You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2007.

Bookmark and Share

I love the backlash that has been thrown about since this “re-envisioning” of John Carpenter’s horror classic Halloween was announced. At first I agreed with them, why remake a film that everyone loves? However, I am not the biggest fan of the original, I find it a tad boring, and I have been intrigued by Rob Zombie ever since he tossed aside his rock day job for director threads. I haven’t seen his previous two efforts, but I’ve been wanting to and now am even more anxious to see them. I say that because Zombie’s take on Halloween shows some real nice flair and inventive use of the camera, not to mention well-planned death scenes that show the gore, but don’t quite keep it on screen to disgust. It may be graphic, but it never becomes gratuitous. He moves the action along at a nice quick pace, not lingering on the blood, just showing it as it happens. With all that said, though, I do not recommend this film. On the whole, its parts do not make a masterpiece, but instead a jumbled mess that tries to cram too much story into what should be a genre film. Michael Myers works as a character because we know he is pure evil; don’t try and humanize him by showing that his upbringing created his malice, it takes away the fear and a bit of the cold-bloodedness that he embodies so well.

The beauty of 70’s era horror is that it was always substance over style. Nowadays, these Hollywood autuers want to show what can be done on a bigger budget. Unfortunately, it is not the blood and violence that makes those movies good, it is the subtle use of suspense creating a psychological reaction in the audience, not a visceral one. While Zombie’s style is prevalent, and exciting to watch, he appears to go overboard at times and at the risk of the story being told. Scenes like the freeze-frame post massacre where everything is paused except little Michael in the police car are beautifully orchestrated. It is a shame that he then needs to put in hamfisted cues like Blue Oyster Cult and an old horror flick on tv to draw comparisons later on in the film to moments that occurred earlier. These instances don’t show how smart and clever you are, they just prove you are talking down to your viewers. Just play Carpenter’s amazing score and we’ll know evil is coming, don’t force-feed us clues that are so blatant they bore us.

As far as the debate of this being a remake, I would say it isn’t. Maybe the last quarter of the film contains the incidents that occur in the original, everything else is new. Well, maybe not new as much as Zombie’s version of Myers’ backstory and creation as a psycho killer madman. I’m sure a lot could be common knowledge having seen the millions of films in this series already, but here we have the childhood and subsequent incarceration of the William Shatner mask-wearer, (the origin of that mask is somewhat amusing here, as well as the burning question of when Michael buried it to get it back 15 years later). It is all an interesting psychological study, yet it seems to take a bit away from the action, slowing down the pace ever so slightly. I actual liked the change because something other than Michael being killed and getting right back up was a welcome reprieve. Too bad this incarnation is hopped up on steroids and can deal with any pain imaginable as well. It would have been nice to see Zombie stay away from that crutch, but I guess what Halloween film can be complete with out it?

In the end, the aesthetic is cool and I wish Zombie would have kept with his creative juices and used it for something fresh. This story did not need to be retold and no matter how much new blood was infused here, it didn’t make it fresh. I do applaud the death toll, however. There was a few times when I was taken by surprise at people that were dying. He pulls no punches; everyone is expendable, and I like that. As far as the acting goes, I thought it was a waste getting genre people in this with such small roles. Kier, Howard, Dourif, and Trejo are all pretty much insignificant except to give the filmmakers a face in throwaway roles. The lone exception here is William Forsythe as Michael’s father, (a fantastic little gem that had me second guessing myself whether it was really him)…oh, and Malcolm McDowell’s hair trying to make him look younger—yeah, it didn’t. Sheri Moon Zombie was at times great casting and at others nepotism at its best. Rob, just because she is your wife, doesn’t mean she needs to be in all your movies, she is no Meryl Streep. All joking aside, though, our two “leads,” if you can call them that, are effective. Scout Taylor-Compton is cute and believable in her role, both as the bubbly teenager and as the horror stricken victim. Young Michael Myers truly steals this show, however. Daeg Faerch is amazing as the homicidal ten year-old. Either he really is a killer or his parents are very liberal at letting him go places no kid that age should have to go mentally. I for one would not want to see this kid walking down the street in my neighborhood.

Halloween 4/10

Bookmark and Share

photography:
[1] Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah Myers) and Daeg Faerch (Young Michael Myers) star in Rob Zombie’s Halloween. Photo by: Marsha Blackburn LaMarca/Dimension Films, 2007
[2] Kristina Klebe (Lynda Van Der Klok), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett) and Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie Strode) star in Rob Zombie’s Halloween. Photo by: Marsha Blackburn LaMarca/Dimension Films, 2007

Advertisements

Bookmark and Share

The title says it all. This movie is superbad…ass. You know, in as far as movie standards go, Superbad is not a masterpiece, or even something to speak about with more than a chuckle. With that said, though, I had a great time with this flick. It is tough to be a hard-R without any nudity for a film of its kind these days. The shear abundance of cursing and innuendo make you feel dirty enough. How writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg came up with some of the situations shown, or the ridiculousness of what these characters say, is beyond me, but the genuine way in which it is all delivered is true to the spirit of that time on the cusp between high school and college. These kids are the dorks always being pushed to the background and they have one opportunity to turn that all around. The journey they take to finally get there, though, is a ride you won’t believe.

A lot is being said about this being a Judd Apatow film. A few of his regulars are on hand, Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Martin Starr; it has a more intellectual way of getting the laughs that usually come off as being funny with no transition to the story in lesser fare; and above all else, it is a story from the heart about the bond of friendship. The movie is not, however, directed by Apatow; instead, the man is Greg Mottola. Now I am not slighting him in the faintest here, but I don’t think it would have mattered who directed it. There aren’t any huge set pieces or inventive camera tricks. As far as these types of films go, it is the writing that supercedes all. The thing about 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up is not that they were directed by Apatow, but that they were written by him. When it comes to Superbad, the script is just too funny to be able to be harmed by the man behind the camera. As long as he keeps the film rolling on these actors, the writing will carry it to the promise land. I give all the credit to Rogen and Goldberg for that, and hope their second feature, Pineapple Express, will be as good—I mean these two started writing both films in high school…that’s impressive.

If anything needs mentioning besides the screenplay, it is the wonderful acting. All the awkwardness of high school and sex come across with truth and candor. Michael Cera’s delivery is just insane. His looks of innocence and ability to let the words come out as if they are of the moment and genuine reactions sell it every time. The chemistry with his character’s best friend, played by Hill, comes across well and the two have a witty rapport. All the scenes you saw in the trailer were alternate versions, the real footage is much funnier and much dirtier; these two definitely enjoy playing off one another. Through the reality of all the anxiety of going to the one graduation party they have been invited to and the responsibility bestowed upon them to bring the alcohol, we are given some situations along the way that are more or less unreal. From the leg used as a tampon scene; the getting hit by a car, not once, but twice; the singing of These Eyes with a bunch of cokeheads; the nice cameos from David Krumholtz and Kevin Corrigan at a messed up party; or anything that happens with the town’s wonderful law enforcement, the laughs never stop. Unfortunately, it does feel long and drawn out overall, I can’t remember a lull in the story, but the pacing just dragged a bit. By having it fire on all cylinders yet still feel a bit sluggish, I must put blame on the inexperienced Mottola. Maybe pointing the camera isn’t all that needs to be done to make a great script pop.

What stands out above all else, though, is the debut of Christopher Mintz-Plasse. The kid is total geek—from nerdy glasses, boyish haircut, ghetto speak, and nasal voice, McLovin is total cool. He handles the role splendidly as he is trucked around town by the best cops ever, played by Rogen and Bill Hader. These three are priceless throughout their travels, right down to the wonderful finale of their story arc. Mintz-Plasse shows how even the dork can make it happen with a little confidence and a couple beers down the hatch. Hey, he did out Breathalyzer Rogen in the squad car. There was no stopping the laughs when these guys were in front of the camera, but then there were few breaks otherwise as well. While not as intelligent or lasting as Virgin, it was a better and raunchier time then the overly sappy and romantic Knocked Up. This film is not for your teenage kids, though, it is for you people in your twenties and thirties looking to remember back in the day when you were as awkward and helpless as these sad souls. All you can do is hope that when you look back at your past, you took the plunge and made a name for yourself as these kids did.

Superbad 8/10

Bookmark and Share

photography:
[1] Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, center) – posing as McLovin, the 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor – is taken for the adventure of his young life so far by two clueless cops, Officer Michaels (Seth Rogen, left) and Officer Slater (Bill Hader, right), in Superbad, the new film from producers Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), screenwriters Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, and director Greg Mottola. Photo Credit : Melissa Moseley.
[2] Seth (Jonah Hill, center left) and Evan (Michael Cera, right) can have the night they’ll remember for the rest of their lives in Superbad, the new film from producers Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), screenwriters Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, and director Greg Mottola. Photo Credit : Melissa Moseley.

Bookmark and Share

When Paul Greengrass was named as the new director in the Bourne series, people had no idea who he was. When he began filming United 93, people wondered what a Brit was doing telling the story of a plane full of American heroes. The answers to these questions always seemed to make mention of the film Bloody Sunday. That reasoning, upon seeing Greengrass’s first major film, holds up strongly. What is now my favorite film of his, the story of that fateful day where a peaceful civil rights march ended in bloodshed and murder by the government, is portrayed as realistically and heartwrenchingly as possible without it being actual documentary footage. It takes guts being English and deciding to take on a tale of injustice by his people over the Irish. When I saw United 93, I left the theatre thinking that no one could have done it any better; this film paved the way, ushering in a new artist able to put emotion and tragedy onscreen without ever letting even one moment seem false.

The handheld filming technique that he has utilized so well in his subsequent films is on display throughout. Always inside the action, the camera follows Parliament member Ivan Cooper while he goes around Derry readying his constituents for their peace march to the civil rights rally. He is a man that is loved by all for both his charisma and his willingness to be among the people during their fight for the rights they deserve. The younger generation and high ranking members of the IRA know him and respect what he is doing, but they feel peace won’t cause change, that they must fight fire with fire. Because of this, and some previous altercations that left British troops injured or killed, the English government has decided to go in and make an example of their power. What begins as a covert operation, to accompany their roadblocks and strong numbers around the town, with a mission to grab IRA members on their wanted list, soon escalates to a massacre of civilians at the hands of adrenaline pumping soldiers who had to wait too long to get out into the action.

All the acting is phenomenal across the board. Young Gerry, played by Declan Duddy, has just gotten out of jail and decides to go with friends to the march, knowing he is risking getting caught again. Duddy does well portraying the love for his girlfriend and his desire to stay outside for her; he knows when he has gotten too close to the troops and tries to go with Cooper’s group to the rally, but his mates won’t let him. When his cousin is killed with a bullet from the troops, troops whom were supposed to be equipped only with rubber, all that goes away. The horror and shock of what has begun to transpire never leaves his face or actions and what eventually happens to his character is truly tragic and disgusting on the part of the British. On their side, both Nicholas Farrell and Gerard McSorley are great as the men behind the scenes, listening to what is happening on the streets. McSorley’s police chief tries to tell Farrell that they should just let the march happen because the kids out there could be too dangerous otherwise. Farrell speaks of how they will use minimum force and throughout the course of events, he constantly tells his men to stand down while they take it upon themselves to move when they have the chance. He is powerless from his position and he knows what kind of tragedy has occurred and that it will end up being on his watch. Standing idle for too long made the soldiers antsy and when they had the opportunity they took it. After the incident, the conversations among the men are atrocious. Bragging about how many they got and the invigorating feeling of it all is appalling, however, not as bad as the one soldier among them who felt remorse at all points, even screaming about the ceasefire while his compatriots continued mowing down innocents. What he ends up doing could possibly be looked upon as worse than the men who actually killed people; his soldier that could have been a voice of truth ends up being a disgusting display of hiding ones’ guilt.

Shining above all, though, is James Nesbitt as Cooper. An actor that doesn’t get enough recognition or work this side of the Atlantic, despite nice turns in Waking Ned Devine and Millions, he is fantastic. His modesty and compassion with the people is contagious at the beginning. He goes through the streets telling the troops that the march will be going, but it will be peaceful, and with every young hooligan he passes he goes to them and says to calm down and join their non-violent demonstration. He tries his hardest to use his political position to stop the riot that begins, but his idealism never prepares him for what happens. What began as Irishmen throwing rocks became two innocents shot down in cold blood. When the hooligans run away to the rally, all hell breaks loose with women and children needing to take cover from the gunfire. Nesbitt’s reaction when his friend Barney tries to surrender is heart-breaking and when he goes to the hospital after it all, he is absolutely genuine in his grief. The glue that holds everything in the movie together, Nesbitt’s concluding speech to the media is hard to watch. A man full of hope for freedom has finally had his eyes opened to the violence and physical tyranny at hand. He is correct when he says that the incident ended the civil rights movement, from that point on there could be no more peaceful marches. Bullets needed to be matched with bullets and young men on the fence of battle were finally swayed to join the war full steam ahead.

Bloody Sunday 10/10

Bookmark and Share

Bookmark and Share

David Yates’ UK television film The Girl in the Café shows what is capable of being made across the Atlantic for the small screen. Whereas in America we get movie of the weeks and after school special morality tales, the British prove that tv should not be looked upon as inferior to the silver screen. Kudos to HBO for seeing the quality put into this tale and releasing it on its channel; I guess airing on a pay channel means a bit more than debuting on network tv in the public’s eyes. Finally I see the talent that Yates has, after being quite under-whelmed with his latest entry to the Harry Potter franchise. Let’s give mention to screenwriter Richard Curtis, as well though, for his words are what make the film as powerful as it is—with a little help from its two leading actors as vessels for them.

We have an older gentlemen, a financial researcher for the Chancellor of England, who, on a break from his hectic all work no play life, meets a young girl in a café. The two have an awkward moment drinking tea and coffee respectively and eventually make a date to meet again for lunch. This relationship is portrayed as strangely as it would be in real life. The older man doesn’t quite know what the woman’s motives are; does she see him as a friend, a father figure, or a lover? With that kind of confusion, each moment with the two of them is an adventure of uncomfortable tension, sexually and emotionally. This aspect is very integral to the way in which the film plays out, and with lesser actors, it could have failed miserably. Thankfully we have the radiant Kelly MacDonald and the consummate professional Bill Nighy. In a role that is the exact opposite to his part in Curtis’ Love Actually, complete with a dream telling of a life he wished to have lived being the one he does in that film, Nighy is remarkable as the isolated businessman who has lost his way in social situations. The ticks we are used to seeing in his performances are very prevalent and his skittishness around the girl he is falling for is true and real. As for MacDonald, she never strays from the broken woman she is playing. We learn very little about her character’s past, but what we do find out tells us the reasons for everything she does. Sometimes fate has a way of playing tricks on us. Both these people needed each other at that point in their lives to show them how to live again in a world that is on the quick spiral down the drain. Her past makes it seem as though what she does was premeditated, but “the facts aren’t there.” Her being thrust into the situations she becomes privy to is coincidence, and she would not be able to live with herself if she didn’t try and take advantage.

What I originally thought would be a pretty cut and dry love story ends up being very much more. The bond forged between our two leads is paramount to what transpires if only to allow us to understand how it could have been able to go as far as it does. We don’t ever get to know if what MacDonald’s character says will have any bearing on the G8 Conference she has been at, but that is the only ending I could ever see as fitting the film that lies before it. Through all the turmoil of a love affair between two people around 30 years apart in age, we are also given the strife of the world trying to come up with a plan to stop poverty. The politics are a huge part of the tale and while it does push an agenda, it does it in a way that progresses the plot. This is not a message movie for that effect alone; it is a tale of love and awakening in the world of political agendas and meetings. For that I credit all involved, because they never fall into the trap of patronizing or forcing the audience in any way. What is instead shown is a powerful film of the meaning of morals and right and wrong and how unexpected meetings can change the course of history. With one of the most emotional endings in a movie that I have seen in some time, it is also the sweetest little gem of cinema I’ve enjoyed during that same duration.

The Girl in the Café 9/10

Bookmark and Share

Bookmark and Share

Upon seeing the much talked about 2004 short Cashback a couple years ago, I was utterly blown away. I checked out Sean Ellis quickly after to see what was next on his slate. To my surprise, it was a feature length version of his brilliant short. I didn’t know what to think, how could he hope to enhance what worked so well in 25 minutes? How could he risk ruining the beauty and magic of what he had? Once I saw that the feature release was coming as part of Mark Cuban’s HDMovies/DVD/Theater deal, I knew I would have to see for myself what Ellis had done. To my shock, he not only kept the stunning visual flair and emotive compositions, freezing beauty and time, he enhanced it completely. The film Cashback is a pure work of art to be viewed with a gallery mentality. This is not a movie to be taken lightly, but a piece of art to behold with wonder and thought. It is a journey through the meaning of love and the beauty of everything around us.

Our story involves an art student named Ben who has just experienced a bad breakup with his first real girlfriend. The thoughts running through his head and the void that the departure has made in his life causes him to be unable to go to sleep. Not able to deal with the extras hours of torture, making him stew in the memories that were long gone, he takes a job working the night shift at a local supermarket. Why not get cash back for his traded extra time? While his co-workers deal with the monotony of eight hours by avoiding the clock, fooling around, or messing with the customers—“helping the ladies” is a hilarious game of theirs, with fantastic payoff at the end—Ben finds that his way to get through time’s sluggish pace is to stop it altogether. He freezes time and space so that he can spend it looking at the beauty that is reality. The still-lifes of life itself are there to be looked at if one takes the time and effort to do so. Being that the female form has always been an inspiration of beauty to him, he starts using the women customers, in suspended animation, as his models to hone his drawing and painting skills. Amidst everything, he and his co-workers take a journey together in life and its cyclical nature and run-ins with coincidence and fate. When Ben falls for his friend Sharon, his world opens back up and he sees what it is to truly be alive.

The plot is simple yet deep in scope. There are many ideas being put out there, but it is not the words of our characters that help express them. Ellis has chosen to give us a mostly silent film, where the visuals are the real impetus and force behind its progression. Told with voiceover throughout its duration, the audience is allowed to bask in the mesmerizing moments put to film. Between his wonderful transitions from present to past recollections of childhood, seamlessly panned over from timeframe to timeframe, to the living paintings walked through by Ben, to the breathtaking slow-motion sequences, you will be transfixed and unable to divert your eyes from the screen. His use of light and glares on the women he allows to fill the frame is amazing and almost every single second could be paused and put on display as photographic artwork. Some of the compositions and use of mise-en-scène are astounding. From the fearless framing of empty space while the focal point is just standing in the corner, to the use of the scene’s environment to create space, either Ellis or his cinematographer, or both, is a genius. I keep thinking of the moment Ben is drawing Sharon at the checkout line, the frame is 95% filled with the white of the back of his pad, only the tiny triangle of space in the top left corner allows his face to be visible.

There really is nothing aesthetically bad I can think of saying. Cashback is as visually stunning a film as I have ever seen, and coming from a first time director is all the more impressive. With all that said, though, the movie is definitely not for everyone. The prudish should stay away because there is a lot of nudity throughout. I would say that while almost all of it is tastefully done and likened to a gallery setting where nudes are the norm, it could still be uncomfortable for some unused to it being so prevalent. The female form is never really exploited here and never used to titillate. It is a fill-in for the beauty in the world that people just don’t take the time to seek out anymore. Each composition containing the curves of a woman’s body is a sight in its own right. Ellis had a vision and he nailed it completely.

All the acting is good as well, especially our leads Sean Biggerstaff as Ben and Emilia Fox as Sharon. They both film effectively and the silent moments of their faces emoting their feelings for each other only enhance the story rather than slow it down in pacing. All the supporting players are great also, adding some wonderful moments of levity and helping keep the movie’s tone from being too dramatic. Again, though, these characters are only vessels being led around to show us the love in the air; it is their actions that speak louder than words ever could. I don’t know whether Ellis refilmed the moments from his short or just used the original footage, but it all keeps the same aesthetic and feel. Those minutes are used almost completely in the first hour, which is surprising because the final act is so well done and cohesive with the start. The final scene at the gallery and outside is just plain gorgeous and puts a fitting conclusion to a masterpiece of style.

Cashback 10/10

Bookmark and Share

photography:
[1] Shaun Evans, Sean Biggerstaff, Stuart Goodwin and Michael Dixon in CASHBACK, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[2] Emilia Fox in CASHBACK, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Bookmark and Share

Why do Hollywood producers set their sights on a talented European director, get them to film one of their scripts, and then subsequently throw it away while hiring one of their own to helm reshoots and change the entire movie? First you dump all your cash on an artistic vision and then you grow scared that the public won’t get it and therefore won’t pay to see it. So, here is a smart move, lets spend even more money to redo what you just paid for and make a piece of trash that people really won’t go and see. You’d probably end up making more profits by just releasing what you think is a failure rather than drain the bank even drier. Unfortunately for Oliver Hirschbiegel, director of the Oscar nominated Downfall, this is exactly the case. Credit him for being civil and saying that the Wachowski brothers and their ward James McTeigue had good points to offer for enhancing the tale. Still, though, just the fact that he didn’t shoot the retakes himself tells that he was unceremoniously dumped from the project. There is no way to tell at the moment whether Hirschbiegel’s version of The Invasion, from last year, would have been a masterpiece, but, this hodgepodge out now surely is not. The real kicker is that I enjoyed it much more than I probably should have. I like to think that I have Oliver to thank for that.

The film itself is of course a new adaptation of the novel The Body Snatchers. An alien lifeform has come to Earth, begins to inhabit the humans, and transforms them during their sleep into a being without emotion. Maybe it is because I am reading Atlas Shrugged at the moment, or because the novel was written after World War II, but the tale has a pretty overt anti-Communism bent. There are many moments speaking of how conflict is human nature and that once our world becomes peaceful and serene, we then cease to be human. This is quite obvious when the leader of the aliens talks of how war has stopped and peace treaties are being signed everywhere. These pod-people have no anger or fear and therefore are able to coexist peacefully, but what is the point of living unafraid when you can’t ever be happy or joyful in that tranquility? The people who have been taken over have now become a collective, out to convert all those different from them. They live together for the good of the group, while the “capitalists” strive for feeling and emotion and life to be lived. The real interesting thing, though, while being anti-Communist, it is also pro-war. This is a rare thing nowadays in film. When Iraq and Darfur are mentioned here, it is to show how the aliens have alleviated these problems. In effect, the bad guys have stopped the war that our heroes have started. Fascinating to think about.

Since the story is known by most people alive today, it has been made into film so many times, we need to talk about the artistry of what is onscreen. This film is definitely a mixed bag. Like so many hijacked works, there are many instances of cutting that appear awkward and choppy. Whether a weird tonal shift or a huge jump in time, it feels as though someone laid all the footage taken and hacked and slapped it together to try and keep coherence by using the thriller aspects of Hirschbiegel’s stock with the action sequences of McTeigue. Lets just say that this is annoying and makes you realize you are witnessing a movie, never letting you soak completely into the tale. With that said, someone did an amazing job with editing nonetheless. Sprinkled in with the disjointedness are moments of genius—a splicing of past, present, and future in a single vignette. I’ve seen this trick used before, the film eludes me now, and I love it. While our stars talk about what they must do, we see flashes of past instances, which led to their thought process, along with flashes of how they actually do what they are discussing. We then get the planning, the thinking, and the execution all at once for what is an exhilarating experience. Credit to either Hirschbiegel or McTeigue for that bit of artistry, whomever was responsible.

When all is said and done, though, the film is really just a slight actioner that tries to thrill. It is a bit of a headcase, never quite knowing what kind of film it wants to be and as a result can never be a success. I applaud Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, and especially Jeffrey Wright for not choosing to phone in their performances, but instead take their roles seriously. As for Nicole Kidman, I can’t say the same. While the cinematography is wonderful throughout, always on eye level and always in close-up, I almost wish it weren’t. While in any other film I would thoroughly enjoy non-stop Kidman, here it just doesn’t work. The whole Meg Ryan/collagen lip thing is very unattractive, and her voice is annoying. Whether it’s the lips or the whispered voice to disguise her accent, it is just plain bad. While she gets better as the film continues, the early scenes are atrocious. When the camera cuts to her while seeing a patient, her expression is total fake doctor pretending to care about your troubles for as long as needed until I can write you a prescription. She plays a psychiatrist like the kind of stereotype that her ex-husband hates. Maybe some Scientology Tom Cruise rubbed off on her because she makes the occupation out to be a joke, even to the point where she decides to solve problems with more meds. Her look of interest is amateurish and never natural. Tom must be proud.

I hope that one day we get to see the original film so that we can decide for ourselves which is best. Until then, though, The Invasion is highly the stuff of style over substance. While the beginning is great at throwing us directly into the story without any background into the space mission or anything, the story almost moves at too brisk of a pace to allow the audience time to sink in and ready themselves for the journey. I enjoy not being catered to, but I also like it when the story knows what it is that it wants to accomplish.

The Invasion 5/10

Bookmark and Share

photography:
[1] NICOLE KIDMAN stars as Carol and DANIEL CRAIG stars as Ben in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ suspense thriller “The Invasion,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Peter Sorel
[2] NICOLE KIDMAN stars as Carol in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ suspense thriller “The Invasion,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The film also stars Daniel Craig. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Bookmark and Share

A magical adventure is just what the summer needed to usher the season into its closing months, leading up to the award contenders’ fall/winter releases. With all the sequels and over-the-top action and special effects heavy drivel, an intelligent story steeped in originality couldn’t come at a better time. Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’s fantasy story Stardust is a tale ripe for cinematic translation. With the adventure, the surreal, the action, the romance, and the comedy, this film is a direct descendant of classics in the genre like The Princess Bride. After walking out of the theatre, I only had one regret—that I hadn’t the opportunity to open up my newly purchased 2007 hardcover edition of the novel yet. If the film was this enjoyable throughout its entirety, I can’t wait to check out the source material.

I don’t want to ruin any story/plotlines in this review. There is a lot going on and many characters to contend with. Rest assured, everyone’s motives are clearly laid out and no one seems two-dimensional or a waste of space. Even the small parts, which crop up at many instances throughout, have fleshed out roles, integral to the story thread that they are a part of. Nothing happens without a reason or regard for some future event. Between the journey of a boy for a fallen star to win his love back at home, the quest for the ruby stone that will crown a prince king, the mission for eternal life by a sisterhood of witches, and the story of a boy becoming a man and finding the true meaning of love and sacrifice, Stardust literally has it all. Fate is a big factor with the progression of our characters as an incident that happened eighteen years previous started a chain reaction of events leading to where we begin our tale with young Tristran. All our heroes and villains continue down the same paths, hot on the heels of each other or narrowly missing confrontation at every turn. The magical land of Stormhold is very near our very own England. Only those with the courage to seek out adventure will dare cross over to see what the other side holds.

We are treated to a plethora of quirky folk along the journey of Tristran and Yvaine. They soon find out what trouble lies in store for them and, with the help of others, attempt to stay alive so that they can each get back to their respective homes. Charlie Cox is fantastic as our hero with equal parts shyness and bravery. His transformation along the duration of the movie is realistic and he handles the romantic moments with the same poise as the action sequences. Always with a smile, his awkwardness to the world outside his reality leads to some very humorous moments with great comedic timing on his part. As for our falling star, Claire Danes continues to impress me this year. The girl I couldn’t stand has been slowly finding a soft spot with me. She is radiant here, and her smile glows enough so that the filmmakers didn’t even need to use the halo effect when she is happy.

Fans of British film and television will enjoy seeing the numerous cameos included. No matter the name or the top billing, some of the big stars don’t last very long. Either way, though, each does his job fully to create the world we are in. We are given nice turns from Ricky Gervais, Peter O’Toole, and Jason Flemyng along with wonderful brief moments from the likes of Rupert Everett and Mark Heap. Michelle Pfeiffer is fantastic as our main villain, yes, but it is Robert De Niro who truly steals the show. You have no idea what to expect from him in the trailers, and you still don’t upon his introduction. However, when his true self comes out, it is absolutely priceless.

I never would have thought Matthew Vaughn could create such a lush world of comedy and swashbuckling amongst so many fantastical elements, complete with some very nice computer generated work. This is the guy who produced Guy Ritchie’s high violence capers and directed his own harsh crime story in the film Layer Cake. To go from almost directing X-Men 3 to than begin work on a Gaiman fantasy story is quite the leap, but he handles it beautifully. I read that Gaiman actually approached Vaughn because he knew him as an entertainment industry guy that he could trust. Not wanting his words to be altered and disrespected, he met with Vaughn and the two came up with a way to make the film true to the novel while also being palatable for Hollywood to embrace. This is truly a story with a lot of heart and I can’t wait to watch it again.

Stardust 9/10

Bookmark and Share

photography:
[1] Sienna Miller as Victoria and Charlie Cox as Tristran in Paramount Pictures’ Stardust – 2007
[2] Michelle Pfeiffer as Lamia in Paramount Pictures’ Stardust – 2007

Bookmark and Share

Here is a biopic that knows what it is. Petey Greene, an ex-con with a voice, gets his chance to speak to a city and use his one true gift, the one thing he enjoys and is good at besides being a miscreant. Kasi Lemmons never tries to tell us about Petey or his manager Dewey Hughes’ past history to get them to where we start the film. Besides what they tell each other, the film being shown encompasses the start of what would be a tight friendship until Greene’s early death. Talk to Me is about the voice and the courage that these two men allowed to be given to the public during a time of change and political turmoil. Yes we are shown the rise and inevitable fall of a real-life person, but unlike most biographies that fail, this film doesn’t dwell on the hard times, but instead decides to not really show them. One’s fall from grace ushers the other’s rise to glory, however, the two never forget what they did together. They never lose a grasp on the fact that neither would have been anything without the other.

Petey Greene was the voice that united a Washington DC torn apart by Vietnam and Civil Rights. He said what producer Dewey Hughes didn’t have the guts to say, but wanted to, and Hughes did what Greene was too afraid to do by himself. This is the dynamic of the film and the core of everything that transpires. The high points are because both are working on the same pace, doing what they do best. As for the low points, they occur when both can’t handle the fact that they aren’t doing it by themselves. Hughes wishes Greene was his brother, taking his gift for humor and public speaking and using it for good rather than wasting away in a jail cell. Greene wishes he could be more than the convict he is, but when given the chance by Hughes, he does what he is asked and tells the truth—that he is a criminal the world isn’t ready for. Dewey was right about one thing, though, the world was waiting for a man like Greene; it was Petey who wasn’t ready for the world.

While I can’t quite praise Lemmons for a successful biopic that never falls into the traps inherent in them, I can praise her craftwork. I mean the reason she doesn’t fall flat on the downfall is that she refuses to show it. This works in one respect because she has another lead to carry the load once her first leaves the film, however, this act kind of subverts the whole story that is being told. It might be looked upon as an easy out, but nevertheless it does work on the level of keeping the story going without a lull of the same old tragedy we always see in these films. With that said, though, Lemmons orchestrates some amazing sequences. Between the pool scene where Hughes shows what he is really made of and the riots with subsequent radio broadcast post MLK Jr’s assassination, we are given some very powerful moments. Sure these guys are a perfect fit for the comedic jabs, and there are plenty, but they are also very serious about the roles they have in media. No matter where they came from, they are able to stand up and unite the city in hope and make them realize that the destruction goes against all they have been fighting for.

I don’t know how the film could have succeeded without both Don Cheadle (Greene) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Hughes). These two are powerhouses here and show why they are two of the best actors working in the business today. Pitch-perfect in both the high and low times, these guys never falter or disrespect their characters. Cheadle has the swagger and the attitude to show what Greene was made of, but also the emotional range to express the pain of his existence. It is not drugs or alcohol that commence his descent from glory; it is the lack of faith in himself as someone more than a street crook. His skyrocketing to fame was too fast and his friend’s confidence wasn’t enough to keep him going for gold. Whereas Greene looked to talk to his people, Hughes looked to take on the world. Thankfully, Greene’s candor allowed Hughes to be able to open up and do it on his own. Ejiofor shows amazing range to make it all work. From his Johnny Carson imitation in order to fit in on the corporate world level, to his street roots mentality mixed with business savvy, to his alter ego radio voice (laughable “properness” at the start and coolly confident at the end), he plays all the personalities that Hughes needed to keep separate in order for his life to work.

Those two guys of course carry the film. However, the numerous supporting roles help round out the drama at hand. Martin Sheen is priceless as the forward thinking radio owner, willing to get the right personnel to get back to the people, but still keeping classic “white” phrases as blue-blazes and hoodwinked in his vocabulary to crack up Greene. Taraji P. Henson shows how much she deserves to really get any part she wants. Ever since Hustle and Flow, I truly have enjoyed each role I have seen her play. A final note for Lemmons as director would be her ability to rein in some characters for small, yet crucial roles. Both Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps have the ability to go over board. With their small roles here, though, Cedric is very good as the somewhat over-the-top “Nighthawk” and Epps is fantastic as the brother that Hughes wishes he could have helped earlier on. All around, Talk to Me is a wonderful film to experience a slice of life that you may not remember or may have never known about.

Talk to Me 8/10

Bookmark and Share

photography:
[1] Don Cheadle (left) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (right) star in Kasi Lemmons’ TALK TO ME, a Focus Features release. Photo Stephane Fontaine
[2] Taraji P. Henson as Vernell and Don Cheadle as Ralph ‘Petey’ Greene in Focus Features’ Talk to Me. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson © 2006 Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.

Bookmark and Share

While never reaching any further than its aspirations to be a guilty pleasure, Arachnophobia definitely does its job well and successfully. Here we have a tale of a spider infestation in a small town, where a single bite causes almost instantaneous death. It is up to the town’s new doctor to make everyone see that there is a problem that needs fixing. Like most small towns, the people don’t necessarily embrace change and they don’t want the doctor to sanction autopsies to find out the true cause of the numerous deaths occurring around them. He is finally allowed to do so and, along with the help of a couple spider specialists and an eccentric exterminator, attempts to find the spider queen and nest to destroy them and save the community.

What could have fallen into the usual animal horror film, never quite goes too far into absurdity or camp. The performances, for the most part, all stay true to their occupation and each interact with each other realistically. Yes, there is a lot of humor sprinkled throughout, but it never gets cringe-worthy or laughable due to poor delivery/taste instead of genuine pleasure. Even the creature effects are well done. The spiders are realistic and possibly mostly real anyways. How they were captured onscreen crawling along predetermined paths like a shower curtain rod, I don’t know, but the filmmakers got the footage they needed. The web work was gorgeous to behold and the gruesome moments, decomposed bodies for instance, as real as they were disgusting.

There isn’t much to stand above any other film of its kind besides a sense of staying close to reality, but the acting talent helps vault it to a level of entertainment that is surprisingly high. Jeff Daniels is our doctor, whose nervous tick and fear of spiders is utilized often, but his professionalism in medicine and sarcastic remarks round out the character to be believable. His wife, played by Harley Jane Kozak, is fantastic in her delivery of lines and a big factor in the laughs. It is a shame she was relegated to television afterwards, because her role here and in Parenthood proved she could have done more. The true standout in the film, though, is John Goodman. With a little bit of Bill Murray, a la Caddyshack, Goodman is our exterminator with a speech impediment and a gift for talking incessantly. His holier than though attitude, when it comes to his job, leads to some priceless moments and when he has the acid toxins strapped to his back, he is fantastic.

So, when there is little on tv and you have a couple hours to kill, you can do a lot worse than this gem from the early 90’s. It isn’t trying to win any awards, but instead entertains its audience with some comedy and attempts at scares, which may or may not stand up to the time that has passed since its release.

Arachnophobia 6/10

Bookmark and Share

Bookmark and Share

I have never been one to shy away from saying that most action films just plain do nothing for me. Most times they are blatant vehicles to blow stuff up, show off sexy models, and throw any semblance of reality or intelligence out the window. With that said, the Bourne series has been fantastic. Doug Liman ushered in a new take on action by using a more cinema verite style, showing the fights in full force and making our super spy someone we can relate to emotionally as well as humanly. This is not the sci-fi absurdity that was Bond (before they did an overhaul in the style of this series no less). There was a lot to worry for when the Bourne Supremacy came out. With director Paul Greengrass taking over, what could have been a second-hand copy of the original ended up being an improvement in style and flair. The stakes were raised and the story was enhanced because of it. Greengrass needs to be given a ton of credit for being able to keep up appearances with the latest installment, The Bourne Ultimatum. In what is an amazing conclusion to a top-notch trilogy, the action is brought to a new level and story and performance are never compromised.

Once again, Bourne is brought into the minds of the CIA by false pretenses. Someone has leaked information about the Treadstone upgrade called Blackbriar and once Bourne is located trying to converse with the newswriter who broke the story, he is assumed to be the mole. Only Pamela Landy, she who was on the case to find him in Supremacy, knows that he can’t be the one. Bourne’s motive has always been to stay clear of the government and live his life in peace. It has been the CIA who keeps bringing him back into the open to wreak havoc on them. What ends up transpiring is that Bourne wants to know the source as well to finally find out the truth of who he is and what made him into a killer. The film, then, becomes a chase against time and each other to find the source and see if the government can close the breach and tie off all loose ends, or if Bourne can get his revenge on those who took his life from him.

In what is probably the simplest storyline of the series, with only one chase lasting the entirety of the story, it has possibly the biggest cast of characters and turning over of loyalties to expose the corruption that has been behind the full story progression. This is not a detriment at all, however, as it allows for more fights and car chases that work in full context to the plot. Admission to this film is worth it for the apartment fight, between Bourne and the CIA’s second asset, alone. The chase jumping through windows in Madrid is cool on its own, but when they finally meet up, we get a ten minute or so fight that is as invigorating to watch as any scene you’ll see. Also, rather than using a massive car chase as a climatic set piece like in the first two films, we instead get around three small scale road races, just as intense, but staggered enough to never bog the action down into monotony.

After five years of waiting, we also find out the origin of our favorite operative with heart and feeling. By the end of the film we will find out what has been the cause of all the espionage and destruction that has taken place around him. No one could have done it better than Matt Damon. He has the physique and attitude to be believable in the action sequences, but also the range to pull off the moments of intelligence and cat and mouse correspondence with those against him. Joan Allen reprises her role with the same amount of dedication to her job, but also a bit more disenchantment for what is going on around her after how Brian Cox’s character, from the first two films, took matters into his own hands. Needing a role in that mold, we are given a nice turn from David Strathairn. Like Cox, he is working at the top of the food chain and answers to no one when making a decision. With as much trying to cover up any connections to his bosses of the Blackbriar program as he is trying to do his duty to his country, you can never quite gauge what he will be capable of doing. Even the little guys do a wonderful job, like Paddy Considine as the reporter who starts the leak at the center of everything, Albert Finney as a man from Bourne’s past and possibly key to his origin, and Edgar Ramirez as one of the CIA’s operatives sent to take Bourne out. Ramirez is a nice addition to the role that has been successfully played by Clive Owen (Identity), Karl Urban, and Martin Csokas (Supremacy). He doesn’t talk much, if at all, but he has the look and robotic efficiency down pat and hopefully will get more roles to show what he can do post a nice turn in Domino.

In the end, one has to applaud Paul Greengrass for continuing to exceed expectations and bring this series to a conclusion that builds on the success of its predecessors rather than destroy them. His skill at the close-up handheld look is astonishing and has the same kinetic energy as Tony Scott, but without quite the seizure-inducing cuts. Rather than feel like over-production, his use of handheld enhances the environment and puts you directly into the action. Let’s also credit cinematographer Oliver Wood, who shot all three Bourne films. He was able to work with both directors and work his style into a nice harmony with them.

You don’t get a more intelligently told or shot action trilogy than the Bourne series. Our final answer may be the simple way out, but it does work in the context of the work. I would have liked the ending to go bolder, and I thought it was until the final frame. Hopefully Hollywood will know to end the series here, on a high note, because I don’t see all the principals returning again, and without them we will just get drivel that will ruin the legacy of what came before it.

The Bourne Ultimatum 8/10
As comparison: The Bourne Identity 8/10; The Bourne Supremacy 8/10

Bookmark and Share

photography:
[1] Matt Damon star as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum.
[2] David Strathairn as Noah Vosen and Joan Allen as Pamela Landy in The Bourne Ultimatum.

Categories

Bookmark and Share

jared’s tweets