Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Coraline

Coraline Jones has just moved to a new house and left all of her friends behind. As if living in the pink house weren’t enough, her parents are ignoring her and the grandson of the pink house’s owner Wybie claims that his grandmother won’t ever let children live in the pink house because of what happened to his grandmother’s twin sister. Unconvinced of a real horror story, Coraline soon finds a secret door in the pink house that leads to another world. A world with her other mother, other father and where she is not only important to them, but everything revolves around her. It isn’t until her other mother starts to scare Coraline that she realizes perhaps this other world isn’t quite what she thought it was.

Don’t let the fact that Coraline is an animated film fool you – this is a hard core children’s horror film. If I had seen this film as a child I would have been more than freaked out – the blender scene in Goonies gave me nightmares, so I can’t imagine what the freaky other mother would have done to my head. This is a film where the main character is antagonized, put in danger and faces death multiple times and as if that weren’t scary enough it’s death at the hands of a monster who steals eyes and sew buttons in their place, and sews peoples smiles in place when they make her mad.

I understand that to make the premise of Coraline work, for her to be interested in an alternate reality Coraline’s parents have got to be vacant and neglectful. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was how downright mean Coraline’s mother was in the film. She is an awful, awful mother who should have her child taken away. At one point when Coraline asks her a question she literally tells her daughter “If I do this will you leave me alone?” Her father isn’t much better, though he’s presented as more of a absent-minded neglectful father instead of a downright mean one. I was almost rooting for the other mother/Beldam to kill Coraline’s parents just so they’d be out of Coraline’s life. I don’t know how terrible the parents in Neil Gaiman’s book were, but it was incredibly hard to see them as sympathetic characters whom their daughter should eventually care about saving.

Henry Selick gets the short end of the stick a lot. He’s the man that directed The Nightmare Before Christmas but all anyone considers that is a “Tim Burton Film”. However, now that Coraline has received a best animated film Oscar nomination perhaps Selick will start getting some credit on his own.

Director & Writer: Henry Selick
Coraline Jones: Dakota Fanninf
Mel Jones: Teri Hatcher
The Cat: Keith David
Mr. Bobinky: Ian McShane

Lourdes


Lourdes (2009)
Originally uploaded by Lord_Henry
Unable to take care of herself or move on her own, Christine goes on a group pilgrimage to Lourdes with medical aid not to partake in the religious experience, but to be able to travel. While everyone else on the trip seeks a miracle for their ailments, Christine expects nothing and instead tries to show interest in one of the men on the trip with them. However, no one besides an older companion shows Christine any concern until a miracle does happen and Christine is healed.

Lourdes has made the rounds at Sundance and international film festivals, I was only able to see it by making my way to the City of Angels Film Festival in Los Angeles. While I can’t say that I disliked Lourdes I’m not entirely sure why this film has made it into so many festivals; the film is intriguing, but poorly shot, adequately directed and other than acting, it’s only merits are that it is a not so thinly veiled critique of the faith of the masses.

In order to enjoy this film I had to put my film student hat back on, and literally try to “take notes” on the film as I watched it. Only by piecing things together in that very academic way was I able to get anything out of the movie. What I got out of it was interesting, but not what one would call entertaining and it was a very dry experience compounded by what I found to be very bland, unsure visuals.

What makes Lourdes worth study is that the film is a critique of faith – that is why it was playing at the City of Angels Film Festival. However, I sat through a panel after the film with one film scholar and two priests and listened to them argue that the film was a positive look at miracles and faith; let me tell you Lourdes is anything but. This is a film that thinks faith is a farce propagated by the masses where even the clergy goes through the motions and anything worth being a “miracle” must be quantified and qualified by a third party and only counts if it can be recorded. At one point in the film the priests and soldiers even tell a joke about the Father, Son & Spirit deciding to vacation in Lourdes as they’ve never been there before. In fact the moment Christine’s miracle occurs people begin to immediately doubt and question not only its validity, but why Christine would deserve such a thing. How any one was capable of getting a positive read of religion off this film I will never know.

In the end Lourdes is one in a long line of foreign films that like what happens to Christine, a group of people with similar views will be engaged and excited about the film but only for a short period of time until the shine wears off and something else comes along to distract them.

Director & Writer: Jessica Hausner
Christine: Sylvie Testud

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Repo Men

In a world where inflation has run to the point that the class system is ever more evident, Remy works as a repo man for The Union a company that among many things offers mechanical organs at a high price to those that need a medical solution. If you can’t make your payments, Remy or one of his partners will come and repossess your implant. The problem is Remy never sees this as murder, merely as a business transaction, until he ends up on the receiving end of a transplant. With a new perspective Remy becomes unable to continue being a repo man and ends up running from The Union.

Repo Man is an entertaining movie – entertaining but not great. This has nothing to do with Jude Law, Liev Schreiber or Forest Whitaker but more to do with the fact that this is a film that thinks it’s a Philip K. Dick story – the only one that can pull off a Philip K. Dick idea is Philip K. Dick. The world of Repo Men is a world where dystopia reigns, the government and corporations extort the people and the poor have no option but to run. The entire time I watched this film I felt like it was an homage to Bladerunner but wasn’t aware of it.

Also, whether it was unrelated or not I found it odd that this film follows so closely on the heels of Repo: the Genetic Opera. I have not seen Repo but it’s not every day that films about a future society that collects the organs of people who can’t pay comes out and yet Repo Men comes out only a year after the rock opera…

The great thing about this film was Jude Law. I’ve never really considered myself a die hard fan of Law, but the more I see him in the more I appreciate him. Even though Repo Man falls just short of being a great film, Law is charismatic, entertaining and manages to make Remy into an engaging and sympathetic character. Law is an incredibly talented actor of this Hollywood generation and I look forward to the journey he will take as he continues to expand his resume through the next few years.

I wish I had more to say about Repo Men but honestly, one of the reasons the film stops short of being a great film is that the film itself is a little confusing to figure out – it makes a left when the entire length of the film it tells you it’s making a right – and I’m not sure how I feel about that yet. I mean no disrespect to Miguel Sapochnik, but I almost feel that if the film were in the hands of another director perhaps the feeling of being cheated by the third act and the Philip K. Dick homage would be gone…

Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: Eric Garcia & Garrett Lerner
Remy: Jude Law
Jake: Forest Whitaker
Beth: Alice Braga
Frank: Liev Schreiber

How to Train Your Dragon

Hiccup’s small village has a unique set of pests – dragons. While all of his fellow Vikings train to kill the dragons and stop the m√©nage Hiccup is sidelined because he is viewed as incapable. After one attack Hiccup finds a young dragon stranded in the woods unable to fly away; slowly Hiccup trains the dragon and learns that everything his fellow Vikings know about dragons is wrong, but he is unsure how to show them without endangering his dragon and disappointing the entire village.

How to Train Your Dragon is what a good family film should be. It is a well written, directed and crafted film that aims not just to please the children in the audience but the entire family and delivers a positive message. Hiccup is a very identifiable character for a person of any age; he is a teenager who wants to be recognized for who he is but as he is different from those around him he is instead shunned and made fun of. Through the film Hiccup has to learn to become comfortable with himself and take ownership of who he is – a great message for teens and children.

Above and beyond the fantastic message How to Train Your Dragon holds, the film is simply a joy to watch. I could care less about 3D (though I did see it in 3D), this film is simply an adventure movie from start to finish and doesn’t sacrifice story to do this.

What did shock me a bit about How to Train Your Dragon was the end of the film. I’m not going to give anything away, and I would be interested in knowing if the book ended the same way, but some things happen that I don’t think would normally happen in a children’s film – but these events are also woven in through the bulk of the film. The adolescent characters are Vikings and they are thrown into dangerous and deadly situations for the length of the entire film & characters do get hurt.

The animation and 3D in How to train Your Dragon are stunning. I don’t agree with the ad campaign that boasts the “3D makes even AVATAR jealous”, but seeing this film on the big screen – in any format – would be an experience that cannot be replicated at home no matter how good your television is.

Directors: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
Writer: Dean DeBlois
Hiccup: Jay Baruchel
Stoick: Gerard Butler
Gobber: Craig Ferguson
Astrid: America Ferrera
Snotlout: Jonah Hill
Ruffnut: Kristen Wiig
Tuffnut: TJ Miller

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jurassic Park


Jurassic Park Pic 015
Originally uploaded by Pineapples101
I run the risk of sounding like a giant dork when I say this, but Jurassic Park is one of my favorite Steven Spielberg films ever. I honestly think it’s the first movie that the theatre going experience stuck in my memory, and to this day I remember being scared of the dinosaurs even though I was fascinated; I remember the T-Rex being so loud as he ran after our protagonists that the floor was vibrating and that I tucked my feet under me in my seat because of this.

For anyone that hasn’t seen Jurassic Park you are missing out. It is Spielberg at his blockbuster best. The film is iconic proof that you can make a good adaptation of a great novel, maintain action and suspense without sacrificing character and story and even appeal to kids and adults alike. It has style, great direction and even moved the art of special effects forward.

Jurassic Park is the amusement park of the twentieth century and after an unfortunate accident creator John Hammond needs to get experts in the field to sign off on his park so he can convince his investors to move forward with funding. When archeologists Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler & chaotician Ian Malcolm arrive they are treated to the parks true wonder – Hammond and his scientists have found a way to clone dinosaurs and have them on display in his private island theme park. However, when the Grant, Sattler and Malcolm are sent on a tour of the park with Hammond’s lawyer and grandchildren something goes terribly wrong and the dinosaurs begin to overrun the park and turn the tables on the humans that recreated them.

This plot line is a perfect example of how to stay faithful to the source material yet make it work for film. If you have ever read the novel Jurassic Park is based on I think you will agree that the film is different in a lot of ways, yet somehow a faithful film. What Spielberg and crew managed to do was take all of the wonder, science and human interest from the book to the screen and keep the central dilemma – man vs. nature.

Part of what works so well about the film is that Spielberg made the film to be exactly what it should be – a monster movie. This is a story about science, nature and chaos, but more than anything this is a modern Frankenstein; man became too ambitious and tried to create life and now must deal with what happens when these creatures turn on them. The monsters are scary, but every character knows the events that are occurring are simply the nature of the beast.

I wish that the follow-ups to Jurassic Park were as good as the original, but sadly Spielberg’s first is the crown-jewel of the three film franchise. Even though he directed the second and some pretty cool elements are in there, nothing can hold a candle to the first foray into the world of Jurassic Park.

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writing: Michael Crichton & David Koepp
Dr. Alan Grant: Sam Neill
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Laura Dern
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Jeff Goldblum
John Hammond: Richard Attenborough
Robert Muldoon: Richard Peck
Gennaro: Martin Ferrero
Tim Murphy: Joseph Mazzello
Lex Murphy: Ariana Richards
Ray Arnold: Samuel L. Jackson
Dennis Nedry: Wayne Knight

John Hammond: Dr. Grant... if there's one person here who can appreciate what I'm trying to do.
Dr. Alan Grant: The world is changing so fast, and we're all running to catch up. I don't want to jump to any conclusions, but look. Dinosaurs and man... two species separated by 65 million years of evolution, have suddenly been thrown into the mix together. How can we possibly have the slightest idea of what to expect?
John Hammond: I don't believe it! Hah! I don't believe it! You're supposed to come here and defend me against these characters and the only one I've got on my side is the bloodsucking lawyer!
Gennaro: Thank you.

Supernatural: Season 3


Ghostfacers

Originally uploaded by caitlinlost06
When I realized I wanted to direct, the intention was always for me to direct films not television. That being said, there is a very short list of television shows that I would love to be able to direct a few episodes of and Supernatural is firmly on that list.

I still stand that one of the greatest tragedies ever is that the WGA strike cut season three of Supernatural short. This season is a great season, but at only sixteen episodes there is a lot of threads left hanging, threads that are still playing into the show today. This is one of the best written shows on television and I want to know what the writers would have done with six more episodes.

One of the best things about season three is the episode Ghost Facers which was one of the first after the strike ended and it addressed issues in the strike – reality TV and the necessity of writers – all while pushing the greater plot of Dean’s impending death sentence and the brothers relationship further. The episode centers around Ed & Harry, terribly naive ghost hunters the brothers Winchester encountered in season one, who have now decided to create their own reality TV pilot and accidently drop in on a case the brothers are already working. The bulk of the episode is done as the completed pilot and we see the events unfold as if we were watching their show instead of Supernatural. It’s fantastic. The Ghost Facer’s themselves play into a wonderful joke in season four that I can only imagine was fun for the writers to create after this episode.

If you haven’t seen Supernatural I highly encourage you to start getting the DVD’s and seeing what you’ve missed.

Ed: We know you've had it hard during the crippling writer's strike.
Harry: Lazy fat cats!
Ed: Who needs writers when you've got guys like us?
Ghost Facers

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Serious Man


a serious man
Originally uploaded by mueredecine
Physics professor Larry Gopnik is blindsided by his life; his teenage children want nothing out of him unless it’s the fix the television antenna or kick his brother out of the bathroom, a student is trying to bribe him for a passing grade and his wife has just informed him that she wants a divorce so she can marry their friend Sy Ableman. Confused and overwhelmed Larry turns to his three Rabbi’s hoping that they can shed some light on why all of this is happening in his life.

Joel & Ethan Coen make movies unlike anyone else, A Serious Man is by far one of the most unique cinematic experiences released in 2009. In fact, A Serious Man is a film that can’t simply be watched in one viewing and understood – I am still not sure if I completely understood the film. After watching the Coen’s latest best picture nominee I completely understand why it garnered as much recognition as it did, though it is definitely not a film that appeals to the mass audience.

Part of what I enjoyed so much about A Serious Man was the sense of humor behind it. This is not an obvious comedy, but as with anything the Coen’s make there is a sense of humor running throughout it; it’s unique, a bit twisted and more than anything very personalized to the world of their film. The humor in this film comes from the fact that Larry Gopnik is the victim of a tragic comedy and he is completely unaware of it.

There are many themes running through A Serious Man one of the biggest being action & reaction – parallels in lives and situations. Larry & Sy both wanting to be with Larry’s wife, Larry’s son getting to talk to Rabbi Marshak when Larry is never allowed entry to Marshak’s presence, Larry & Sy’s accidents coinciding on the same day, etc. but this is not the only pattern hidden in the film. This film is filled to the brim with symbolism, reference and the mundane and sorting through it will be something film scholars do for generations yet only the Coens will ever know what the meaning behind A Serious Man truly is.

Directors & Writers: Ethan & Joel Coen
Larry Gopnik: Michael Shuhlbarg
Uncle Arthur: Richard Kind
Sy Ableman: Fred Melamed
Judith Gopnik: Sari Lennick
Danny Gopnik: Aaron Wolff
Sarah Gopnik: Jessica McManus

Larry Gopnik: You understand the dead cat? But... you... you can't really understand the physics without understanding the math. The math tells how it really works. That's the real thing; the stories I give you in class are just illustrative; they're like, fables, say, to help give you a picture. An imperfect model. I mean - even I don't understand the dead cat. The math is how it really works.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

It’s taken me a week to write about Alice in Wonderland because I haven’t been able to process it; I’ve been trying to sort out the actual film from my pre-existing feelings about Tim Burton. Before you start thinking I’m one of those people that has Jack or Sally tattooed on my body or can recite the Beetlejuice chant by heart I am the exact opposite – Tim Burton is a director that I respect but get aggravated by.

Let me explain, I think Tim Burton is a talented director with an incredibly unique visual style. You can’t see a Tim Burton film and not feel his hand all over it. However, that is also my problem with Tim Burton. I think he’s a very one note director that’s all about the visuals and while he gets good performances out of his actors he merely makes the same movie over and over again – dark theme, angry characters, blue/gray visuals, lots of stripes and clouds. The one notable exception to this rule is Big Fish; that movie is far different than anything I’ve ever seen him do and proof that if given the inspiration Burton can think outside his box and do it beautifully. Despite all hope to the contrary, Alice in Wonderland is not Burton thinking outside is box. Burton is fully in his box, and again not trying anything new.

I knew that it was going to end up being the same old Burton film right from the opening shot. The camera panned down a cloudy night sky onto a full moon ringed by clouds and I literally groaned and complained out loud – I have a witness – it’s such a Tim Burton shot, there’s no other way to out it. Alice in Wonderland may have more color and effects than I am used to seeing in a Burton film, but at the end of the credits it’s just the same old Burton gothic film.

The one saving grace to my feelings about Burton and Alice in Wonderland is that I don’t think the film falling flat is all his fault. Throughout the film you are given hints of a darker side of the story, a hints of a romance between Hatter & Alice and other elements that tell you perhaps Burton was trying to go another direction with his reimagined Alice and was prevented from doing so by some higher power, probably for the sake of a PG rating.

Also, there is the fact that Alice herself seems to be going through some kind of emotional change and turmoil through the film that is never actually explained…even though the film thinks it explains it. What I mean is from the moment we first see adult Alice she’s grappling with some very adult issues and is obviously lost in her own life. Through the course of the film everyone keeps talking about how Alice needs to figure out who she is, and Mia Wasikowska does a great job of showing on screen that Alice is going through something, but by the end when Alice seems to have completed her emotional transformation you realize that nothing has happened to actually make Alice go through this character arch. She’s merely been told she needs to become this person and then she does…there is no motivation, no greater plot, no connection between what is happening on screen and her emotional journey – it just happens.

That may in itself be the best way to summarize Alice in Wonderland - it just happens. You spend the first twenty minutes of the film waiting for Alice to get to Wonderland, then you are told exactly what is going to happen in the film and of course then it just happens and credits roll.

Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Linda Woolverton
Alice: Mia Wasikowska
Mad Hatter: Johnny Depp
Red Queen: Helena Bonham Carter
White Queen: Anne Hathaway
Stayne: Crispin Glover
The Tweedles: Matt Lucas
Cheshire Cat: Stephen Fry
White Rabbit: Michael Sheen
Blue Caterpillar: Alan Rickman

Mad Hatter: You were much more... muchier. You've lost your muchiness.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

END Update

I know this site isn't about my film, it's about the films I see but I do have a favor to ask of you all so hopefully I can get closer to not just reviewing films but directing them. My film now has a facebook and twitter. I would love it if you all would please follow us or become a fan!

END Facebook
END Twitter

Thank you all!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Book of Eli


Crewest-Book of ELI047
Originally uploaded by Crewest
I have got to admit that I adore The Book of Eli more each time I see it. I wasn’t planning on seeing it again in the theatre, but some friends wanted to go so I went along for the ride.

With every viewing I become a bigger and bigger fan of Mila Kunis’s character Solara. Even though Eli is the title character the point of the film is truly Solara. This film is nearly a modern Pilgrim’s Progress and Solara is the individual so intrigued that she tags along on the journey, slowly coming to adopt Eli’s faith as her own until the climax of the film when the tables really turn.

What I do love about The Book of Eli is that the treat the faith of Eli and later Solara with subtlety. Eli lets us know early on that God literally speaks to him and they never treat Eli as a freak or a person a few bananas short of a bunch; it’s taken as a serious point in the film and if you really watch you can pick up signs of Eli and Solara hearing from God as the film progresses. If you’ve seen the film and you’re not sure what I mean there is one crucial visual cue I can give you. Before Eli does any major action in the film (choosing which fork of the road to take, how to respond to a threat, etc.) he always takes a beat to pause and looks upward to the heavens…something Solara also starts later in the film. For lack of a better phrase they are receiving directions.

I hope The Book of Eli is released on DVD with a long rambling commentary. I want to know The Hughes Brothers and everyone else’s inspiration and motivation behind making this film.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cop Out

When you hear Kevin Smith is making a film you tend to know what you are going to get. It’ll be a comedy with a heart, but there will be witty writing, biting dialogue and lots of sex and drug jokes – it’s almost his signature. You don’t expect a lot of visual flair, but it will be a well shot movie with actors you enjoy watching and if you are not a person easily offended by language you will walk out of the theatre having enjoyed what you just saw.

It’s for these reasons that I had no idea what to expect out of Cop Out. Every single film Kevin Smith has ever released has been written and directed by Smith, that’s how you can tell it’s a Kevin Smith film – it feels like him on every level. Cop Out is completely different; it’s scripted by Robb & Mark Cullen and only directed by Smith - Cop Out doesn’t look or sound like a Kevin Smith film. I was excited to see the film but I wasn’t sure what any of this would mean…I was surprised. I really liked Cop Out.

Cop Out is not my favorite Kevin Smith film, I have a feeling Mallrats will always be that film for me, but not only did I enjoy Cop Out as a comedy I enjoyed it for its visual style.

The thing about Kevin Smith films is that he tends to be so much about the writing that while his films look good, the camera just tends to stay in one location and let the actors move around it. His writing has consistently gotten stronger and matured with every film he’s put out but the only difference in his visuals seemed to be his budget…and then Clerks II came out. For the first time ever I saw a camera move in one of his films and let me tell you I adore that shot, not because it’s “Kevin’s first dolly move” but because I think it was a spectacular looking shot that was well placed, used perfectly and was vibrant. I have yet to see Zach & Miri to see if he kept up his visual evolution there, but it’s all over Cop Out.

The camera work and cinematography was one of my favorite parts of Cop Out; while Smith may not have made a film quite like Hot Fuzz or Shawn of the Dead, Cop Out is a loving homage to the police action film and Smith uses direct shot styles from films like Bad Boys to get that across on screen. It was subtle and wonderful to watch.

I had so much fun watching Smith try something new and the chemistry between Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis there wasn’t any way I could walk out of this movie unhappy. I commend Kevin Smith for making this and I can’t wait to see what he tries next!

Director: Kevin Smith
Writers: Robb Cullen & Mark Cullen
Jimmy Monroe: Bruce Willis
Paul Hodges: Tracy Morgan
Raul: Juan Carlos Hernandez
Hunsaker: Kevin Pollak
Barry Mangold: Adam Brody
Ava: Michelle Trachtenberg
Roy: Jason Lee
Debbie: Rashida Jones
Dave: Seann William Scott