Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The City of Your Final Destination

Director James Ivory has produced rich, slice-of-life dramas about brooding aristocrats since the late 50's, giving the viewer a look into the private scandals and searing romantic endeavors of wealthy, white westerners. A traditional Ivory picture will be set at some lush country estate with the protagonists away from their traditional lives, say, on holiday or something similar. In The City of Your Final Destination Ivory is in pure classic form, but this time without the robust period piece costumes.
Instead of 19th Century England, Ivory sets this flick in modern day Uruguay. Jules Gund was monumentally famous for writing one giant hit of a book and for being an eccentric loner who lived with his family on an estate called Ocho Rios in Uruguay. Gund recently offed himself and, for whatever reason, the unique remnants of the family (a brother (Anthony Hopkins), his partner (Hiroyuki Sanada), Gund’s wife, mistress and lovechild) continue to live isolated on this gorgeous estate. A 20-something grad student in Colorado named Omar has decided his doctoral thesis will be a biography of Jules Gund, but when he sent a request for authorization to the family, they denied him. He decides this is his chance at something big, so he packs up and surprises the family at Ocho Rios. What Omar finds is an incredibly well educated, well bred group of eccentrics living on a breathtaking compound who don’t exactly mingle with the masses all that often. He also finds, of course, a much more interesting story than he’d first imagined.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It was very well executed and the pacing truly made it feel as though I was simply there in Uruguay visiting this family and witnessing the oddity and wonder of it all. What I mean to say is that it all felt very natural and unpretentious. Ivory created an tone that said, “sit back, relax with a cool drink and soak in the drama of this family.” The only complaint I have is in the casting of the two female leads. Mind you, both did a great job in their portrayals, but their ages were all wrong for the roles and, as a result, they could not feel as natural and genuine in their character’s skins as the rest of the cast. First, you have 46-year-old Laura Linney playing the upright, formal matriarch of the family who is supposed to be in her early sixties. Linney acted 60 but didn’t look it one bit. Then, the character of Arden, the 28-year-old mistress, was portrayed by 40-year-old Charlotte Gainsbourg. While Gainsbourg did a great job of exhuding the right nervous, fidgety energy for the role, it just doesn’t work when someone who is forty and looks forty is playing a twenty-something. Outside of this mild complaint, I liked everything about this movie. It’s visually gorgeous, lazily paced, very well written and acted and went down like a cold Manhattan on a sun soaked veranda.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Other Guys

The Other guys picks up with the untimely death of the biggest superstar cops NYPD’s seen in a very long time, Danson and Highsmith. They were cool as hell and beloved by all. Meanwhile, two detectives, Gamble and Holtz, have recently been paired together in what seems to be a punishment. Gamble, played to uptight perfection by Will Ferrell, was a forensic accountant whose position was recently eliminated. Holtz, angrily portrayed by Mark Wahlberg, was a hotshot detective who recently accidentally shot someone. Both are put in jobs they don’t want, Gamble a detective, Holtz working at a desk with Gamble. Holtz wants them to break a major case so they can take over were Danson and Highsmith left off and so they can get back to doing what they love. Gamble doesn’t like the risk, but he loves the idea of getting back to the boring routine of being an accountant.
And so, this very unlikely pair sets off in a borderline incompetent attempt to be police heroes. Gamble is so uptight his ass could probably turn coal into diamonds and has never come anywhere near a tense police situation. While Holtz may have the physical skills, he’s emotionally volatile and 100% hates Gamble. Needless to say, this journey to breaking a major case is full of mishaps and missteps. Think Lethal Weapon, but instead of Riggs and Murtauh, you have Inspector Clouseau and Inspector Dreyfus.
This is the fourth collaboration between writer/director Adam McKay and co-writer Will Ferrell, with the previous being Talladega Nights, Anchorman and Step Brothers. As with all their previous endeavors, The Other Guys relies on funny dialogue, outrageous situational comedy and loveable, yet asinine protagonists. Like the other three, it can, at times, become a little too silly and one note, but lucky for us, it does this very little compared to, say, Step Brothers. I’ve always felt like the McKay/Ferrell movies seem funnier than they actually are, that as overall movies they’re mediocre, but that when they are funny momentarily they are really funny. For example, the funny parts of Anchorman are hilarious, but most of the movie sucks. I’d place The Other Guys with Talladega Nights, however, which is easily my favorite of the four. Like that flick, The Other Guys keeps the narrative relatively tight and doesn’t veer off on too many tangents. Will Ferrell is in peak form and Wahlberg does a fantastic job as a straight man. The supporting cast is funny too, including Michael Keaton who just simply doesn’t get enough work. Long story short, if you like the McKay/Ferrell style of comedy, you’re gonna love this one because it is one of their best collaborations yet.

Halloween III

With Halloween III, John Carpenter wanted to wipe the slate clean. He entrusted the project to a colleague, someone he’d been working with in various capacities since the start of his career, Tommy Lee Wallace. He asked Wallace to write, direct, do the production design and turn it back into a franchise based in independent filmmakers, rather than churning out money-making studio sequels. Wallace took a big gamble by making the third Halloween sans Michael Meyers. That’s right, no Michael Meyers here. In fact, there’s no Laurie Strode, no Dr. Loomis and no slasher killer of any sort.
The story of III, concerns a Dr. who is treating a patient that makes claims of evil deeds going on in a small California town. The Dr., for inexplicable reasons, travels with the now deceased man’s daughter to this small town to investigate these alleged acts of mischief. He finds something far worse than he’d imagined. See, Halloween is fast approaching and he begins to suspect the Silver Shamrock company, who makes Halloween masks for children, may be responsible for several recent mysterious deaths, including the above mentioned patient. As it turns out, the company is making masks that will totally pulverize their wearers and release poisonous snakes and spiders on all those around when the wearer watches a certain video. Oh, and by the way, the company has been running promos non-stop telling all kids with Silver Shamrock masks to tune in at nine on Halloween to watch for a big prize giveaway.
While the production values of this movie are fairly cheap looking and the acting is hardly Olivier, I actually like this installment. The movie made back somewhere along the lines of triple it’s budget, but was a huge critical failure. Most people didn’t like it because they didn’t understand how it could be called a Halloween franchise movie. I gotta agree here, as it really should just stand on its own, but they hated the movie for it, while I think it’s only a mildly annoying curiosity. It’s campy, it’s at times predictable and the ending is fairly lame, but overall, it’s just the sort of cheesy 80’s horror I love. As a kid, this was one of my favorites and watching it now I may well be blinded by nostalgia. Either way, I enjoyed the heck out of this 80’s horror trash.

Halloween II

To me, the original Halloween sits comfortably on the all time top ten list of horror movies. In fact, I’ve long joked that it and Rosemary’s Baby are the only horror movies in my list of all time favorites that don’t start with ‘the,’ with the other four being The Shining, The Omen, The Changeling, The Thing and The Exorcist. So, lately I decided to watch all the Halloween’s in order, not in one sitting mind you, for the fun of it. I’ve seen the original many times, so I skipped it and went straight to Halloween II.
Wow, what a drop in value occurred from I to II. In II the audience picks up exactly where I left off. If you remember, the cliff hanger at the end of Halloween I was that Dr. Loomis goes over to check the body of Michael Meyers only to find he’s no longer there. Roll Credits. Well, in II, we start with Dr. Loomis freaking out and heading off with the cops on a manhunt for Mr. Meyers. Meanwhile, Laurie Strode (played again by Jamie Lee Curtis) is being hauled off to the hospital. While the good Dr. and the po-po look for Mike Meyers, Mr. Meyers is heading to the hospital to finish what he started. So, Laurie, though she’s now in no shape to do so, must escape her psycho brother yet again.
That plot description sounds just fine for a horror flick and it was written for the screen by John Carpenter, just like the first one, but it’s a clear example of the importance of execution. While the story is good, the execution is dreadful. The acting is bad, the shots are generic and the production design is awful, with way too much of Michael Meyers being shown, including almost comically wide eyes that seem to show up when he’s killing someone. And while the first in the series was taught and restrained, this one is overwrought with superfluous nudity and violence. More action and less tension almost always equals a lower quality film. II was directed by a first time director who went on to have a very successful career directing TV shows like 90210 and Buffy. Not to knock TV, but, well, it’s clear he’s more apt for short bursts of quality rather than helming an entire film project. After a major hit with I, we see a major miss with II, but, lucky for it, the story is enough to keep it out of U territory.


In Nightbreed we find a young man named Aaron Boone plagued by nightmares about monsters from a land called Midian. His nightmares become so bad he seeks the aid of a psychologist. But suddenly he gets a call from said psychologist, Dr. Decker, who gives Boone the heads up that the cops believe he killed 6 people. Boone is shocked, only to find out the murderer killed these folk in a manner that practically mirrors dream descriptions Boone previously relayed to Dr. Decker. Did these murders go down just like his dreams because his memory is calling memories dreams? Or is it that Dr. Decker heard Boone’s descriptions and fulfilled the murders like a paint-by-numbers activity? Well, I’m spoiling nothing by telling you, it’s the latter. Dr. Decker is a psycho.
He has Boone killed, but Boone doesn’t stay on that slab for long because, wait for it, it turns out his nightmares about Midian were true. The monsters from Midian are real and they call themselves the Nightbreed. The Breed wants to adopt Boone as one of their own, given their strange mental connection, and they have been beckoning him to them for some time. So, Boone bands up with the Breed to take down the evil Dr. Decker.
There is very little of this movie that didn’t have me rolling my eyes. Anytime a filmmaker takes a horror movie and turns it into something meant to make us feel warm and fuzzy about the ‘monster,’ the movie fails. The only exception I can think of is The Sixth Sense, where the ‘good guy’ is normally the stuff of nightmares. True, director Clive Barker has always said this movie was hijacked by the studios, who cut many minutes and totally repaced the movie after he was done with it, but I don’t think that’s going to give him a free pass. See, the very idea of the movie sucks. Monsters should be monsters, and while we always want to sympathize a little with the Mike Meyers and Hannibal Lectors of the world, we also don’t want to be expected to cry over them when they meet their untimely demise at the end of the picture. Portraying hideous monsters as a people group who has been oppressed and misunderstood for centuries is just idiotic. There is a reason this movie never made back it’s budget.
That said, what’s keeping me from giving this movie a big fat U is the performance of David Cronenberg as Dr. Decker. He was a fantastic villain. If the movie was better overall, we’d be talking about him in the same breath as Dr. Lector and Antone Cigur. He’s a truly freaky villain and his mask is one of the best ever, love it. That and the production design take this out of the land of U and into SA, but don’t be fooled, generally speaking, this movie reeks.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Black Dynamite

I think if there is one bad thing to say about Black Dynamite, it is that they didn't make a movie for the general audience. We're already saturated with bad parody after bad parody - and gone are the (good) days of the Zuckers and Mel Brooks. I think we've just come to expect mediocrity from this once acclaimed cinematic form. Black Dynamite is everything you want it to be and more, and makes up for the other blaxploitation pardodies (I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Baadasssss!) that we wanted to love, but fell a bit short.

Black Dynamite is the quintessential badass. Loved by the community, feared by the evildoers. When Black Dynamite's brother is murdered in a drug sting, he takes to the streets to hunt down The Man, and ends up neck deep in a conspiracy that goes straight to, you guessed it - the Honky House.

It's hard not to appreciate a movie that doesn't take itself seriously, and Black Dynamite does just about everything right. Intentionally poor camera work and editing, bad stunts and re-hashed explosions, confusing dialogue... and I think I even caught a reference to Rudy Ray Moore's Disco Godfather. Michael Jai White is fantastic in the title role, and put together a terrific team on this little independant film. For anyone who ever loved blaxploitation camp, this is the film to see. Just bring the Colt 45 (or MD 20/20), and let the good times roll.