Wednesday, December 23, 2009
One of the people who was going to join in this experiment died suddenly before it was supposed to start and the company decided this guy’s marine twin brother would be a perfect replacement. So the marine does join in but soon is conflicted in his mission because he falls for the native people and for the princess. Then, you guessed it, the company wants to take drastic, destructive measures to get rid of the natives and get on with business and our boy eventually sides with the natives, as do a small group of defectors from the company.
To me, this movie was one of the most formulaic picks I’ve seen in a long time. Just one teaspoon more formulaic and I would’ve thought Cameron was being sarcastic and making a spoof. Literally every scene and element of this movie seemed directly borrowed from another movie. And not like Tarantino or Scorcese, who explicitly use references to past films like jazz musicians play standards in their own unique way. No, this was more like cutting and pasting. And when I say every element, I mean every element. For example, even the music felt like it was directly taken from another movie. The avatars are being hailed as the product of a vast imagination, but in Hinduism the envoys between the heavens and the earth are beings called avatars that have blue skin. Here we have this way for humans to interact with this alien civilization (envoys between the heavens and the earth) by becoming a blue skinned avatar. I’m just saying.
What this means is there’s no real drama, no real suspense, in this movie. From the fist moment to the last you know exactly what’s going to happen and how things are going to turn out. This is true even moment to moment, with the outcome of every scene being so terribly obvious from the very start of that scene that it’s not even funny. If you’ve seen just about any movie about a bad guy who’s coming down/trying to wipe out an innocent, pure good guy, then you’ve seen this movie. I mean, Disney’s been doing animated features for decades with the same storylines and plot developments. That said, there were some scenes that were fun to watch and some of the action sequences were pretty amazing to see in 3D. Plus, I’m a total sucker for stories about evil western white people getting thwarted in their attempts to exploit or damage pure, spiritual (even if stereotypical) “natives.” I know it’s majorly played but I love watching indigenous cultures kick some capitalist ass.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I'm a Woody Allen apologist - but lately (and by lately I mean literally the last 10 years) it has become harder and harder to stomach the same old song and dance by the once-beloved director. It's not that he's just re-hashing the same old story arc, that has been his bread-and-butter from the beginning. It's that the older he gets, the less in touch with cinema and humor itself that is the problem. That is the most depressing part.
So when I heard that Woody was working on a movie with Larry David using a script that was written in his prime, I was cautiously excited.
Whatever Works is the old standby - a brilliant and socially awkward man ends up falling for a ditzy blond whose mother wants her to marry a younger man... blah blah blah pleh.
Not only is this movie shockingly (or not) similar to the standard Woody Allen movie, but Larry David's character is painfully unfunny and overall feels like a huge waste of potential from a comedy team that could have produced a lot better. It's autopilot in the worst of ways - no box office success, no critical acclaim, no funny. Why bother?
Friday, December 11, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
We've been dissecting WWII for over 50 years now in film, and it seems like we have barely scratched the surface. Some surfaces are so scratched though that we're starting to wear down on the effectiveness of the material - in essense, we're kicking the dead horse.
While French film Indigènes attempts to bring us a side of the war that we haven't seen before, that of the French African involvement, they've only managed to bore most of their audience and waste a few million euros in the process.
Technically speaking the movie is sound - we've got tight, clean editing - solid framing throughout. Special effects are appropriate and everyone seems to have a handle on their respective job on the set. Except the screenwriters.
Little to no story - that's really the problem here. We'll borrow a bit from Private Ryan, do a few brotherly bonding scenes, spill some guts and cry some tears... but it's all too broad to be a good film. We don't really care about the main characters... not because we shouldn't, but because we aren't focused in on one or two soldiers and sucked into the narrative. There are a few good scenes scattered throughout the picture where we get a glimpse of how good the story could have been, but most of it gets reduced to boring transitions and a loose arc about the indignity of being a French colonist. Ok. Sure.
- MEH (that's right, I had to create a new one)
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The premise of this 2009 comedy by Todd Phillips sounds like pretty standard, nee boring, fare. In fact, it sounds almost exactly like the premise of the Tom Hanks flick Bachelor Party. A guy’s about to get married. His friends want to give him one last night of wild, crazy freedom. Substitute a penthouse in Manhattan with a penthouse in Vegas and voila. Things get crazier than anyone imagined and the groom barely makes it back in time and, since he cut it so close, he went from potential disaster to hero status. That said, Todd Phillips does arrange the story in unique way and the performances are good. Instead of a straight linear storyline, the movie starts at the end and the viewer, like the characters in the movie, has to slowly figure out what happened the night before. You see, someone slipped them all ruphies and this, mixed with a ton of drinking, led to one crazy night, a total lack of memory about it and more than a little baggage, not the least of which includes losing the groom. The movie is not only finding him but, wait for it, finding each other. Alright, so I’m jaded, but it’s true that most of this movie is pretty formulaic. Still, I laughed and occasionally I laughed alot. Zach Galifinakis is pretty funny and Ken Jeong is freaking hilarious. Long story short, it’s not great, but it’s fun and at times good for a laugh.
I like heist movies. But you don't need to include "heist" in the title to make sure I know it.
I've read what seemed like a hundred Louis L'amour novels when I was growing up. I loved the rules of the wild west. The good were good. The bad were bad. Yes, there were some loners but it was typically a white hat/black hat story.
Monday, November 23, 2009
- Why use boom mics when we can always just record this in post?
- Mutated slugs have a hell of a grip - don't stick your hands into your gloves without looking.
- Why buck the trend of 27 year olds playing high school juniors/seniors? It just works.
- Halloween parties are, as suspected, no fun.
- Don't put anchovies in your salad... it just masks the slug parts.
- If this is "Slugs: The Movie", where is the rest of the franchise?
Best line: "You don't have the authority to declare 'Happy Birthday', not in this town!"
Monday, November 16, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
This 1956 French crime drama by Jean-Pierre Melville was his big breakthrough. It tells the story of Bob, a sort of elder statesman of the Paris crime world. Everyone likes him, even the police, but he's begun to live a pretty boring life as a expert for the police. Problem is, this means fellow criminals don't trust him and the police are always watching. His itch for adventure leads him to a plan to rob a casino. All he needs now is a plan and a team. It's classic. It may not have been the first of it's kind, but it unified a distinct style approach that influenced pretty much all movies of it's kind to follow. This and Kubrick's The Killing are basically the parents of every heist movie to follow. They may not know it now, but movies like Ocean's 11 and the Bond movies are direct descendants. Now, that doesn't mean that your liking those movies means you will like this one. Whether or not you like Bob depends on how you approach it. The acting is pretty poor and the story is really not that great. Melville also loves to keep a pretty darn slow pace. What makes it worth a watch is the style. His visuals and approach are just classic. If you like the heist genre, it's worth your time, like a blues guitarist listening to early blues recordings. Know what I mean? Seeing where what you love comes from.
This 2009 Mexican drama by Cary Fukunaga follows two stories that intersect because their stories are not only headed to the same place, but are, in reality, the same story. One is that of a Guatemalan young man who goes by Casper and is a member of MS13, the nasty gang that stretches from California through all of Mexico and Central America. He is beginning to doubt his ways, but only in harmless ways, that is until something awful happens, at which point his doubts become a straight up drive to escape. He sees the possibility on a train that runs from south of Honduras clear to Texas. Problem is, the train ride itself may well be more dangerous than his life in Guatemala. But the train, has a defined end, his life, outside of death, doesn't really. The other story is that of a good, but very poor, Honduran girl, who was abandoned by her father 14 years ago. The movie picks up with her father showing up out of the blue, begging for her to come with him back to his home in New Jersey. Problem is, he's also pretty damn poor and spent just about all his money getting back to her. His solution, take that same train. This movie is really about the present state of things in our little Western world.This idea that one always has a choice, each individual shapes his or her life by their choices. This doesn't mean they are easy one's or that what we think will lead to betterment will actually do so, but it's our choice to make. It's also a movie about the quest for autonomy. We want more choices, more options. I don't mean this in a selfish way, sometimes, I can only imagine, it feels like we must seek more autonomy. What I mean is that there is something imbedded in our Western way of doing things that makes so many feel like there is always a better option out there. In the case of some characters in this flick, the grass on the other side was decidedly worse and they never should've made the decision to leave, but for others in the film, deciding to leave was likely the best decision they'd ever make. The point is, catching that train, heading out of town, to another place, another country, is indicative of our Western way and the results vary widely. Fukunaga spent two years in Mexico and Central America living with members of MS13, traveling on the very train line from the movie and trying to come to an understanding of those willing to take such risks, to go so far. He also shot the movie down there, on that train and cast many unknowns and non-professionals. It shows. The movie feels genuine, it feels truly informed. It's like, not only are you really seeing it, but you're experiencing it. The stories are engaging, the performances fantastic and the maverick style of shooting it makes the visuals very interesting. See this movie, even if you're not a subtitles kind of person.
Recently my parents were in town and we were headed to see Couples Retreat. I really didn't want to and joked that we ought to instead go see Moon. The reason this is a joke is because it appeared like these movies couldn't be more dissimilar. One is a big budget, vastly distributed and marketed, please-all comedy full of big stars. The other is a low budget, barely distributed, almost unheard of dramatic sci-fi movie starring...one person, Sam Rockwell. We arrive at the giant megaplex where couples retreat was playing and find that there are only a few seats left and they were practically buttressed against the screen itself. So, I brought up Moon again. We end up seeing Moon at one of my favorite movie houses in Portland, a place called Livingroom Theater, where it's never crowded, the seats are plush and have ottomans and waiters come in and serve you cold beer and good food on real plates, set with real silverware. Well, I'm pretty sure I can guess what Couples Retreat was like, but I was shocked by Moon. It was fantastic. Truly. Even my parents loved it, we all did. I say all this to point out the funny thing about movies and how they are marketed. One is clearly a better movie watching experience, yet most of the people who will ever read this review will never see it. The other is inferior and, even though we all know it won't have any surprises and very few memorable moments, most of us will most likely see it. Odd. Well, consider this my plea to skip the megaplex, find Moon and see it. This movie is sci-fi, but in the old school sense. In other words, it's quiet and tense, instead of action-packed and overbrimming with special effects. Moon may be low budget, but it's absolutely beautiful. Clearly every penny was well spent and in the hands of artists who knew how to use them. The acting is good too, but not over the top. Rockwell's performance was just natural, it seemed like he simply was who he was. And the story was great. Here's the basic story to get you interested, but, unfortunately, I can't tell you more without lessening the experience for you. A few decades from now America's discovered that the minerals of the moon are fuel rich, so, of course, we've begun harvesting them. Sound crazy? Well, don't think that, Bush actually proposed this in a speech about 6 years ago. Anyway, machines do the majority of the work, but someone has to be there to do repairs when needed and to send the fuel canisters back to Earth once they're full. But the moon is hostile and very very far away, so one person goes there and stays there for several years per stretch, when his or her replacement comes for a sort of shift change. Moon picks up during the last two weeks of Sam Bell's stint and, well, he's kind of losing it. Just when he thinks he's not going to crack, that he's going to make it out just fine, things get really really weird. See this movie. It is tense, interesting and never stalls for even a second, despite the fact that it's only one person on the screen for like 98% of the movie. This is a rare one and shouldn't be missed.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
This 2009 flick and latest addition from writer/director Quentin Tarantino offers a very unique take on the WWII movie genre. Hell, all I really have to tell you is that it's a historical war drama by Tarantino for you to know that. He started out years ago wanting to do a remake of the 1978 flick by Enzo Castellari, but, he says, one day he learned that one of his favorite directors of all time (and mine I must say), Sergio Leone, was working on a WWII movie when he died. Leone's movies are tense, violent and full of bad dudes kicking a fistful of ass. Tarantino says that this sparked an idea in his head like a lightning bolt. What if he made a Leone style, western inspired, WWII movie where the jews clean house the way Clint Eastwood's characters so often did in any given Leone pic? Well, that's just what he's done. Like any good Tarantino movie, this flick is about way more than that. There are subplots and side stories galore and each one feels full and rich and perfectly necessary for the story and the overall tone. He teams up again with production designer David Wasco and cinematographer Robert Richardson, which means every last detail of every single last shot is crisp and telling and totally fantastic. The scenes and the pacing are Tarantino at his best. This movie is simply fantastic. The Leone pic he said he drew the most inspiration from was Once Upon a Time in the West, which just so happens to be my favorite. He even starts the movie with the words Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied France. What this means is that Tarantino takes his time and the movie feels like a slow, deliberate boil. But, trust me, when it boils, it boils. The best thing about it all are the performances. Tarantino, as usual, casts based on how they are for the part and not whether or not they're respected actors, or even actors for that matter, there are members of the primary cast who are models, directors, even musicians, but every last person from the projectionist to the lead roles are emotionally gripping, authentic and really great. In fact, there are people in this movie who don't even have speaking roles that I can't get out of my head a day later. There are those who are in one brief scene and yet are memorable and evocative. From this sea of great performances rises three that are remarkable. First, there is the villainous and bizarre Col Hans Landa, played to perfection by Austrian TV actor Christoph Waltz. Every last detail of his presence on screen is captivating and terrifying. I was glued. Then there's his counterpart, Brad Pitt's heroic and cruel Lt Aldo Raine. Raine is an utterly unique character straight out the smoky mountains who, in the first moment you see him, says he's here to do one thing and nothing else, kill Nazi's. They call him Aldo the Apache because he doesn't just kill them, he desecrates their bodied and works real hard to make Germany absolutely terrified of him. And he's doing a damn fine job. Everything Pitt does or says is enjoyable. It all feels natural and I could have watched his performance for days more. Like any good Leone protagonist, he's a country boy everyman who has a fine knack for ass kicking. I mean, the guy has a scar across his neck that can only be the product of being previously hung or cut. But doing some crap like that to Aldo the Apache is only going to get you in more trouble. Long story short, he's a badass. There are two things you need to know before going into this flick. One, it's violent. Very violent. Or, I should say, when it is violent, it comes at you with a stark, disturbing, heavy hand. A second thing you should know is that Tarantino takes alot of liberties. This is not meant to be historically accurate, not even close, and if you know that going in and just accept this this is fantasy, you will surely enjoy it.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
2006 Mexican film by Guillermo del Toro that tells the story of a little girl, Ofelia, who is moving to her new home in the mansion/compound of the monstrous Captain Vidal. Ofelia's mother was a worker at the Captain's factory when he fell for her and, after the death of Ofelia's father, they got together. From the first moment she walks onto the property, odd things start to happen and soon she realizes that there is a magical world all around the compound that seems to have been waiting on her for centuries. The magical beings, namely a faun, claim she is the princess of their kingdom and that their kingdom is in disrepair because she's been missing. Set in Franco's Spain, this movie has a side story going on, concerning the Captain and his mission to rid the area of rebels. Then there's the side story of the rebels themself. Then there's the side story of the cook at the compound who is aiding the rebels. And the one about the doctor who's doing the same. And the Captain's backstory and...well, you get the picture. This movie is visually stunning. Just totally amazing. The performances are pretty strong too and I love love love a good fantasy flick. The problem is the story is too scattered. There are too many characters getting too much focus. In the end, many juicy bits of story get neglected, while other superfluous bits get fleshed out. What results is a lack of much engaging or memorable story development. I left the movie feeling that it was neat, but not caring much at all about the characters or the story. No emotional resonance, in other words. I also feel like the fantasy aspect of the movie was too lean altogether. When she heads off into the magical world with it's mythic creatures and daring missions, I was loving the movie. I also thought it was the most effective aspect of del Toro's storytelling. In the fantasy bits, the viewer comes to understand more clearly that Ofelia is trying to escape the wretched Captain and his world, that she's trying to do what's right to restore her kingdom, namely her family, before it goes from mere disrepair to ruins. In other words, it's good stuff, but instead time is wasted on things like dinner parties and interrogations of rebels. Snooze. Interesting movie, with amazing visuals and a great lead performance by the very young Ivana Baquero, but in the end it was spread too thin to win me over.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
To me, one of the signs of a truly gifted filmmaker is the ability to take the seemingly simple and turn it into something rife with depth and complexity. The few filmmakers I can think of who meet that description are among the best in history, the Kubricks, the Godards, the Tarantinos and someone who’s certainly up high on that list is Werner Herzog. And in 2004 he accomplished this feat again with The White Diamond. This documentary has a premise that could easily have led to a pedestrian doc that you’ve seen a hundred times on television. Basically it’s about a British scientist who is about to head to the South American rainforest to test an airship he is developing for the purpose of hovering above and studying the forest canopy. Interesting, but hardly something that’s going to have you running to the theater, right? Well, that would be the case, if it was just about anyone other than Werner at the helm. He manages to weave a tale about the depth of the human experience that at all times feels both genuine and gripping. You feel as though you’re getting nothing but the god’s honest truth and it’s revealed in a way that will have you glued to the screen. Herzog leaves the camera running just a little longer than most would and asks questions that no one else does. By the end the subjects are displaying aspects of their lives and personalities that I’m certain they never expected to display. For example, he asks the scientist about a test he’s running, which is pretty expected, but then he interrupts the guy and asks him why he’s missing fingers on his left hand. At another point, he asks them if they would take one of the local Guyanese natives up in the balloon with them. A good documentarian knows where to focus the camera and what questions to ask and Herzog certainly hits all the right notes in this one. Expect the unexpected. This movie effortlessly manages to be light, heavy, funny, sad and everything in between. It’s engaging, genuine and beautifully shot. And with it’s short running time there’s seems not a moment wasted.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
When Dieter Dengler was a small boy in Germany during World War II an American bomber flew very low in his village while bombing the junk out of it and Dieter happened to catch the pilot's eye for a split second as he flew by Dieter's house. For most people this would haunt you for the rest of your life, but Dieter is not most people. For it seems nothing can break Dieter Dengler's spirit. He has an insatiable since of hope and a belief that all humans are good, even if they are presently doing bad things. This disposition will come in handy later in his life and in his story. So, Dieter spends the next decades slowly saving the money to move to America, gaining his residency, and working his way up the ranks of the Air Force to where he can be a fighter pilot of his own. On his very first mission during the very early stages of the Vietnam conflict, he is shot down and quickly taken prisoner. This is where Rescue Dawn picks up. Almost bizarrely, Dieter, though he struggles, seems to never lose his foundational respect for his captors. Even while they are torturing him, he politely asks for water and will smile and say hello when a new person walks in. They, in turn, offer him the chance to be released if he will only denounce America and release an Anti-American statement they've prepared for him. Dieter immediately turns down their offer saying he will never denounce America. His unbreakable spirit is just what his fellow POW's need and the group (from all over the world) decide to put their head together and make a break for it. But doing so not only means getting out of the POW camp, but also making out of the jungles of Laos and into friendly Thailand. The film was shot in all the same locations as the true story and, as such, they had to deal with many of the same natural elements. This is important because from moment one this movie feels incredibly authentic. When the characters are struggling with a powerful river, the actors and camera persons are also struggling with it. Christian Bale says that when Werner Herzog was interviewing him for the part the questions were things like, are you afraid of leeches, would you mind living in the jungle for the next several months in a tent, can you cut your way out of impossibly thick underbrush, and could you pick up snakes you find in the wild. It is amazing. And the actors seemed to eat it right up because not only are their performances heartbreakingly natural, but they physically invested in the part, losing frightening amounts of weight and enduring all of the physical hardships firsthand (no stunt doubles here). In 1997 Werner Herzog made a fantastic documentary about Dieter called Little Dieter Needs to Fly and was so inspired by him and his story that, in 2004, when Dieter died, Herzog wanted to pay tribute to him by making his story into a feature film. Well, he's certainly done Dengler justice, as this movie is fantastic from start to finish. I suggest pairing it in a double feature with the documentary as both are some of Herzog's best works and truly no one can get enough of the inspiring unflappable Dieter.
2008 war drama Kathryn Bigelow about the last month of Bravo Company's rotation in Iraq. Bravo consists of three bomb techs, whose job it is to go in and diffuse/destroy IED's and other explosive devises. This is one of those rare war movies that tells the story 100% from the soldier's vantage point. There are no scenes with generals making deals, no ambassadors, no colonels in strategy rooms. It is war from the ground floor. While some high officers might make a two second appearance now and then, the majority of the movie portrays no one higher ranked than sergeant. Other movies have done this before, take the particularly good Black Hawk Down as an example, but most of those movies relied almost entirely on action and violence to keep the viewer going. Hurt Locker, instead, relies very heavily on the psychology of the war. Bigelow doesn't spend time analyzing the war itself and seems to almost disregard the local culture, but her doing so seems very deliberate, as it is an attempt to portray the war as the regular soldiers see it and, let's be honest, I doubt many of them are thinking about the philosophies of the war or the nuances of the local culture. They just want to make it out alive. They say that more people have died coming back down Everest than going up and this flick is quite a bit about that idea. Bravo is almost done, they've almost made it, but that only means that things are tenser than ever and seem even the more precarious for them. The writing is smooth, the story engaging, the direction very tight (there doesn't seem to be a wasted cell of film in this thing) and the performances are very natural. Bigelow did as much as she could to make this movie seem authentic, including using Iraqi refugees as the extras, the Jordanian military as the Iraqi soldiers and by filming it there, with one of the actors having a heat stroke during filming at one point. And it really does feel like you are there experiencing it with them, which means from moment one this movie is complex emotionally and almost always very intense.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
The plot of this 2005 Werner Herzog feature intrigued me. I loves me some Herzog, in fact, I've never seen one of his movies that I didn't love. The premise is basically this, aliens came to earth about a century ago and by now, with the combined efforts of the aliens and the humans, earth is basically useless and long ago everyone has left. It's a simple premise, really, and Herzog tends to excel with simple premises. I mean, Fitzcarraldo, my favorite of his features, is about getting a ship over a mountain pass, that's it, and it's great. But here, Herzog falls shockingly flat. He uses footage from underwater filming, NASA footage, and historical clips spliced together with the footage he shot for the film. Sounds perfect for him, but it doesn't work. The footage is out of place, doesn't follow a linear sense of time period and often is clearly not what the characters are saying it is. For example, the alien is, in one moment, talking about how desolate the earth has become and Herzog cuts to footage of a barren wasteland, but even with his editing and post production layers you can still tell that the footage is underwater as things actually float by at a point. Then there's the alien himself, the only part Herzog actually shot and all he does is walk around in abandoned locales and talk to the camera, lecturing us about how we screwed up. Even though earth is supposed to be empty, there's actually a moment when the alien has to raise his voice because some dogs are barking loudly in the background. Werner Herzog is famous for his unrelenting focus on quality and his extreme focus on details, but neither is apparent here. In fact, this flick is very very amateurish. It's almost like what someone with tons of resources but almost no experience would produce. Because it was Herzog, it was especially disappointing.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
This 2009 animated flick is by Carlos Saldanha, the Brazilian director who brought the world Ice Age and Ice Age: The Metldown. Yeah, you get it. The Ice Age movies tell the tale of an unlikely 'herd' of a Mammoth (a second Mammoth that joined in the sequel), a sloth and a sabertooth tiger (and two opossum that also joined in the second film). The characters are likable enough and the stories are usually sweet and enjoyable, but it's getting old. Why not take all that money, those resources, personnel, writing talents and come up with something new. Well, there's nothing new here. It's the same characters doing the same stuff. In the first movie it was a baby they find, in this one it's three baby dinosaurs. In the first one they go on an unexpected journey to save the baby, in this one they go on an unexpected journey to save Sid. Snore, snore, snore. If it's on on a Saturday afternoon and you happen to come across it, you may enjoy it and especially if you haven't seen the other two, but don't bother driving out to the theater and shilling out the big bucks (even more expensive than normal since it's in 3D). Better yet, just go rent the first one.
Walt Kowalski's life seems to be changing and falling apart all around him. This is a big problem for Walt, as he's a crotchety old fart who doesn't like change at all. In fact, Walt doesn't like much of anything. He has a handful of friends at the bar, a barber he likes and goes to regularly and then, it's sitting on the porch drinking PBR's with his dog. And, of course, there's his love, his Gran Torino, a car he actually helped build years ago at the Ford plant. Well, his job is gone, his neighbors are almost all gone and his wife has just died. Nothing seems the same and this grumpy guy has just gotten even crankier. The Gran Torino serves as the perfect centerpiece of this movie. It is a car that he works painstakingly to keep in perfect condition and, more importantly, the same condition as when he took it off the line decades ago. You never see him drive this car. He just polishes it. The reason this is important is because it serves as a physical manifestation of Walt's problem, namely, that he's delusionally holding onto some ideal from the past that doesn't really exist and most likely never did. And to make matters worse, some non-white kid actually tries to steal the Gran Torino from him. You see, I mention that the kid's not white because Walt is a bigot, though really he just doesn't like anything different and other races are different. But there comes a moment where he realizes that it's not about where we're from or what language we speak, but how we live our lives. He realizes that he has more in common with the traditional Hmong family next door than he does with people from his church or family. This movie finds him going through the pains of an old dog learning new tricks. He simply must let go of that ideal he has, because, in reality, it's crap and he knows it. This 2008 drama by Clint Eastwood is well shot, well written and, while a simple story, has a depth and richness that makes it really stick with you. It also has a great message, being shallow and petty is a universal language that transcends ethnicity, but, lucky for us, so are other attributes like being honorable and just.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
2005 British horror flick by Neil Marshall about a group of girls who are very fit and have a common interest in all things thrilling. They rock climb together, they ride rapids, they base jump and so on. Well, after one particular rafting trip, something awful happens and the group starts growing apart and seeking less and less thrills. So the one American in the group has an idea to head to the states and attempt to be the first to explore a wicked deep cave in the Appalachian south. That way they get out of England for a bit, clear their heads and get the thrill seeking train back on the tracks. Get back on the horse and all that. Well, they do, and they do go down into this cave and that's when it becomes a horror movie. Let me tell you, I love horror. I grew up on the stuff. That said, this movie was scary as hell. The cave just gets smaller and smaller and one by one their lanterns and headlamps run out of batteries. The space around the viewer slowly tightens bit by bit. The filmmakers use the camera very very well too, as it really feels like you're getting claustrophobic. And man is it ever dark. They also certainly rely on the novel idea of being trapped underground to enhance the fear factor. Imagine, you are miles under earth and have no idea how to get out. And we're not talking about great expansive caverns and structures like in a Journey to the Center of the Earth or an Alien vs Predator. The actors in this movie are literally crawling half th time. Sheesh. It was awesome. I don't wanna say much more, because if you're into having your pants scared off, then you should just rent it. It does turn pretty gorey there at the end, so if that's not your bag you may want to consider that, but overall this is just classic thriller stuff and I totally recommend it to anyone who loves a good fright now and then.
Friday, June 26, 2009
This 1988 thriller was Sidney Poitier's first screen acting gig in 11 years. Wait, I shouldn't lead with that, because your mind is likely to head straight to high level dramatic arts and if so, you took a wrong turn. Let me, instead begin by telling you, this 1988 thriller stars Sidney Poitier, but also Tom Berenger, Kirstie Alley, Clancy Brown (the creepy bad guy from the first Highlander and the voice of Mr. Krabs) and Andrew Robinson (the creepy dad from Hellraiser) and it's all directed by Roger Spottiswoode, who brought us such slices of cinematic heaven as Turner & Hooch and Tomorrow Never Dies (yes, the Bond movie with Teri Hatcher as the Bond girl, you know you saw it). That probably gives you a better picture of just what this movie watching experience will be like. As a boy growing up in the 80's, I loved action movies. You have a "good guy" chasing a "bad guy" through some sort of wilderness, toss in a pretty girl and a heavy dose of big action and terrible comedy and I was in. Brown plays a felon on the run trying to make it to Canada. He decides to go through the woods of northern Washington state to get there and kidnaps a guide (played by Kirstie Alley) (yeah, you heard me) to get him there. Poitier is an FBI agent from the city with a personal interest because this guy caused him grief earlier in San Fran, while Berenger is a borderline mountain man and Alley's boyfriend. And so it begins. As you may well guess, these two "good guys" are from totally different worlds and can't stand each other, but, and I don't want to give it away for you too much, end up being fast friends in the end. This movie is predictable, poorly written, terribly acted and generally awful and I recommend it to all of you wholeheartedly.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Esteban is sick of his boring life. He's a taxidermist whose wife has just left him and his only real friend annoys the crap out of him. To make matters worse he goes on a hunting trip to get away from it all and accidentally kills someone. There are two things about Esteban that are unique: he's epileptic and he has a photographic memory. The hunter he killed was standing next to a shack in the woods. Esteban checked the shack and discovered the victim was deep in the planning phase of an armored truck heist. And so we find Esteban at a turning point. Does he do the normal thing and run to the police about the accidental death? Or does he keep it a secret, use his photographic memory and do something, finally, exciting in his life and attempt to pull off the heist himself. Well, there wouldn't be much of a movie if he picked the former and he does not. This 2005 Argentinian drama by director Fabian Bielinsky was only his second feature but it is very well executed. The pacing is great and his choice of shot sequences is really fantastic. In fact, the visuals look like those orchestrated by a master directer. They really are fantastic. The story is engaging as well and the performances seemed very natural, even the secondary characters that only momentarily appear, some of whom aren't even named. The only complaint I have is that the reliance on violence seemed to confuse the message. I understand, and like, the idea of a story about a guy who wants to do something daring to break up the monotony of his pretty sad life, but I find it hard to sympathize with someone who causes unnecessary death in furtherance of his personal identity crisis. Take the tipping point for example. Why did Bielinsky find it necessary for him to kill the guy. Couldn't he have just stumbled upon the shack? He has a photographic memory, he really only needed to read all the plans. Hell, it may have even made the scene more tense, since there would be the chance that the guy could walk in at any moment. Other innocent people die in the furtherance of the plan too. If they were necessary I would buy it, but the point of the film, for me, was that this guy was trying to get a little excitement and grow some balls. People just don't have to die for you to do that and tell a good story. This was the only thing that detracted from the story for me. Outside of this, everything about this movie is interesting, fresh and engaging.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Yeah, I saw it and may I take this opportunity to aid you in avoiding doing the same. This 2009 flick by Ken Kwapis proves once again that the guy should stick to television. I don't know what it is, when he does movies they're sappy, borderline sexist drivel like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but when he does TV it's usually great stuff, having directing episodes of The Office, Malcolm in the Middle, Freaks and Geeks, ER, and on and on. I wonder if some kinds of formats just simply work better for certain types of artists. Well, either way, he definitely swung and missed on this one. This movie profiles numerous males and females who are trying to figure out the complicated labyrinth of dating and marriage. The problem is that it seems that all of these 30-somethings are either jerks or idiots. In fact, it seems the message of this movie itself is that the vast majority of guys are secretly assholes and the vast majority of women in America are really just gullible, petty, stupid girls. I for one found this message offensive. What 30ish woman sits by the phone for days on end pacing around wondering if a guy she went on one, very short dinner date with will call? I hope this type of woman is the exception, but the movie makes her out to be the rule. All the women seem obsessed with finding a man and the movie makes this seem like what all women should be obsessed with and the ultimate goal in life for you ladies is finally getting married. It's junk if you ask me. Not only that, but the women are all totally clueless, as though they are just these sweet, naiive things that walk around hoping some guy will fall in love with them and ask them to marry them that day. There's literally a scene in the movie where one woman is explaining to the others that it's actually ok for the girl to call the guy. Duh. And the women in that scene are all successful individuals. Their depiction of gay males is also nothing more than a string of stereotypes and shallow characters. I'm not kidding, all of the gay men act like Carter from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the few that are named are named Mary. Seriously, is this 1960? This movie is sexist crap and I recommend you rent something else if you're on the fence about seeing this one. Unless, of course, you're a boy obsessed 12-year-old trapped in a 33-year-old's body and want a movie to come along that you can really can relate to.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
This is Pixar's flick for 2009 and really that's all I have to say about it to make you wanna go see it. Oh, should I add that it's in ReelD 3D? Oh, and should I also add that it's by one of Pixar's oldest artists/directors, Pete Doctor (who not only did Monsters, Inc but even directed one of Pixar's first shorts back in the 80's)? Up tells the story of an old man, Mr. Fredricksen, who had a wife with whom he shared a happy life, full of adventure. Recently, though, she passed away and his life doesn't seem very full of either happiness or adventure. Well, before he gets shipped off to some retirement community, he decides to just go for it and head off to a remote part of Venezuela that he and his wife always swore they'd see some day. He decides to take the adventurous route and attaches hundreds of helium balloons to his house to float his way south. Of course, he had no idea that a young wilderness scout, Russel, was on his porch and now is along for the ride. Before Mr. Fredricksen can turn around and get Russel home a storm hits and he gets knocked out. Little Russel guides them to Venezuela, which is where Mr. Fredricksen finds them when he wakes up. Let the bonding and the adventurous trip home begin. Along the way they both learn that the trip and all the wilderness badges were not what they were really after, but instead they sought intimacy, happiness and friendship. Up is a very sweet, very simple story. It's inspiring and natural as usual. And of course the visuals are truly amazing. Pixar seems even better in 3D. That said, I didn't love it like I love most of Pixar's movies. In fact, it kind of seemed like alot of other movies that are out there. I'd say Bolt was nearly as good and I can't believe I'm saying that. I'm not sure if that means Pixar's raised the bar so high that other studios are also putting out great cohesive, heartwarming stories just to keep up, or if it means that this may be the first movie by Pixar that I'd classify as 'good' and not 'great.' I suppose, though, that you can't step up to the plate and hit a grand slam everytime. Sometimes you just have to be grateful for a measly home run. Well, this flick may not be a grand slam, but it is certainly a home run. The characters are memorable and the principles sound. It's charming, it's engaging and it's certainly worth a watch if you feel like feeling good.
P.s. A word of caution if you'll be seeing this with young one's, this is the first Pixar movie (I think) where you actually see people die. Not many, but two adults do die in the movie and the couple loses a kid. That's pretty heavy stuff if you're not expecting it. So now you know.
Monday, May 25, 2009
In 2007 writer/director Greg Mottola brought us Superbad, a raunchy 80's style buddy comedy set in the present that surprised everyone with it's unexpected depth. I mean, it wasn't a Robert Bresson flick, but it wasn't just a one-note pee pee and ta ta joke movie either. What he did well there, he did better here. This 2009 flick isn't about high schooler's but it's still about akward virgins lamenting their hometown. This time the main character is a very smart guy, James, played very well by Jesse Eisenberg who I for one have never heard of and didn't recognize despite having seen several of his prior movies. Jesse finished undergrad and planned to spend the summer in Europe before heading to Columbia in the fall for grad school. Suddenly he finds out that his parents aren't planning on helping him pay for Columbia and he didn't get any scholarships. So he scraps his Europe plans and decides to spend the summer making and saving up money for New York. Problem is, he's never worked a day in his life and has a degree in something like medieval philosophy. Basically, he can't find work and ends up accepting the only offer given, to work as a carnie. As the summer wears on the experience goes from being a borderline insult to one of the best of his life. Now that may seem like many movies you've seen before and, it's true, none of the elements here are really all that original. But the movie has a vibe that feels very genuine and natural. I'm not sure what it is, but the movie just seems to exist and you just happen to be seeing what really happened in that summer of '87. Even the in-jokes about 80's style don't come off as easy default jokes. It could come from the fact that this is a semi-autobiographical piece, as Mottola worked at a place called Adventure land in rural New York in the 80's in much the same manner as James. I guess what I mean is, you believe the characters and the story. That's not easy to do and it keeps this flick from being just another story about a guy/girl who works at a crappy job and ends up learning life lessons and 'truly' finding themselves. The movie is almost like someone covering a song we've all heard before but doing it in a way that makes it worth the listen. Plus, watching Kristen Wiig spend the whole movie in 'mom jeans' and a side pony tail is worth the price of admission. It's a simple flick that is an easy watch and will bring you back to your days as a young person in the 80's watching movies like Better Off Dead and The Sure Thing.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2009
This 1985 camp gem came out in the summer, but I first saw it the following summer when I was 7 and my summer camp in Indiana decided to show this and the Twilight Zone Movies as what has to be the most inappropriate double feature ever screened at night on a big screen in a gym at a summer camp for the 10 and under crowd just before sending them back out to their dank cabins in the woods. While I adore this cheesy horror classic now, it scared the ever living crap out of me in that summer of '86. Of course, as a life long horror fan, I loved that it was so scary. This movie soon ranked up there with my other favorites of the time, The Omen and The Shining. Now, of course, I see that it's much lower on the totum pole than those, but I still like to give it a view now and then, because, well, it's fun. Cat's Eye is directed by Lewis Teague who mostly directed TV shows like the Dukes of Hazard and many made for TV movies, the best of which simply must be T-Bone n' Weasel. Well, his obviously upper strata filmmaking skills are on full display here, as he really makes three short films that are united by a common cat, much like Four Rooms is short films united by the bellboy. Cat's Eye is three tales of creepy stories about doctors with weird experiments, sadistic games of jilted lovers and tiny evil trolls. The first one is the one that stuck with me as a kid. If you're in the mood for some ridiculous '80's horror fun, pick this one up, it's an overlooked classic.