Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Architect: A Son's Journey (2004): 7.6/10

My Architect: A Son's Journey (2004): 7.6/10
My Architect: A Son's Journey, the 2004 documentary made by Nathaniel Kahn about his father, important architect Louis Kahn is a jumbled but fascinating documentary with an added personal touch due to the relationship between the filmmaker and the deceased subject.
I am not normally a fan of the filmmaker of a documentary being overtly present in his own documentary. Herzog’s narration in his films is an exception. While his presence both in narration and on camera feels at times self serving, because of the level to which the films subject relates to him and the film essentially being Kahn’s mission to put together a full picture of his father, his presence is understandable and necessary.
There are two things in the structure of the documentary that is slightly unique to the way the majority of other documentaries function. The first is that instead of cutting back and forth between interviewees, Kahn shows us all of the footage he wants to from an interviewee at once. He also lets the interviews feel more like a conversation in the way he lets the conversations go on and in the way he allows us to hear his questions and their immediate responses. Kahn also has his conversations taking place in a more informal if not constructed and slightly staged environment. Many interviews take place standing up, with both subjects walking and are shot at Louis Kahn’s buildings. This allows the documentary not only to be about Kahn’s mission to discover more about his father but it allows for the simultaneous tribute and appreciation of the architects work. It also helps the interviewee discuss Kahn’s work when they are walking inside or outside of it.
The other aspect of the film that makes Kahn’s documentary slightly unorthodox is that Kahn structures the film by what he found chronologically. Instead of starting from Louis’ birth and moving through his life, as we see bits of interviews that are relevant to the specific aspect or time in Kahn’s life that they discuss, Nathaniel structures the film based on his journey (hence the subtitle) and not as a typical biography. There are moments where Nathaniel inserts scenes of straight forward biographical information which ground the film and allows for the chronological structure.
At the start of the film it felt pretty standard but by the time you get to the end you realize that this is actually is doing something pretty incredible with its exploration of so many relatable and complex aspects of humanity. This idea that Louis Kahn was brilliant because he put all of his time into his work but that it never allowed him to really connect to anyone and as a result he treated the women and children in his life pretty terribly through his neglect. His contribution to architecture though is a result of his neglect of people. His trip to Bangladesh near the end and the man he speaks to is just extremely moving. The scene when he talks to his sister in laws about whether or not they are a family is very interesting. And then we have Nathaniel’s mother who is convinced Louis was coming back to marry her when he died which Nathaniel himself is doubtful of. This is a very well rounded documentary about a man’s life and how his devotion to his work left many others abandoned and one sons journey to come to terms with that.

Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House (1948): 6.7/10

Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House (1948): 6.7/10

The reason this film worked for me was because of the actors. I wanted to love this and I thin ksomeday I possibly could but for now I have to admit I had a few issues with it. What were these issues? Let me explain:

The first reason that some of this movie bothered me has to do with the present ecomony. In this day and age when everyone is hard up for money, is it really that fun watching a couple who has money complain about losing some of it? What I mean is that throughout the film Jim and Muriel Blandings learn that building a house is much more expensive then they thought it would be. They find themselves unable to control the mounds of bills and the pile of problems that building a house causes. While this is all very stressful to them, they clearly are going to be ok. The fact that these extra costs are not destroying them, for me means that I really do not care about their money problems if they can afford to have money problems. Watching Muriel refuse to get rid of their FOURTH planned bathroom and insisting upon all these rooms is not funny to me; it is very annoying. Jim's little speech at the end when he freaks out and wonders how possible it is for anyone to build a house these days especially the people who are not as well off as they are is the only time that the idea that it is harder for other people is brought up. While there problems are valid, it still can be grating after a while to watch two yuppies deal with money annoyances that barely cross into the realm of legitimately dangerous money issues. Yes I know this is a comedy. I cannot help it though; it bothered me at points.

The second issue I had was that I could not for the life of me figure out the point of the subplot involving Jim suspecting Muriel and his best friend/lawyer of having an affair. I liked the Bill Cole character and I think he should have been there but the subplot felt unfinished and completely unsubstantial. It was simply a time filler and I think Bill's presence would have meant a lot more to me if he had just been a supporting character/narrator who did not need his own particular subplot.

It sounds like I hated this. I actually liked it a lot. I just wanted to get my issues with it out of the way. It is one of those harmless classic comedies that do not have an inappropriate bone in its body. I liked the fact that it was a comedy about an established married couple. It is really entertaining to watch Cary Grant and Myrna Loy act like that have been married for 15 years. It was just refreshing not to have to go through the courting phases with anyone in this movie. These two are stable and they clearly love each other. They do such a good job of showing us their relationship and how they interact with one another; it is not hard to believe that these two characters have been married for so long.

In general Cary Grant and Myrna Loy make this movie. Cary Grant is always a wonder to watch and it is hard to beat his comedic roles in my opinion. He has the greatest reaction shots out of possibly any actor who ever lived. The way he just stares after certain characters speak is just remarkable and the director is smart enough to get his talent at this and tends to keep the shots going longer than what would usually be neccesary because of it. My favorite moment in the entire film is when at breakfast one if their daughters says "You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip" and Grant just stares at her looking so completely confused. He also has these weird little noises he makes as a reactionary habit as well and these are equally entertaining to watch. It is impossible not to be taken in by Cary Grant because he was brilliant and he is excellent here.

Myrna Loy is always a joy. Did you like that rhyme? Because I did. Seriously though, she is always more emotionally in control than Grant and it is really fun to watch her calmness in every scene. She has always been able to keep up and to be an equally essential part of an on screen duo (The Thin Man series) and she does that here as well. She makes everything look so effortless.

My favorite parts included the time the film took to show us the Blandings' morning routine. I really loved the two daughters and the breakfast scenes were actually my very favorite parts of the film. Something I really liked about it as well is that it reminded me of Father of the Bride. In that film there is also an established couple and while the events they are preparing for are different, both films involve the couple going through a certain process and meeting lots of people who will assist them in some way and running into all sorts of problems, particularly money ones. I love Father of the Bride so I liked that it reminded me of that.

Overall despite some issues I had with the film I did enjoy this very a lot mainly due to Cary Grant and Myrna Loy and their on screen chemistry and legendary talent.

The Black Room (1935): 6.5/10

The Black Room (1935): 6.5/10

At first I did not know whether or not I was going to like this particular Boris Karloff film due to its very stilted dialogue in the beginning. It felt unfinished and confusingly unclear not ni plot but in moments. Then there was a scene about 20 minutes in when Boris Karloff is talking about a pear and I was hooked.

This 1935 Boris Karloff horror flick is set in past Czechoslovakia and concerns a twin set of Barons who are born and are expected at some point to the dismay of many to fulfill a prohecy in which the younger twin will kill the older twin. The film is about the events that set the prophecy into motion but not quite in the way we expect. The twins Anton and Gregor are played by Boris Karloff in a very meaty role between the two characters. Anton is the younger twin and the nicer one who has been gone for 10 years because of his fear that the prohecy would be fulfilled. He has spent his time studying and traveling. His right arm was also paralyzed since birth. The evil twin, Gregor was left to act as Baron and govern the people and he is pretty awful. He seems to be responsible for the dissapearance of many women and he's just an all around douche. Anyways Anton comes home because of a letter in which Gregor requests him to return. There is a girl named Thea as well played by Marian Marsh. So what did I think of this film? Overall I quite enjoyed it, especially once it got going. There is not anything really overtly scary in this but I do think that Karloff can be very terrifying and so the scares basically come from the ridiculous vibe of skeeviness that he puts on here. He does a fantastic job as both brothers. He felt genuine and naive as the nice one and like I said, ridiculously skeevy as the other one. The scary element or rather disturbing element of the story is the length that Gregor will go to secure his place with Thea. My favorite scenes were the ones when Gregor was pretending to be Anton. He does not play these scenes overtly but because we know it is Gregor, we read his delivery of lines completely differently and its very interesting to watch as a result.

Marian Marsh does a very nice job here. Her reaction to certain things felt very underwhelming but she had a way of delivering this one line that she had and it completely won me over with the creativity that she said that line with. There is also a small part played by Katherine DeMille, the adpoted daughter of Cecil B. DeMille who is a standout here. The film is decently shot but there are definitely 2 standout shots that I can think of that really impressed me.

I am becoming very quickly a HUGE fan of Karloff. Absolutely and completely superior to Lugosi in every way shape and form. There is no contest. I had only seen him in Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Scarface and of course as the narrator of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I had not reallly seen him in the roles that involve his beautiful voice (which obviously I was aware of from the Grinch). Now since I have been watching some stuff with him I have become enthralled. After having seen him recently in this, The Old Dark House, Isle of the Dead, The Body Snatcher and Targets I can safely say he has earned a spot on my favorite actors list.

My last comment on this is that I really enjoyed that a dog played a really significant part in this. He is sort of the reason the film goes where it does which was random and amusing.

Overall while I did have some problems with the film, (rough start, villagers reacting to certain situations in stupid ways) Karloff makes it for me and the plot is quite intruiging on its own. Check this out if you ever stumble upon it. It's like an hour long.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Paranormal Activity (2009): 7.1/10

Paranormal Activity (2009): 7.1/10

I need to say a few things about this film before I get to the actual review. There is so much hype, so much calculated and planned hype that has been built around this film. I want to ignore it or try to for the sake of the review because while the marketing is brilliant, it is annoying and everyones reactions to it seems to be based off of the marketing of the film making everyone think this way before they even had seen the film. Looking at the film on these expectations; does it live up to them? Absolutely not. I do not want to judge this in comparison to the claims that it is the scariest film ever made; because it is not. It is far from being that. Based on these claims, the film is completely overrated and completely overhyped. However, if I look at the film without thinking about everything it has been built up to be by the marketing, I really really liked this a lot. I want to keep thinking about the film as its own entity and as a very impressive and creative use of essentially zero budget.

Two things first: 1. I did not see this in the theater. Before anyone can claim "well no wonder it was not one of the scariest movies you have seen if you did not see this in the theater" let me stop you right there. While scary movies are much scarier in the theater then they are while watching at home, a scary film should be able to have relatively the same reaction with people at home then on the big screen. It needs to be able to function and succeed without relying on the communal experience factor going for it. Most of the scariest films I have seen are films I have not seen in the theater. If it cannot match up to those films, then it does not belong on a list of my most frightening films. I am not saying the movie did not scare me. It creeped me out quite a bit.

Secondly the version of it that I saw had the original ending. After reading the new ending that was released in theaters (which proves that it was being prepped for a mass audience from the beginning) I can say that if I had seen that version my rating would be lower. Talk about stupid. While I had problems with the original ending as well, not in content but in style, the ending that I saw was of the classic nobody wins variety that I like to see. Personally though my favorite ending would be the one that was only shown at one screening. It is the ending that after reading about it, just having come off the movie, prevented me from sleeping for a good 15 minutes.

So as I have said before I am not judging this on the basis that it is one of the scariest movies ever made because for me it was not. I am judging it on the basis of whether or not I enjoyed the film. I am a fan of films like this; they do inherently draw me in. I think what the director and writer Oren Peli did with what he had to work with was very impressive and displayed a great deal of creativity on his part.

The film relies on anticipation to an insane degree but it works because the pay off, no matter how small it is, is satisfying based on how he builds the tension throughout the scenes. The film only has two people to really stay with as Micah and Katie provide us with the characters that we watch throughout the film. They, along with the homemade nature of the film ground it in a believability. When this subgenre of films is used, it is neccesary to get actors who can act as naturally as the style of the film calls for. This was an issue I had with Cloverfield; while the style was going for a level of authenticity, the acting was as stilted as any bad big budget film. This is a huge reason that the film that Paranormal Activity is being compared to, The Blair Witch Project (which deserves its status because without it, none of these other films would exist) works so well; the actors in it, particularly Heather Donahue were so good and you never felt like you were watching someone act. While Micah does a very nice job in an unlikeable role, Katie Featherston is extremely convincing here as Katie. She does a really nice job of drawing us into the story and of making us care about what happens to this couple.

Rather than focus on individual character development, Peli focuses on how they interact as a couple. This works well because it does help us care about Micah more when we see that they are happy as a couple at least until Micah gets out of hand with his priorities. It was very amusing to hear him squirm when Katie tells him that he is not in control of the situation; that IT is. "How dare you...blah blah blah" What an idiot. He does set his priorities straight by the end though...but it is too late.

For me the creepiest moments were the pattering footsteps and subsequent crash, the shadow on the door and of course the finale. While the movie is not incredibly scary, it is legitimately creepy in both its use of anticipation and its use of minimal effects. The lack of effects (obviously because of money) adds to the relatability factor that the movie carries which I think is extremely important. In another movie we would have seen a lot more and would probably have seen the demon at some point. The sounds and creepings about that the film shows us are all the types of squeaks and shadows that we think we see in real life. Little moments like that have terrified all of us in real life so taking those small goings on and allowing them to be parrt of an inescapable and random evil is very effective.

I am not looking forward to a sequel at all mainly because as I see it, the film did not end the way other people saw it. While I am intrigued to see what this director can do with a budget and I think he deserves the chance most definitely, I just do not want a sequel. At all.

Overall I really liked this a lot but I hate the hype and the marketing of it, brilliant as it is. It is not one of the scariest movies I have ever seen but it is quite effective and has stuck with me since my viewing of it last night.

Review: Treeless Mountain (2009): 6/10

Treeless Mountain (2009): 6/10

This South Korean film about two sisters who have to learn to adapt to a new life is affecting but ultimately unsubstantial. 6 year old Jin and her sister 3 year old Bin live a comfortable and pleasant enough life with their mother.

Their mother goes off to try to deal with their father in a clearly complicated situation which the audience is kept out of the loop on. She brings them to their aunts place, the mothers' sister-in-law. She clearly cares for her children but finds herself in a situation that cannot be dealt with while her children are with her. The aunt is not depicted as a bad person by any means but is (nicely) shown as someone who is just as confused about how to deal with this new dynamic as the children are. She is nice to them overall but in many moments and scenes fails to display the patient understanding that is neccesary in dealing with the children and their ways of coping with the situation.

While the mother is not depicted as a bad person in the film (nobody is), she does something that very much frustrated me. Before she leaves she gives Jin and Bin a piggy bank and tells them that everytime they obey their aunt, the aunt will give them a coin and when the bank is filled, the mother will come back. Why would she say this to her kid? This was a painfully immature move on her part in that she apparently assumes that a 6 year old will not take this literally. So of course a huge chunk of the film is Jin and Bin trying to catch, cook and sell grasshoppers in an effort to fill up the bank which they do. I am just not sure why she would say this to her children. It goes beyond false hope.

The film rests on the performances of the children who not only carry the film but are the film. We are not really shown anyone else's perspctive and so the leads most importantly Jin must be emotionally resonant which she very much is. Hee-Yeon Kim is so beautiful and surprisingly moving in this film. We can see her trying to understand what is going on in her head and we can also see the emotions at work within her. Song-hee Kim as Bin is a nice contrast and companion for Jin but since she is 3 years old it is hard to comment on any sort of intentional performance going on. I can only say that she is filmed so that we can she that she is effected as well.

The film, which is all observational in tone) is nicely shot with a couple of outstanding shots which would constitute a favorite shots of the year list if only. While the film is interesting, moving and is carried well by the leads, ultimately it never really crosses into great territory. It is just a pretty good film. So in the end, its only flaw is that it is too mild to really cross the line into being great.

Review: A Serious Man (2009): 9.4/10

A Serious Man (2009): 9.4/10

Out of the 45 films I have seen so far that have come out in 2009, my vote for the best of those goes to the Coen Brothers' bleakly hysterical A Serious Man.

Let's just get this out of the way; anybody who has a problem or is turned off by the Coen Brothers' extreme cynical worldview is going to hate this. Their cynicism is pushed as far as it can go with this film. This is cynicism and particularly their brand of it in its raw stripped down form. The film shows absolutely no hope for humanity and the shred of it towards the end which does occur is stomped out in the films' final moments. The claim that it may be their best film is not unfounded; it could be my favorite by them.

A Serious Man is basically a retelling of the story of Job. In this film, Job is represented by Larry Gopnik who played by theater actor Michael Stuhlbarg (this guy has a lot of presence. Fascinating to watch in every scene). The performance requires him to watch his life fall apart and he does a fantastic job of it. It is hard to pull off these lines for such a prolonged period of time and not become annoying as a character and he manages to maintain our sympathy (or at least mine) for him even though we wish he would try to do something more than be confounded with the extreme turn that his life takes. This leads him to begin questioning his faith and we see that in his desperate search for an answer as everything around him only gets worse.

For me it is very hard to review this film with a respectable amount of depth because there is so much packed into each scene that it would take many viewings to get a handle on this. Every character is simultaneously part of a pattern and rhythum that the Coens' have cooked up. Every recurring character (and there are many) adds to this built tension as it increases the stress in Larry's life. When they come back later in the film it is only to make the situation for Larry are dealing with worse.

The Jewish culture, religion and community play an essential role in this film. While there is a lot of thematic and soul crushing worldview stuff going on, they are also trying to recreate mid west Jewish suburbia in the 60's. While it is not something I can personally relate to, they create a clear and distinct portrait of how the 60's are dealing with two different worldviews clamoring for dominance. Someone I know has a father that grew up in this enviornment and he was really impressed with how accurate it was to his experiences.

Since at this point I really only have random bits and pieces of things to say since I have only seen this comlplicated picture once, I will delve off into some random thoughts.

There needs to be a shoutout to Fred Melamed for his truly memorable performance as Cy Abelman. His "calming" voice is discomfiting and knowingly deceptive and he plays the character with just the right amount of absurdity to make Larry's situation that much more confusing to him.

I really like that while the film is almost exclusively from Larry's perspective, the only other character to get an individual focus is his son Danny. We see that Danny is in the middle of conflicting world views as he struggles to juggle his familial obligations in preperation for his Batmitzvah and his instincts to be a normal kid who gets into trouble and to explore the changing world of the 60's. The recordings he listens to in his studies of the Torah are contrasted by the ever present music of Jefferson Airplane which represent the changes going on in the decade. It comes to a head in a fantastic pay off in the scene between Danny and Rabbi Marshak.

Something that works so well in this film even more so than their other films is that every scene that is saturated with these truly horrible and depressing perspectives and statements about life are so damn funny at the same time. The more depressing it is the funnier it is. The devastating hopelessness of this film is so successful in that it depressed me and it is all the more impressive that in each scene, the film managed to take me out of those emotions enough for me to be able to laugh at it all...and to be legitimately disturbed by its hopelessness. If that makes sense.

For anyone who did not get the end of No Country for Old Men, be prepared for an ending similar (only in that it leaves you staring at the screen after its end) to that film. But completely different as well.

Carter Burwell's scores are consistently haunting and have become an essential component to the Coen Brothers films and how they function in mood most prominently.

That might be all I have to say about this for now. I do think it is a film that needs to be seen more than once to fully comprehend ones thoughts on it in detail. When I was watching it though it became very clear that their are so many threads running through the film which are marked by characters entrances, exits and repeated occurances of entering and exiting after they have done slightly more damage to this man. Everything is weaved together beautifully. The person I went with saw it as being "a bit all over the place for them" and I can see that perspective but for me it is their most tightly scrpited film.

While I doubt A Serious Man will ever gain the cult status that The Big Lebowski has (overrated in my opinion) it has already gained a lot of momentum as being the film tha most accurately represents their worldview. This is a statement I agree with. I have my worries that this film could hurt them for the future. By this I mean that by after seeing a film that if neccesary can completely sum them up as filmmakers, where do you go from there? It does not get any bleaker than this film. There is no answer. There is no savior from doom. There is no control. It only gets worse. And all you can do is watch.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Push (2009) 3.1/10


As much as Push was a failure I did not hate it. There were things to admire about it. It was shot very nicely and the colors popped well despite the slapshot editing that basically counterbalances any impressions that are to be made from the cinematography itself. The cinematography does deserve a little credit though. The performances are not bad either. I have decided I don’t hate Chris Evans. I think, as much as I hate the character type he plays in Fantastic Four, he fits into that smug douchey douche character and Hollywood uses him for that but luckily he is not like that in this at all. While its not a performance that requires much from him, he gets the job done. Dakota Fanning is the one who I clung to in the film though. I am a fan of hers and she basically lights up the movie with her presence. Everyone does a nice job here except for Camilla Belle who is not quite bad; she just has the personality of a toaster. So all in all the actors are trying hard enough and Fanning puts in an entertaining performance. The effects blended in well with the rest of the film and did their job as opposed to being distracting to the film. That might not sound like much of a compliment I find this to be an issue with usually much higher quality films so believe that this is a huge compliment.

The problem does not lie in with the actual concept which, while undeniably unoriginal is also filled with potential. The problem, the fatal problem lies with the plot and the script, both of which are a mess. The plot decides to kick into high gear before we really know the players involved. It uses one dead parent and one unattainable parent as motives for two separate main characters. It never really stops to explain things clearly which is the big problem. There is a suitcase and drawings and a syringe and a girl and there are just too many things going on that really have no real purpose to them. Everyone needs to get there hands on the suitcase. Why? Well it has a syringe that could kill people with powers. Everyone needs it but why? I thought Division wanted to make them stronger and make an army. Then there is the one girl who survived the injection, Camilla Belle, whose character is never developed in the way we hope it will be. Again, as I said her personality leaves much to be desired and everything involving her feels unsuccessful. They try to help the plot make sense but the whole thing is just a mess. Everything is so urgent but you cannot explain why that is. I could not explain much of the plot to someone if I tried. This was the problem. This is why the film was not good.

As I said though, there was potential and there were things I liked. Cassie, the Dakota Fanning character was refreshing as she did not seem to fill any typical role. The dynamic between her and Nick, the Chris Evans character was interesting enough and attaching. I enjoyed Cassie’s drawings as well. I feel bad that they set up the end of the film to be ready for a sequel but I doubt that will happen. It is aggravating at the same time though because plot elements that they set up never become fully seen through which means that the film feels lazy as well as unfinished.

So in conclusion, Push was not good but I did enjoy it mildly even though I had no idea what was happening. Nothing was solid, the film felt like it went nowhere for 2 hours and essentially the film decided to stop 3 quarters of the way through in anticipation of a sequel. The plot was too extremely shoddy and it never gave the characters room to breathe enough as characters rather and necessities to a story. I will say this though, as a last note just to emphasize how much I mean it; I really truly enjoyed everything involving Dakota Fanning in this film.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Funny People (2009): 7.9/10

Sorry it has been so long. So many reviews got overwhelming. From now on I plan on doing a weekly update and short review compliation of the films I've seen and seperate longer ones for 2009 films.
Funny People (2009) 7.9/10

“Funny People” is simply put, Apatow’s most effective and possibly the most flawed film of the three he has directed, the other two being The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked up. It is also clearly Apatow’s most personal film and I suspect actor Adam Sandler’s most personal film as well. Sandler and Apatow have been friends for many years and even roomed with each other during their days as struggling performers. The memorable first part of the opening credits of the film include real footage of those days in which Sandler prank calls people as Apatow films and with Janeane Garofalo in the room as well. Sandler’s and his character George Simmons both have a very similar status as actors. These are only a few of the reasons tat the film feels deeply personal.
The film is about a struggling stand up comedian Ira (Seth Rogen) who works at a deli to support him and lives with two friends. One is Leo (Jonah Hill), a more successful stand up comedian than Ira and Mark (Jason Schwartzman) an actor whose starring role on a terrible sitcom on NBC named “Yo Teach!” makes him think he is better than others. Mark represents the absurdity of ego in the film and TV industry and how little exposure one needs to develop a superiority complex in the business. In the meantime, George Simmons a former stand up comedian and A list actor with a lot of terrible movies under his belt, finds out that he has a form of leukemia and that his chances for survival are very slim. One thing leads to another and George is hiring Ira to write jokes for him.
The film then develops the extreme love-hate relationship George has with Ira, treating him well one second and like shit the next. It is not long before you get the feeling that Ira is really there so that George is not lonely and so he can also have someone to kick around to make himself feel better in his final days. George introduces Ira to the world of fame and it both appeals and repels Ira. Ira sticks around through all of George’s behavior towards him because he does care very much for him. In the meantime we learn about the girl who got away; Laura played by Leslie Mann. They were engages to be married when George cheated on her. She is now married to Clarke (Eric Bana) and has two kids. George becomes a part of her life again when she thinks that he is dying.
That is all I will say about the actual plot of the movie. George Simmons is easily the most developed character that Apatow has ever written as well as being the most impressive. I cannot quite shake the character as of yet. He is still with me which is probably not for the best. You don’t want this character stuck with you. At least I don’t. He is miserable. Not all the time. He is not one dimensional like that. Many others probably won’t feel this strongly about George. He is not a bad person. He is simply flawed. He is just full of self hatred whether it be on the surface or underneath at any given moment. There is a great loneliness always with him even when surrounded by people. The way that the film depicted the Hollywood lifestyle disturbed me with its realism. The way it can take someone like George Simmons and his inherent problems and loneliness and just leave a bigger hole; except this time around you can have anything or anyone you want and everyone loves you. Adam Sandler is remarkable here. It is not the kind of showy performance I expected as in something like “Reign Over Me”. He is not afraid to let the character be. I never felt like I was watching a performance. I feel like I was watching George Simmons. This freaked me out a bit. George is a sympathetic character nut is also someone who you probably would not want to spend much time with.
Seth Rogen’s Ira on the other hand is basically as likeable as it gets. There is not an unlikable bone in this character’s body. Yet he is still nicely individualized. He balances George and Rogen gives a more restrained and thoughtful performance here and shows a maturity in his acting capabilities. Everyone is excellent in the film and everyone fills their roles well, especially Eric Bana as Laura’s husband Clarke.
The film’s main flaw is that it is overlong. I was never bored but I did feel the film drag in several spots. This movie does not need to be two and a half hours. It by no means ruined the movie for me but it is a significant problem. It is as if Apatow thought that the option of deleted scenes on a DVD did not exist. It was either that the scene went in the film or it would never be seen by anyone. It takes nearly an entire movie length itself for the Leslie Mann character to be fully integrated into the story. That is an issue. There was too much of a focus on lending to the realism in the movie with star cameos. It did its job well but scenes featuring Andy Dick and Eminem did not feel worth the realism in comparison to the length it added. There was also too much with Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman. While I love them both dearly and both were great, their screen time should have been cut by at least 10 minutes. With little trimmings here and there I do believe that film could have been comfortable and had the same impact at 2 hours.
That is really the only outright complaint I have. I felt that Daisy, the love interest for Ira was nice but at the same time she is just not a very engaging character. Daisy is also a stand up comedian who for whatever reason has no sense of humor in real life seemingly because she is a woman and she barely has a personality to boot. Yet I liked her because I felt there was potential for an interesting character. There were also times when I felt that it was a little confusing about who knows about George’s condition and how up to date people are on where he is at.
I have mentioned about how impressed I was about the realism that Apatow puts into the film.. I felt every moment with George knowing about his impending death. How one deals with information like that has been handled on assumedly lesser works such as The Bucket List and Last Holiday. Here it felt all too real, to the point where it forces us or at least it did me, to be terrified if ever I have to deal with information of that weight. As I said before the way Hollywood fame, wealth and life is depicted is all too real. The way women are seen in that world was very realistic and also sad. The women who just want to sleep with celebrities are everywhere and they are in this film and you see how being surrounded by that all of the time would impact the way someone sees women which is extremely saddening and disturbing. The way the film addresses commitment and an inability to change ones circumstances at a certain point or at least the potential consequences of a life change can have is quite depressing. Finally the idea that two people can be meant for each other and at the same time not meant for each other is something heavily explored by the end of the film which I commend it for.
While “Funny People” is flawed due to the unnecessary scenes leading to over length, the film is the most accomplished of Apatow’s works. Overall it is very much worth seeing because of its refreshing complexity in its handling of the story itself. All of the performances but especially Adam Sandler’s truly layered work as George Simmons acts as a strong reason to go see this. While “Funny People” may be funny, I did not leave that theater laughing. In its last scene it has a sort of conventional ending but in other ways it isn’t. Nevertheless though, I still left the theater not knowing what to do with my life. Granted I am more affected by films than most others but that does not mean that this film was all laughs. That also does not mean that the film is not worth seeing. It is.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who's Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978): 6.8

Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)
Grade: 6.8

I highly enjoyed this. It is definitely slow and has a few characters that it takes some time to get used to. However due to a brilliant performance by Robert Morley and a dark comedic sensibility this movie is quite entertaining. George Segal’s character is quite annoying at first but in the end I actually somewhat cared about his and Jacqueline Bisset’s characters relationship. Its been a while since I watched this but I loved the scene in which all of the potentially best chefs from France get together for a meeting. It was evident immediately who the killer was. Still fun though. Basically the main reason I enjoyed this was because it was consistently entertaining with unique bits of humor and a really good cast. I wish I had more to say but honestly, I watched about 25 movies since this one. It’s a little light in my memory. I do know though that it was better than most of the movies I have watched this summer and I am finally glad I have seen it after 5 years of having it on Amanda and I’s list of movies to watch.

Monster on the Campus (1958): 3.5

Monster on the Campus:
Grade: 3.5

These grades try to be a mix of how enjoyable it was and how good the film was quality wise. These kinds of films are the hardest to judge ; the ones that really are terrible but in such a fun way how can you fault it? It is always risky watching one of the scifi/monster movies of the 50’s because they could either be great in both a genuinely good way, bad in the best way possible or bad in the worst way possible. There are a lot of these types of films that can be really truly bad in that they are quite boring. Monster on the Campus probably would have suffered greatly if I had been watching it alone but I wasn’t and thus I had a great time with this. I do not even know what to give it because it is not good. But it was a blast to watch. I was crying at one point from laughing. It is ridiculous enough to be a fun watch in a way that merits a grade above the worst possible grade. I bought this from Video Visions. I was not ready to let go of the memory. I even don’t even know what to say about this movie. An axe gets thrown into someone’s face at one point which completely threw me off guard. The main character cannot figure out that he is the one attacking people even though all signs point to him and he is blacking out and coming to with torn clothes. The professors’ classes are about the eventual destruction of humanity. The way he handles the fish. The girl dying of “fright” even though the monster is a fucking monster. So many brilliant moments to be had here. Overall this was obviously terrible but one of the most unintentionally funny movies I’ve seen in a long time.

“Jimmy would know his own dog”

Quartet (1948): 9.0/10

Quartet (1948)
Grade: 9.0

The only awesome thing it terms of legitimate quality that Amanda and I have watched besides Cousins. What a breath of fresh air this was. And vignettes to boot! I ended up buying this from Video Visions actually. W. Somerset Maugham introduces the film which includes 4 short stories, collectively known as Quartet, each done by a different director, each a half an hour. This British film literally has everything going for it; its’ only flaws are a false feeling ending to the third story, an almost universal hatred towards women and a corny at times introduction and conclusion by Maugham himself (but it’s so deliciously random that I cannot fault it).

Each story contains a unique story in which the modesty within is so charming. The first story called “The Facts of Life” involves three wonderful surprises. The first is that at first one thinks that the story is going to be about an old man whereas it is actually about that man’s son. The story revolves around a young man going to Monte Carlo for a tennis tournament and the son’s experiences with the things that the father warns him against. The second surprise is that the old man tells his son to stay away from gambling, lending people money and women. Since the father warns the son about three things, we have no idea which is going to take the lead in the trouble that he will get into. The third surprise is that the father’s perspective is somewhat skewed and his worry at the events of the story are misleading which leads to a delightful ending. Overall this story surprised me in many lovely ways which felt refreshing overall and its’ protagonist Ralph is adorable and likeable.

The second story, my personal favorite titled confusingly, at least to me, “The Alien Corn” is about an aspiring pianist played by a young Dirk Bogarde whose uptight family makes a deal with him upon hearing about his desired profession; live in Paris for two years as he wishes with a small allowance to develop his skills. After that, a trained professional will listen to him play and their his/her opinion will be the deciding factor to whether or not he has any potential as a first class pianist. If yes, he can continue; if not he has to give up his profession. He agrees and…well I won’t tell you what happens. It all coincides with a subplot involving his cousin being in love with him and her efforts to discuss the matter. However, he is so wrapped up in his potential career, he never even notices her being around. This story was my favorite, only slightly because of its hinted upon complexities and the really impressive levels of the story that are available to be read into by viewers. Creepy incest aside, fantastic half an hour.

The third story, “The Kite” was my least favorite only because of the end which I really hated. Apparently if I remember correctly, it is supposed to be the narrators’ idea of how the story might have ended but I do not even care if it was an interpretation. I hated it. The character of Betty is also The Devil. Holy god what an evil woman. My lack of sympathy for the characters because of their supposed love even though they don’t know what the others hobbies are until they get married made me care less. I really loved the introduction of the story though and how they make you completely sympathetic towards Herbert after hearing the story. Even though that seems contradictory to what I said before, Herbert is somewhat sympathetic given the situation if only because the other characters are just not sympathetic.

The fourth story was an absolute delight mainly because of the utter awesomeness of the female character Mrs. Peregrine. I also liked that the story is told from the Colonel’s point of view starting with his lack of fascination to his annoyance to his stubbornness to his paranoia all leading up to the revealing confrontation he has with his wife that will hopefully start them on the road to a better marriage.

Overall I had very few problems with this film; all of them quite minor in retrospect. This was an utter delight of a film with four stories that all offered something different to the overall product. A refreshing relatively obscure gem.

Don't Tempt Me (Sin Noticias De Dios) (2001): 5.2/10

Don’t Tempt Me (Sin Noticias De Dios) (2001):
Grade: 5.2

Don’t Tempt Me was a curious film. That’s the word I’d use to describe it. Curious. It’s a high concept sort of film with a stellar cast and a very incomplete world with missing pieces and unexplained concepts. I enjoy the idea. It’s abstract in execution and interesting to boot. But it seems incomplete. That’s a complaint I have about many of the films I watched during Amanda and I’s grueling 16 movie marathon. They feel incomplete. So many things happened which felt unexplained or undeveloped. The world had interesting concepts but never took the time to give us enough exposition on things. Again, there are movies in which lack of exposition and explanation work for a film; this is not one of them. The concept was simply too ambitious for the filmmakers.

Another major problem with the film is that the character of Manny, to me was totally uninteresting and undeveloped. His character is probably the most important in the film. Yet, I could not give a shit about him and I think that this is a major problem. The only interest he invoked in me was from the actor Demian Bichir aka Estaban from Weeds. I really really enjoy watching him whenever I see him but I just had no interest in Manny and I think it severely hindered the film.

Let us talk about the good stuff. Basically all of the main characters other than Manny (Lola, Carmen, Marina and Jack) felt very distinct and memorable. Its not an easy thing to accomplish and while their character development is questionable, their distinctness is not and I highly enjoyed the other memorable characters in the film. Penelope Cruz oozed presence and I absolutely fell in love with the twist involving her character at the end. I should have seen it coming; it was so so so obvious looking back but I just was not anticipating any sort of twist with this film and thus was not looking for one. Victoria Abril was delightful as well as Lola. Fanny Ardant is just the coolest woman around so she was great as the CEO of Heaven and Gael was good as well when speaking in Spanish as Davenport. He was doing something weird with his voice when he was speaking in English.

The general conception of Heaven and Hell were very interesting and something that I personally enjoyed to watch. Again it was when it went beyond the visual and extremely basic rules involving these two abstractions that things became very muddled. Overall there were moments and scenes and ideas and characters and performances I loved. But the film never came together as a completely successful work due to lack of development and likability in relation to a pivotal character, undeveloped and overly ambitious concepts, plot unevenness and more. I still was interested throughout the film though and am happy that I saw it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Somewhere in Time (1980): 4.0

Somewhere in Time (1980):
Grade: 4.0

Did you know that if you think about going back in time hard enough it can happen? Yeah this is what I have learned from Somewhere in Time, a time travel romance film starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve. Sounds intriguing right?

One of the problems I have with so many romance films are how quickly two people can fall in love. That is represented here only so much worse than I’ve ever seen it done before. Well that’s not true but it’s at the top. Basically before Christopher Reeve even goes back in time he believes that the Jane Seymour character is who he is meant to be with. So it is because he figures this is his destiny that I honestly feel that she could have been anybody and he would have fallen in love with her because he believed that it had happened that way in the past. So he went back in time ready to love her. And that frankly is extremely annoying. Personally I very much enjoyed the movie as entertainment and I really enjoyed the feel of it and the originality of it. My problems were that Jane Seymour did not seem to have a character and neither did Reeve. They were not fleshed out as individuals or as a couple and thus I did not care about them. The film wanted me to think everything was so epic but that cannot happen when you have characters that essentially have nothing to them. The film looked really nice and I loved the costumes but these characters just had nothing to them.

Then we had the penny reveal. The absolutely ridiculous penny reveal. Everything was going okay and then all of a sudden the scariest most intense shot of a penny in the history of the cinema took place and then Christopher Reeve loses his time traveling abilities and starves himself to death. The End. Seriously. The End. What the hell movie was I watching for the last 15 minutes? I have no idea. It was crazy. And ridiculous. And since the movie never made me believe in the slightest about their romance it have no weight for me except for making me completely confused. So overall I was entertained, the costumes were great, the idea was great and the actors were charismatic but the story

Saturday, May 23, 2009

1969 (1988): 5.5/10

1969 (1988):
Grade: 5.5

What a dream cast this had. This movie could have been total and absolute shit and I would have loved it. Why? It has Robert Downey Jr., Kiefer Sutherland and Winona Ryder in 1988. Like I said; dream cast. I would have to say that the best part of the film were the opening credits. Absolutely incredible opening credits. From then on the movie has really great moments and really not great moments. A lot of the film was sort of ridiculous and hard to take seriously in that some of the characters did not have clear arcs and the film was too obvious about being set in the 60s with the whole freedom thing. I understand why Sutherland’s character is annoyingly enthusiastic about the time period. I’m sure a lot of people were and I’m sure a lot of people were annoying. The problems I had with the film was, again not enough development. Robert Downey Jr.’s character barely had an arc. I wanted to know more about Downey Jr and Ryder’s mother played by the reliably insane Joanna Cassidy. I wanted to know more about Sutherland’s parents. I felt that they could have been much more fleshed out especially because Dern and Hartley give really good performances.

What I did like about it though was the presence and charisma of the actors. The cast makes this movie. Sutherland is really fantastic in this playing an against type sort of role as a kid who is trying to find his identity while living through the 60’s as he wavers between what kind of person he might want to be. I just adore Kiefer and I really truly was impressed with his performance in this. Even though Robert Downey Jr. is criminally underused. He is supposed to be a main character and yet they never truly do anything with him. And Winona Ryder, early adorable awesome beautiful Winona Ryder. I love her so much. And her character Beth is great. I loved Sutherland and Ryder’s relationship. I was legitimately attached to them. And they might be the prettiest couple ever.

I was totally entertained throughout the film. Completely and utterly entertained. The cast left a lot of presence in the film to be had and added more than there was in the script for them. But overall the movie seemed to be a draft of what would have been the final film. There was a lot of potential here as well but things left…unfinished and not fully fleshed out. I’m so glad I watched it finally though since I had been meaning to see it ever since I wrote my biography on Winona Ryder for school in 5th grade.

“Well these things were in the refrigerator and now they’re not”…eofihg dkshjf ksdhf!!!

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983): 5.3/10

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
Grade: 5.3

I have no idea what I thought of this. I was interested in some of this. The beginning and other parts. I do not even know how to describe this movie. It had a lack of focus to it even though it seemed to have one in the beginning. I never felt that Colliers (Bowie) stay at the POW camp was solidified in its depiction which is basically what the movies success hinges on and I think it fails in this area. It also fails to show me a significant friendship between Colliers and Lawrence which the film seems to think it had developed.

It is very disappointing because if the middle section of the film had been done well I feel that this would have been a great movie. All of the characters are interesting especially Takeshi Kitano as Sergeant Hara. All four of the main characters were interesting; Colliers, Lawrence, Yonoi and Hara. I just felt that the character connections and the story were mildly there or not fully developed and it was disappointing since the film showed so much promise. I also enjoyed the flashback to Colliers’ childhood greatly but the problem with that was that the issues of the other parts of the film prohibit this section from making any sort of sense. A lot of this was too ambiguous for me. I don’t mind ambiguity but for a film like this I think there could have been a bit more solidity to it. I also felt like the movie did not know when to end. There was a lot of great stuff at the end but it just kept going. I think the image I will take the most from this movie is David Bowie buried up to his head in sand as he dehydrates to death. I cannot deny how haunting that image was. I think I found this film one of the most frustrating that Amanda and I have watched because I saw so much potential in it. There is a lot of great here but nothing to really connect any of it with a completely coherent story. Apparently this film is very well respected and is considered to be quite good. Oshima is a big deal. But for me I wish I saw the greatness others saw in this film. Again, I saw greatness in it and there are really fantastic characters here but there is not enough focus for a film that seems to think it as focus.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Magic in the Mirror (1996): 0.4/10

Magic in the Mirror (1996):
Grade: 0.5

I cannot describe how painful this movie was to watch. I was so excited for it based on the cover and the idea that mid 90’s fantasy films should all be awesome based on time period alone. I was wrong. I have no idea how they managed to make this film so boring. And actively awful. Not one character in this movie is remotely likeable. They are all stupid and horrifyingly annoying. The only entertaining thing about this movie was the villainous man-fowl/Drake things. I have no idea what they were. And the only reason they were entertaining was because of how absolutely creepy and weird they were. They drink tea and human boiled tea is a delicacy. I am not making this up. The shots of the Drakes flying were my favorite because it was literally just the actors flapping their arms and standing in front of a green screen. No wires, no nothing. I hate this movie so much because it should have been good. Or at the very least entertaining. But no. This movie was absolutely painful to get through. Painfully awful. Painfully everything. Just awful. The main kid was bad; everyone was bad. Its boring as fuck. Nothing happens in it. What an awful mother Mary Margaret has. Yet she totally changes. Bella and Donna sacrifice themselves and are boiled into tea? Mary makes a wooden sculpture of a mallard that looks like Mrs. Mallard her principal. Personally the character I liked the most or rather the character I liked was the dead grandmother who is dead long before the film begins and yet she was my favorite. OMG I HATE THIS MOVIE!!!

Oblivion (1994): 5.1

Oblivion (1994):
Grade: 5.1

It is hard to judge an intentionally campy film. Its goal is to make a fun and extremely campy film. Does it succeed? I would say it does. So…how to judge? It is the year 3031 I believe and basically the planet that the film takes place on is like the Old West. A reptile alien guy called Red Eye takes over the town and Zach Stone, the departed sheriff’s son and also a pacifist comes back to town to help defeat Red Eye. There are so many other things going on here. The enjoyment of the film is how it does not take itself seriously at all. It is the little things in this movie. The supporting characters make this for me. There is Julie Newmar as Miss Kitty making multiple references to her role as the original Catwoman as she makes random hissing noises. George Takei plays a drunken doctor/inventor/dentist who literally makes no sense throughout the film. He is hilarious in this movie. Carel Struycken plays Gaunt, the funeral man who arrives before people die because he can sense when and where someone will die. He was my favorite character. I think his casting had a lot to do with his iconic role as the Tall Man on Twin Peaks as his character only appeared in Cooper’s dreams as he forebodingly alluded to events to come. The roles are similarly fantastical. Meg Foster also creates a memorable character as cyborg Stell Barr and then we have Red Eye played by Mikhail aka Patchy from Lost (!) and Lash his dominatrix girlfriend. And Buteo the Native American. And Issac Hayes. I do not know what to say about the film. I had fun with it and I was taken in by its unique brand of campy. It was a blast to watch. And I did not feel like it was trying too hard. Well it was trying really hard but the point is that it worked. And isn’t that what’s most important about a movie like this?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cousins (1989): 8.0

Cousins (1989)
Grade: 8.0

What a pleasant surprise this was. A romance film starring Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini? How could this work? The back of the film suggested that the film was about two people who are now cousins through a marriage within the two families and their spouses that cheat on the two main characters with the other person. This is true but the back also says that the two main characters deliberately pretend that they are having an affair to get back at their spouses and that hilarity ensues. This is totally false. The y never do this. Only in one scene do they pretend this. The film is actually a dramedy about these two characters and their special friendship through the circumstances in which they meet. As they develop their friendship they acknowledge that they love each other but they do not want to act on it because of the consequences. There is much more to the film other than this. First of all, the spouses of both Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini played by Sean Young and William Petersen, get their own stories as well. They are not evil people. Well, William Petersen basically is but even he is not completely one note in this film. We get a subplot involving Danson’s son and father. There is a lot to be had here.

I seriously completely and utterly enjoyed this film. I thought that the chemistry between Danson and Rossellini was fantastic as well as both of their performances. My favorite thing about the film is the care and time that was put into their friendship and subsequent relationship. There are so many couples in films are hopefully to be couples that I could not care less about because the time and care put into them is so minimal and unoriginal and the actors often have little chemistry. Cousins got me completely invested in these two characters. In fact whenever I remake my Couples list, Maria and Larry are going on it. And quite high. They were adorable and unique. And I read that one person called it refreshing because it was a relationship focused on love and not sex and it is so true. These two have a mental and personal connection much before a physical one and this helps the movie greatly. I absolutely love these two characters and their relationship and I loved the amount of time that was spent on Young and Petersen’s character as well. Between the plots involving Danson’s son and grandfather (played by Lloyd Bridges and Keith Coogan) we get a well rounded look at relationships between generations as well.

The movie is not perfect. The big flaw is that I did not feel like we got a good enough look at the normality between the two couples before everything between Danson and Rossellini gets started. I think this would have helped us understand the original couple dynamics a bit more outside of the really basic on the surface information. Other than that, I loved the pacing, the acting and the characters. I loved this movie. I think it is so underrated and I cannot believe I am saying that about a Joel Schumacher film.

Satisfaction (1988): 1.7/10

Satisfaction (1988)
Grade: 1.7

Oh boy..where do I begin? One of my biggest weaknesses when it comes to watching films is the concept of the girl group dynamic. Any movie featuring a group of girls whether it be good (Little Women) or something I grew up on (Now and Then, The Babysitters Club) or something bad (this film) is something I am always entertained by. So when a shitty movie like this comes along I am always going to be entertained by a film featuring a group of girls. This film depicts a group of four girls and one guy and their rock band as they spend a summer playing at a beach resort.
This movie was a total flop when it came out. It is not supposed to be good. At all. And its’ not. Each of the four girls is entertaining. Justine Bateman plays the main girl of the film, Jennie Lee who is, well, I have no idea what her characters traits are. She’s kind of tough? She is brave? I have no idea. She falls in love with the man who hired them to play at the resort who is older, played by Liam Neeson (yes, that Liam Neeson). They sort of form a relationship? It is never clear. He might love her? Or he does not? Or something? It seriously is never clear how devoted to each other the other one is especially Neeson. In fact their last conversation in the film which is supposed to be the scene that makes it clear how Neeson felt about her, ends up being extremely confusing. Then we have Trini Alvarado who I adore as Mooch, the tough one of the group. She gets into fights with gangsters and steals their vans? She gets into a relationship with the bands keyboard player, Nicky. They look at each other a few times during the film, Jennie Lee asks Mooch about it at one point and she denies it and then Nicky and Mooch have a conversation; they kiss and are together the rest of the film. It actually is quite cute and it is only cute because of the actors. The script gives their relationship and more importantly the build up to it absolutely no development whatsoever. Then we have Billy played by the gorgeous and awesome Britta Philips, later of the band Dean and Britta. She is really laid back and likes to pop pills? She smokes pot? She becomes attached to Neeson’s dog? There is one scene where she OD’s, they intervene and yell at her about it afterwards for literally 20 seconds and the issue is never brought up again. Then there is Daryle played by Julia Roberts on the brink of stardom at this point. She likes boys? She is engaged? She….I have no idea. Seriously no idea what her character was about. She was adamant about marrying Frankie then literally within the same conversation she nonchalantly decides not to and the issue is not brought up again.

These scenes that convey this almost nonexistent level of development are joined by scenes of the girls playing their songs for the bar that they work at. Their band really sucks and the only entertaining parts of these scenes are watching Britta. Then we have a random Debbie Harry cameo in which she has two lines as…Neeson’s sometimes lover? It is so unclear. Of course there is the lovely scene when the gang comes back to get Mooch and Billy for stealing their van which ends in… anticlimactic arrest of the gang members? Liam Neeson’s character drinks a lot for whatever reason. Bateman runs in the sand and screams “You’re lying!!!!! Wahehw.kfhedfkdfh!!!!” which was brilliant. Billy talks to the dog on the sand. Daryle has sex in the van with Frankie for a day? I seriously have no idea what happened in this movie. I was entertained certainly but the lack of a coherent story, absolute minimal to nonexistent development and just all around absence of any sort of focus or basis make this movie a bomb. However the performances of the actresses and Neeson, while neither particularly good nor bad, carry a presence and a chemistry to them which makes the film at least semi fun to watch.

Taken (2009): 6.1/10

Grade: 6.1

I had a blast watching Taken. Do not get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. My issue with it is that without Liam Neeson what would this movie be? I mean there are definitely other points of merit here which I will get to. The reason that this movie works though, and yes I am saying that I think the film works, is because of Liam Neeson. He is not the person you would expect to see in a role like this but it works so perfectly because for one you can take him completely seriously as a former spy in the film. The second reason and this is the important one; Neeson can immediately make you care about him and his character and his situation. Even during the set up sequences when you see that yes, he is a father who is trying to form a solid relationship with his daughter finally, you care completely. I was literally completely on this man’s side within 2 minutes. If you had someone else in the role, it would not have felt the same. There would be no emotional weight. Neeson carries the acting skills and the sympathy with him to make this movie a success.

Maggie Grace really works well here as well even though I cannot believe we are expected to believe she is 17 since I’ve was watching her on Lost 5 years ago and she was supposed to be older than that even there. Either way, her chemistry with Neeson is great and she has always known how to act in peril very well so the matchup works.

The second main reason that the film works is the pacing. This movie is 90 minutes, goes by even faster than that. Yet it still takes a good chunk of the movie to set everything up. I expected to get everything going within 15 minutes but the movie seems to take a good half an hour to set everything up and I loved that. Between this and the skills of Neeson, I cared about the plot. Once everything gets going, the pace really gets going and it really is a nonstop ride.
While it is nonstop, the action scenes did not excite me really and there are a couple of reasons. One is that I rarely become excited during action scenes. The film has been compared to the Bourne films but those films excite me in a way Taken could never dream of. The second is that, and I think this is both a flaw and a good thing; there is never any doubt that Neeson’s character Bryan will find the people and will succeed. The only aspect of the film that could give us any doubt is that he is a retired spy and might be a little out of practice. Other than that, which I did not see as something the film pushed, there is never a question of whether or not Bryan is going to succeed. Bryan is never thwarted by anyone in this film. He knows what he is doing the whole time. The one time he is stopped, he gets out of the situation so quickly and kills everyone in the room. So while this may be a flaw of the film, it also makes Bryan pretty much the coolest character ever and it funnels all of the anticipation from the audience from whether he will succeed to being excited about when he in fact will kill everyone.

So Bryan is fucking brutal. He will not simply injure anyone; he is always aiming to kill and when he has the opportunity to leave someone alive, he always kills them. This is probably not the best message to send and I was surprised that in this way, it was more anti authority than 24. However I cannot deny that these men all deserved death and it was just so satisfying to see Bryan kill everyone.

I cannot think of anything else to say about the film at this time because I am writing this paragraph 3 days after having written the rest of the review. Overall, the movie works because of pacing and the brilliant casting of Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills. While I still think most episodes of 24 are more exciting than this film was, I found myself interested throughout and certainly entertained.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sliding Doors (1998): 5.6/10

Sliding Doors (1998)
Grade: 5.6/10

I had been meaning to see Sliding Doors for a very long time. Sure the concept was gimmicky but that did not stop me from wanting to see it. Basically in the end I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Is it a great movie? No. There are definitely issues with it. One is that I never felt Gwenyth Paltrow’s character has a distinct personality at all. Since we see her throughout the movie dealing with two different situations, characterization is sacrificed for the concept. Yeah she is strong, was a notable PR worker and…well that’s all I got. She clearly has tolerance since her boyfriend throughout one of the stories does nothing all day even though he’s “writing his first novel”. She supports him and I guess just deals with him being a lazy douche. For me another issue was that it was hard for me to keep track by the end. My mother and best friend were pretty good with that part of the film so I guess I was having a dumb day.

The good stuff? I enjoyed the two stories as parallels. Each complimented itself with the other and brought additional interest when looked at the other. In fact it is only as parallels that these stories are enjoyable and that might be where the real problem lies. If you are getting bored with one story you do not have to worry because pretty soon you will be watching a different story. Even though I truly enjoyed the film I cannot deny that each of the stories separately offers absolutely nothing new to the romantic film genre. They each have good scenes on their own, but if you take one of the stories as one film, it does not work at all. Which in conclusion means it relies too much on its gimmick.

As I said before, there are good things about the movie. One is that I personally had a lot of fun watching it despite its flaws. While I find the way Paltrow does her English accent kind of phony even if it’s good, I still think Paltrow during this period of her career has an energy and presence that makes the film very watchable. All of the performances are good. John Hannah is an interesting choice for the love interest but he and Paltrow had chemistry that I bought and he was enjoyable to watch as well. John Lynch does a great job as the boyfriend who is unwillingly as he would put it cheating on Paltrow. I think seeing some stuff from his point of view and knowing where he was coming from even if it did not excuse him made him the most unique character in the film for me. Instead of trying to give Jeanne Tripplehorn’s character a perspective, they just decided it was easier to make her evil incarnate with a penchant for going off on ridiculous extended metaphors.

A few other observations:
- It is pretty annoying how unaware she is in one of the stories that he is cheating on her considering how horrible this guy is at covering for himself.
- John Hannah’s character, while charming, basically extends to being the nice guy as Tripplehorn’s extends to being total bitch.
- Lydia appearing at the window; what the hell is with this woman?
Other notes are that the multiple references to Monty Python got annoying, the soundtrack was pretty bad but lovingly wreaked of late 90’s, I liked Paltrow’s friend in the film. I also enjoyed that as we past the hour mark I was very confused as to what was going to happen in the rest of the film. So overall, while I personally enjoyed watching the film and I certainly o not think it is a bad film, it is hard to deny that the film’s success is essentially directly because of the concept and the star presence of Paltrow.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Frankenhooker (1990) Grade - .3

Frankenhooker (1990)
Grade: .3

Apparently this is supposed to be the B-movie to end all B-movies. It’s one of those films that came out in the late 80’s early 90’s that prides itself on being purposely bad. It embraces its’ low budget and creates something purposely campy and tasteless for our enjoyment in the hopes that it will become a cult classic. Well, it has become a cult classic but that does not mean it is good. This movie flat out sucks. I see what it is trying to do but for me personally it fails. For many reasons. Thankfully I was watching this and many other films with Amanda which made the experience of watching it enjoyable which at least is something I can take from it. At least someone else shared in my pain. I had been meaning to see this for years. Let us get started.
The entire first hour is set up. Elizabeth is run over by a lawnmower that Jeffrey Franken, her husband, made. He is a scientist I guess; I really have no idea though. SO she dies in the first 5 minutes. In that time we learn about how she is apparently fat and Patty Mullen, the former Penthouse Pet who plays her is clearly wearing a fat suit and a very unconvincing one at that. Her acting as Elizabeth reads more poorly than a bad soap star but as we will see later it is her performance as Frankenhooker that will bring about the highlight of the film and the one of two very slightly redeeming factors that the movie has to offer.

The film has the right tone. Amanda mentioned it being similar in tone with Dead Alive which is so true. It’s that low budget campy uncomfortable feeling that films of this nature emit. The difference is that Dead Alive is all possible kinds of awesome and Frankenhooker is all possible kinds of suck. A lot of it is because the film is just boring and unfunny. Like I said the first hour is set up and the movie is only 85 minutes. I am going to have to say that the biggest or most overt reason that I hated the movie was because of James Lorinz as Jeffrey. This guy is annoying, boring, obnoxious and just totally unappealing and uninteresting. He is a hybrid of Andrew McCarthy (only awful) and Randall from Clerks (only awful). Since the first hour of the film is essentially Jeffrey talking to himself, you at least need someone that is interesting to watch and funny if the movie decides it is going to rely solely on him. This leads to the other big problem which is the screenplay which has absolutely nothing going for it. It takes way too short a time for Elizabeth to die and then it takes way too long a time for Jeffrey to set his plan in motion because he spends so much time talking to himself and going over the plan in his head and developing his ideas. Then the movie dissolves into a really annoying segment in which Jeffrey examines in detail all of the whores that he buys to he can figure out the one with the perfect body for Elizabeth. I was fully prepared for this movie to be completely tasteless but oh my god this scene lasted like 15 minutes no joke. Also apparently whores are ridiculously vicious and only care about crack, money and cock. Lovely. So anyways finally they all take super crack and explode. Yes you read that right. Then he creates Elizabeth finally. And this part contains really the only goodness in the film. Compared to the rest of the movie, the segments with Elizabeth came like a breath of fresh air. Even though they basically were just comprised of Elizabeth having the combined mind of the whores and repeating lines that the whores said earlier in the film and then making men explode (3 to be exact) when they either kiss, fuck or go down on her. I was also disappointed that all of the deaths were a result of explosions but not even bloody gross explosions, just explosions. It was underwhelming. Then Elizabeth becomes herself and Jeffrey and her talk and Zorro the pimp comes and cuts his head off and then Zorro is taken by the fused body parts of the remaining body parts which was actually the coolest part of the movie. It felt slightly Cronenbergesque which is always appreciating on some level. Then Elizabeth resurrects Jeffrey but because he can only resurrect females, he comes back with a female body that Elizabeth made for him and the film ends with him screaming as he discovers this. The End. The last ten minutes were by far the best part of the movie; by far. The female body on Jeffrey made me feel like I was watching an adult version of Weinerville so that was cool. I liked Patty Muller as Frankenhooker because in these scenes she actually went for it. She was not afraid to look stupid and it paid off in the only way being in a movie like this could; she made me chuckle to myself a couple of times. I mean she is still awful but I appreciate the effort and she was entertaining to watch. In the meantime outside of this and the last 10 minutes this movie was for me a failed attempt to actually be what it wanted to be. It had the tone, the ridiculous concept, the nudity, the bad acting, the short run time. But it was boring, unfunny, annoying, trying too hard and ultimately a complete failure.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994): 3.6/10

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)
Grade: 3.6/10
Frankenstein, written by the absurdly young at the time Mary Shelley is one of my favorite all time books. While I enjoy the 1931 James Whale film for an iconic performance by Boris Karloff, it is absolutely nothing like the book. I have always wanted to see Kenneth Branagh’s version of Frankenstein at first because I like films from the horror genre and it has a great cast. Then having read Frankenstein a few years ago made me even more interested in seeing a faithful adaptation of the story no matter what its quality level was.

After so many years of wanting to see this movie I finally have and the verdict is pretty weak. I enjoyed watching the movie because of its cast and the production values but unfortunately Branagh’s approach to the source material makes for a poor film. Branagh’s specific stylistics as a director includes loud constant music, lots of energy, melodrama and a staginess in the acting and sets. While for films like Much Ado About Nothing, this method works because the source material is a play and also lively and light and fun, Frankenstein is anything but. I can see where it might seem like a good idea to pump up the melodrama for a story like this. The story itself is fantastical yet grounded in our world, the time period and love story call for melodrama as do the Gothic feel of the book. However, the book is not full of energy; it’s full of slow contemplation and thought. The mood for Branagh’s film is all wrong. There should not be a fast pace and constant music and the film should not feel like it’s on a schedule but should unfold with a natural causal feel to it. Some of the pacing in this movie is unbelievable in a very bad way. The film feels like its rushing through so many things and there are parts of the movie particularly the first half an hour in which the film literally does not stop to breathe or to build up any sort of themes, relationships or characters within the movie. The film is too energetic and too fast paced for a story like this. The camera tracks around Victor’s mother as she has a baby with blood everywhere and there is very loud and intense music and there is lightning and it is so over the top. Then when she dies, Frankenstein cries and goes inside to find her dead body lying in a clearly strategically placed position to make the sight of her body look like art. Some of the film felt a little bit like the film was a stage play that was being filmed to be put on video. The next scene has Frankenstein at the funeral saying “No one needs to die” and that starts his obsession with the in his mind changeable inevitability of death. They set up this obsession so quickly that nothing that happens means anything to the audience because we are simply observing rather than participating in the story because the film is too busy throwing plot and movement and quickness at us for us truly care about anything.

The cast is interesting but also entertaining. Kenneth Branagh makes for a good Frankenstein; I just wish that his character was more fleshed out as I felt like I could not get a handle on the character nearly as much as you could in the boo. His obsession is made clear and his motivations were as well but Frankenstein as a person was a bit cardboard. Helena Bonham-Carter does a great job as Elizabeth; I always enjoy seeing her and she has always fit in so nicely with period films. Seeing the delightful Tom Hulce as Henry Clerval, my favorite character in the story was a treat and he fit really well into the role. Other appearances by actors such as John Cleese, Ian Holm and Aiden Quinn are welcome as well. Although Aiden Quinn’s performance felt a little off I must admit. He fit right in visually with the story but his acting in the film seemed as if h know that the prologue and epilogue of the story were meant to parallel the story’s theme of not giving in completely to ones will and determination because of other lives that might be risk because of one’s recklessness. Robert DeNiro is where things get a little interesting and certainly uneven. I will say it right now; he was miscast. If I did not know who Robert DeNiro was or if he had been an unknown actor for whatever reason, I would have greatly enjoyed the entire performance. However, when you have someone as big as DeNiro playing the Creature, it becomes distracting and at times difficult to take seriously. It was the same with the makeup as well; sometimes it would look good but in other scenes I had no idea why but it just would not click with me. To his credit though, the most effective scene and frankly the best scene in the film was the one between the Creature and the blind man which brings me to talk briefly about the most successful section of the film.

To me the most “unfilmmable” section of the book is the one in which the Creature educates himself and learns to read and speak and think logically through both time and his observations of a family. While of course the movie could in no way meet the complexities and depth of the section in the book, I still found this section to be the most successful and moving part of the film. This is mostly because Branagh changes the tone of these scenes by having a slower pace and no music. Again, while these scenes are still nowhere near as powerful as the book was, I still found a lot of value in them and I thought that DeNiro in these scenes was fantastic and the scene with him and the blind man was the best one in the film. I also found the departure from the book that the film took in that Victor brings back Elizabeth after she dies only to have her set herself on fire when she discovers what she looks like. I was surprised that Branagh went this way with the story when he had stayed quite close to the source material in terms of basic plot developments up until this point. I found the change intriguing in that it was actually effective in making the story very disturbing and depressing. At that point in the film I was not looking at it as an adaptation but simply as a film and whether or not it was effective and successful. So while the change was jarring and it ultimately changed nothing that happens in the film, it made the Victor and Elizabeth story more effective than it would have been if they had stayed faithful to the story.

In conclusion, while Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was not horrible, it most certainly was not good and I would chalk it up as an ultimate fail. Branagh’s style as a director does not fit the slow contemplative tone of the book and ultimately the film ended up being weirdly paced and overly melodramatic.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek (2009): 9.4

Star Trek (2009): 9.4
Directed by J.J Abrams
My experience with Star Trek is essentially nothing. The world has never interested me. I never really gave a shit; especially about the old crew. Give me a choice of which series to watch and I would pick Generations in a second. I always thought Spock seemed pretty cool if I ever gave the world a chance. So this movie coming out was not a huge deal to me. I was excited because J.J Abrams was behind it and as someone who helped Lost exist I immediately worship him. Also after seeing what he did with the Mission Impossible series, he had my respect in the world of film when I saw in that film that he could not only reboot a franchise that had in my mind been dead in the water after the abysmal pigeon filled pain fest that was Mission Impossible II (No offense John Woo, I loved The Killer but this…not so much), but could expertly film an action scene (something that comes along rarely these days in American film). The action scenes in Mission Impossible III had me on the edge of my seat; they excited me with their freshness. Then Cloverfield further impressed me not so much in the actors, who I thought mostly brought the film down, but in the film itself which moved past its gimmick stylistics to provide a genuinely participatory experience. So with a franchise that I do not really have an interest in getting a reboot from a director who interests and excites me, I was moderately interested but not overwhelmingly excited.
I really am of the opinion that it is just as hard to make a good blockbuster/big budget film as it is to make a film with more depth at its core, the films that more often get the respect of cinephiles. How many times do we see a well respected art house director make a mainstream American film and fail in terms of quality? Not everyone can make blockbusters that are good. It’s not easy. I honestly cannot even imagine how hard making any film must be especially one that has this much at stake. A successful blockbuster to me does not mean that it makes money. That just means it’s a blockbuster period. People are going to go to these films; I mean a film that has a huge budget and that actually genuinely entertains and pleases and excites and is well, good. It so rarely happens. So when something like this comes along it’s like a breath of fresh air and it makes you realize how poor so many big budget films are.
Star Trek took me completely by surprise. From the second it started it entertains, excites and moves. In fact the beginning scene depicting the death of Kirk’s father and the simultaneous birth of Kirk is so jam packed with urgency, action and emotion that the climax cannot dream of living up to it. It is hard to make us care about what is going on so soon into the film but I must say that the opening battle scene moved me and had me feeling for these people that I did not know. Michael Giacchino’s music (Composer of Lost among many other works) is so loud and so present that some might think it detracts, but honestly in a film like this, it enhances. Films with a budget this big is supposed to have everything act as enhancers. They do not have to prove that they can move people and control audience emotions without the manipulator of music; that challenge is for other films. The music here simply brought me more into the world and into the film and I for one loved it.
As I was saying, the film entertained on every level. I am not sure the last time I have seen a film with a pace as fast and pressing as this one that in no way compromised the material. The film starts out on a high and just keeps going. The level of energy that this film has is infectious and something that must have been ridiculously hard to accomplish considering that I never see it done well. Abrams keeps the brightness of the series in visual tone, in fact he makes it brighter and I applaud that. So much of the film is pitch perfect in terms of the reboot. It’s hard to update this kind of material but it felt very much respectful and in spirit of the original as it injected new life into it at the same time. Abrams uses…I cannot even explain it. Every shot on the Enterprise deck has shiny stuff across the screen. It is like the reflecting shininess of the room hits the camera and it shines every time the camera moves, which in this movie is a lot. It was a stylistic effect that I really loved. It added uniqueness to the look of the film.
The really impressive cast is where this film really hits the mark. From top to bottom everyone works perfectly. I love that, like Watchmen, they got recognizable faces for the roles but not out and out A list actors. Chris Pine was the actor I was worried most about because mainly I just thought he looked like a vapid CW guy (no offense Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, you are not vapid at all) such as Chace Crawford or dare I say it Chad Michael Murray. Within 5 minutes of Pine showing up in the film I realized I was wrong and he completely won me over. He’s a womanizer to be sure and does therefore really embody Kirk from the little I know but he also has a difficult task of embodying Shatner in that he has to be recognizable as the same character but at the same time he has to not in any way be anything like Shatner. The other actors can embody the old actors and bring something new if they choose but Pine had to stay away from the actor, at least it is what I would have recommended. And he does this and succeeds, making him likable and funny and rebellious. He has presence and charisma which I was worried he would not have.
As for Zachary Quinto, well I never worried about him because the second I found out he was cast I pretty much thought it was the most brilliant piece of casting I had heard in months. Since I ditched Heroes I also ditched Sylar which was a shame because I loved him on the show but he was not enough to keep me watching. So it was nice to see him again and he was perfection. Absolute perfection. I do not even know what to say about him except that he was everything I had pictured and more. Everyone else in the main cast is really just pitch perfect as well; John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin. Eric Bana was good as Nero as well even though overall would have to say one of my complaints is that Nero simply was not that interesting and I think Bana had more to offer than the material gave him to work with. Winona Ryder makes a wonderful cameo appearance as Spock’s mother which reminds me just how much I love and miss her being more frequently around. Leonard Nimoy was of course wondrous. Tyler Perry sucks and I hate hate hate that he was in this but it is a minor quibble amongst the many great things.
I cannot deny that I had a few complaints. Only a few though. One I just mentioned which was that Nero just overall was not that interesting a villain. I thought Eric Bana was so good and it was a shame that he was not given the material to match his dedication. My second complaint was that the plot was a little confusing. Honestly it’s because pretty early in I decided to stop trying to figure things out and to just go with it which explains things. I cannot blame the film entirely because I know a lot of it is me being dumb. I just feel like a lot of stuff did not fully make sense to me even if I partly got it. My third complaint was the use of Uhura. I love Zoe Saldana. I’ve been following her since she randomly popped up in the first Pirates film and did not show up for the second two. She is not in very good movies usually but she has presence, talent and beauty. First of all the choice to keep the miniskirts was pretty annoying to be honest. I’m sort of peeved that did not update that aspect of things. Second of all Uhura is given nothing to do except of course to look longingly at Spock and offer to give him “anything he needs”. The film does not shy away from the fact that she is incredible in linguistics and yet it gives her no big moment like it does with the other characters to save the day. She just walks around in a mini skirt and makes googly eyes with Spock. I just wish she felt more integral to the group than she does. It’s the old when screenwriters do not know what to do with a female character, let’s give them a romance thing that I resent.
I must mention the special effects in this film; some of the best I’ve ever seen; period. I’ve seen effects as good as these, although rarely and I’ve never ever seen effects that have impressed me more than this. There were so many wow moments that took my breath away.
These seem like pretty big complaints but altogether they are pretty mild compared to how much fun I had. All in all this was a really great way to start out the summer. It has a lot of humor, plenty of action, an extremely young and charismatic cast and a refreshingly fast and urgent pace. Take a good look people; this is what a good blockbuster is. There is a good chance my Summer of 2009 in movies has hit its peak.