls is a delightful film that really reminds me of the old romance movies and comedies that were made in the fifties; there is just an innocent carefree spirit about it that makes it a delight to watch.

The film begins in 1959 when Thomas’s parents are on the way to the hospital to have their first baby; however, they are delayed in doing so by a bus accident that kills Harrison, Penny, Julia and Milo, four individuals that should not have died yet. Since it is well before their time of death they are given a chance to complete their lives by using Thomas, who was born in his parents car when they were delayed by the accident – the only problem is they don’t know this until Thomas is in his thirties. They spent his childhood as his “imaginary” friends that only he could see, until his parents fear he has mental problems and they make themselves invisible to Thomas too. When they are finally told that Thomas was supposed to be their helper to finish their lives Milo, Harrison, Julia and Penny reveal themselves to Thomas again – to his shock.

No one in the film is bad; every character is played in such a way that they are endearing and memorable. However, the true shining star of this film is of course Robert Downey Jr. This film is his follow-up to Chaplin and again proves how vastly talented the man is. At one point in the film each of the ghosts enters his body and he takes on their characteristics and mannerisms: without skipping a beat he is capable of becoming a small town girl, black woman, a repressed musician with stage fright and a crook. It was brilliant to watch.

I do recommend this movie because it’s a very refreshing, light, fun, clean, genuine, actor driven, romantic comedy that really does feel pulled out of another era.

Director: Ron Underwood
Writers: Brent Maddock, S.S. Wilson, Gregory Hansen, & Erik Hansen
Thomas: Robert Downey Jr.
Harrison: Charles Grodin
Penny: Alfre Woodard
Julia: Kyra Sedgwick
Milo: Tom Sizemore
Hal the Bus Driver: David Paymer
Anne: Elizabeth Shue

Harrison: Who came up with this ridiculous concept anyway? Resolve your entire life in one bold stroke? What if I fail? And I will. I'll fail. I'm telling you. I always fail. Then my whole life will be a complete failure.
Thomas: No offense, Harrison. But you died a failure because you never tried.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Wrestler

Mickey on tracks
Originally uploaded by ANTWRANGLER
Anyone who has seen The Fountain knows that you would never describe Aronofsky's work as simple or mainstream; that being said, The Wrester is by far Aronofsky’s most simple and mainstream story even though it is really nothing of the sort.

The Wrestler is the beautifully told tale of Randy “The Ram” a pro wrestler that hit it big in the 80’s, but the film is not about him then, it’s about him now – it’s been 20 years since his glory days and he is now living in poverty and obscurity. The only thing Randy has been able to hold onto is his love of wrestling and the charge he gets from the crowd so he continues to wrestle in any match he can find. The only problem is that the only part of his life that Randy understands and can control is his wrestling and when he tries to change that balance and have a life outside of wrestling and move past his days in the ring he is unable to do so.

In classic Aronofsky fashion this film is so layered that my brother and I were able to debate for quite awhile what the subtext in the film was, and even though we each had different thoughts neither of us could prove the other wrong.

While this is the most mainstream and easily digested of all Darren Aronofsky’s tales it is by no means a flat story and used many of the themes he loves to deal with. This film deals with aging, materialism, family and a character that seeks to regain prominence. Thematically I would say it is closest to Requiem for a Dream - just not nearly as disturbing or depressing.

One thing that truly makes Aronofsky’s films stand out from some other contemporary filmmakers is the performances he is able to get out of his actors and The Wrestler shows this yet again primarily through Mickey Rourke as Randy. I can honestly say that Rourke deserves an Oscar nomination for this film, and I had no idea he was capable of the sheer raw emotion he brings to this film.

I know that The Wrestler will not be a box office smash, it will actually probably piss off a lot of people that see it. However, for those that want to see a moving, relevant film I do recommend it.

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Robert D. Siegel
Randy “The Ram”: Mickey Rourke
Cassidy: Marisa Tomei
Stephenie: Evan Rachel Wood