Wednesday, November 26, 2008


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--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

Strictly Ballroom

Baz Luhrmann is a contemporary film god – at least I think so; Luhrmann makes films that manage to dazzle and thrill me and make me feel like a ten year old kid watching the movies all over again – granted a ten year old kid with vast film knowledge but still, the metaphor works. The very first film that Luhrmann dazzled me with was not his first film, I had never even heard of Strictly Ballroom before I saw Romeo + Juliet, but I finally found the film a few years ago and I have loved it ever since.

Strictly Ballroom is really the only “happy” movie in the Red Curtain Trilogy; the film follows Scott Hastings a rising ballroom star in the Australian dance world who wants to change things up. However, being unconventional is not acceptable and his partner breaks up with him and sends his dancing career into a spiral in what everyone assumed would be his year to take the championship. Scott’s parents run a dance studio where Fran takes classes and she boldly approaches Scott and offers herself as a new partner willing to dance his way. The couple keeps their partnership a secret fearing the disapproval of his family and mentors as she is still a beginner and her families overprotective nature.

Like all of Luhrmann’s films Strictly Ballroom is about love; in this case love of the dance and a love story between Scott and Fran; like every other film in the Red Curtain Trilogy Luhrmann uses bright and vivid colors to enhance the worlds in which his film takes place – this film really is partially told through the colors. The world of ballroom dancing is not a sedate one – it is filled with pulsating rhythms and colors & costumes to match.

What I really like about Strictly Ballroom is the main character Scott played by Paul Mercurio. The actor hasn’t gone on to do many well known projects since Strictly Ballroom but he manages to play Scott up both the arrogant and boy next door sides of Scott with equal ease and still make the character endearing which is quite a feat.

If you’re a fan of dancing, a fan of Luhrmann or just want to enjoy a fun couple of hours I highly recommend Strictly Ballroom.

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
Scott Hastings: Paul Mercurio
Fran: Tara Morice
Barry Fife: Bill Hunter
Shirley Hastings: Pat Thomson
Liz Holt: Gia Carides
Doug Hastings: Barry Otto

Scott: Look, a beginner has no right to approach an Open Amateur.
Fran: Yeah, well an Open Amateur has no right to dance non-Federation steps, but you did, didn't you?
Scott: But that's different.
Fran: How is it different? You're just like the rest of them! You think you're different, but you're not, because you're just, you're just really scared! You're really scared to give someone new a go, because you think, you know, they might just be better than you are! Well, you're just pathetic, and you're gutless. You're a gutless wonder! Vivir con miedo, es como vivir a medias!

Brand Upon The Brain!

Brand Upon The Brain!
Originally uploaded by planetacid
Guy Maddin is a fascinating contemporary filmmaker to me. His films are unique in a way that I don’t recall anyone else’s being unique; part of this uniqueness is that somehow most of his films are autobiographical. While the films are not strictly “true” he takes obvious things from his life and makes them a part of his movies. In Brand Upon the Brain! Maddin has an actor play him and revisits his childhood home; to the best of my knowledge that is where the truth ends and the rest of the movie begins.

The film is silent and almost exclusively black and white; Maddin has obviously studied the techniques of film and decades past. Brand Upon the Brain! is an art film told as a silent film with a narrator and score; Maddin uses hyperkinetic editing and exaggerated situations to get his tale of strange childhood remembrances across. While I did not get to see the live performance at festivals and select locations Brand Upon the Brain! toured with a live narrator and orchestra; the DVD is narrated by Isabella Rossellini and is truly an interactive experience as you can select other narrators.

I really am stumped on how to describe Brand Upon the Brain! because I think it is a movie I will be processing for a long while. It is the story of a mother who alternately smother and spurn her children, and quests for perpetual youth. Guy’s older sister is the rebellious youth who is experimenting with her sexual awakening and wants to explore and experiment with life. Guy’s father is a closeted madman who has the children and (to an expent) his wife terrified of him. Guy himself is in the past and present of the film as he journey’s home as an adult to prepare his childhood home for his mother to see it before she dies and in the past when he is exploring and hiding along with his sister.

Brand Upon the Brain! will not be enjoyed by a wide audience. This is really a film that is only for those willing to undertake something new and different. That does not mean it isn’t a good film, it merely means that the film is merely too outside the typical movie fare that percolates across the theatre chains of America.

Director: Guy Maddin
Writers: Guy Maddin & George Toles
Mother: Gretchen Kirch
Young Guy Maddin: Sullivan Brown
Sis: Maya Lawson
Chance/Wendy Hale: Katherine E. Scharhon
Father: Todd Moore
Older Guy Maddin: Erik Steffen Maahs
Narrator: Isabella Rossellini

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

I do love the first Madagascar movie, but for me I must admit that the penguins stole the show. Seeing as Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is a sequel to a children’s film I really didn’t expect a lot out of it, but I was really hoping to have some more funny penguin scenes. What I got out of Madagascar 2 was much more than just my beloved penguins (who again stole the show) but a genuinely good and funny movie, not just a cheesy second film in a franchise.

This time around our four furry friends are aided by the penguins in getting out of Madagascar and back to New York; however, they again miss their target destination and instead land on a nature preserve in mainland Africa where they all attempt to become assimilated into their packs only to suffer their own identity crisis’s.

I must admit that as much as I enjoy these movies, they could make the entire film about the penguins and I would be happy. The penguins are by far the most enjoyable animated team of characters that I have seen in years. They are unfailingly funny and whether I see them try to prove that a penguin “can fly” or dealing with a worker’s revolt as they try to rebuild their plane.

It also makes me a bit sad that this film has one of the final performances of Bernie Mac as Zuba the lion; but it was nice to see that the movie was not a bad one so he can be remembered through this film.

I think that Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is a movie that will be funny to adults as well as children and it is a film that will play well on multiple viewings. The jokes are genuinely funny, and the characters well written.

Director: Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath
Writer: Etan Cohen
Alex: Ben Stiller
Marty: Chris Rock
Melman: David Schwimmer
Gloria: Jada Pinkett Smith
Julien: Sacha Baron Cohen
Maurice: Cedric the Entertainer
Mort: Andy Richter
Zuba: Bernie Mac
Makunga: Alec Baldwin

Alex: Hey! Happy Slappers! Is there any reason to celebrate? Look at the plane!
Private: We'll fix it.
Alex: Fix it? How you gonna fix this?
Private: Grit, spit, and a whole lotta duct tape.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The New World

Since 1969 Terrence Malick has only directed five movies and written less than a dozen; as such when he does make a movie I tend to pay attention. His last movie was The New World. Malick is an eccentric filmmaker, one known for tackling subjects differently than anyone else, and actually making his movies in ways no one else ever would. The New World is a great example of this; Malick released the movie, then at least once pulled all the prints, had the film re-edited and released the film again. This second version is the version on DVD and the version that I saw.

The New World is the story of the Jamestown settlers that came to Virginia in 1607, primarily the story is about Pocahontas and her encounter with John Smith all the way through her death when she marries John Rolfe. The story is not told in a traditional way; there is very little actual dialogue, most of the film’s dialogue is told through voice over, and that switches between Smith, Rolfe and Pocahontas. The film is a beautiful character piece on all three characters, but as Pocahontas ties them all together she is really the focus of the film.

What I enjoyed about The New World is really what I enjoyed about Malick’s other films like The Thin Red Line. Malick really likes to let his stories weave together almost on their own and you discover the characters as they discover themselves - it almost feels as though he is shooting so much he only really knows what the film is going to be after he is done editing. I also like that Malick makes the landscape just as much a part of his films as the characters are – he shoots things that you would never consider shooting.

One of the most beautiful things about the piece is how the music fits seamlessly into every inch of the film. As there is very little dialogue the movie becomes about the visuals and the sound, the film truly feels as though it was edited to music instead of having the music placed in the film – knowing how Malick works I wouldn’t be surprised if that were actually the case.

The only downside to The New World is that like all of Malick’s movies it feels very long, and can be hard to get into if you are not used to Malick’s filmmaking style. However, seeing Colin Farrell and Christian Bale in the same movie might be worth it for some people.

Director & Writer: Terrence Malick
John Smith: Colin Farrell
Pocahontas: Q’orianka Kilcher
John Rolfe: Christian Bale
Captian Newport: Christopher Plummer

John Smith: If only I could go down that river. To love her in the wild, forget the name of Smith. I should tell her. Tell her what? It was just a dream. I am now awake.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quantum of Solace

“You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads!”
Dr Evil – Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Dr. Evil may not have been a character in the Bond universe but he perfectly summarizes what the James Bond franchise had become; Bond was no longer about a badass British spy, but a man who had an invisible car, a watch that could shoot laser beams, drank an endless amount of martini’s and could bed any woman – and he happened to also be a spy. After 40+ years on the silver screen Bond had ceased being relevant and was simply a caricature of what it used to be. With Die Another Day Pierce Brosnan and crew tried to do something different with the franchise, but it was still far too farfetched to be ultimately different – Bond was getting overtaken by the likes of Alias and Bourne.

For 2006’s Casino Royale it was decided that the series needed a new angle, so not only was Pierce Brosnan out and Daniel Craig brought on as the “controversial” choice for the new Bond (why he was considered controversial for being blonde when Connery was a Scott and played the Englishman I have no idea) but the series was effectively “rebooted” starting at the beginning of Bond’s career. Casino Royale brought Bond back to the present, out of science fiction and made him relevant again.

That brings us to the latest Bond film Quantum of Solace which also brought on a series of “firsts” for the franchise – the film is the first direct sequel to the previous film, and maintained the same writers as Casino Royale. For once people behind the scenes were paying attention to the myth of Bond and not his gadgets – this is about the man and the spy not the explosions and the toys.

Quantum of Solace picks up literally where Casino Royale left off – Bond has captured Mr. White and brings him to M for interrogation. That’s where the fun starts, as we realize Bond is still clinging to Vespar’s memory Mr. White reveals that there is a large and powerful terrorist organization at play and manages to escape when an inside man tries to kill M. This starts Bond on his new quest to find this organization and figure out how it was tied into Vespar.

What I loved about this movie is that they were able to bring some of the loved elements of Bond into the film without making them feel like the cliché’s they were just a few years ago. For starters there is the very elaborate credits sequence at the beginning of the film, and the target shot at the end. There is also the wonderful homage to Goldfinger and we see Bond drinking a martini among other things. If you are a fan of the franchise you will spot the homage’s. I also enjoy that one of the Bond girl’s full names is Strawberry Fields, but that you never find out her full first name in the movie – just her last, I had to IMDB the movie to find out her name; it’s an homage to names like Pussy Galore without the cheesiness of actually having to hear it during the film and being forced to suppress the giggles.

I also am a giant fan of Daniel Craig. I first saw him in Layer Cake and when I found out he was Bond I was far too excited. I think that Craig is an exceptional choice for Bond and is probably my favorite right along with Connery. Craig makes me believe that Bond could not only kill a man but be the ladies man – both of which are critical to the essence of the character.

While I don’t think Quantum of Solace was quite as good as Casino Royale that is in no means intended as an insult to the movie. The film is a great addition not only to the Bond franchise, but to the body of film.

Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
James Bond: Daniel Craig
Camille: Olga Kurylenko
Cominic Greene: Mathieu Amalric
M: Judi Dench
Mathis: Giancarlo Giannini
Strawberry Fields: Gemma Arterton
Felix Leiter: Jeffrey Wright
Mr. White: Jesper Christensen
General Medrano: Joaquin Cosio

M: It'd be a pretty cold bastard who didn't want revenge for the death of someone he loved.
James Bond: I don't think the dead care about vengeance.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing is on my list of guilty pleasure movies; I’m not quite too sure why it’s a guilty please but it just feels like one of those movies I shouldn’t love as much as I do. The film is yet another of Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations and while I haven’t seen all of his Shakespeare adaptations, I think this one might stand as one of my favorite adaptations right up there with Baz’s Romeo & Juliet.

Like most of Shakespeare’s comedies Much Ado About Nothing is pretty silly, and pretty complex. Beatrice & Benedick have a love hate relationship leaving heavily towards the hate but neither can stop trading witty barbs. When Don Pedro brings Benedick and the rest of his men to rest at Leonato’s house merriment ensues that includes the banter between Beatrice & Benedick and Benedick’s friend Claudio meets Leonato’s daughter Hero and falls madly in love. Claudio & Hero become engaged & Don Pedro decides to see if he can trick Beatrice & Benedick into falling in love. All would be good and merry except for Don John (Don Pedro’s brother) who meddles and tries to ruin everything his brother and men are doing.

I have said before that there is usually one thing with every Shakespeare adaptation that drives me mad; this entire film used to drive me mad. I didn’t understand the casting of all things. Now I realize that the casting is part of what makes this movie work so well as a comedy. It’s unexpected in some cases and absolutely perfect in others.

What I liked from the start wast young Kate Beckinsale as Hero opposite House’s Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio & Kenneth Branagh as Benedick opposite Emma Thompson as Beatrice. The chemistry between these couples is fabulous. The roles that used to throw me for a loop were Michael Keaton as the a local and annoying member of the law enforcement, Denzel Washtington as the jovial Don Pedro and Keanu Reeves as Don John.

The character of Dogberry (Michael Keaton) used to annoy me because I just thought he was horrible - I thought he was more Monty Python than Shakespeare. The more I have watched this film the more that has changed and Dogberry has simply become a wonderfully funny character and Michael Keaton is fabulous at it.

I never had anything against Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, but it threw me that he was a black character in an otherwise ethnically undiverse cast. Washington was great, but I had to get over my ideas that Shakespeare is a bunch of white Englishmen. He was really cast because he was perfect for the role.

This brings us to what used to be my biggest problem with the movie and what is now one of my greatest joys with this version of the play – Keanu Reeves as Don John. So much used to grate on me about his portrayal of the character. Let’s start with the obvious – he’s white. Don John is Don Pedro’s brother. Pedro is black, John is white…there is no logic outside of adoption that makes that make sense. Then we have the highly evolved acting skills of Keanu (please sense the sarcasm). I like Keanu, but I think he needs a very strong director’s hand to deliver a good performance and try as he might Keanu is one of the people that cannot deliver Shakespeare’s language in the slightest. In Much Ado About Nothing he gives one of the worst Shakespearian performances that I have ever seen. I did not understand why on earth he was cast as the villain of the piece.

Then one day the light bulb came on for me. I watched the movie again and realized that because of Keanu’s lack of Shakespeare skills the movie became funnier, his character became funnier. Don John is now one of my favorite characters in the film and I think Keanu’s casting was a feat of underhanded brilliance.

I don’t think enough people have seen this version of the Shakespeare classic and I highly encourage you to do so. I love it and I really want others to experience it.

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Wiliam Shakespeare & Kenneth Branagh
Beatrice: Emma Thompson
Benedick: Kenneth Branagh
Hero: Kate Beckinsdale
Claudio: Robert Sean Leonard
Don Pedro: Denzel Washington
Don John: Keanu Reeves
Leonato: Richard Briers
Dogberry: Michael Keaton

Beatrice: Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more. Men were deceivers ever. One foot in sea and one on shore, to one thing constant never. Then sigh not so but let them go and be you blithe and bonny, converting all your sounds of woe into hey nonny nonny.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

There are always those movies that get caught up in a critical or fan frenzy when they come out and become absolutely huge. Some of these movies are big movies to begin with and are elevated even further (The Dark Knight) and some of these incredibly praised films are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum so that when they begin to be praised so greatly they are elevated beyond the little films they are and raised onto a national or international platform. One of these little films that grew big was My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

I loved My Big Fat Greek Wedding when it came out. I thought it was just amazing. My opinion has changed since then; I was pre-film school at the time I saw the film, and while I had a large film vocabulary, I didn’t have a gigantic one like I do now. Rewatching this film I realized not that the film was bad, but that it possibly suffered from being elevated beyond its level. It is well written, it is well acted, the film is even pretty darn entertaining – but worthy of a Oscar nomination for best original screenplay? Probably not. I think this can partially be evidenced by the fact that a film lauded as much as this was when it was released no longer a part of pop culture, it is not referenced on any of the AFI lists, never on top 10’s, etc. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is good, but it was not capable of reaching beyond the small movie that it really was into the film cannon. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a place in people’s collections, or that it won’t be watched frequently by those that enjoy it – hey, it’s part of my DVD collection.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is in reality a very small, simple story. Toula is a child of parents who immigrated from Greece; pushing 30 she still lives at home and works for her parents because that is what’s expected – the only thing she hasn’t done as expected is get married. She finally gets so fed up at being unhappy all the time that she decides to change her life for the better and begins a journey of self discovery which leads her to meeting Ian Miller a non-Greek school teacher. Knowing that his non-Greek heritage will be as horrible to her family as telling them someone died she hides her relationship until it gets serious and eventually they become engaged which leads to the real comedy of the situation – the merging of the two cultures and families.

Nia Vardalos is pretty much 100% responsible for this adorable film. She wrote and acted in the play on which it is based, and wrote and is the main character in the film. With the help of Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks the film took off. What is great about this film is that it portrays a main character, the romantic heroine of the piece who is not your typical twiggy, perfect, proper girl. She is as close to a normal girl that film can get; that is really refreshing to see and it makes her character very relatable.

I know that I am partly to blame for my opinion on My Big Fat Greek Wedding changing some. My tolerance for romantic movies has gone down a great deal since I got out of high school, that trend started in me even before I hit film school.

Director: Joel Zwick
Writer: Nia Vardalos
Toula: Nia Vardalos
Ian: John Corbett
Gus: Michael Constantine
Maria: Lainie Kazan
Yiayia: Bess Meisler
Aunt Voula: Andrea Martin
Nick: Louis Mandylor
Angelo Joey Fatone
Mike: Ian Gomez

Toula Portokalos: Nice Greek girls who don't find a husband, work in the family restaurant. So here I am, day after day, year after year, thirty and way past my expiration date.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

When Dawn of the Dead came out I avoided it like the plague. I really didn’t think it could be any good; remakes in general are usually never worth your time and even though I hadn’t seen George Romero’s original at the time I knew there would be no way that a remake by a then no-name director would be able to hold a candle to the original. Turns out Zack Snyder and James Gunn had the same thoughts as I did.

The remake of Dawn of the Dead is as different from the original as it could possibly be. Snyder and Gunn took the idea of the zombie plague and survivors trapped in the mall and changed everything they could to pay a gentle homage to Romero without being caught in the trap of having to do a literal remake.

In this remake the rules are slightly different than Romero’s; in Romero’s zombie infested world there are several things that remain constant – people are fighting against the undead and the zombie’s populace. For Snyder’s remake no help might be somewhere but it is not an available presence. However, the most memorable change is the zombies.

The Dead trilogy has a very specific style of zombie; when you are bitten it takes days to change, and when you do you are a slow, lumbering, brainless beast. From the first sighting of a zombie in this film the difference is evident – victims are changed as soon as they release their last breath and they are vicious. These are not zombies that will slowly make their way to you and try to tear you apart, these zombies are lighting fast, brutally strong and completely savage. Changing the zombies changes the tone and feel of the piece, taking it from a remake into a film that could have been given a different name and the avid Romero fan would have simply recognized the film as an homage.

What I did love is that Gunn and Snyder take the time to pay homage to Romero. The mall is obviously an homage to the original Dawn of the Dead, to pay tribute to Night of the Living Dead the first zombie that is seen is a little girl and to in reference to Day of the Dead the survivors want to escape to an island where they hope the undead won’t have reached. There are a great deal more subtle nudges to the original films, but these were by far my favorites.

Having seen what is considered Snyder’s first major film it is easy to see that he is capable of much more than comic book adaptations. The man does have a style of his own and it is a very fun one. I just want him to start working with completely original material because he is quickly going to becoming the man who does movies based on graphic novels.

Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: James Gunn
Ana: Sarah Polley
Kenneth: Ving Rhames
Michael: Jake Webber
Andre: Mekhi Phifer
Steve: Ty Burrell
CJ: Michael Kelly
Terry: Kevin Zegers
Bart: Michael Barry
Nicole: Lindy Booth
Norma: Jayne Eastwood
Tucker: Boyd Banks
Luda: Inna Korobkina

Kenneth: Is everyone there dead?
Steve: Well, dead-ish.
Kenneth: Is everyone there dead?
Steve: Yeah, in the sense that they all sort of, uh... fell down... and then got up... and started eating each other.

Dawn of the Dead image from Art of the Title.

Let the Right One In

Somehow only about seven theatres in America got Let the Right One In and one of them was a theatre near me – I didn’t even have to drive to LA. Halleluiah, because I wanted to see this movie very badly. I do think I’m probably in the minority of people that wanted to see Swedish language child vampire film for recreation.

Let the Right One In is not a vampire movie in the traditional sense. The vampires are not invading, they are not the devils spawn brining ruin wherever they go, or even the bored undead that just want to see a little destruction. No, this is one vampire in the persona of a twelve year old girl and how she interacts with a twelve year old boy.

Oskar is a twelve year old boy who is docile and violently bullied by his classmates, but he doesn’t let his parents know this. One night new neighbors move in and Oskar’s life changes, Eli and her father move in next door. Eli at first tries to warn Oskar away from her but before long the two forge an unexpected friendship and for the first time in his life Oskar has a real friend; the twist is that this is a friend that has to live off blood and can’t go into the daylight unless she wants to commit suicide.

This is a movie carries by child actors. A little research told me that these kids were not professional actors and didn’t ever get to read the script. They were part of a nation wide casting search that the director put on to find Oskar and Eli, and though their parents read the script the children never did. They learned their lines through having the director read to them. While I cannot fathom taking that approach myself, Tomas Alfredson made a beautifully crafted film that stands unique amongst its genre so I cannot fault him for it.

Let the Right One In is not a horror film though it contains some pretty standard horror elements. This film is a story of friendship and two souls that finally find someone that understands them – everything else to the story is secondary.

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writer: John Ajvide Lindquist
Oskar: Kare Hedebrant
Eli: Lina Leandersson

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Friday the 13th

mrs. voorhees
Originally uploaded by hypostylin
If you don’t want to know the end of Friday the 13th don’t read this. I cannot discuss this film without discussing the end in detail. It wouldn’t do the film justice any other way.

I didn’t have the typical lack of knowledge most people do going into Friday the 13th; I knew the ending. How? I’ve seen Scream. Anyone that has seen the first 15 minutes of Scream knows the real ending of the film – the killer asks Drew Barrymore who the killer in Friday the 13th is and she gets is wrong. Thus she dies. From that moment on I knew that Jason was not the killer in the first Friday the 13th, but I didn’t understand. Everyone knows Jason is the killer in the hockey mask that haunts those films.

However, this knowledge did not turn me off of the film. It is the ending of Friday the 13th that makes the film worth watching – the ending is one of the most unique in the genre.

On the whole Friday the 13th is your average slasher film, I would argue that it is the start of the contemporary slasher film. A bunch of kids (including a young Kevin Bacon) go to be counselors at a quaint camp with a bloody history and in one night are picked off one by one. There are some really good scares and jump moments, but for the most part the body of the movie is really standard. The kids flirt, do drugs, have intercourse, and get slowly picked off one by one.

To tell the truth, with the exception of Kevin Bacon’s death I pretty much found the movie kind of boring – but then came the ending.

In the end Alice is the only counselor left alive and she sees a jeep drive up and Mrs. Voorhees gets out and offers to help Alice…but as it turns out Mrs. Voorhees used to work at the camp, and her son Jason drowned there. She blames the counselors for not watching him so in 1958 (the year after Jason drowned) she killed two of the counselors and the camp closed. She was never caught and when Mrs. Voorhees found out Camp Crystal Lake was reopening she decided to go after the counselors again.

The ending makes the movie. If it weren’t for the twist that the killer is not some typical psycho in a costume the first Friday the 13th would be a mere blip on the radar; however, Mrs. Voorhees, the vengeful mother makes the film unique and more than memorable.

There is a remake in the works for Friday the 13th and rumor has it that Mrs. Voorhees is out and Jason is in. I haven’t seen the second film yet to know how Jason works into the plot (because he drowned in 1958), but I heavily protest Mrs. Voorhees being totally taken out of the remake – she makes the film and makes it something worth seeing.

Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Writer: Victor Miller
Mrs. Voorhees: Betsy Palmer
Alice: Adrienne King
Marcie: Jeannine Taylor
Annie: Robbi Morgan
Jack: Kevin Bacon
Bill: Harry Crosby
Brenda: Laurie Bartram
Ned: Mark Nelson
Steve Christy: Peter Brouwer
Crazy Ralph: Walt Gorney
Barry: Willie Adams
Claudette: Debra S. Hayes
Trudy: Dorothy Kobs
Sandy: Sally Anne Golden
Jason: Ari Lehman

Pamela Voorhees: Did you know a young boy drowned the year before those two others were killed? The counselors weren't paying any attention... They were making love while that young boy drowned. His name was Jason. I was working the day that it happened. Preparing meals... here. I was the cook. Jason should've been watched. Every minute. He was... He wasn't a very good swimmer. We can go now... dear.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coming Soon: a little behind

Life is catching up with me right now and I am a little behind on my posts. Here's what you have to look forward being reviewed when I catch up.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Machinist

Many people came into awareness of Christian Bale with Batman, but those of us in the know have been watching his films since before even American Psycho brought him into cult status. The man was in Empire of the Sun - Spielberg knows what he’s doing. Anyway, one of the astonishing things about Bale being in Batman Begins was what he did before. He lost about 60+ pounds to play the lead in The Machinist.

The Machinist is the story of Trevor Reznik; he’s a man that is so thin he resembles a human skeleton and he has been suffering from insomnia for at least a year. Day to day he goes to work in some sort of factory as a machine operator, visits Claire the prostitute with a heart of gold, and Marie the waitress every night for a cup of coffee. Though his weight is continually decreasing Trevor professes to be fine until he begins to see Ivan, a new arch welder at the plant. Once Ivan appears things begin to get bad for Trevor, accidents follow him and he soon believes his is part of a grand conspiracy but he cannot figure out the reason why all of this is happening.

I have a very large film vocabulary, as such I figured out part of the twist in The Machinist very early into the film; however, I was so interested in what the director was doing and the characters I did not turn off the film and by doing so I discovered that the film more than exceeded my expectations. While to me part of the twist was predictable, there was a larger part of the story that was part of the twist as well and I could not have predicted that. The ending of The Machinist takes the film from being well done but typical fare to a beautiful film that deviates from the standard. I know this is vague as I refuse to reveal the twist to you, but you will just have to trust me and see it for yourself.

I don’t feel the need to point out how much I adore Christian Bale as an actor again (because you do all already know that), but I do need to point out that he has been cited as the basic reason this movie got made. Scott Kosar has been quoted as saying he didn’t think the film would ever be made because he didn’t think they would ever find an actor that was willing to lose enough weight to be Trevor and there was no way the film would work without the weight element. Bale is known for throwing himself at a role, and he more than proved it by deciding to tackle the character of Trevor Reznik.

As a director one of the things I love the most about The Machinist were the visuals of the film. Not only was the film shot beautifully but the color palette was just spectacularly cool and beautiful. The entire film feels like it was died blue and this ads to the few punches of color that director Brad Anderson chooses to throw in there, and to the detachment of Trevor’s world from the rest of humanity.

This movie is gorgeous in all senses of the word but it is not for the faint of heart; on some level this film is also disturbing. However, all of this is rectified by the fact that this is a film that has a meaning to it and a deeper point than to just “entertain” the audience for an hour and a half.

Director: Brad Anderson
Writer: Steve Kosar
Trevor Reznik: Christian Bale
Stevie: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Marie: Aitana Sanchex-Gijon
Ivan: John Sharian
Miller: Michael Ironside
Nicholas: Matthew Romero Moore

Marie: Trevor, is someone chasing you?
Trevor Reznik: Not yet. But they will when they find out who I am.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Midsummer Night's Dream

I know, I know. If a movie has Christian Bale or Robert Downey Jr. I’ll see it, so it’s no surprise that I am reviewing yet another Christian Bale movie. The shocking part is that I didn’t know A Midsummer Night’s Dream even had Christian Bale in it until I was playing around IMDB about a week ago. When I figured that out of course I had to Netflix it. I am sure most people know at least vaguely what the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is. However, Shakespeare is Greek to a lot of people to I might as well sum it up for you.

The play takes place in Athens and revolves around one of the noblemen who is finally getting married, the whole town is rejoicing. A small play company prepares a play for the event starring their best actor Nick Bottom – who is more than a little conceited about himself and his talents. At the same time there is a love triangle between Lysander, Hermia, and Demetrius. Lysander and Hermia are in love but Hermia’s father does not want the couple to be, and since Demetrius is in love with Hermia her father has consented to the marriage of Hermia to Demetrius. The problem of course is that Hermia does not love Demetrius but her friend Helena does love Demetrius and he won’t give her the time of day. Meanwhile, in the forrest surrounding the city the fairies play but Oberon king of the fairies and Titiana his wife fight.

When night falls Lysander & Hermia flee into the woods to escape her forced marriage and are pursued by Demetrius and Helena. Oberon decides to betwitch Titiana to fall in love with a beast (Bottom who is turned into a donkey), but as he doe this he spies Demetrius spurning Helena and decides that she should have the love she deserves; as such he charges Puck with the mission to track down Demetrius and bewitch him to fall in love with Helena instead of Hermia.

In typical Shakespeare fashion this is where the problem occurs. Puck does bewitch the young Athenian man he finds in the forrest but it’s Lysander not Demetrius. Long story short Demetrius and Lysander both end up fighting over Helena and hating Hermia and both women are confused and angry – Helena thinking she is being teased and Hermia thinking Helena has done something to bring this about. All the while Oberon watches as Titania throws herself at a beast.

What I liked about this version was the fanciful world that was created for the night time in the woods. It did feel like it was an enchanted wood, something that a child would believe was infested with fairies and other magical creatures. What I did not like so much was that this world felt such like a sound stage that when we went to the daytime version of the woods (when the magic was broken) it looked so real it didn’t even seem like part of the same planet. I understand why this was done from a directorial standpoint, you would want two totally and completely different worlds, but there should have been something done in film stock, color palette, etc. to make the two worlds seem like they were part of the same film. I also did not understand the added little nugget having to do with bicycles…but I partially chalk that off to someone wanting to put Puck on a bike and wanting to do the gag with Lysander & Demetrius lifting Helena’s bike.

When I was watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream I was actually shocked by the number of stars that are in the film. Back in 1999 (and judging from the DVD packaging) a lot of these actors weren’t nearly as well known. This totally explains why I didn't know Bale was in the movie. This was prior to Batman & American Psycho, as such Calista Flockhart got billing over Bale. He is not even mentioned on the packaging or shown in the art. Neither is Sam Rockwell.

I did also appreciate that none of these actors made me feel like they couldn’t do Shakespeare. There is always at least one actor in an adaptation that seems like they can’t handle the language or something similar that puts them out of the film for me. I really didn’t have that here. I did have a brief moment where I kept looking at Calista Flockhart and seeing Ally McBeal but that is my thing and has nothing to do with her performance.

On the whole I did find this film really enjoyable and think that it was a worthy effort as far as Shakespeare adaptations go.

Director: Michael Hoffman
Writers: William Shakespeare & Michael Hoffman
Nick Bottom: Kevin Kline
Titania: Michelle Pfeiffer
Puck: Stanley Tucci
Oberon: Rupert Everett
Helena: Calista Flockhart
Lysander: Dominic West
Demeterius: Christian Bale
Hermia: Anna Friel
Theseus: David Strathairn
Hippolyta: Sophie Marceau
Francis Flute: Sam Rockwell

Theseus: No epilogue, I pray you, for your play needs no excuse. Never excuse, for when the players are all dead, there need none to be blamed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Originally uploaded by divxplanet
I am a fan of Guy Ritchie. Snatch is one of my personal favorite movies and I think Mickey is just one of the best characters committed to celluloid in the past few decades. I have been in a Guy Ritchie funk since Snatch came out; sure he did Swept Away and Revolver but neither one of those films got much love…and Swept Away was just ripped apart by everyone. In short, Madonna killed Guy’s career. Those of us that have had that opinion about the Madonna/Guy marriage of course find it funny that Rocknrolla has come out at roughly the same time as the announcement of Guy and Madonna’s split. We’ve all been hoping that this split signals the return of Guy Ritchie to the cinema he does so well.

Rocknrolla is vaguely similar in concept to some of Guy Ritchie’s other films. It takes an odd assortment of characters all somehow involved in the criminal underground in Britain and their paths interconnect and try to pull them all down a ugly and dangerous spiral that will end in their deaths. In this outing One Two, Mumbles and Handsome Bob are the Wild Bunch a trio of moderately successful thugs. Stella is creative accountant to Uri who gives work to One Two under the nose of Uri who is trying to use Stella’s skills to get money to Lenny. Lenny is a blue-collar thug if you will who makes his dime off real estate scams and doesn’t see his way of doing things as old. Archie is Lenny’s enforcer who is trying to track down Lenny’s step son Johnny, a supposedly dead junkie/rocker managed by Mickey and Roman. There is really no way to truly sum up this film’s plot. But if you’ve seen a Ritchie film you can put the pieces together and figure out at least the style that the story will be told in.

While I enjoyed Rocknrolla it is by no means a typical Guy Ritchie film. All the elements are there, and you enjoy watching all the pieces get put in place and whacked back out of order. However, the prevailing feeling that I got out of this film is that Guy is stretching; it’s been eight years since Snatch came out and it feels like Guy is a little unsure of himself. This is not a bad thing however, the film is enjoyable, well done and something that no one except Guy Ritchie could do. It put me in a mood where I enjoyed the film and I know going out of it that Guy is coming back and his next movie is going to be even more like the Guy Ritchie I know and love.

One of the things I do love about Guy Ritchie’s films is that he takes at least one actor in every film that I love and makes them play a character that I couldn’t picture them in. In Snatch that is Brad Pitt and Mickey. In Rocknrolla that is Gerard Butler. I adore Butler and while One Two isn’t as out there of a character as Mickey I just didn’t quite see Butler as a fit in Ritchie’s world – I was wrong. Butler is fabulous.

Go support Guy Ritchie. He doesn’t really need the money, but I want him to keep making gangster movies because that is his genre.

Director & Writer: Guy Ritchie
One Two: Gerard Butler
Mumbles: Idris Elba
Handsome Bob: Tom Hardy
Johnny Quid: Toby Kebbell
Roman: Ludacris/Chris Bridges
Uri: Karel Roden
Councilor: Jimi Mistry
Stella: Thandie Newton
Mickey: Jeremy Piven
Archie: Mark Stong
Lenny: Tom Wilkinson

Archie: People ask the question... what's a RocknRolla? And I tell 'em - it's not about drugs, drums, and hospital drips, oh no. There's more there than that, my friend. We all like a bit of the good life - some the money, some the drugs, other the sex game, the glamour, or the fame. But a RocknRolla, oh, he's different. Why? Because a real RocknRolla wants the f---ing lot.