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.