Friday, July 30, 2010

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp Fiction is one of the best movies ever. Argue with me. Go ahead. I dare you. I welcome the non-challenge of proving you wrong.

It's story. It's what story should be. Story story story. It's surprising, it's smart, it's real but not really real. Each and every character is the protagonist of their existence and that's exactly how all films should feel. They all move around in this one world, bumping into each other, making appearances in others' stories when it makes sense for them to do so. I always wonder if Jules hears about Vince's death and what he thinks. Or Mia. It's such a cool piece of story for the protagonist of one chunk to show up in someone else's only to be blown away. And the unpredictability is so cool. Who would see the whole gimp episode coming? No one, that's who. And that's awesome. Same thing with poor Marvin getting his head blown off. I that's probably my favorite moment in the film, "The Bonnie Situation" my favorite story.

I was thinking recently about films where protagonists don't arc. The only films I could come up with were bad films. But - this film might have a case for being both good and mostly arc-less. Jules arcs. Obvi. But I don't think anyone else does. Not Vince, not Butch, not Mia. I think Butch is the most surprising because he's arguably the most protagonisty in terms of desires and conflict. But he's no different at the end than he was at the beginning. Perhaps it's an off screen arc? Perhaps in the beginning when he's listening to Marsellus, he's planning to actually throw the fight. And when we see him next, he's arced into choosing his pride over his safety. He's opted to say screw you. I don't know. It doesn't really matter. I'm just rambling.

Any way you slice it, this movie is terrific. It's entertaining, it's fun, it's smart, the acting is great, the direction superb, and I can watch it over and over until the end of time. All hail Tarantino.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Peacock (2010)

Peacock was almost awesome. I think the script was probably really great - creepy, full of psychological horrors, and clever in a way that few movies dare to try. However, the execution just wasn't there.

I always feel bad about saying mean things about a movie after I've watched the special features. Everyone tried so hard. But the biggest, crater sized, grand canyon of an issue with this movie is obvious to anyone with eyes. Quick mention of what this movie is about first.

Cillian Murphy plays Emma and John. John is this dude who was abused like crazy as a young'un in by his mom (who I'm pretty sure is voiced by Sally Field although she isn't given credit). So, when she dies, poor John goes mental and gets all personality split. He becomes Emma - the chick of the house - who cooks his food, does his laundry, and does the cleaning. He doesn't remember what he does as Emma and Emma doesn't remember what John does as John. Eventually, Emma becomes a problem for John as she does things he doesn't want her to do.

Spotted the problem? Check out the pics. How difficult would it have been to give John some glasses and a hat? Or give Emma some glasses and a hat? Yes, her makeup is soft and lovely. Yes, the clothes look homemade and somewhat cover the adam's apple situation. But everyone in that town with eyes would know. It's absurd to try and convince us otherwise. The super super super easy fix would have been to keep our town characters separate. Only let the town newbies ever see Emma. But alas. We watch these scenes completely incredulous that we're meant to buy what's going on. It ruins what could be a fun ride otherwise.

Cillian Murphy is phenomenal 100% of the time. He rocks both roles and does what he can to make us believe people would think these were two separate individuals. But he can't hide that he's Cillian Murphy and that's the problem. Ellen Page is also in this, Canadian accenting her way through. I don't think I'd mind hanging out with her in reality, but she's Juno in every role she takes.

I'm telling you, this script was a clever idea. It has to be the one and only reason this film attracted the talent it did. I wish it had worked out better for everyone.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Body of Lies (2008)

Body of Lies was a movie I could have lived without. It wasn't bad and it wasn't really good. It wasn't boring or too complicated but it also wasn't very interesting or unique. It came and went. I shrugged.

To be fair, this isn't my preferred genre. I often say - and I'm about to say it again - that a good movie is a good movie and people who discount any film based on genre alone are dumb. Or lazy. Or they don't care - which is acceptable. But film people who say it are dumb. Or lazy. However, I can't deny that everyone prefers some genres to others. I'm always going to enjoy a musical more than perhaps its filmic worth would indicate. I would never try to argue that Rent is a good (or well made) film but damned if I don't enjoy it. Okay - so - point. Espionage action, especially set in the Middle East, aint my bag. And this movie isn't good enough to overcome it's genre. So I'll probably never watch it again.

Ebert said, and I agree, "'Body of Lies' is a James Bond plot inserted into today's headlines." That's my other issue with it. It was like they decided to write a movie where us awesome Americans actually get to catch Osama Bin Laden. Without ever actually showing a terrorist attack on American soil. We're catching the guy that bombed Amsterdam who is threatening to bomb us. Whatever.

And the protagonist. He's what should have made us care. But there is almost zero about him as a person. He's getting a divorce. That's all we know. Do we care? Not really. And I'm sorry, but on no planet would Leonardo DiCaprio be able to pretend he's Middle-Eastern. (I wasn't quite sure he was pretending to be Middle-Eastern - but Ebert thinks he was. So we'll go with Ebert). There just isn't enough character. Anywhere. Russell Crowe's role was all but unnecessary and I'm surprised Russell Crowe's people wanted him to do it. It must have just been because of Ridley Scott. His character was an aged version Ari Gold from Entourage, barking orders into his bluetooth while dropping his kids off at school.

Maybe I dislike this movie more than I initially thought. I saw it because Leonardo DiCaprio is a great actor and I'm a loyal fan who will see him in pretty much anything. Now that I can check this movie off my list, I never have to think about it again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Withnail And I (1987)

Withnail and I was a funny little film. In many ways, it reminded me of an existentialist play. They aren't totally waiting for Godot, but there are scenes where it feels like they are. Normally, a film with so little plot would irritate me. But this film was funny. And charming in a strange sort of British way. Richard Griffiths as Withnail's gay, rich uncle was my favorite character and I found the scenes involving him funniest.

I don't have a whole lot to say about this film. I read somewhere that it's Johnny Depp's favorite movie, so take that as you will. It's funny, it's thinly plotted, it has some British absurdist humor throughout that you may or may not enjoy. It's worth a whirl.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

This movie.

I've heard people rave and rave and rave.

I've read this review at The Playlist where they loathed it. Shredding it in true pretentious Playlist fashion. (Love you, Playlist...)

I'm definitely somewhere in the middle. It's over long and there are some debatably unnecessary character building tangents. But I enjoyed the movie. I was entertained, and the title character was unlike any character I've seen before.

She is a hard core, pierced, motorcycle riding, computer hacker that no one should mess with. She sleeps with men and women and she keeps her thoughts and feelings to herself. She's the movie. She's what's unique about it. The Playlist was not a fan of a sequence in the first half hour or so where she gets revenge against an (overly) evil probation officer. I was on her side with that revenge. And I was shocked. I think this sequence does what it's intended to - it tells us what she's like and if you don't like it (or her), stop watching now.

It's true that all of the characters apart from her are fairly cookie cutter. I would argue that with her character being so different from what we're used to seeing, it's not unreasonable for the author (or screenwriter) to keep the rest of the cast fairly understandable.

The plot is a plot. It's not genius. It's not absurd. Mysteries aren't typically my bag. They tend to be either obvious or so ridiculously complex that no movie goer could play along. I'm never going to be particularly interested in the mystery itself if only because I know the ending will (almost) never live up to the twists of the plot along the way. (Shutter Island is the first movie in a very long time where I found the ending to be as cool as the journey). This movie had Lisbeth, and I was content to watch her be sort of awesome.

This movie gets talked about. For that reason alone, I would recommend it. Nothing drives me crazier than people with strong opinions about movies they haven't seen (or books they haven't read or musicians they haven't heard). It's an entertaining watch. It's got some graphic sex stuff so beware of that. But The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a cool chick and I look forward to seeing the sequel.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Alice In Wonderland (2009)

Nope. Not right. Sorry, but fail.

I had high hopes for Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's collaborative efforts on Alice in Wonderland. One of two problems I have with nearly every adaptation from the beginning of time (or at least since the beginning of cinema) is that they're never dark enough (ahem - Disney Version). I knew that wouldn't be a problem here. And it wasn't. It was dark. Alice has to leap frog across a moat filled with dead bodies to get to The Red Queen's castle. Ick!

However, the other problem I have with all the adaptations is that they aren't funny. The books are funny. There almost black humor, subtly cloaked in the musings of a child. It's brilliant. This version aint so funny. There are a couple of nods toward the absurdist humor like The Red Queen mistaking Alice's name for Um when someone pauses to avoid revealing who she is. But for the most part, this version doesn't inspire laughter.

This version is also muddled in its return to wonderland sequel but not quite blah blah blah. Eventually, they lay it out. Plain and simple. If you're going to go the sequel route - go the sequel route. Make up new stuff. It might be interesting.

Then we get into the 'plot' which is ridiculously simple and too reductive to entertain. She has to slay the Jaberwock. She will. She does. Big surprise.

And Alice. In the bonus features they rave and rant and compliment and pat themselves on the back for choosing her. She blows. She displays the emotional range of a kumquat and I couldn't care less whether she is able to find her muchness. She is entirely blah. And so pale she looks like she belongs in Twilight rather than Wonderland. She has no spark, no wit like Alice should, none of the sharp intelligent logic that Alice uses to poke holes in Wonderland's absurdity. This was also not one of my favorite Johnny Depp performances. He's brave, to be sure, but his lisp through his gap tooth was irritating, his divergence into a creepy scottish accent when he's feeling upset weird. Helena Bottom Carter was fantastic - btw.

The best version, to my mind, remains the Tina Majorino NBC television movie. It suffers from a television movie budget - which is too bad - but tonally, it's closest. I'm on my way to reaching the conclusion that this is a story which simply isn't ever going to translate well. So much of the humor is in the narration that unless some brave soul tries an adaptation in which the story is simply read in voice over, it's never going to shine through. But I'll keep tabs on the various trials and let you know.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jesus' Son (1999)

There are two chunks of Jesus' Son that I loved. The first is when Billy Crudup's character meets Samantha Morton's character. She's dancing to Sweet Pea by Tommy Roe and she's dancing like a crazy person. It's cute - she's immediately endearing. And it's a way I've never seen Samantha Morton behave before. Five minutes later I was downloading Sweet Pea.

The other is a freaked out comedic sequence. Billy Crudup works at a hospital with Jack Black and a man comes in with a knife through his eye. It's creepy, it's funny, and it's weird. Then, Billy Crudup and Jack Black go for a drive. When Jack Black hits a rabbit with his car, he's going to skin and eat it, but rather delivers its babies - still alive. Billy Crudup's attempt to keep them alive is hilarious. It made me want to jump right into the screen and hug him.

His character is a guy with good intentions who just can't get his stuff together. Things are always going wrong, people are always getting angry at him, he's always screwing something up. You feel for the guy.

The movie is episodic and dances all over the place. It doesn't do so accidentally - it's meant to be a stream of consciousness sort of thing. This tactic will undoubtably work better for some than others. I didn't love the movie but I did enjoy meeting all the characters. It's a odd film.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Inception (2010)

Inception is entertaining. I think it borrows heavily from The Matrix, but eh. We could use a Matrix movie every ten to fifteen years. You should see it in the theatre so you can stop avoiding articles with spoilers and conversations where people are talking about it. Because you're bound to run into both. I want to spoil it? No. I won't. I guess. But it's not like anyone reads this so I guess it doesn't really matter if I do. So I will. SPOILER ALERT!

Throughout the movie it's been set up that if the freaking top stops spinning - we're in reality. Not a dream. So the last shot of the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio spins his silly little top and walks away. The film cuts to black with the damn thing still spinning. My opinion of that? Christopher Nolan is a dick. It's reality. It's a colossally stupid movie if it isn't and I don't think Christopher Nolan is stupid. Just a dick. He wants the IMDb boards to explode with threads about theories and to have people cite crazy minutia as evidence either way. Most importantly, he wants people to run back to the theatre for a second look so they can take notes all the way through and build their case that it's all a dream. He knows. He picked one way or the other and I would eat my hat if he picked 'it's all a dream.' He just won't ever admit it.

To that end, read this article. It's an interview with Dileep Rao who played the chemist. He has it all worked out and he talks about his opinions on what's what. If you're confused or you just want a definitive something - check it out. I love him for actually answering these questions.

And - twelve year old me who saw Titanic six times in the theatre has asked me to mention that Leonardo DiCaprio hasn't looked this good in quite some time. So see it for that if nothing else. (And Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Cillian Murphy too).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mysterious Skin (2004)

Half of Mysterious Skin is very good. The other half I find irritating. I've seen this movie before, and when I think back on it, I always seem to forget about the bits I don't care for. So when I watched it again, I was irritated anew.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a phenomenal actor. One of my absolute favorites. His half of the film I love. His character is unique and twisted, but as a viewer you understand. You sympathize rather than judge. His relationship with Michelle Trachtenberg is compelling and her concern for him palpable. His half of the story I'm deeply invested in.

The other half - not so much. If you're unfamiliar with the story it's essentially about two boys who are sexually abused as children. This drives Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character to become a male prostitute, obsessed with older men. The other boy, played by Brady Corbett, doesn't remember exactly what happened. He comes to the conclusion, perhaps based more on denial than anything else, that he was abducted by aliens. The problem I have with his half of the story is that the audience knows from square one what really happened to him. We know he's just wasting time befriending a woman who believes she too was abducted. (Mary Lynn Rajskub) We know what he'll find out when he finally manages to speak with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And his character isn't anything new. He's essentially asexual, afraid of physical intimacy. And the acting isn't all that great. So his half of the story labors on to the inevitable ending. The saving grace is when he befriends Eric, the boy left behind by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michelle Trachtenberg. Eric is a good character, if somewhat typical.

I recommend this film to people who aren't easily upset by such subject matter. There are some harsh scenes - nothing is shown but the voice over is fairly specific about what's going on. It's not pleasant. But if you enjoy Joseph Gordon-Levitt (and you should!) this remains one of his best performances.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous is without a doubt one of my favorite movies. It evokes such a specific feeling of nostalgia and youth - one that makes me wish I had been alive in the seventies, when music was good and every one was cool. I love every character - from Penny Lane and Frances McDormand's fantastic performance as William's mother to Jason Lee's insecure lead singer and Mitch Hedberg's quick appearance as Humble Pie's road manager. I want to know them. I want to hang out with them. I want to smoke with them. I want to be William Miller and I'm jealous of each amazing experience he gets.

Kate Hudson and Billy Crudup are both amazing. Kate Hudson is strong, beautiful, confident, and yet displays amazing moments of vulnerability. One of my favorite moments in the film is when her and Billy Crudup are reintroduced to each other. Joni Mitchell's River is playing and Kate Hudson pauses and her eyes fill with tears. She laughs. It's beautiful. I'm not normally one to gush over the performances of ladies, but she truly is fantastic in this movie. Billy Crudup is also very good. I almost always love him (check out Stage Beauty. It's my favorite Billy Crudup performance). We're with William in that want to like Russell, he's charismatic and cool, yet we watch him do some truly douchey things that never quite destroy our allegiance with him.

And the music. This movie stands upon its soundtrack. Everyone loves the Tiny Dancer scene, it's lovely. And one of my favorite music moments is in the beginning when Anita uses Simon and Garfunkel's America to explain to her mother why she's leaving home to become a stewardess. It's funny, it's touching, and it feels so real. How like a teenager.

And a major shout out to Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs.

I could go on about this movie forever. It's a movie I wish I had written. A story I wish I had lived. This movie always makes me feel happy and if you've never seen it, you're missing out.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

28 Weeks Later (2007)

28 Days Later may be my favorite film. I often say it is. Of course - it's tied with about twenty others - but I love love love 28 Days Later.That being said, 28 Weeks Later is not nearly as great. I like the beginning and, in theory, I like the ending, but the middle is one excruciatingly long chase scene in which members of the escaping party drop like teenagers in a slasher film. And of course, the entire thing is a little ridiculous.

For example, why would "lock down" equal locking all the people in a big warehouse. And honestly - the zombie can just push the door open? Not much of a lock down. And how did zombie get out of the room in which he was zombieified in the first place? Was he able to use his key card? And what are the odds that Andy would miraculously end up hiding in the very room his sister and Rose Byrne are hiding in? And that Rose Bryne could out run zombies with a bullet wound in her leg? And on what planet would you descend into a pitch black tube station while trying to avoid zombies? Whatever. These are dumb questions because the answer is "It's a horror movie, stupid. Shut up."

That's what bothers me though. The first one is so much more than its genre. It's realistic, first of all, and the characters make decisions that are plausible. Yes, maybe the taxi driver wouldn't go through the tunnel because zombies might be in there but if its the fastest route, he might. Especially if he doesn't know he's in a zombie movie. I'll watch 28 Days Later sometime soon and gush about its brilliance.

I like the kids in 28 Weeks Later and I love Robert Carlyle for always. Sometimes, the cinematography is beautiful (it has that in common with the original). And I think the ending is creepy and realistically what would happen should a person exist who is immune themselves but also a carrier. It was clever of the 28 team to come up with a way to get the virus outside of England. That being said, I prefer the hopeful ending of the first and chose to just pretend the second didn't really happen.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Edge of Love (2008)

Sigh. The Edge of Love could have been good. It was almost good. Cillian Murphy was in it and he's always good. But it wasn't really good.

Remember the problem I had with The Last Station? This didn't have that problem - I went running to Wikipedia to find out what I didn't know about Dylan Thomas. I learned that Matthew Rhys was great casting. The problem with The Edge of Love is that it isn't about Dylan Thomas or anyone else.

This movie tried to be about Keira Knightly's character and then sort of about her relationship with Sienna Miller's character. But it's also about their relationships with Dylan Thomas, Keira Knightly's relationship with Cillian Murphy, World War II and the impact it had on its soldiers, the morality of adultury, and abortion. Too much. All over.

One of those things as an entire movie could have been really great. The talent is there and some of the scenes, as stand alone scenes, are very engaging. It could have been a love triangle if they had nixed Cillian Murhpy (although, in my biased opinion, he's the best thing about the movie). Or it could have been about the two couples if the film had begun after they were two couples (rather than half a movie spent trying to get Cillian Murphy and Keira Knightly together). Or it could have had nothing to do with Dylan Thomas and been about a woman who marries a soldier and learns she's pregnant while he's away at war only to have him return a different man. Or it could have been about Dylan Thomas and his tulmultous relationship with his wife. It tried to be all and succeeded at none. Alas.

A few random ramblings: Keira Knightly's Welsh accent was distracting. You know who I identify most with the uber-Welsh accent? Aimee-Ffion Edwards who played Sketch on Skins. Sketch was sorta nutzo so I tend to identify really Welsh women with nutzo. Sorry Welsh women. Also - there's an episode of The IT Crowd where Roy goes to dinner with a blind date and she's also nuts and really Welsh. It's British T.V. that's done it to me.

Also, Matthew Rhys was very good. I know him only from Brothers and Sisters and his pretty small role in Titus. So seeing him be a lead and Welsh was a nice change.

Cillian Murphy was also good - but I always think he's fantastic. He's up there on the list of actors I adore with James McAvoy, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Jamie Bell. Speaking of which - Keira Knightly has gotten to play oposite three of them now. Lucky her.

So The Edge of Love. Almost good. But not.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Running On Empty (1988)

I don't remember precisely how thirteen-ish year old me got into River Phoenix. It's not a crazy concept - he's precisely the variety of tragic figure that many a young girl - then and now - will be drawn too. I'd imagine five years from now, they'll be a new contingent of Heath Ledger fans who don't remember him ever having been alive. But - however it happened - sometime in the mid nineties I went on a video rental spree and did my very best to track down every River Phoenix movie I could. Do you know how difficult it was to find an independent movie on video in the nineties? It took me the better part of a month to track down a copy of My Own Private Idaho and, let me tell you, that movie wasn't really made for thirteen year old girls. Netflix has spoiled us all. Regardless - Stand By Me and Running On Empty were easy finds in the local Blockbuster Video (Wow! What a difference).

Like every other human with a heart, I loved Stand By Me. I can thank that film for also beginning my Stephen King obsession - but that's another story. Running On Empty I had mixed feelings about. I found River Phoenix dreamy, Martha Plimpton annoying, and much of the film dull. Oh how time will change us all.

I've recently been reading Ebert reviews of random movies and somehow in the chain of clicking I got to Running On Empty. Ebert loved it and my thought was "Really? I don't remember thinking it was that great." Thirteen year old me didn't really know a good film when she saw one (hello Armageddon three times in the theatre).

This movie is fantastic. It's gut wrenching watching all these scenes between family members who can't be together. A son missing his mother's death. A grandfather learning he has ten year old grandson from the news. A boy delivering a pizza to his grandmother's house just to see what she's like. The situation of the film lends itself to brilliant scene after brilliant scene and it's all very moving.

River Phoenix really is terrific in this film. He portrays the easy liar so well. He can divert attention from himself in a number of ways and we(and the other characters) hardly even notice he's doing it. Yet, when he's home he's someone completely different. Someone concerned about his family, his mother in particular, who hates the lie but understands its necessity.
It's also an interesting family dynamic - one in which the mother has had the greater influence on her son. When he's asked which electives he wants to take, his immeidate response is music (like his mother - although we don't know that yet). His second choice, made only after prompting, cooking - like his father.

I clearly didn't see this movie for what it was when I was younger. To be fair - I still find Martha Plimpton annoying. Her harsh sarcastic style works when we're just getting to know her character, but she's not really one for the softer sentimental moements. When she cries, I roll my eyes. And the younger brother - geesh. I'm not surprised Running On Empty was one of only two films this kid was in.

But the rest of the cast is great and the story is moving. This has moved onto my buy it soon list. Check it out if you've never seen it. Even your local Blockbuster should have it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Last Days (2005)

Last Days. This one's a stumper. I'll start with two general thoughts:

1. I love Gus Van Sant.

2. There are shots in this film where Michael Pitt looks so much like Kurt Cobain it's chilling.

This isn't really the kind of movie one enjoys. It's slow paced, sad, quiet, no real characters to invest in and no real plot. It's the kind of flm one dedicates to a memory; a film that wouldn't exist without its reference. A film where people who are already invested in some way might want to spend a few hours watching.

If you don't know what it's "about" let me break it down. A blond grunge rock star (Blake) wanders around his large home and the surrounding woods, high, avoiding people and then blows his head off in a shed to be found by a maintenance person. There's no point to it, no meaning behind it, no ramifications or pontifications. It's just what happened.

I made the mistake of venturing into the IMDb forum for this movie. Ugh. I need to stop going there in matters concerning dead idols. There's the "this movie is boring and sucks" contingent. The "Kurt Cobain was nothing like this. He was hansome and bright and brillaint" contingent. And the "This is not about Kurt Cobain at all. The character's name is Blake" contingent. Why do dumb people need to exist? Or more specifically in matters involving me - why do they need to watch movies and talk about them? (Door wide open if you think I'm dumb).

This movie is what it is. He's a Kurt Cobain shadow who we watch exist through his last days. There's a scene with Kim Gordon - arguably the only scene with emotion behind it - in which she's trying to convince Blake to leave with her. Imagine being Kim Gorden, who was actually close friends with Kurt Cobain, sitting face to face with this man who is embodying your dead friend so totally. Acting out this scene, pleading with him to come with you. Attempting something you know is going to fail because this is how it went the first time. That's hard core, man. This film is for her.

For the rest of us, it's Gus Van Sant saying this is how it might have gone. Isn't it sad?
Above is one of the final shots of Last Days along with the infamous photo that ran after Kurt Cobain's death.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Peter Pan (2003)

I love this version of Peter Pan. I've been jonesing to watch it lately, I don't really remember why, so I threw it on last night.

The story of Peter Pan is one of my favorites. As a youngster, my family had the taped stage version with Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard on VHS and I LOVED it. I watched it over and over and over until my favorite scenes got those white wibbley lines through them. I never really liked the Disney version - they tend to suck the life out of great literature (I think the same of their Alice In Wonderland) - so when this live action Peter Pan came along, I was delighted.

The novel, based on the stage play, which was based on the character in one of J.M. Barrie's adult novels, is my favorite form of Pan. There's part of me that loves the musical aspect of the Mary Martin version and finds the stage woman-pan somewhat endearing, but there's a bigger part of me that appreciates seeing actual children playing the roles. The casting of the live action version is spot on. Jeremy Sumpter was a perfect Pan, his American accent giving him a nice foreigner feel as compared with the rest of the children. (I wish he was as good on Friday Night Lights). And Jason Issacs is always terrific as the baddy.

The visual representations of Neverland are delightful. Lush colors and a storybook feel, it works wonderfully. Ludivine Sagnier is also a very good Tinkerbell. Her silent comedic acting skills are spot on. And the film manages to walk the line of...what should I call it...puppy love? extremely well. Peter and Wendy are adorable together and, as all Peter Pans ought to, it ends on a note that feels tragic if you think about it too much.

Finally, this movie has a great score. Disney has been using it in their themepark commericals since the film came out.
I appreciate when an adaptation gets it right. They have the feel of the story here, and there's no watering down of the emotion behind it (as Disney did). Peter is a tragic figure - in the novel he has almost zero long term memory - and he's stuck. He forgets Wendy, he presumably gets new Lost Boys, and he just goes on, forever. The story doesn't celebrate never growing up - it laments it - and this version gets that.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Last Station (2009)

James McAvoy is in The Last Station and that is reason enough for me to recommend it. I find him one of the most enchanting actors to watch and it is a hard and fast rule of mine to see whatever he does. That being said, I was somewhat dissapointed with The Last Station.

I'll start by admitting that I know next to nothing about Tolstoy. My grandma bought me Anna Karenina a few years ago and I've been toting it around ever since, never quite brave enough to actually begin reading it. After seeing The Last Station, I know a bit more, but what of the film was true and what was fiction I cannot be sure (nor do I care to do any research to find out).

That's what The Last Station missed. Most biopics, especially those of artists, writers, poets, or other such people that I feel I ought to know about, inspire me to investigate further. Bright Star sent me flying to my Norton Anthology to reexamine the poems of Keats. Even lackluster biopics tend to have this effect on me - Little Ashes reminded me how much I loved Lorca in college and had me looking up the closest museum with any Dali work.

The Last Station didn't make me want to know more. I don't care about Tolstoy anyore than I ever have (and truthfully, that's not much). Christopher Plummer played him like Santa Clause, all smiles and good natured old guy charm. And while Helen Mirren was very good (and man is she pretty), she contriubted to the overall sense of Britishness that this cast exudes. If you said to me, "Name five things you know about Tolstoy" I might have been tapped out after saying, "He wrote War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and was Russian."

Finally, James McAvoy. His role in this reminded me slightly of his role in The Last King of Scotland. In both films, he is clearly the protagonist, although I would wager that if you asked someone what either film was about, they would neglect his characters entirely in their response.

There's a tendency, and it's one I don't much care for, to examine larger than life figures through the eyes of a bland bystandar. I'd be willing to bet people who did not see The Last King of Scotland haven't the faintest notion that James McAvoy was the lead (or even in it). Why? Why must he take these roles where he he's just a sounding board for men to claim their oscar nominations. I'm indignant on his part. He does a fine job of brining something to these characters - making them more than just the young naeive guy who is in awe of the oscar nominee - but why does his role even exist? The stories aren't about him even though they're about him. It's irritating. It's not a story of a young kid learning his hero isn't all he thought. Or learning his friendly dictator friend isn't so friendly. They're films about the hero and the dictator. I assume the idea is to make these figures accessable through an every man but that's dumb. It's a movie. These figures are accessable through Christopher Plummer and Forest Whitaker. I'd rather follow the people with the interesting lives than be forced to hang around the edges.

All that asside, James McAvoy really is brilliant. He does that thing where his eyes are full of tears but he doesn't actually cry in almost every role he plays. Seriously - look for it. One of these days he'll play the "figure" rather than the bystandar and then maybe he'll get more of the recognition he deserves. Until that day, I will remain his vocal champion.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Class (2008)

The Class was fantastic. A slice of life film, The Class has been described as part fiction, part documentary. Apparently, actors in the traditional sense were not used. Rather, all the characters in the film are versions of their real life counterparts.

The film focuses on one year in the classroom of a tough Paris nieghborhood. The personalities of the students are incredibly diverse and real. And the teacher, played by François Bégaudeau, is not some bleeding heart idealist trying to save the world by teaching the children. He's a real man - doing his best and making mistakes. Plot wise, the stories are slightly episodic and not every character gets a true conclusion. It is, as I'd imagine, reflective of life as a teacher. Students come in, you do your best, and then they're gone, perhaps never to be heard from again. What happens to them beyond your classroom is out of your control and often completely unknown.

This movie has a lot of charm and, as with most foregin language films I enjoy, I only wish I could watch it without subtitles. It's often clear that more is being said than what subtitles are able to translate. However, these subtitles were well done, navigating the complications of translating what's being said in a French class.

I'd recommend this film to anyone, although as is evidnced by the Netflix viewer comments, not everyone will enjoy it. It's a well made, unqiue film and I'm very pleased to have seen it. It's available to watch instantly on Netflix - by the way.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Single Man (2009)

A Single Man was very good. Extremely smart and well acted by all, it had an ending that made me feel like I should have seen it coming all along. I appreciate an ending like that because I didn't see it coming all along. I'm going to spoil it soon, so stop reading if you haven't seen the film.

There was a featurette on the DVD in which Tom Ford, writer, director, and famous fashion designer, spoke in great length about the theme. He was very clear that to him, this is a film about living each day as though it were your last. That's not exactly what I got from A Single Man. In fact, I've long thought that the idea of living each day like it's your last is pretty absurd. It's something people like to say about their dead loved ones to make themselves feel better. Because not only is it rediculous in a literal sense, (let's all quit our jobs and hang out with our families in some dream location we've never been able to afford a trip to!) but a person cannot feel that feeling of finality (that makes A Single Man such an interesting film) unless they know it's their last day alive...or at least very seriously believe it to be.

That's the key to A Single Man. What does the world look like when you know you're looking at it for the last time? Can you have that day where you see things in a special way and still, by choice, decide to never see them again? In George's case, the answer is no. But, in a way, his plan to kill himself is a gift. It's what allows him to see beauty and joy on a day that will be his last whether he chooses it or not. Because most times, people live their last day the same way they live any other.

I obviously enjoyed this movie a great deal. I did find the visual indicator of special moments a little overwrought. The way saturated color turns on and off became distracting and I wished a more subtle method of indication had been used.

Oh! And Nicholas Hoult. I can't leave out a mention of him. Truthfully, I didn't find him all that great in this. His American accent sounds studied and forced. Not awful - it didn't sound British - just not natural. Unlike Matthew Goode who was pitch perfect as George's deceased lover. I mention Nicholas Hoult because he's often refered to as "the kid from About A Boy" but he should be refered to as Tony. He will forever be Tony to me. Totally in love with himself, selfish, cruel Tony. From Skins. In case you didn't know :) It's on InstantWatch on Netflix. Go meet Tony. (And Sid! And Maxxie! And Chris!)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Eclipse (2010)

Okay - if you're one of those people who hasn't read the books or seen the movies but claim Twilight is stupid just because you're obviously much cooler and more inteligent than the tween fangirls, you can suck it.

That being said, Twilight is stupid. Okay, I'm only 85% serious. I've read all the books and seen all the movies and yes, the writing is attrocious, and yes, Twilight (movie #1) was so incompetantly made that it's funny to watch. I love a good unnecssary swooping camera movement in a wood. However - as Stephen Colbert would say - the free market has spoken. And there are at least a dozen scenes in the novels that I found gooey sweet enough to make up for the five minutes it took to read them. And movies #2 and #3 were not incompetantly made. Great cinema? No. Filmmakers who clearly know their audience? Yes.

Everyone knows it's funny how frequently the wolf boys are shirtless. You aren't special or clever because you point out that the gratuitous shirtlessness isn't at all realted to plot. And - can I just say - in a land where women on screen are CONSTANTLY wearting slut clothes that no actual self respecting woman would ever wear (Megan Fox) it's nice that the pendulum is swinging a little bit the other way.

Back to this whole Twilight thing. I feel sorry for people who can't find entertainment in Hollywood drivel. Your life is less silly than mine. If you're completely uninterested, that's fine. You don't bother me. It's the vocal haters who don't know what they're talking about that I can't stand.

Okay. Eclipse. I'll actually talk about that for just a moment, too. First off, Billy Burke, who plays Bella's dad, is always the best thing about these movies. He's really good with very limited screen time. In Eclipse, when Bella graduates high school, I got slightly choked up at the way he jumped to his feet to applaud her. It was cute. And he tends to bring a bit of comic releif to an otherwise very melodramatic story. So well done Billy Burke.

Second, Xavier Samuel! Who's seen The Loved Ones? Show of hands. The Loved Ones is this uber sick horror movie about this crazy chick who kidnaps this guy who turned her down for the prom. She procedes to torture him during her creepfest makeshift livingroom prom. The guy? Xavier Samuel. I saw this back in October and immediately thought "Ooo! New hot Austrailian actor who can actually act! Fun!" Then I saw he was going to be in Eclipse. A little dissapointed, yes, but a little pleased that he'd be in something that would have a N.A. wide release. He was very good. And very pretty. Lots of screaming and grrr from him. It was delightful. If only they had cast someone that attractive in the role of Edward. Sorry, RPatz. You were a fine and dandy Cedric Diggory but Edward you are not.

It's looking like my longest post to date is going to be Eclipse centric. How awesome am I? Final thoughts: This was the best of the films and probably the best of the books too. It actually has a plot, which is a nice change, and it has that tingley scene on the mountain where Jacob has to get into the sleeping bag with Bella while Edward watches because otherwise she'd freeze to death. Squee! Pretty much the entire planet agrees that Bella is annoying but I'm working on a theory that vampire story girls are meant to be annoying so we can all fantasize about how much better we'd fit with the dashing fellas. (Everyone also seems to agree that Sookie Stackhouse is annoying...fleshed out theory to follow).

I'm also pretty excited for the next movies where we get to see Edward beat Bella up during sex and a creepy blood hungry fetus scratch and crawl and bust its way out of her uterous. That'll be awesome! Not to mention Jacob falling in love with an infant - whoop whoop!

Eventually these films will finish and the hype will die and I'll stop being annoyed with people on their high horses haten on everything that's popular (even if it DOES actually blow). You know what was REALLY awesome about seeing Eclipse? The Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows preview on the big screen. Now there's something to really squee about!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Unbreakable (2000)

Let me begin by saying I'm a huge, loyal M. Night Shyamalan fan. So loyal, in fact, that I've seen every one of his films in the theatre since The Sixth Sense. I even tried, futilely, to defend The Happening. It had to be some sort of prank or something. Or he was going for some weird new acting style? Ebert liked it! I try...

Anyway, I had never seen Unbreakable. Occasionally someone will claim that it's their favorite M. Night film and I'll think, "Man, I've got to see that." I just hadn't gotten around to it. Now, having seen it, I think anyone claiming it's the best M. Night movie is just trying to be hip and not roll with the crowd.

It was good, don't get me wrong, but The Sixth Sense and Signs are leagues better. My biggest problem with Unbreakable was that, at no point, did Bruce Willis pick up a knife and poke the tip of his finger. Who, in the history of people, would suspect they were "unbreakable" and not test the theory in some small way? It escalates to his son threatening to shoot him rather than threatening to scratch his arm.

It had a few turny twists - nothing so engaging or clever as in Signs - and all the acting was competent. Samuel L. Jackson was styled perfectly for his role and Robin Wright can make the phonebook interesting. I'm pleased I've seen it. I won't be buying it. And...I hate to admit this...but I won't be seeing The Last Airbender in the theatre. Movies in L.A. are $13 and that's more than I make per hour. I'll rent it but that's the best I can do, Night. Please please please make something good again? Even of The Village caliber would be a step in the right direction. Please?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Courage Under Fire (1996)

About six weeks ago, Courage Under Fire was on television. My roommate was watching the last half hour and she was surprised I had never seen it before. I'm so frequently the one surprised by the films she hasn't seen, I had to rectify this apparent gap in my film knowledge in order to right the world. So I Netflixed it.

It was entertaining. It borrowed heavily from the concept of Rashomon but understandably didn't execute it quite as well. Matt Damon and Lou Diamond Phillips' characters didn't actually have differing points of view - they were just lying. I found it strange to be seeing not what they actually think they remember but rather a filmed version of their lies.

I also find Denzel Washington too dignified and elegant to come across as a man with a drinking problem. He's practically a walking emblem of integrity - even when playing flawed characters. He doesn't quite fit into a character who is tortured the way this character is supposed to be. There's a scene where he meets up with a reporter and the reporter tells him he looks awful. My thought was "no he doesn't." He was dressed a little ridiculously but he still looked like dashing Denzel Washington.

Matt Damon, on the other hand, did look awful. Kudos to him for looking like the gaunt addict he was playing.

I was engaged beginning to end and I was very curious to see the mystery unfold. No question this was a well made, interesting, Hollywood film. Next time it's on t.v. I can sit and let it play in the background without worrying I'll be spoiled.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day (1996)

Independence Day was just on television - surprise surprise. So of course, in honor of America, I watched it.

More in the tradition of a disaster movie than an alien invasion flick, Independence Day knows what's what. Bill Pullman's gravely voiced president, Will Smith's endearing fighter pilot, Jeff Golblum's mumbling computer geek, Randy Quaid's crazy father with a heart of gold - Independence Day delivers it all. With some awesome action sequences, lots of explosions, a few touching deaths, and a dash of humor thrown in for good measure, Independence Day is a flashy fun time. Summer blockbusters today need to take a clue from those of the days of yore. (Yes - I'm considering the mid-nineties the days of yore).

What can I say about Independence Day that hasn't been said before? I think my favorite scene is the one in which Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum escape from the mothership at the end (climax #2, if you will). I think the wedding ring Will Smith gives to Vivica A. Fox is one of the most hideous rings I've ever seen. And I don't think, in a world of logic, the president would be allowed to fly in the final mission (climax #1, if you will). But who cares about the world of logic when we got aliens to fight!

So Happy Birthday, America. Let's hope Aliens don't show up any time soon. Because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't survive the traffic trying to get out of Los Angeles.

Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Pillow Book (1996)

The Pillow Book was Weirdy McWeirderson. Practically the definition of a foreign film - it's about this girl whose father used to write on her face every birthday. She fetishizes this to such an obsessive extent that she searches for fantastic calligraphers to sleep with. The film is broken up by readings from a Pillow Book - which seems to be a diary - of an ancient woman with ties to our protagonists family (I think). Then, Ewan McGregor shows up and is naked a lot, and there's a revenge plot against her father's ex-publisher, and she has lots of sex with naked Ewan McGregor and then it ends tragically (and strangely).

It was weird. But - it wasn't bad. It had some fantastically enthralling romance scenes between her and Ewan McGregor and there were moments when the story managed some clarity and ingenuity. I wish there was a slightly stronger structure - only slightly - it could still be foreign filmy and amoeba-like - but it needed more time with its story (because it had one, it just didn't hang around it all that often) and less time with her sexual exploits and calligrapher searches.

It was interesting. Weird. Unlike pretty much anything else I've seen and that's always enough for me to recommend something. But I doubt this film will ever be a topic of conversation at some cocktail party where you'll feel left out if you miss it. If you like foreign films where they're all erotic and like "nakedness is awesome because we're foreign and we're not scared of our sexuality (but we are sorta against violence)" you might enjoy The Pillow Book.