Friday, April 23, 2010

The Ugly Truth

Two weeks ago Netflix sent me a nice little e-mail saying they’d finally partnered with Nintendo and created a disc that allows you to stream instantly from your Wii. After I was done doing my own dance of joy I clicked “send me the disc” and have been in love ever since. I now get to stream Netflix titles over my beautiful TV instead of my tiny computer screen!!!

Now that my geek is showing, one of the first movies I streamed was The Ugly Truth. While I don’t think this film is quite to the caliber of When Harry Met Sally, I enjoy it because it took the time to actually develop a plot and characters instead of just running into clich├ęd romantic comedy scenarios. Don’t get me wrong, you can pretty much predict the ending of the movie from the get go, but what I am saying is that despite this The Ugly Truth is genuinely funny and enjoyable to watch.

The only part of this film that is a somewhat genuine issue for me is the last 10 or so minutes. We’ve already figured out at this point that our lead characters are going to end up together (I don’t consider this a spoiler because come on, did you really think it’d be a romantic comedy without the leads hooking up?) but something about the way it happens seems sudden and tacked on to me. Katherine Heigl & Gerard Butler have enough chemistry and wit that they pull it off, but it still seems rushed. It’s almost as though since the writer knew it was a romantic comedy and they’d end up together in the last scenes he concentrated on making the buildup convincing and well rounded and then petered out in the last twenty pages.

The bottom line is this movie is cute and the actors and director bring wit and chemistry to the screen. That’s all you want in a good romantic comedy, and The Ugly Truth has enough other pluses along with it that you really enjoy being along for the ride.

Abby: I love how you think every man is as perverse as you are.
Mike: Oh, I don't think. I know.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Big Lebowski


All Hail The Big Lebowski
Originally uploaded by cote
The Big Lebowski is exactly what the brothers Coen do best – a quirky film about morons. And what is The Dude if not a loveable moron? Set during the Golf War, The Big Lebowski is started by a tale of mistaken identity, that leads our main character into the role of armature gumshoe when the “big” Lebowski’s wife disappears and all The Dude wants is to get paid and bowl.

Robert Altman may have made movies that were about nothing in the sense that they were a slice of his characters life, but the it’s the Coen’s that have truly mastered the art of making films about nothing and The Big Lebowski is a classic example of this. A great many things occur in The Big Lebowski and yet a traditional, filmic plot never appears; in fact, evey event that should be a ground breaking plot point simply fizzles out and turns out to be less than important to the film as a whole. It’s beautiful, brilliant, hilarious and surprisingly hard to do well.

In a career or brilliant films and characters, Jeff Bridges fits The Dude perfectly. He is a joy to watch and after seeing him at awards shows for Crazy Heart I am pretty sure that one of the reasons The Dude seems so authentic is because Bridges is really that laid back and relaxed.

As amazing as The Dude is, for me Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) stole the show. Walter is The Dude’s best friend and a Vietnam War vet who wants to relate everything back to his time in Nam. He is loud, bostrious, angry and everything that you want a crazy Coen character to be. The only reason Goodman doesn’t steal Bridges’s scenes is because the Coen’s manage to raise the two consistently to the level of the other, playing off each other beautifully to create part of the magic of the world of The Big Lebowski.

Along with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, The Big Lebowski might hold some of my favorite narration in a film – ever. For no apparent reason the film is narrated by a cowboy patron of the bar at the bowling alley in the film, and he’s a narrator that looses his train of thought and admires The Dude for no other reason than he admires his style. It’s a fantastic way to open and close the film, rivaling the FBI officials in Burn After Reading.

The Big Lebowski is a cult classic for a reason. If like me, you’re a Coen fan that hasn’t seen it I highly recommend changing that. I did.

Directed & Written By: Joel & Ethan Coen
Jeffrey Lebowski/The Dude: Jeff Bridges
Walter Sobchak: John Goodman
Maude Lebowski: Julianne Moore
Donny: Steve Buscemi
Jeffrey Lebowski/The Big LEbowski: David Huddleston
Brandt: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Bunny Lebowski: Tara Reid

The Dude: And, you know, he's got emotional problems, man.
Walter Sobchak: You mean... beyond pacifism?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kick Ass


Kick-Ass - Character Poster
Originally uploaded by Lionsgate1
There are a great many people that are going to find Kick Ass morally reprehensible. I am not one. To the people that do find this film reprehensible I say that you don’t know your comics very well.

Kick Ass may be a film that bases its story in a realistic landscape and has average Joe’s take on the job of super hero to fight the bad guy and gory, realistic mayhem follows this act; however, just as the geeks in the film feel the need to introduce the chicks they like to comic books, I feel the need to point out to these critics of Kick Ass the history of comics as well.

The biggest point I want to make to critics is that the characters in Kick Ass aren’t new. They may be more human than we are used to seeing the leads in a “comic book film”, but they are characters that anyone with a TV, or that goes to the movies has already seen and probably enjoyed in another form and in most cases Kick Ass doesn’t even hide these references from you in the film – in fact what makes this film a piece of pastiche brilliance is that it pushes those references right in front of you – the characters even mention it.

Let’s start with the main character himself – Kick Ass. The real Kick Ass is a high school student, a bit of a dork, who lives in New York and is in love with a girl at school who doesn’t know he exists and eventually decides to fight back against the horrible actions he sees around him. Who does that sound like? Oh yeah, Peter Parker a.k.a. Spiderman. The Spiderman films are some of the highest grossing of all time and I don’t recall anyone ever calling Peter Parker or his actions reprehensible. It must be because there was a radioactive spider involved.

Yet most of the controversy is not over the main character in Kick Ass, it’s all about Hit Girl. Hit Girl is an eleven year old girl who has been trained by her super hero father Big Daddy to follow in his footsteps. Hit Girl kicks more ass than anyone in the film and does it gleefully; she knows her hand guns, knives, smoke bombs, grenades and hand to hand combat. This is a girl the Spartans would have been proud of. Before you ramble on about how terrible it is to see a kid kill bad guys and get beat down I have one name to give you – Robin.

Not only is Hit Girl daughter to Big Daddy, a character everyone in the film compares to Batman, but for many of you that lack the history of Robin let me fill you in. There’s been more than one Robin in the comic books and rarely was he ever as old or manly as Chris O’Donnell. There’s a reason “The Boy Wonder” became Robin’s nickname – he was a child. The first Robin was ten years old, and most Robin’s (there’s been about four) get their butts kicked and two died terrible deaths at the hands of villains. Morally reprehensible much?

I’m not even going to get into who Red Mist’s comic counterpart is at this point because that would be spoilery and the majority of people haven’t seen this film yet. But let’s safely say that I think he exists in the Marvel universe, not the DC. If you don’t know the difference between those two universe’s then you’re probably one of the people that’s going to find this film morally reprehensible.

I hope that Kick Ass helps dispel the myth that comic books and their films are suitable for children. Children everywhere might be familiar with Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man and even a few of the more lesser known comic characters, but if you ever bothered to pick up an issue of one of their books or a trade paperback you’d soon realize that their stories are not made for children. Batman has his back broken by Bane & nearly dies, Iron Man slowly looses himself to alcohol, Spiderman accidently kills Gwen Stacey & yes, Superman dies.

These are not stories intended for a young child to read just as the R rating in Kick Ass tells you that this is not a movie you should send your six year old to. As with anything in the media the filmmakers and artists expect you to be responsible – be the guardian of your mind and the mind of your child. You have a sixteen year old that you think can handle the film, great – go with them. You have a ten year old that wants to see the cool girl with the purple hair – use your judgment and parent.

I saw Terminator 2 in the theatre and I read the entire Death of Superman as a child but you know why I don’t think I can be shot in the chest and survive? Because my parents walked through fiction with me and explained what fiction meant.

I need to say that I loved Kick Ass. I think it’s a brilliant film, a good character study and one heck of an entertaining movie to watch. I found these characters fascinating and I would love to see if there ends up being a follow up because Dave Lizewski is right – with all those comics and stories out there you’d think someone would have tried to be a super hero by now. With Kick Ass we get to see what that might be like through a safe, fictional pastiche, knowing that in the end no humans, or little girls were harmed in the making of this film.

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Kick Ass/Dave Lizewski: Aaron Johnson
Marty: Clark Duke
Todd: Evan Peters
Katie: Lyndsy Fonseca
Red Mist/Chris C’Amico: Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Frank D’Amico: Mark Strong
Hit Girl/Mindy Macready: Chloe Moretz
Big Daddy/Damon Macready: Nicholas Cage

Dave Lizewski: With no power comes no responsibility.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Surprise


kickass_hitgirl
Originally uploaded by StellaCotton
For once I am not behind in my reviewing! I am behind in my watching. As hard as it is to believe I haven't watched much lately which I attribute to the fact that I am training for a half-marathon.

However, I am seeing Kick Ass tonight and that should start a trend again.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

One of the best things about my love affair with the movies is that I can see a movie more than once and get something different out of it every time. The movie can take on a new meaning, inspire me, force me out of a funk or just relax me for the night. I watched A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints this week and this time this film has inspired me in a way that makes me want to start making another film.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I love this film so much, or why I find it uplifting instead of saddening, but I do. When I watch A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints I know this summer in Dito’s life was traumatic and horrible, but watching the film you know that it was actually transforming, it was something that made him who he is today and he can’t escape that which is why the last line of narration in the film is so damn important – “In the end – just like I said – I left everything, and everyone. But no one, no one has ever left me.”

For me, everything I love about this film actually goes back to the style inherent in the film. It’s incredibly unique and that’s why I find it so inspiring. From the music choices, editing style, actors chosen, time line and narration of the film every element in this film works together perfectly to give you a snapshot of a summer and a man, and the style gives it a clear insight into what he must really be like and who he’s become.

The fascinating thing about A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, at least for a film intellectual like me, is the perspective of the film. Dito Montiel is played as an adult by Robert Downy Jr, and as a teen by Shia LeBouf; it’s about the summer that changed his life and that he ends up writing a book about as an adult and comes back to visit his neighborhood. However, Dito Montiel is also a real person, not just any person but the man who wrote and directed the film and actually wrote a book about these events in his life called A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. This might be one of the most autobiographical films I’ve seen in a long time and I can only imagine how unique an experience it had to have been for Montiel to put it on screen himself.

Right now A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is making me wonder if there is anything in my life, stylized or not, that would be just as entertaining to watch and as healing to put from page to screen. I don’t know the answer to that, but you can bet I will be thinking about that. I can’t imagine what that would be like as an artist to have something I can put out there that’s so literally personal, and how freeing it might be.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New Moon


New New Moon HQ Stills!
Originally uploaded by Luuuucia:)
New Moon is a much better movie than its predecessor. Just because I say that please do not assume that I liked New Moon.

If you remember my blogs about Twilight I ended up seeing it multiple times because to this day I think it’s so poorly made and directed that I can learn an immense amount from it. I disliked the film so intensely that I couldn’t stand to support New Moon in the theatre simply because I couldn’t fathom sitting through two more hours of a poorly crafted world, but I wanted to see it so that I could see the results of putting an entirely new team behind the franchise.

I am happy to say that unlike Twilight I no longer cringed at poor directorial choices or groaned in agony when the camera swayed around like mad and took you away from the characters at dramatic moments; Chris Weitz didn’t do any of that. However, since Hardwicke’s flailing directorial style was taken away and replaced with a visual look and craftsmanship that didn’t repulse me, I was able to see a whole new set of problems.

I will admit that I have read the book series that the films are based on and until Breaking Dawn I was even a fan of them. In the books Bella has always managed to be a delicate yet strong willed character and while I think Kristen Stewart is a decent actress with a bad public presence, Twilight and the mania surrounding it didn’t leave me room to see anything in her or Bella. With New Moon both Kristen Stewart and Bella became a lot more clear. Kristen Stewart, if she could drop the attitude and angry/snobbish public persona could eventually be an accomplished actress; however, Bella translates incredibly weakly from page to screen in a way that I don’t think Stewart has anything to do with. Onscreen Bella practically fades into the background and seems to do nothing out of her own will or desire, she simply seems to do things because it’s written that way. Stewart displays some decent acting chops allowing Bella to fall apart in New Moon but if that weren’t clumsily written in via voiceover the audience would merely think Bella was too tired to do anything but sit, her internal struggle and anguish is never allowed to bubble or surface and therefore Bella never changes. A band-aid is merely placed on her pain by the end of the film because the climax must come to get to movie three.

With my next sentence it is quite possible that I will enrage every Twihard on the face of the planet. Having seen New Moon without the distraction of Catherine Hardwicke I am now of the opinion that Robert Pattinson was horrifically miscast as Edward Cullen. I don’t know if Pattinson can act, plain and simple. The only other film I’ve seen him in is Goblet of Fire and that is not enough to see if he has some acting chops, but speaking strictly on the merits of his performance in the Twilight Saga I can say that he is a bad Edward Cullen. Not only do I think he lacks the charisma and beauty attributed to Edward in the books, but I spent most of the movie desperately wanting him to emote. I do believe Pattinson was trying to show Edwards inward war with himself, but instead he spent most of the movie looking tense and slouched over. I literally at one point found myself wishing Chris Weitz had told him to stop channeling a pre-Out of Sight George Clooney, tilt up his head and relax his jaw. I know the gold contacts probably inhibit some of the emotion that we all show in our eyes from coming across on film, but it was as if his entire face had been shot with Novocain and couldn’t move for most of the film –and when he did finally try to give a different emotion near the end of the film it felt so wholly out of place that it was almost creepy.

My final complaint about New Moon is one due to the time and budget spent on the film. The special effects are awful. This is what fast and cheap look like. The reason movies like Iron Man take two years to pump out a sequel is because they know post production is going to be key to making the events of the film believable – to make a man in an iron suit fly you need ILM, Stan Winston and a hearty amount of time for post. New Moon was pre-production to release in about a year…this schedule means you have to make some sacrifices, and while the effects are much better than the effects in Twilight the werewolves alone look utterly computer animated and unfinished. They sacrificed craftsmanship for a release date.

After brow-beating the film like I have I actually need to give Chris Weitz a shout out. Thank you, thank you, thank you for getting rid of the Tikerbell-esque sparkle sound effect. If that had stuck around I might have thrown something at my tv and it’s too pretty to damage.

Even though I am interested to see what it will look like for a franchise to yet again switch horses mid-stream and push out an effects picture far too quickly I won’t be able to see Eclipse in the theatre. The Twihards might kill me…that is if they don’t kill David Slade first. There’s rumors going around that he actually treated Eclipse like a real horror movie and this guy has the legitimate style and savy that could manage to make Eclipse into a real movie, which isn’t really what the Twihards are looking for.

Director: Chris Weitz
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg
Bella Swan: Kristen Stewart
Jacob Black: Taylor Lautner
Edward Cullen: Robert Parrinson
Charlie Swan: Billy Burke
Jessica: Anna Kendrick
Jasper Hale: Jackson Rathbone
Charlisle Cullen: Peter Facinelli
Victoria: Rachelle Lefecre
Esme Cullen: Elizabth Reaser
Emmet Cullen: Kellan Lutz
Rosalie Hale: Nikki Reed
Alice Cullen: Ashley Greene
Jane: Dakota Fanning

Bella Swan: Alice, is it possible that everything's true? The fairy tales and horror stories? Is it possible that there isn't anything sane and
normal at all?

Casablanca

At the height of the German occupation in Europe Casablanca is one of the last places its citizens can flee from – for a price. One of the seedy hot spots in Casablanca is Rick’s a bar owned by a mysterious ex-patriot who is careful to mind his own business in Casablanca until fugitive resistance leader Victor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa flee to Casablanca. Ilsa and Rick had once been in love before the German occupation of France and Ilsa and Rick fight to repress their feelings for one another while she urges him to once again fight against the Germans.

Believe it or not Casablanca is a hard movie to break down, there’s just far too much in it. Just trying to define the genre Casablanca lands in is hard enough; it’s a romance, a film noir, a war film, and a drama all wrapped into one.

I’ve seen Casablanca a few times and there is no doubt that this film is an incredibly influential one that has remained an example of a fantastic film for the better part of a century, but it has managed to influence generations of films that followed it. I know that I can inadvertently thank Michael Curtiz for inspiring Christopher McQuarie & Bryan Singer to bring me The Usual Suspects but watching the film again I was struck with how big of an influence this film was on Star Wars. If you can’t picture a 1940’s war film as having anything to do with the 1970’s science fiction epic I will lay out the parallels for you.

Rick’s: Rick’s bar is undoubtedly the inspiration for the Mos Eisley Cantina, right down to the musicians, and nefarious criminals, smugglers and black market deals that go down. Everyone knows you go to Rick’s to have a few drinks and meet the connections you need to outwit the Germans – just like Luke & Obi Wan go to the Cantina to meet Han and make their way secretly pas the Empire.
The German’s: Parallel’s have always been made between the Germans & storm troopers. In Casablanca they’ve just arrived in town and are making it harder for the residents to flee. In Star Wars the storm troopers are a major presence in Mos Eisley and are screening everyone that flows through the city.
Ilsa: Ilsa is the wife of a resistance fighter who believes in his cause. She knows Rick once fought against the Empire…er Germans…and so she spends the film urging him to rejoin the fray. In Star Wars Leia spends the bulk of the film attempting to convince Han that he shouldn’t be the smuggler he is, but instead he should join her in the fight against the Empire…and just like Ilsa she succeeds.
The Music: I’m no musician but there were a few moments in the score for Casablanca that I swore I heard John Williams and pieces of the Star Wars theme. I could be wrong…but I’ve been watching Star Wars since there were only three films…

There’s a few more parallels I could draw but for the sake of having something else to write about later, and not boring you all I will stop there. If you’re a fan of the original Star Wars I think it would be a fun experiment to watch Casablanca and see if you can pick up on anything I mentioned and didn’t mention here. I’d love to know your thoughts or even what other films you think were directly influenced by Casablanca.

Director: Michael Curtiz
Writers: Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein
Rick Blaine: Humphrey Bogart
Ilsa Lund: Ingrid Bergman
Victor Laszlo: Paul Henreid
Cpt. Renault: Claude Rains
Ugarte: Peter Lorre
Sam: Dooley Wilson

Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I'm a drunkard.
Captain Renault: That makes Rick a citizen of the world.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Clash of the Titans

Found floating in the sea as a baby, Perseus has spent his life wondering who he is. When the gods inadvertently kill his adoptive family and condemn the people of Lagos to death Perseus learns he is a demigod, the lost son of Zeus. Perseus and warriors of Lagos set out to try and find the three witches so they can learn how to defeat Hades and strike back at the gods.

Clash of the Titans is a classic example of a film with a great trailer. However, the trailer does not live up to the film. This film is a remake of a weak but fun original, and I have to say that if you go into the theatre expecting anything other than stupid fun for two hours you will be quite disappointed.

To talk more about the tail wagging the dog, if you were a careful study of the trailer you may have noticed there was only one to two lines of dialogue in it, the rest was action…that was for a reason. This movie has some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard. It’s cool to hear Pete Postelwaith & Liam Neeson emote verbally, but the rest of the dialogue, no matter how sincerely delivered was laughable. My best example of this was when Perseus and the soldiers are about to enter Medusa’s lair and like a good leader Perseus gives his customary pep talk which ends with “now let’s go get this bitch”. I kid you not.

As if that weren’t enough, the actual plot of the film is weak as well. The reason there is only action in the trailer, is because the films plot really only works as a logline “the son of Zeus finds his destiny and encounters mythological creatures in the pursuit to kill Hades”, anything outside of that wears quite thin. It’s as if the screenplay was written by a first year film student with no experience, they were told to make a index cards, each with a seprate scene in the film listed on it, and then arranged into the chronology of the story – nothing is connected, we just move from A to B to C because that is how everything is laid out.

On top of this there is the obvious build up to a hopeful sequel at the end of the film where Zeus tells Perseus that this is his destiny, more trials will come, etc., etc. This is pandering for a franchise. In a franchise the films tend to get weaker as they go along and after seeing Clash of the Titans I cannot imagine what the second film in this franchise would look like – it would probably be better silent so I can just watch Sam Worthington fight for two hours.

As bad as I know Clash of the Titans is, I still have to say I was entertained by it. I can’t even say it aspired to B movie level, but it was fun. I enjoyed the action and as a fan of Sam Worthington I enjoyed the excuse to watch him do his thing for two hours. Plus there is the downright cool factor of Liam Neeson a Zeus. That man can continue to be cast in god roles like Zeus and Aslan and I am going to think he is perfect for them every time.

Clash of the Titans may be an excuse to thrown money around on action and special effects. But there is a silver lining – this will probably be remade again in another ten-twenty years so we’ll have another shot to get it right.

Director: Louis Leterrier
Perseus: Sam Worthington
Zeus: Liam Neeson
Hades: Ralph Finnes
Andromeda: Alexa Davalos
Io: Gemma Arterton

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Crazies

A small town suddenly begins to deal with it’ residents going mad and killing each other. To contain this phenomenon the military suddenly swoops in and declares the town under quarantine, rounding up the townspeople and telling them they are victim of a virus. As the townspeople kill each other and are murdered by the military a small group of survivors hides out in the hopes that they will be able to sneak past the military and out of danger.

The Crazies is the first non-zombie George Romero film I have ever seen, and I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. One of the things I love most about George Romero is that he makes entertaining films, but they always manage to be thinly veiled metaphors for something else, usually social issues like racism and class. The metaphor in The Crazies didn’t work nearly as well as the metaphors do in his other films. It’s quite obvious when watching The Crazies is the government versus it’s people, and mainly the government versus the youth/counter-culture. This was a pretty common metaphor for the 1970’s but a metaphor that Easy Rider did much better.

This is a movie that was screaming for a remake. I want to see the new version of The Crazies to see what they expanded upon because there is a lot of action that takes place in Romero’s original but very little story. The film splits it’s time between the army man in charge of the outbreak, the nurse & ex-soldier running from the army and the doctor trying to cure the outbreak and no one is ever developed into a coherent line of thought, something that I truly felt was needed.

Having been made in 1973 this version of the Crazies is also horrifically dated from the style of dress right down to the way the military communicates. I spent most of the movie wanting to have someone wax the lead actors eyebrows so he wouldn’t have a unibrow. I know all movies age eventually, but this one really struck me as needing to be updated.

Romero does make entertaining films, even ones without zombies. However, I would have liked to see him make something a bit further away from the zombie genre. To make this a zombie film all Romero had to do was take away the townspeople’s pulses – perhaps that’s what I felt was missing from this movie, there were too many hearts still beating.

Director: George A. Romero
Writers: Paul McCollough & George A. Romero
Judy: Lane Carroll
David: Will MacMillan