June 26, 2007
Seen 'em

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Was Silver Surfer always essentially an accessory to mass murder and cataclysm? By "rise" do we mean his rise to a realization that despite his noble silvery appearance and voice he is essentially an intergalactic Rommel? Not sure I see where we can take this character from here except to some sort of Nuremberg Trial of the Universe.

I'm not shy about saying Jessica Alba was the big draw for me. They had to know that, but then they made her wear those contact lenses anyway. Silly. I'm not sure these are the films she should be doing right now.

I also think we can call a moratorium on the Stan Lee cameos.

Because these movies occupy a lower tier of Marvel adaptations than the Spider-Man films, and expectations are already lowered, this movie was not so awful. Oh, you should still only go if you need a diversion, can catch it at bargain prices, and you enjoy Superhero flicks. I should probably add a fourth qualifier in there just to emphasize that only in a rare circumstance should you actually GO to see this movie. I can't think of one, but just know that it took a strange confluence of situation and mood for me to enjoy it.

The Conformist. Who cares what I think about this film? It's a classic of the cinema, what observation would I add to the scholarship that has already been published? This DVD sat on top of my TV so long that I almost forgot I had it out. I suspect the majority of Netflix' profit comes from these unwatched classics that sit on TVs for months at a time.

I'd heard that this is one of the most beautifully shot movies ever. Yeah, right. Whatever. I've seen a ton of beautiful cinematography. That kind of praise almost makes me avoid classic films. But it turns out that The Conformist... is one of the most beautifully shot movies ever. For the first time I was looking up all the films by a cinematographer - Vittorio Storaro - not a director, and adding them to my list. You've seen a lot of them already. Astounding. For a director, you need to have this movie in your vocabulary to be able to reference.

There's a relief in discovering a classic for the first time and actually being amazed by it, not puzzled as to why it deserves its reputation. At least you don't have to fight the crowd, as I find myself doing with people like Altman and Godard. I certainly didn't completely respond to the story and themes on this first viewing - at points I was rapidly Googling the movie to read about it while it was playing - but I was happy to just see where it went as an experience, if you can forgive that smarminess. I'll be watching this movie again every time it comes around just like the other classics.

Three Extremes. Not much going on here beyond shock value, although Takashi Miike's segment is more on the spooky side and worthwhile. If J or K-horror is your bag, I recommend you look elsewhere.

Once. A very sweet story that did not change my life and was almost drama-free. Should be especially encouraging to struggling musicians, who should see it. If you view it as essentially a plug for an album, it's very creative and I hope Glen Hansard and The Frames have much success from it.

Mysterious Skin. Attention Talent Agencies: Surely there are better ways for the actors you represent to gain indie cred than to star in a Gregg Araki film. There are hundreds of indie directors out there that deserve a young name actor more than Araki, who is perhaps the worst filmmaker of all time. Do your client a favor and do some goddam research.

And don't give me any malarkey about how he is an important voice in gay cinema. To that hypothetical rejoinder, sir, I say HORSEFEATHERS. He's not. We have plenty of directors who can deliver shock value with no subtlety, why do we need Araki?

Unless your client is just doing it on a dare, please steer them elsewhere. It is to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's credit that he survived this film with his acting cred intact, but not every actor will have the stuff to avoid being dragged down by their participation.

Knocked Up. Add it to your shelf next to "40-Year Old Virgin," "Old School," "Anchorman," "Wedding Crashers," all those. We laffed and laffed. Who cares how unrealistic it is that Katherine Heigl would be involved with him. Sit back and enjoy Seth Rogan's roommates, enjoy the Paul Rudd hilarity, enjoy the references.

Paprika. Fantastical anime more in the Miyazaki vein as opposed to the kind with lots of high-pitched young girls with enormous eyes. You could wait for DVD for this one but if it's playing on a screen near you, you could do worse.

Mr. Brooks. A strong entry in Costner's filmography. All the scenes with he and William Hurt are great, although I had a bit of trouble believing Dane Cook's character would be so quickly drawn in and so easily manipulated. I blame the writing here - not so much the acting. Cook's character was absolutely no match for Costner's - no real conflict came from him. And Demi Moore's arc was almost totally separate. Great premise, and 10 extra points for not providing an origin story.

Wolf Creek. The "And They Were Never Seen Again" story only works when you have the element of mystery and some tantalizing clues. I don't think it's interesting if it's total speculation, like "Open Water," or this film. (To see this set-up work perfectly, check out "Blair Witch Project," or more aptly, "Picnic at Hanging Rock," which also stars the antagonist from "Wolf Creek.")

This film misses what is most potentially interesting about its own plot - the possibility of an unreliable narrator - and instead focuses on details that could not be known by anyone in the story. Since there is a survivor, and he was himself accused of the crime, then THAT is the drama. Is the Wolf Creek survivor actually the killer, or is there really a maniac in the outback?

They should have started with the survivor in prison and let him tell the story - his version of it - in flashback. And since the actual killer is nowhere to be found, let it remain a mystery: did he do it or not? How could he have known what happened to the girls if he didn't see it?

Have I overthought this? I wouldn't bother except that "Wolf Creek" seems to have wanted to be more than a standard Teen Guignol flick.

Posted by Chris at 11:51 AM

Nine movies. Nice work for TWENTY-TWO DAYS OF NOT BLOGGING! We missed you.

Posted by: at June 28, 2007 12:37 PM

Hi Chris. And I think that's Brian too, hi Brian.

Posted by: simon at June 28, 2007 7:50 PM

A Hero who makes time to review movies. no wonder you are my fav. I think I'll see Mr. Brooks thanks.

Posted by: Vickery at June 29, 2007 2:29 PM

Actually... it wasn't me. I've been out of the country and without internet access since June 23rd. SOUNDS like me. But it wasn't.

Hi Simon!

Posted by: BigFatBrian at July 2, 2007 7:25 AM
June 4, 2007
My God - it's full of MOLASSES

I've said it before, but never - EVER - have I struggled with a screenplay more. Moving into the second act is like moving into a wall of MOLASSES. Even Mazinga has suffered. That's what I did this weekend, in addition to:

-Getting checked out on the 29' Ericson down at the marina. That seven feet of added length from the last boat I have been on make a big difference. Suddenly, I feel like I'm piloting a Sailboat, not just a boat. Something about being the skipper of something with a bathroom and a kitchen below - and with a wheel instead of a tiller - makes me stand up a little straighter. Let's see the JUST BECAUSE try to cut us down now.

Part of the check-out included taking the boat out of the slip and putting it back in - about five, six times in a row. Perfect - that's what worries me anyway. Then there was the usual tack and jibe stuff out in the bay, the "man overboard" exercise wherein I have to save a boat cushion from drowning, and what was the most harrowing of all, putting a reef in the sail, then shaking it out. Tough to do one handed, tough to do at a 45-degree angle. But I passed, and now I have the precious Basic Coastal Cruising certification.

-Seeing Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End. Just a few thoughts. I searched the credits carefully for any sort of special thank you / acknowledgement to TIME BANDITS, but didn't see any. I guess that makes the extensive surreal "Davy Jones' Locker" scene, the tipping the boat over, the going over the edge of the world scene, just an HOMMAGE.

We saw this movie in a DLP theatre, which meant that you could practically smell the ocean. And it was glorious to see. And we did enjoy ourselves a lot, even though I have never seen a film that was not actually based on a Russian epic more cluttered with subplots and protagonists.

For the life of me I could not remember why Orlando and Keira were mad at each other - nor why they had to suddenly be married. I don't know what freeing Calypso really accomplished. I don't know who killed Keira's father Johnathan Pryce or why. I don't know why Will Turner's father had to kill Keira's former boyfriend. As each of the seemingly NINE protagonists came onscreen I had to remind myself of what they wanted, and why they couldn't immediately have it. As each hero / villain paired off, I had to remind myself what leverage each had over the other that prevented one from simply killing the other.

I think what happened with this movie is the obvious: they started 1) with an amazing image of two ships at battle in the midst of a maelstrom, 2) the idea of including Chow Yun Fat, and 3) a pirate council, and wrote all those elements in. But not too well.

This is a movie that is too complicated by a factor of ten. There are some very exciting conceits buried in there - how the East India company is trying to "tame" the sea; how Davy Jones' heart is passed around - but they are buried. I think they should have removed the Will Turner and father subplot, and Keira's former boyfriend subplot - for STARTERS.

I like the actors, but I didn't believe that Keira would be a very formidable captain - although that would have been an interesting subplot in itself. I also didn't believe there was any sort of tension between Jack Sparrow and Keira - until Sparrow's next-to-last line, which was perfect. But then they ruined it with his last one.

Posted by Chris at 11:19 AM


Posted by: *simon* at June 5, 2007 6:33 PM
June 1, 2007
14 Films

My cousin Vickery asked me for movie recommendations the other day and I was embarrassed that I did not have any sort of list ready. The problem is, I see a LOT of films and love many but I know my tastes run to the weird sometimes.

Last night I saw Fast Food Nation on DVD. Good example - I think it was well-done and thoughtful, but not necessarily a recommendation for straight entertainment. Richard Linklater does consistently interesting work, and wildly varied work too. This is a movie that could have beaten us over the head with lots of graphic bloody cow slaughter, and justifiably, but it's better than that. I was reminded of all those ensemble Altman movies where the characters are only peripherally-related (the ones the faithful tripped over themselves to praise).

Compared to something like "Who Killed the Electric Car," this is a much more effective look at how a favorite consumer product is the apex of a huge, sad, complex, destructive corporate pyramid. The movie did not leave me feeling terribly guilty, per se, or swearing off meat exactly, but it made me want to re-evaluate.

Did I mention I saw Bridge to Terebithia? Somehow it didn't add up to much. The trailer seemed to promise an extravagance of special effectery, but it felt like they blew it all on maybe three quick sequences. Was the book beloved? If so, buy it instead.

Jake Kasdan's The TV Set posits that it is very difficult to work in the world of television and maintain your artistic vision. And that's about it. It's a lite movie, not even "light," and I wanted more. Still, Sigourney Weaver makes it worthwhile with the hollow corporate witch routine she perfected in "Working Girl," and behind-the-scenes movies always have a certain appeal. What is truly a mystery, though, which I hope someone one day explores: Judy Greer's continued career. How? Why?

Looking for Debra Winger would have been an interesting movie to do just that if it hadn't been so polite. It's an interesting, if meandering, documentary by Rosanna Arquette on the state of the movie industry for actresses. She has incredible access to a huge number of actresses, and even listening to them pontificate a bit aimlessly has an appeal. Highlights are Ally Sheedy and Martha Plimpton holding forth like veterans, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jane Fonda.

For the recent pair of magic movies, I think I prefer The Prestige to the Illusionist. I would have preferred there be no science fiction element at all, but it was still enjoyable.

OK, here's one I'd recommend to a general audience: Hot Fuzz. Hilarious action, although second to their brilliant "Shaun of the Dead." And if you happen to be a rabid fan of "Bad Boys" or "Point Break," then all the better.

Fracture is a lawyerly thriller that was slick at the time of viewing, but which began unraveling in our recollection even before we left the mall. A day later we had nothing but a bunch of frayed lawyer-thriller threads in our minds, and no one likes that. Rosamund Pike doesn't do many movies, and I wish she'd find a good one to equal her Bond role.

Glad I finally saw the Kurosawa classic Ikiru. When I think of Kurosawa regulars Toshiro Mifune is always the top, but I suppose the great Takashi Shimura should really be #1. Great features on the disk if you're a fan.

Running with Scissors would be a good rental if you're looking for something in the quirky Wes Anderson / Hal Ashby mode. Brian Cox is hilarious, Annette Benning is at her shattered best, and where has Joseph Fiennes been?

Why does Paul Verhoeven make movies that simultaneously tittilate and then slap you down for it? How perfectly Verhoeven that Black Book, a harrowing story of a Jewish girl surviving the Nazis, then spying against them, and eventually falling in love with the Gestapo commander, examines none of the obvious emotional complications with that - but is instead an effective, well-designed action thriller. It's a weird sort of blind propaganda, in a way.

Another good rental, especially for Kevin Costner / Ashton Kutchner fans: The Guardian. I avoid most any military / sports movies, which means I miss out on a lot of good ones. This one has more than a slight dash of "Officer and a Gentleman," but I recommend.

I suppose the "Why are you slapping a monkey?" bit in the Night at the Museum previews tickled me enough to make me rent it. Then it was all French horns telling us when it was poignant and a neglected kid subplot that I felt I could probably resolve in my own mind without actually finishing the film. Did anyone finish it? Ah, never mind.

There are not many film series that are consistently well-written and also consistent in tone. "Aliens" comes to mind, and "Indiana Jones." "Spider-man" doesn't. And I am not comparing the "Shrek" series to "Alien," but we laughed as much at Shrek the Third as we did any of the other two. American CGI could definitely stand to explore other styles besides "shiny toy," but it's a solid entry. RECOMMENDED.

And the last one, 28 Weeks Later, which does not match its predecessor, but how could it? "28 Days Later" is an A+ movie, sort of like "The Exorcist" in the way it almost can't be classified just as horror - it's a lean panther of a movie, all muscle and no fat. "28 Weeks" starts with an interesting set up but then closes it up all too quickly to just become more of a coda than an actual stand-alone story.

I'm certainly interested to see how London would deal with the aftermath of a horrific plague, but the thrilling bits were just retreads of what had already been done in the first one. Also, the sequel seems to have forgotten that the first film made it pretty plain that the infection was NOT just isolated to England.

Posted by Chris at 9:16 AM

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I will fill my que right away.

Posted by: Vickery at June 5, 2007 1:00 PM