Saturday, January 31, 2009

Scream 2

Adjusting to life post-Woodsboro Sidney Prescott is safe and happy as a theatre major at Windsor College; her life has now escaped feeling like a horror movie and is about to be committed to the horror movie genre literally. Gale Weathers wrote a follow up book to her torrid tale about Maureen Prescott’s murder telling the tale of the Woodsboro murders and it is being turned into the latest and greatest slasher movie – Stab. Sidney prepares for the release of the film and the worst time of her life to be rehashed in a melodramatic teen horror movie until the killer returns and it becomes apparent that the killer too is obsessed with sequels and he wants to recreate the Woodsboro murders.

While I cannot definitively say which of the first two Scream films is my favorite I do have to say that for just a pure, fun watch I adore Scream 2. In Scream 2 the movie about a movie factor is heightened, the sequel cliché’s are played to a T and the college campus setting is a way to inject yet more youthful arrogance into the mix and allow for a much larger body count with very little effort.

Perhaps my favorite joke in all of the Scream series is Stab the movie. Stab is not only pulls directly from the characters conversations in Scream but the name Stab is a direct reference to the name of the movie. My favorite joke about Stab is that in Scream Sidney worries that if her life were made into a movie she would be played by Tori Spelling, and in Stab Spelling is the actress that lands the role of young Sidney. The irony and tongue-in-cheek humor is readily apparent and fabulous.

All of the Scream films were made while Courtney Cox was on Friends and Scream 2 decides to use the popularity of Friends (and Cox’s good standing with the cast) to throw in a few subtle references to her Friends co-stars. At one point we find out that Dewey was played in Stab by David Schwimmer and Gale tells of naked photos of her on the internet were her head on Jennifer Anniston’s body. The jokes work on their own, but if you are aware of Cox’s connection to Friends they play even better.

As someone who went to film school, the fact that Randy is a film student is absolutely fabulous to me. Randy and Mickey the rival film students are my kind of geeks and their opinions make me laugh.

In the end I cannot separate my love for Scream from my love for Scream 2. Both movies are fabulous thrillers in their own right and Scream 2 is a great sequel that lives up to its predecessor while managing to feel like its own film with its own set of rules.

Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Kevin Williamson
Sidney Prescott: Neve Campbell
Gale Weathers: Courtney Cox
Dewey Riley: David Arquette
Randy Meeks: Jamie Kennedy
Derek: Jerry O’Connell
Mickey: Timothy Olyphant
Cotton Weary: Liev Schreiber
Debbie Salt: Laurie Metcalf
Hallie: Elise Neal
CiCi: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Maureen: Jada Pinkett Smith
Sorority Sister Murphy: Portia de Rossi
Stab Casey: Heather Graham
Stab Sidney: Tori Spelling
Stab Billy: Luke Wilson

Mickey: Oh come on Randy, with all due respect, the killer obvious patterned himself after two serial killers who were immortalized on film.
Guy #2: Thank you!
Film Teacher: So, you're saying that someone is trying to make a real life sequel?
Randy: Stab 2? Why would anyone want to do that? Sequels suck!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Velvet Goldmine

Velvet Goldmine
Originally uploaded by isobelo
Very rarely do I see a movie that just eludes me – Velvet Goldmine is one of those movies. It’s been two days since I watched the film and I still am not sure if I can form a full opinion on it. I think that Velvet Goldmine was a visually spectacular movie with great direction and acting, but after that I really have no idea.

The film is pretty complex and simple all in one. It is about British glam rock in the 1970’s, specifically the rise an fall of fictional character Brian Slade who staged his own murder and then his career went even further down the tubes.

I think part of my problem with Velvet Goldmine is that the story structure is based on a device, it is told in flashback through interviews by journalist and former glam rock devotee Arthur Stuart. The device didn’t work for me. I could figure out Stuarts past and how that worked into the story, and even his broken down present but it almost seemed like there was no connection between his past and his present. It made me unable to connect with the character.

Toni Colette plays Brian Slade’s wife Mandy in the film and honestly for me she was the best character and the best performance in the film. When she meets Brian he is young and struggling and she is the first person that takes a chance on him and marries him. They live together happily admitting Brian’s preference for open love and both sexes until the stardom goes to Brian’s head and he meets Curt Wild, and slowly but surely through the process Mandy becomes the forgotten one, the joke in the entourage. Colette plays it beautifully and you see her love for Brian be slowly replaced with disappointment and confusion as time moves on.

Part of me really thinks that this film feels like a first draft. I vaguely feel as though it should be remade someday as a musical and then it will be a perfect film.

Director & Writer: Todd Haynes
Curt Wild: Ewan McGregor
Brian Slade: Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Arthur Stuart: Christian Bale
Mandy Slade: Toni Collette
Jerry Devine: Eddie Izzard

Curt Wild: We set out to change the world... ended up just changing ourselves.
Arthur Stuart: What's wrong with that?
Curt Wild: Nothing, if you don't look at the world.


Originally uploaded by m3lbatoast
Clark Kent comes to the big city from his small town life, is intimidated by his job at the bustling Daily Planet, and crushes on star reporter Lois Lane but can’t figure out how to even flirt with her without humiliating himself. In stark contrast Superman blows onto the scene rescuing Lois from a accidental death and smooth talking her about the safest way to travel, he catches jewel thieves with a nod & a wink, and has Lois Lane crushing on him. But of course the road to being the worlds savior is not easy, it must have a villain – in this case it’s the real estate obsessed, over the top Lex Luthor who plans to exploit California’s fault lines and create a new west coast.

Superman the movie is very exaggerated – beyond exaggerated in fact as at one point Superman flies around the world and reverses its rotation to turn back time. But that said, I still love this movie with all it’s bumps and flaws.

I’ve had an obsession with Superman my entire life and this movie is part of that obsession; while Richard Donner did not create the perfect version of Superman, he did manage to bring the hero to the screen in an epic and monumental way. Donner has defined the way the man of steel has been used in movies and TV for the past few decades. Even Bryan Singer in Superman Returns directly tried to follow the Superman world set up in the first two Superman movies.

One thing that has always driven me nuts about this movie is the interview Superman give Lois. In a classic information dump Superman sits down and proceeds to tell Lois all of his strengths and every single one of his weaknesses, plus his entire origin…thus painting a target on his cape. What I noticed this time that is even more absurd is at the beginning of this interview Lois asks Supes how old he is and when he gives a coy answer she states she realizes he needs anonymity for protection…then they devolve into the aforementioned interview. Also, how does Luthor immediately jump to kryptonite being Superman’s achilles heel?

All that being said, Superman is a movie that I love, and it will remain part of my viewing library for many years to come. At this point, it is still one of my favorite Superman films.

Director: Richard Donner
Writers: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman & Robert Mankiewicz
Clark Kent/Superman: Christopher Reeve
Lois Lane: Margot Kidder
Jor-El: Marlon Brando
Lex Luthor: Gene Hackman

Perry White: Now look. The Post: "It Flies." The News: "Look, Ma, No Wires." The Times: "Blue Bomb Buzzes Metropolis." The Planet. We're sitting on top of the story of the century here! I want the name of this flying whatchamacallit to go with the Daily Planet like bacon and eggs, franks and beans, death and taxes, politics and corruption.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Scream is perhaps one of the single most intelligent films to come out in the last decade. You might want to argue that point with me but my point is not that Scream is an intellectual film, but that it is a film that operates on so many levels it can’t be considered just a teen slasher movie. Sure, Scream is a teen slasher movie, but it’s also a genuine horror film, a satire, a movie about movies, a comedy and more than anything a damn good mystery. In an era that was seeing more and more cliché’s in the horror genre Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven decided to use the horror cliché mire to their advantage and play on those cliché’s instead of falling in with them. By doing so they created a franchise that dissimilar to anything else to date.

I am not going to write about all of the influences on Scream here, or even everything it references because if you really appreciate the major films of the genre you will without a doubt discover more and more hidden inside Scream on every viewing. The film is a veritable hodgepodge of hidden nuggets about other films and filmmakers and the reason the film has aged so well is because it manages to do this and still put an emphasis on the characters instead of putting the emphasis on the references.

For those that haven’t seen Scream it takes place in the small town of Woodsboro where Sidney Presscott’s life has been hell for a year; the previous fall her mother was murdered and she was the star witness in putting the killer away. Now as the anniversary of her mother’s death approaches people are dying again and Sidney must contend with the thought that perhaps these murders are connected to her mother and the fact that it appears the killer is after her. Everyone in Sidney’s life is now a suspect and Sidney’s friends don’t see the danger in the killings, simply the rewards of being let out of school.

This is perhaps the first Wes Craven film that I had ever seen; I have the appreciation I do for the (better films of the) horror genre because of Wes Craven. Before I saw Scream I thought that horror films were basically evil tools of the devil without any redeeming qualities. Once I saw Scream I began to realize that perhaps some horror movies were worth the watch. One of the most influential things about Scream is that it helped to revive the decaying genre. Somehow by poking fun at the cliché’s it helped refresh the entire thing and poured in new ideas, or at least made studios willing to take a chance on films that they might not have before. I do think that Scream is one of the most influential films to come out of the 1990’s.

Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Kevin Williamson
Sidney Prescott: Neve Campbell
Dewey Riley: David Arquette
Gale Weathers: Courtney Cox
Billy Loomis: Skeet Ulrich
Tatum Riley: Rose McGowan
Stuart Macher: Matthew Lillard
Randy Meeks: Jamie Kennedy
Casey Becker: Drew Barrymore
Cotton Weary: Liev Schreiber
Principal Himbry: Henry Winkler

Casey: Who's there?
Ghostface: Never say "who's there?" Don't you watch scary movies? It's a death wish. You might as well come out to investigate a strange noise or something.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Friday the 13th Part 2

After I watched Friday the 13th I remember thinking that the horror movie cliché could be overlooked because of the unexpected and exceptional character in Mrs. Voorhees; but lets be blunt – Mrs. Voorhees isn’t in the sequel so it would take a lot to elevate Friday the 13th Part 2 out of the horror movie mire it helped create. Suffice it to say that Part 2 doesn’t reach out of the mire.

I really think that the films slogan “the body count continues” perfectly sums up the plot of Friday the 13th Part 2 because that’s really all it is. Despite the grizzly murders that occurred at Camp Crystal Lake five years before another camp opens on the lake, just a few miles away. Of course the teenage counselors find out about the myth of Jason and eventually Jason slaughters most of them.

What cracks me up about the difference between the first and second movies in the Jason franchise is that remarkably I think that Mrs. Voorhees racks up a bigger body count than Jason does – but he does end up with more movies than she does.

After watching Part 2 I have one major reaction – I have been lied to by pop culture. I knew Jason popped up in the sequel but the image of Jason I am used to is the one I grew up with, the homicidal maniac with the hockey mask and chainsaw but in this movie no hockey mask and no chainsaw. Instead Jason is a deformed adult who has managed to survive by living in a shanty in the woods and his mask is merely a bag over his head. Not the Jason I know. I was totally expecting him to morph into that familiar Jason at some point in the film because a hockey reference is made at one point, and at one point another a main character (the stereotyped dumber-than-she-appears blonde) drops a chainsaw next to Jason as she flees; I assumed from these references Jason would evolve…but he didn’t.

However, until the remake comes out I really have no desire to watch any more of Jason, so I guess I won’t see more of Jason for awhile. But don’t let that fool you, I don’t feel very deprived.

Director: Steve Miner
Writer: Ron Kurz
Ginny Field: Amy Steel
Paul Holt: John Furey
Alice Hardy: Adrienne King
Mrs. Voorhees: Betsy Palmer

Deputy Winslow: Look, Holt, people say that what you do with these kids is great. You got a good reputation. But if I was you, I'd have located in the next county. You're too close. Things have been quiet for five years and that's the way we want to keep it.
Paul: So do I, officer. So do I.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Defiance Poster
Originally uploaded by AsceticMonk
The Oscar nominations are coming out tomorrow and though at one time I wanted Defiance to be on the list of nominees now that I have seen it I can safely say that the only nominations I truly would enjoy Defiance receiving are for Daniel Craig & Liev Schreiber. Not that Defiance is a bad movie, but in a year that had movies like Iron Man, Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight & In Bruges a movie like Defiance has its flaws pointed out instead of ignored.

What is truly remarkable is the story of Defiance; it is about a group of Jews at the outbreak of Hitler’s Germany and genocide that manage to evade capture by the Nazi’s by creating a settlement in the forests of Belarussia. It begins with four brothers and near the end of the war has grown to over 1,200 Jewish refugees. There story is awe inspiring, perhaps only equal to the likes of Oskar Schindler.

What is wrong with Defiance is the fact that parts of the story seem to be missing – it is as if the director trusted his audience to put two & two together too often, or that there were merely scenes still on the editing room floor waiting to be inserted into the film. A prim example of this is the romance between Tuvia & Lilka; she comes to the otriad, throws Tuvia a few meaningful looks and suddenly an ancillary character informs Tuvia that everyone knows that Lilka is hands-off. While not a killing point to the film, the leaps in story telling that occur do make Defiance slightly less than it could have been.

Defiance is an entertaining movie, but not a great one. I do believe that perhaps the film might have been helped if it was released in summer instead of Oscar season, but perhaps I can hold out hope for Craig or Schreiber getting an Oscar nomination.

Director: Edward Zwick
Writers: Clayton Frohman & Edward Zwick
Tuvia Beilski: Daniel Craig
Zus Bielski: Liev Schreiber
Asael Bielski: Jamie Bell
Aron Bielski: George MacKay
Lilka Ticktin: Alexa Davalos

Gramov: How come it's so f---ing hard to like Jews?
Tuvia Bielski: Try being one.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married is a beautiful film, having seen it twice now I have to say that I do think it is probably one of the single best films that came out in 2008. From the camera work to the lead actresses there is a deceptive simpleness about this film. This is by no means a film that is loosely constructed though the cinema verite style might try to imply that. This film is constructed in such a way that it draws you inside the life of this tragic family in such a way that it truly feels like you are in the room with them listening to their battles, their pitfalls and finally their epiphanies.

Perhaps the most real thing about this film is that this is a family that struggles. They fight over things in the past both big and small and they are trying to come to terms with how to exist as a family now. It is real, it is unique and it is so well crafted that you forget you are watching fiction.

I pity the people that go into Rachel Getting Married and Revolutionary Road thinking that they are films that will be light hearted and romantic in the end; the people that go in expecting that will miss the true relevance and brilliance of these films.

Kym: I am Shiva the destroyer, your harbinger of doom this evening.

The Prestige

The Prestige
Originally uploaded by Vincent Yeh ©
I have waxed poetically about The Prestige before – but that doesn’t stop me from doing it again. This is a great movie. Quite honestly I cannot find a single flaw in it no matter how hard I try. “Are you watching closely” is the motto woven throughout the film and I can say that I have been watching closely and I still get as much satisfaction out of The Prestige as I did the first time I saw it.

I see a lot of movies, as a result it takes a very unique movie to cause a real jump, fright or tension in me – I recognize the signs and everything that is put into that moment on film so it’s hard to catch me by surprise. No matter how many times I see The Prestige it still makes me tense. This is a story about two rival magicians whose rivalry becomes violent; these men do some really dastardly things to one another until it’s so out of control that they couldn’t stop if they wanted to and every time they do something new to one another I still cringe in anticipation. For me this means Christopher Nolan did his job well.

This is a movie driven by two very powerful actors, two actors that people love and respect but somehow it still doesn’t seem that they truly get the recognition they deserve. In The Prestige Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale manage to do the impossible – they both manage to remain a dominating presence on screen without letting either actor steal the picture. They are amazing to watch and absolutely entertaining to their very core.

One person that I seem to inadvertently ignore every time I write about a movie that has him is the phenomenal Michael Caine. In this film Caine plays Cutter, the man behind the magic tricks, the man that makes all of the magic happen. As always he is witty, charming and capable of assuaging the audiences fears or driving home the gravest of messages. Michael Caine is truly talented and needs more than the one Oscar he has.

Perhaps my absolute favorite aspect of The Prestige is the fact that no matter how many times I watch it I come up with more questions about the film. When I watch so many movies on a constant basis having a film enthrall me and make me question what I’m seeing is the equivalent of a trip to Disneyland for someone that never gets to go, it’s a special treat that I absolutely adore.

Cutter: Now you're looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you're not really looking. You don't really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Revolutionary Road

Sam Mendes makes amazing films – films that promote discussion and thought, while somehow also managing to be a dynamic, visually stunning, intelligent film. Revolutionary Road is no exception to this rule. While, Revolutionary Road may not be a simple film it all boils down to one thing – marriage.

Revolutionary Road is about the life a husband and wife share, and the lives they still keep from each other. April and Frank Wheeler are the adorable young couple from Revolutionary Road; they have two children, Frank works in the city, April takes care of the kids, they are the life of the neighborhood. But both are miserable. Frank hates working every day at a jobs he hates where he feels unappreciated, and going home to feel still unappreciated. April spends her entire day taking care of the children, house and her husband and feels alone, unappreciated and desperate for something more. Frank and April are tired of living the life they were told they were supposed to live and they decide to change and thus reinvigorate their lives and relationship – but the problem is that by taking control of their lives they end up taking on the world.

For those looking for a uplifting, enchanting romance Revolutionary Road is not that film. Revolutionary Road is American Beauty devoid of the dark humor, and somehow more bleak. This is not to say that Revolutionary Road is not a film that you can’t enjoy; this is a movie that tells a story that few people want to tell. It is a brave film that does not pull punches or try to lie about the very real situation too many couples face – the “hopeless emptiness” as they say in the film.

In Revolutionary Road Sam Mendes, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet & the entire team that made the film have made a film that transcends time and will be talked about for generations to come. I do believe this film will be the recipient of a great many Oscar nominations this year, and will take home at least one of the golden statues.

Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: Justin Haythe
April Wheeler: Kate Winslet
Frank Wheeler: Leonardo DiCaprio
John Givings: Michael Shannon
Helen Givings: Kathy Bates

April Wheeler: So now I'm crazy because I don't love you, right? Is that the point?
Frank Wheeler: No! Wrong! You're not crazy, and you do love me. That's the point, April.

Bedtime Stories

Bedtime Stories is a children’s book brought to the big screen; from the narration throughout the film to the inclusion of Buggsy the bug-eyed hamster the illusion of this being a children’s book is never broken.

This is a movie about a man who wants nothing but his childhood dream – to run his father’s motel – but has gotten so bitter by a turn of events outside his control that he’s pushed his sister, niece & nephew away until his sister forces him to watch his niece & nephew until she returns from a series of job interviews out of state. While watching the children Skeeter begins to chase his childhood dreams again and recaptures what it was for him to be a child.

While Bedtime Stories is not a great movie by any stretch of the word, it is a highly enjoyable film at least on the first viewing especially if you have a child to take with you. The laughs are genuine if obvious, and it is fun to see people like Guy Pearce hamming it up.

Director: Adam Shankman
Writers: Matt Lopez & Tim Herlihy
Skeeter: Adam Sandler
Jill: Keri Russell
Kendall: Guy Pearce
Mickey: Russell Brand
Barry Nottingham: Richard Griffiths
Wendy: Courtney Cox
Patrick: Jonathan Morgan Heit
Bobbi: Laura Ann Kesling
Marty: Jonathan Pryce

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Terminator

Sarah Connor was living her life like any material girl in the 1984; she waitressed by day, laughed with her roommate Ginger and went out on dates. Then one day women named Sarah Connor began to be killed and her world was turned upside down. Out of nowhere Sarah finds out that a machine from the future, a terminator has been sent through time to kill her because she will give birth to a legendary leader named John Connor who will fight back against the machines when they cause a nuclear world and enslave the human race, and in the future he is on the verge of winning. Sarah finds out that she is the one that trains him to become this great leader, military warrior and savior of man kind. After that day Sarah Connor’s life changed forever – and so did cinema.

Sarah Connor is one of the most respected strong women of cinema; she is a legendary character and one in a long line of leading strong women led by James Cameron. What makes the character of Sarah Connor remarkable is not one thing but many, and it all starts with The Terminator. Never before had such a strong yet feminine woman been brought to the screen; Connor wasn’t strong in the say Kathryn Hepburn was strong, she was strong in a whole new way. She learned how to make plastic explosives, field dress wounds and fight for humanity.

Every time I watch The Terminator I am amazed at how natural Cameron and Linda Hamilton make Sarah Connor’s transformation from simple citizen to guerilla warrior. One would think that to make that dramatic a change it would be clunky and sudden, but it is not. Even before she knew the definition of an H.K. and T-101 Sarah could defend herself, think on her feet, and by the end of the film she is motivating the soldier sent back to protect her, and fighting against the machines herself.

In The Terminator Cameron creates not just Sarah Connor, but an entire world with a future so bleak that an entire new avenue was opened in science fiction. Time travel tales had been told before, but never in such a way as he told them. The Terminator sets up an entire world that we cannot see, a heroine that grows to greatness before us and the possibility of a leader even greater than this heroine. Cameron creates a way for the future to crash into the present with the idea that they are so linked together that neither the viewer or the characters can truly know if anything they do will actually change the future or if their actions are creating the future they dread. It was unique when the franchise began and remains fresh and vibrant to this day.

While The Terminator is arguably a franchise fueled by testosterone one must never forget that like just a John Connor was trained by his mother, Terminator was built by Sarah Connor.

Director: James Cameron
Writers: James Cameron & Gale Anne Hurd
The Terminator: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Kyle Reese: Michael Biehn
Sarah Connor: Linda Hamilton
Detective Vukovich: Lance Henrickson
Dr. Silberman: Earl Boen
Punk Leader: Bill Paxton

Kyle Reese: Some of us were kept alive... to work... loading bodies into dumpsters and incinerators. The disposal units ran night and day. We were that close to going out forever. But there was one man who taught us to fight, to storm the wire of the camps, to smash those metal motherfuckers into junk. He turned it around. He brought us back from the brink. His name is Connor. John Connor. Your son, Sarah, your unborn son.

The First Wives Club

Part of me wants to be able to say that The First Wives Club is a silly, stupid movie that is really just brain candy – but I can’t. I love this movie; I think it is a genuinely good movie with entertaining and appealing comedy that does not get stale. I will admit that The First Wives Club probably plays better to women, but I am a woman so there’s no problem there.

The First Wives Club is about three women – Brenda, Elise & Annie – all three of whom have been left by their first husbands. They were close in college but let post-college life help grow them apart until their other college friend Cynthia commits suicide on the day that her recently ex-husband gets remarried. The tragedy brings the three women back into each others lives and as they discover that their marital situations are so similar they decide to band together and form the first wives club and be the wives that just won’t take being left standing while their husbands chase their more youthful replacement. Together they dig out the dirt on their exes and make the men rue the day they traded in their first wives.

The reason The First Wives Club works as well as it does is the three lead actresses that helm it – Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler & Diane Keaton. These women are not only phenomenal actresses in their own right but they have a divine chemistry together that really makes their friendship genuine and complete. Goldie is gloriously funny as Elise the actress obsessed with youth and delivers some of my favorite lines in the film; Bette is divine as Brenda the Jewish mother who just wants her son to be happy but tries not to meddle too much; Diane is perfect the compulsive and quirky Annie who is newly adjusting to the news that her college age daughter is a lesbian.

However, the supporting cast in this movie is just as beautifully cast as the main roles you have Maggie Smith, Victor Garber, Marcia Gay Harden, Rob Reiner and more. Everywhere you turn there are actors and entertainment personalities that you see all over television and film. When this movie was put together they spared no chance to put a good recognizable actor in the right role.

I do think that The First Wives Club is a film that can be enjoyed by almost anyone. I also highly recommend it for any girls night in.

Director: Hugh Wilson
Writer: Robert Harling
Brenda Cushman: Bette Midler
Elise Elliot: Goldie Hawn
Annie Paradis: Diane Keaton
Gunilla Garson Goldberg: Maggie Smith
Morton Cushman: Dan Hedaya
Shelly Stewart: Sarah Jessica Parker
Cynthia Swann Griffin: Stockard Channing
Bill Atchison: Victor Garber
Aaron Paradis: Stephen Collins
Phoebe: Elizabeth Berkley
Dr. Rosen: Marcia Gay Harden
Duarto Feliz: Bronson Pinchot
Brett Artounian: Timothy Olyphant

Brenda: My Morty becomes this big shot on T.V... He was selling electronics, right? On our 20th wedding anniversary it hits midlife crisis major. He starts working out, he, he grows a moustache, he gets an earring. I said, "Morty, Morty, what are you? A pirate? what's next? A parrot?" And all of a sudden I'm a big drag. I'm holding him back because I won't go rollerblading.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an epic sized tale about the life of Benjamin Button, a man that was born an old baby and aged backwards. That’s seriously all I can say about the plot of Benjamin Button, not because I didn’t like it or because I’ll spoil something but because there is really not a lot else to say about the film. Benjamin Button lives his life just like everyone else, except that he ages in reverse; he doesn’t do anything different than any film character you’ve seen before do except age in reverse of the natural order.

I am not trying to be harsh on the film, but I went in expecting something new and brilliant and got Big Fish only an hour longer and without the fantastical aspects. I am disappointed because where I enjoyed seeing Tim Burton break out of his box, there was nothing stale with David Fincher’s style that made him breaking out of his box refreshing. I also feel that the trailers and the actual movie make you feel like there is some large purpose or point behind The Curious Case of Benjamin Button but in the end there was a lot of build up but no pay off, no greater lesson the character learned and wanted to impart on you. I feel like this was the dramatic equivalent of a summer movie – while all the story was nice, and the performances wonderful people really just wanted to see the special effects. I do suppose that’s a valid reason to see it simply because the effects and visuals of the film are stunning, Fincher really does know how to compose a dynamic shot and make a gorgeous movie.

One of the things I didn’t like about the digital effects was the aging of Cate Blanchett, and oddly enough I am not complaining about the effects to make her look older but the ones to make her look younger. When they make her look in her 20’s to me she looks so digitally touched she is practically glowing. This may have been what Fincher was going for but personally I found it distracting.

I was going to mention how much I enjoyed Brad Pitt playing Benjamin at so many ages, but I just checked IMDB and about 5 people played Benjamin before Brad Pitt comes into the film so I must applaud the special effects there (because I couldn’t tell) and yet now I feel I can’t give Brad Pitt the kudos I thought he deserved.

I also think that some of my problems with the film might have been eliminated if they took one more pass in the editing room – I honestly think everything in the present time line could have been dropped and done with voiceovers and made the film’s story pack more of a punch, but I do understand Fincher’s desire to keep what he shot. However, every time the film cut back to the present I did feel that the flashbacks lost a little of their dramatic punch and this could have led to me thinking that the film built up a lot of expectations that it didn’t fulfill.

I don’t mean to come down too harshly on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I did like the movie, think it was well made, and find the story adorable. I merely think that there is an air of pretension behind the film that it would be better without.

Director: David Fincher
Writer: Eric Roth
Daisy: Cate Blanchett
Benjamin Button: Brad Pitt
Thomas Button: Jason Flemyng
Queenie: Taraji P. Henson
Captain Mike: Jared Harris
Elizabeth Abbott: Tilda Swinton

Benjamin Button: I was thinking how nothing last, and what a shame that is.
Daisy: Some things last.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

In my opinion Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is by far the better of the two Harry Potter films directed by Chris Columbus. Part of this is because the story is designed in such a say that Columbus cannot ignore the deeper and darker elements behind the story. In their second year at Hogwarts Harry and friends get begin to finally delve into the darkness that was only alluded to in The Sorcerer’s Stone. However, this is also the Harry Potter film in which Columbus wounded the rest of the franchise.

The new chapter in Harry’s adventures begins when he is home with the Dursley’s and a new character named Dobby appears bidding Harry to not go back to Hogwarts this year as someone will try to kill him. When Uncle Vernon blames some of Dobby’s mischief on Harry he locks Harry into his room and even bars the windows so that he cannot get out by any means. However, the Weasley boys come to Harry’s rescue and with the help of the rest of the Weasley’s he manages to get back to Hogwarts where as Dobby promises bad things start to happen. A rumor begins to spread about the hidden “chamber of secrets” somewhere within the castle that contains a monster that only the heir of Slytherin can control and when students begin to be mysteriously petrified and strange messages appear people begin to try to figure out who the heir of Slytherin really is and of course all fingers begin to point to Harry. We are introduced to Tom Riddle, Azkaban, the Minister of Magic, and the restrictions of Underage Wizardry. This is a very important year in Harry’s life.

There are two major elements in The Chamber of Secrets that Columbus couldn’t ignore and begin to bring out the darker side of Potter’s world – Dobby and the obvious child abuse.

To begin with the topic of child abuse we have Harry’s treatment at the hands of the Dursley’s. In The Sorcerer’s Stone Harry is locked into a cupboard under the Dursley’s staircase as his room, only given hand me downs and verbally disparaged constantly. By year two Harry’s circumstances have only improved superficially; instead of living under the stairs he has Dobby’s second bedroom, but is forced to stay in it without making noise or anything else that would give away his presence and when he angers Uncle Vernon he becomes a prisoner complete with bars on his windows. This is an epic form of child abuse that is allowed by Dumbledore and everyone that loves Harry because of something we find out in a later book, therefore Columbus could not ignore this darker element and instead had to acknowledge it.

One of my favorite characters to come out of Chamber of Secrets is the house elf Dobby. House elves are peculiar creatures and by many wizards they are abused and demeaned as they are a form of slave to many. In fact, the demented part about the house elves – that Columbus had to include – is that when they do something that wrongs their masters they must punish themselves. Dobby himself is an abused house elf and because he keeps defying his masters by warning Harry about emmenent danger he is constant being wounded, once he even mentions ironing his hands in punishment.

The really thing that begins to truly build in The Chamber of Secrets is the single most important element to the entire franchise, the reason behind Voldemort’s reign of terror – the race war within the wizarding world. In reality there is a long standing thought with a certain amount of wizards that you need to be of pure wizard blood to be a true wizard, no muggle lineage in you at all. Voldemort himself was half wizard, half muggle and he viewed the muggle part of himself as weak and so he sought out to destroy the muggles, muggle lovers, and anyone that stood in his way. This war of racial purity is set up in a huge way in the books and only mentioned by the end of the filmed version of Chamber of Secrets. If I have a list of grievances for what Chris Columbus did as a director to the first two Potter films this blasé treatment of the racial issue is number one on this list. As Columbus didn’t do his dillegence in setting up the racial discrimination as he should have the rest of the franchise has been scrambling to somehow explain this to the film viewers and put this racial war back into the film.

In the end both the film and book for Chamber of Secrets proves what I have always said about the Harry Potter series – they are not for children. After The Sorcerer’s Stone the series begins to take on much more adult themes and disturbing circumstances, and as such I do think the Harry Potter films should be viewed with caution for children and parents should not just assume they are suitable for children of any age. Chamber of Secrets is perhaps the last Harry Potter film I would let any child under at lease 11 see, at least if they were my child.

Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Steve Kloves
Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger: Emma Watson
Professor Dumbledore: Richard Harris
Professor McGonagall: Maggie Smith
Hagrid: Robbie Coltrane
Aunt Petunia: Fiona Shaw
Dudley: Harry Melling
Uncle Vernon: Richard Griffiths
Molly Weasley: Julie Walters
Percy Weasley: Chris Rankin
Fred Weasley: James Phelps
George Weasley: Oliver Phelps
Draco Malfoy: Tom Felton
Professor Snape: Alan Rickman
Dobby: Toby Jones
Gilderoy Lockhart: Kenneth Branagh
Moaning Myrtle: Shirley Henderson
Tom Riddle: Christian Coulson

Harry: What's a mudblood?
Hermione: It means dirty blood. Mudblood's a really foul name for someone who's muggle born. Someone with non-magic parents. Someone like me. It's not a term one usually hears in civilized conversation.
Hagrid: See the thing is, Harry, there are some wizards, like the Malfoy family, who think they're better than others because they're what people call "pure blood."
Harry: That's horrible!
Ron: It's disgusting.
Hagrid: And it's codswallop to boot. "Dirty blood." Why, there isn't a wizard alive today who's not half-blood or less. More to the point, they've yet to think of a spell that our Hermione can't do. Don't you think on it, Hermione. Don't you think on it for one minute.

Little Women

The story of Little Women has been told for generations about the March family, husband and wife blessed with four daughters as different as can be: Meg the perfect Victorian beauty, Jo the imaginative tom boy, Beth the sickly sister with a giant heart, and Amy the youngest sister who desires wealth and society. The four sisters grow up, meet men and their lives and relationships change forever both by their actions and the changing climates around them.

The sad part is I only have one hang-up with the story of Little Women both in regards to the book and the movie. It infuriates and mystifies me that Jo rejects Laurie when he proposes marriage to her; even before I was a Bale fan this act confused me. To this day I don’t understand why Jo does this when the two characters are so perfect for each other from a narrative stand point. This is the only point where I have to stand back and realize that in the end Little Women is a novel loosely based on Louisa May Alcott’s own life – so I guess she rejected the real life Laurie too.

I really appreciate the subtle hand Gillian Armstrong uses in her treatment of Little Women. Armstrong has an eye for the rhythm of Victorian life in a way that most directors might not, and I have to imagine that being a woman gave Armstrong an extra ability to empathize with the titular women and really be able to delve into the trials and joys of their lives without seeming to demean or cheapen them.

Eventually, I will have to do what I’ve never been able to do and read the novel that this movie is based on…and track the ancient film version down where the actresses are actually wearing hoop skirts and clothing strange to the era.

Director: Gillian Armstrong
Writer: Robin Swicord
Jo March: Winona Ryder
Friedrich Bhaer: Gabriel Byrne
Meg March: Trini Alvarado
Older Amy March: Samantha Mathis
Younger Amy March: Kirsten Dunst
Beth March: Claire Danes
Laurie: Christian Bale
John Brooke: Eric Stoltz
”Marmee” March: Susan Sarandon

Amy: Do you love Laurie more than you love me?
Jo: Don't be silly! I could never love anyone more than I love my sisters.

Friday, January 2, 2009

When Harry Met Sally

If all romantic comedies were as good as When Harry Met Sally I would not hold the disdain for the genre as I do. However, very few movies – romantic comedy or not – can grasp the level of quality and comedy that When Harry Met Sally has.

Harry Burns and Sally Albright meet right after college when Sally’s friend Amanda gets Sally to agree to let her boyfriend Harry drive to New York with Sally. The two dislike each other because Harry has a very dark view of life that Sally cannot appreciate and Harry cannot understand the rose colored view that Sally has. A few years later the two meet again on a flight and butt heads when Harry again reminds Sally of his initial theory that women and men can’t be friends, he also announces to a very shocked Sally that he is about to be married. They to part ways after departing the plane and don’t meet again until a few years later when Harry is getting divorced and Sally had just broken up with her long term boyfriend. This time Harry and Sally recognize the unique spirit in each other and forge a strong friendship that has all of their friends pushing for the two of them to get together, but Harry and Sally insist that they are the only members of the opposite sex that do not see each other in a sexual way. This of course is eventually what changes, altering their relationship and their lives forever.

The star of this movie for me is the writing of Nora Ephron. These characters so perfectly represent a natural character arch for their genders that you can believe they’ve aged eleven years in the two hour time span that the movie takes place in. I know that When Harry Met Sally was a partnership between the lead actors, Rob Reiner and Ephron but her track record proves that she again and again writes great films that people want to see. Her dialogue is simply so good that you will be quoting lines like “you made a woman meow” for years to come.

As a testimony of Ephron’s great writing is the scene at the deli in this movie. Even if you haven’t seen When Harry Met Sally you have seen the clip somewhere of Sally performing a fake orgasm for Harry at lunch, followed by an older woman telling the waiter “I’ll have what she’s having”.

I also adore the faux documentary sections that are used as a device between sections of the film. In these documentary clips an old couple sits and tells their love story – the story of how they met and got married. What is most fun about these clips is that they are real love stories – just not told by the actual couple. Evidently, Reiner and Ephron wanted to have the stories told by the real couples but as couples do they just couldn’t be concise or stay on topic, and so they decided to take the stories but get actors to tell them. The device is charming and one of the funniest things about the movie.

This is one of my favorite movies and it brought me into awareness that you can have an “odd” pairing of actors, or crazy situations and as long as you have the right actors in the part and the right people behind the scenes it will all work. This movie is timeless because the people making it took every opportunity to take the effort and craft When Harry Met Sally into a complete and perfect movie.

Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: Nora Ephron
Harry Burns: Billy Crystal
Sally Albright: Meg Ryan
Marie: Carrie Fisher
Jess: Bruno Kirby

Marie: All I'm saying is that somewhere out there is the man you are supposed to marry. And if you don't get him first, somebody else will, and you'll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that somebody else is married to your husband.

Iron Man

Iron Man
Originally uploaded by anglekyra1
I think it is fitting that I ended my 2008 and began my 2009 with Iron Man. I cannot make a resolution to watch this movie less because I think that it is a perfectly crafted piece of cinema and I can learn from it endlessly. Honestly, this along with The Usual Suspects goes on the list of movies that I want to do a shot-by-shot shot list of so I can study how they are constructed.

One of my favorite little flourishes in this movie is Jarvis, Tony Starks “home computer” who is voiced by none other than the phenomenal Paul Bettany. This piece of hardware has its own personality and while is nowhere near as cool as Michael Caine’s Alfred, Jarvis is a close second. Jarvis is a cheeky machine who very nearly talks back to Stark and definitely likes to remind Stark of his rash decisions and past mistakes. If bodiless character were not imbued with the personality and voice of Paul Bettany it might be an annoying character instead of a great little piece of witty banter and comic relief when needed.

I’ll try not to watch this movie again for at least a few weeks but no promises. When you enjoy a movie so thoroughly you can’t help but to keep watching it.

Tony Stark: A little ostentatious, don't you think?
Jarvis: What was I thinking? You're usually so discreet.
Tony Stark: Tell you what. Throw a little hotrod red in there.
Jarvis: Yes, that should help you keep a low profile.

The Pick-Up Artist

The second on the list of films I watched New Year’s Eve was a netflix rental of something I had never seen and only vaguely heard of, it was a movie called The Pick-Up Artist starring Robert Downey Jr. and Molly Ringwald.

The Pick-Up Artist isn’t so much a description of the story as the main character Jack Jericho in a nutshell. Jack is a ladies man who actually practices pick-up lines in the mirror and prides himself on his ability to score beautiful women. He keeps track of them on a piece of notebook paper he carries in his back pocket. One day Jack hits on Randy and they have a tryst, when she later blows him off Jack becomes obsessed with tracking down Randy and proving to her that he is the man for her.

I am really glad the trailer for the film is on the DVD because I got to see just how great the false advertising was. This movie is billed as a romantic comedy between Ringwald and Downey but in reality it’s a convoluted love story that involves Dennis Hopper as Randy’s drunk father who owes money to the mob and Randy attempting to pay off his debt.

Seeing Downey in this movie was a kick. This movie was down before he added the Jr. to his name and he couldn’t be more than about twenty. Perhaps it is merely the pure youthfulness that surrounded him in this movie, but he almost seemed to not be able to fit into the chauvinistic role he was written. He is still just as darn entertaining to watch as ever, even in a mediocre movie.

In the end I really didn’t enjoy The Pick-Up Artist as a movie. I did think it was merely entertaining just because the film itself was so strange; once we were half way through the movie we had to keep watching just because we couldn’t figure out where the film was going or what absurd means it would take to get there. I watched this film start to finish and there are still plot points that I don’t understand, but I think that this is what happens when you watch a cheesy melodrama from 1987.

Director & Writer: James Toback
Jack Jericho: Robert Downey Jr.
Randy Jensen: Molly Ringwald
Flash Jensen: Dennis Hopper
Phil Harper: Danny Aiello
Alonzo Scolara: Harvey Keitel

Jack Jericho: Did anyone ever tell you you're too good to be true?
Randy Jensen: No only that I'm too truthful to be good.

Tropic Thunder

I know I said I was going to break my streak of watching Robert Downey Jr. movies, and I intended to watch more non-Downey movies than just one, but on New Year's Eve my best friend and I had a movie marathon and we ended up (at her suggesting and my lack of argument) watching three Downey movies. I swear I will watch more than one next time that doesn't have Downey in it.

I don’t think I will stop laughing at Tropic Thunder ever. This movie truly is one of the single funniest movies I have ever seen. I know I have a love of movies about movies and Robert Downey Jr., but I think even without that I would adore this movie – from the moment the film starts it has me in stitches over Booty Sweat, Scorcher, Satan’s Alley & Fatties and it doesn’t stop when the real story begins. Tropic Thunder is full of little surprises that just get better every time you see them.

I grew up idolizing Tom Cruise and his turn as Les Grossman a in charge studio executive has me more than hopeful that Tom is headed back to be the happy-go-lucky good guy & talented actor that he is and not the crazy nut bag in the media that he’s become. From the moment Les Grossman asks for the Key Grip to his offer to Peck Tom plays an egotistical studio head perfectly and goes toe to toe nearly stealing the show from the boys. That is quite a feat as Stiller, Downey & Black are each amazing and hysterical characters all on their own.

This movie will get watched many, many times by me. I am exceedingly happy both Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. have been recognized for their performances in this movie which is sure to become a cherished cinematic gem.

Les Grossman: Which one of you f--kfaces is Damien Cockburn?
Damien Cockburn: Uh, that's me, sir. It's an honor to finally meet you. Get some face time.
Les Grossman: And who here is the key grip? You? You! Hit that director in the face, really f--king hard!