Friday, April 30, 2010

Welcome to My Nightmare

I don't really have much to say about A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's very dull for the most part. The first act is atrocious, in terms of directing, writing, and acting. When Nancy suddenly becomes Nancy Drew, things almost start to get interesting, but they quickly go back to being dull. Because it's a shitty horror movie, it relies on jump scares for all of its scares. Jackie Earle Haley is creepy in the flashback sequences -- oh, there are flashbacks to the why and wherefore of Fred becoming Freddy, but these are oddly effective and neat -- but his burn victim Freddy of the nightmares is just irritating. Either make a new, darker Nightmare or keep the campy Freddy of old...combining the two is creepy and doesn't work.

No big surprise, I know. But I generally like the Platinum Dunes remakes. (I accidentally [?] typed that as mistakes the first time) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its prequel have some genuinely capable actors, and Friday the 13th is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. But this one just seemed like no one was trying, which is astounding when you think about how long it is. Or at least so I thought...those 95 minutes fly by like 131. I seriously thought it was over two hours, and it was relatively short. What a boring, stupid movie. My friend tried to go to sleep during it. I repeat: during a film in which the villain murders you in your dreams, my friend tried to take a nap.

I shouldn't have wasted my money. I'm not a fan of the original franchise to begin with. It's one of those ideas that would work better as a short story or novella than as a film. Which is strange, because you'd think they'd be able to do amazing visuals with the dream sequences. But no, some vaseline around the lens is all we get, and every dreamscape is the same. I just don't get it. When did horror movies stop being entertaining?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pointless Predictions!

Once again, I've entered Nathaniel's Best Actress Psychic contest over at The Film Experience. Yes, yes, it's April. It's too soon. But it's always fun to see how our spit-balling looks in nine months. My picks for Best Actress:

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone

Robin Wright Penn, The Conspirator

Hilary Swank, Betty Anne Waters

As of now, I give the edge to either Wright Penn or Bening. But, really, this is all just spitting around, pissing in the wind, cliche that doesn't fit the circumstances.

And just for fun, some other categories to consider:

Fair Game, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech, London Boulevard, Never Let Me Go, Rabbit Hole, The Tree of Life, The Way Back

Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life (Oscar Nom for The Thin Red Line)
John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole
Christopher Nolan, Inception
Peter Weir, The Way Back (Oscar Noms for Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World)

Amy Adams, The Fighter (Oscar Noms for Junebug and Doubt)
Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech (Oscar Nom for The Wings of the Dove)
Elle Fanning, Somewhere
Melissa Leo, The Fighter (Oscar Nom for Frozen River)
Kerry Washington, Mother and Child

Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Oscar Win for Wall Street)
Colin Farrell, London Boulevard
Colin Firth, The King's Speech (Oscar Nom for A Single Man)
Sean Penn, Fair Game (Oscar Wins for Mystic River and Milk)
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter (Oscar Nom for The Departed)

Christian Bale, The Fighter
Ed Harris, The Way Back (Oscar Noms for The Truman Show, Pollock and The Hours)
Sam Rockwell, Betty Anne Waters
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech (Oscar Win for Shine)
Mark Strong, The Way Back

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Get Him to a Story

I caught an advanced screening of Get Him to the Greek yesterday. It's the follow-up to Forgetting Sarah Marshall that follows a junior music executive as he tries to get British rocker/sex fiend/addict Aldous Snow to LA for a live concert at the Greek Theater, just in time to celebrate the tenth anniversary of a previous live concert held there, one that went down in history as being ultra-ultra.

I haven't seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and no one needs to to understand the movie. It's a standalone piece, with one quick nod to the previous film. Jonah Hill isn't even the same character, this time playing Aaron Green, the junior music exec. Russell Brand reprises the role of Aldous, of course, and he's quite good. He manages to find the balance between the heartwarming and the absurd, which is more than can be said for the movie itself. A number of plot points are thrown in, then swiftly forgotten, while more tedious subplots last throughout the film.

Throughout the movie, we are teased with something interesting. You know, like Aldous trying to reconnect with his father (Colm Meaney), or wanting a reunion with his ex-girlfriend (Rose Byrne, displaying surprisingly great comedic chops) and their son, or being forced by the record label to ingest drugs and alcohol so that he can perform, know, anything. We get these little hints of it here and there, but they are sacrificed for montage after montage of Aldous and Aaron partying, always ending with a splash of vomit. Comedy?

Even worse, actually, is that the chief subplot handling the "lessons learned" portion involves Aaron and his girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) navigating their rocky relationship. Who cares? They say funny things, but someone - the director? the writers? the editor? the actors? - lost their humanity. Whether or not they get back together is of no concern to me, because they just aren't interesting  people. Their first big fight scene is appallingly mishandled, with Hill's character flying off into a rage for no discernible reason other than that we get the patented Hilarious Rant that the Apatow Brand has, up to now, been so adept at delivering. But when I heard him talking about how she "might as well cut off his balls and put them in her purse", all I could think was, "Zoe*, get out of there! He's potentially abusive! Run!" And that's a shame, because it doesn't fit his character at all; but hey! Women are castrating shrews, amiright?

Now, don't get me wrong, there are a ton of hilarious things happening in this film. Once they get to Vegas, it's ten minutes of pure Heaven. Brand and Meaney play off each other wonderfully and convincingly, and the escalation works hilariously. Once they leave Vegas, though, it's back to Hilarious Moments, Awful Setups. The songs are great, though. And Sean "P. Diddy" Combs steals the show from his co-stars as the crazed label exec calling the shots. Seriously hilarious, every time he appears on screen.

It's a good movie. It's mostly funny, and Brands and Combs are great. In the end, though, it's rushed and clearly not thought out. A pity, since there's a lot of potential.

*(For those who don't know, Zoe was Elisabeth Moss's character on The West Wing. I know she's more famous now for Peggy on Mad Men, but I don't watch Mad Men and I love The West Wing.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ten Things I Know About Me

Andrew of Encore Entertainment tagged me in a meme, an action that makes me feel like I'm officially in the Oscar Blogger Clique. I am to list off ten cinema facts...about myself. I often write about movies I see, but I don't think I really get into my own personal relationship with Le Cinema too often. Might as well now.

1. First things first, and I think I've mentioned this before: I go to film school. I don't know how I managed this coup, but I did. There was always a desire to be a writer-director, but film school taught me that such a creature is rare indeed. It also taught me that I do not want to be a director at all. The final lesson: though I do not write enough about cinematographers, nor do I pretend to know much about the craft itself...working with a camera is fucking sexy, and when you actually get a scene lit and framed perfectly, you feel like you can accomplish anything, like taming a wild bear.

2. The last time I saw Ghost, I literally bawled out loud, with the sobbing and hiccuping and everything. And this was at a party. I think it should have won Best Picture that year. True, it's been years since I've seen Dances with Wolves, and I love Awakenings and Goodfellas, and I haven't seen The Godfather: Part III. But Ghost, for me, is tops.

3. My first favorite movie was the original Dracula with Bela Lugosi. Universal horror was my bread and butter. The Black Cat, The Wolf Man, The Mummy...I even watched The Mummy's Hand and Tower of London. So it should come as no surprise that I love a lot of horror movies. I find the Franchise That Refuses to Die aspect of the genre charming, thus my adoration of the Saw movies. This love of horror also informs my choice for Favorite Actor of My Entire Life: Vincent Price.

4. I only read books and plays that sound like they'd make good movies. If they aren't already, that is, for most of my reading list consists of movies coming out later in the year. This may be a shallow way of going about literature, but that really covers a broad spectrum.

5. My sister Virginia nurtured my love of cinema. She pointed me to the great actresses: Mae West, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, and so on and so forth. It was she who encouraged me to embrace both classic and modern films. Only Virginia could introduce me to both How to Marry a Millionaire and Party Monster. Once, we even walked together to rent some movies. It was Virginia who took me to see Return of the Jedi and Spice World, and together we managed to make it through The Forgotten. She's an independent filmmaker in Atlanta, so hopefully one of us will have our name in lights in the future.

6. I've only 57 of the original AFI Top 100. I've only seen 61 of the new AFI Top 100. Among the films I've never seen: A Streetcar Named Desire, Schindler's List, Raging Bull, Sunset Boulevard and The Manchurian Candidate. I feel like a partial failure because of this.

7. When I watch a movie, I try to decide how it could translate to the stage. Nixon, for instance, is an opera, as is Elmer Gantry. Eyes Wide Shut is a ballet. I personally love the trend of turning movies into stage musicals, because I'm always thinking that way. The Wedding Singer is a great musical from a great movie; ditto The Producers and Hairspray. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but that's the same with any musical.

8. My celebrity crush of forever is Drew Barrymore. I have a DVD of her wishing me happy birthday at the premiere of Music and Lyrics. She's more than just a pretty face, of course. My favorite performances of hers, in order: The Wedding Singer, Ever After, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Grey Gardens, Everyone Says I Love You, Irreconcilable Differences. Strangely, I've seen none of her work between 1984 and 1995. Also strangely, I hate ET: The Extra-Terrestrial.

9. Top Ten Actresses, in order: Maggie Smith, Meryl Streep, Drew Barrymore, Patricia Clarkson, Bette Davis, Judi Dench, Audrey Hepburn, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Top Ten Actors, in order: Vincent Price, Michael Caine, William Hurt, James Mason, William H. Macy, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Philip Baker Hall, Henry Gibson, Woody Allen

10. Musicals are my absolute favorite. I often feel that music can better express emotions than words. I'm kind of an easy lay when it comes to musicals, too: I count High School Musical and Mamma Mia! as favorites. It absolutely flabbergasts me that musicals don't rake in all the money in the land. It just makes me antsy for adaptations of The Color Purple and Applause. I totally want to make Funny Face.

I'm supposed to tag five people, but I don't really know who hasn't been tagged yet. I'll go with four, at least: TomS, Who is the March King?, Peter Chan, and My Last Oscar

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kick-Ass Really, Truly Does

Man, I really loved Kick-Ass. Just got out of the theater about an hour ago, and I just had to talk abotu as soon as possible. There's just so much to discuss!

First, of course, is the tone. If any movie "gets" the shades of grey of the superhero genre, it's Kick-Ass. Truly. I know the new Batman movies do this spectacularly as well - and count me as someone who wished The Dark Knight had a Best Picture nom - but they insist on being Debbie Downers. Kick-Ass presents the moral quandary without actually pointing out the disconnect and challenging its audience to have a great fucking time as it does so. I like this, because it's there if you look for it, but it's not shoving it into your face.

Take Hit Girl and Big Daddy, for example. They're borderline sociopaths. Only once is the seriousness of their situation brought up, when Big Daddy's old friend Marcus tells him that the girl is being brainwashed and robbed of a childhood. And then it's never spoken of again. Hit Girl continues to kill and maim bad guys, but they're bad guys. No one in the theater was watching this and only thinking, "AWESOME!" They were rooting for her, sure, but everyone knew it was fucked up. And that's what's amazing about this movie. You're having a good time, rooting for this little girl to sadistically rip people open with a butterfly knife, but all the while there's a realization that this should not be. It's not an immoral film because it wants you to enjoy this, it's a genius film that better demonstrates the fine line between vigilante and psychopath.

The hero himself, Kick-Ass, is a shallow geek. He's an awful fighter, a non-hero, a naive teenager doing what he thinks is noble, but he's not doing anything besides dressing up in a costume. Fantastic! The romance between him and high-school hottie Katie is never seen as anything more than hormones. They think it's something more, real love and a romance, but that's high school. You think you're in Wuthering Heights just because you want to fuck some girl. There's no great love story or noble rescue like the Spider-Man films. This is a kid wanting to be cool, getting in way over his head, and having to be saved by a psychotic father-daughter team who are vigilantes to pursue a personal vendetta. To have the hero of your movie not be a hero at all is a fantastic idea. It's the real Everyman having to become a hero without the benefit of a trust fund or a radioactive spider!

And yes, they do eventually cross over into becoming a real superhero movie, but that's a greatly earned beat. Hit Girl has always been deadly serious - I mean, if anyone is going to take this to heart, wouldn't it be a child? But Kick-Ass really just plays dress-up and actually has to become the fantasy. He learns that it's more than just posturing and internet celebrity. There are actual stakes here, and real heroes are needed, and he has to put up or shut up, and another phrase about lessons learned! My roommate calls it  Don Quixote story, and indeed, it does remind me of Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote is a madman, but he still saves Aldonza from the muleteers. And, much like Man of La Mancha, Kick-Ass is simultaneously a deconstruction and celebration of the superhero genre.

Kudos to co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn, then, who manages to balance this tone and earn the final pay-off. Co-writer Jane Goldman also worked with Vaughn on Stardust, another film that took a genre (fantasy), played with the conventions, and managed to be both amusing and genuine. Mark Strong helps, of course, having played villains in both films. Strong is slowly becoming one of my favorite contemporary actors. He's always spot on, whether playing a murderous prince, a murderous aristocrat, or a murderous mob boss. Oh, sure, he's always murderous, but he always changes the approach to each character. Here, he gives what is probably the strongest performance I have seen from him. Funny without compromising the ruthlessness, Strong's villainous Frank D'Amico is a force to be reckoned with.

Then, of course, there are the leads: Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass, Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl, Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Red Mist. Mintz-Plasse is great, a far cry from McLovin. Moretz is frighteningly committed to the role of the innocent killer, all pig tails and swords. Johnson is likable, geeky and cute, and it's hard to imagine anyone else really taking on the role and nailing it as well as he does. Nicolas Cage is just pure awesome. His Big Daddy is clearly a screwloose, taking a strange "Father Knows Best" tone when teaching his daughter how to fight, then uses the speech style of Adam West's Batman when he's in costume. It's a quietly deranged performance, and all the more remarkable for the way it reminds us that Cage really is a solid actor when he sets his mind to it.

The film credits four composers, but I honestly don't know what part of the music is original. I hear there's a "Kick-Ass Theme", but I don't remember it. The track "Surface of the Sun" from Sunshine is used to great effect twice, the Banana Splits theme is featured in a surprisingly bloody action sequence, some Morricone is sprinkled in, and both Big Daddy and Frank D'Amico listen to the same classical music (another parallel? another blurring of the lines? these things aren't accidents!). There is an original song performed by Mika that plays over the credits. So that's cool.

Oh my God, and cinematographer Ben Davis? Oh my God oh my God oh my God the work here is incredible. One of my absolute favorite shots of EVARR has to be the one of Mark Strong watching a building burn. It's just him and the glow of the flames illuminating his face, and it is incredible. Ben Davis, holy crap, I rarely talk up the cinematographers (though I should, really) but you, sir, are one for the ages.

I can't imagine not enjoying Kick-Ass. I really can't. It's greatly-paced, finely acted, and is oh so much more than violence for violence's sake. There's a real story with real character arcs that feel natural and are fairly earned. Go for it. Do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jett Set

Boy, I wish I had a lot to say about The Runaways. It was an interesting time, and I certainly enjoyed it. But what can one really say about it? Writer-director Floria Sigismondi and her creative team certainly do an effective job of evoking a time and mood. It really feels like a down-and-dirty 1970s rock 'n' roll party, and that much is certainly appreciated. Too many biopics have a sheen to them; The Runaways, partly due to Benoit Debie's cinematography and partly due to the low budget, is refreshingly gritty and sometimes experimental.

The title's misleading, though. This isn't about the band, really, but Cherie Currie, drawing as it does from her autobiography Neon Angel. Even co-lead Joan Jett is given short shrift narratively speaking, though Kristen Stewart is fantastic in the role. Scout Taylor-Compton's Lita Ford has one note, namely, "Man, fuck Cherie, we don't need her, man!" Alia Shawkat plays "Robin", a stand-in for the five or six bassists that came and went; despite her third billing, she is relegated to the background and has ZERO lines. Co-founder/drummer Sandy West, played beautifully by Stella Maeve, is relegated to almost a footnote.

Instead, we get Dakota Fanning's self-conscious, mannered performance as Cherie, a storyline that seems interesting in theory but surprisingly does not really go anywhere. We all know Fanning is one of those genius child actors that are already little adults, but it's always been a detriment to her performances. Like Kate Hepburn said of Meryl Streep, you can see the wheels turning, "Click, click, click." She's not bad, but she's not natural, either. Kristen Stewart also comes in danger of this in some portions, but mercifully Sigismondi gets her to abandon her tics in favor of an actual performance.

If only the movie had gotten into the full story. The Runaways, after all, lasted from 1975 to 1979, and Currie was only there for a little less than two years. It feels weird; like manager Kim Fowley, the filmmakers are keen to oversell the jailbait lead singer rather than look at the band as a whole. And while that's fine, why call it The Runaways? Why not just call it Cherry Bomb or Neon Angel? Naming the film after the band gives me the impression that it's going to be about the whole band.

By the way, I've not yet mentioned the best part of the whole film, Michael Shannon's deliciously bent performance as Kim Fowley. Campy, creepy and cutthroat, Fowley is a force to be reckoned with. When he's on screen, there's an energy that the rest of the film lacks. He plays like Gerrit Graham's Beef in Phantom of the Paradise, only one that you can't believe actually existed. Let this be the role They remember come January, for if he can get honors for phoning it in in Revolutionary Road, surely a truly inspired performance such as this should not be ignored.

Surprisingly, despite the problems with the narrative, it's still a good movie. It's not a masterpiece, but it's interesting and palatable, and I'd definitely see it again. I'd probably even buy it. Why not? The directing is spellbinding, the cinematography is mood-perfect, the music is kick-ass, and the performances by Stewart and Shannon beg to be revisited. Give it a shot.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Footloose & Flow

Oh, awesome.

See, we've talked about the upcoming Footloose remake here before. Back when, it starred Chace Crawford and Julianne Hough as new kid in tow Ren McCormack and rebellious preacher's daughter Ariel Moore, respectively. I even did a partial casting coup for it, with Kevin Spacey taking over the John Lithgow role and Felicity Huffman in the Dianne Wiest role.

Now, I know that no one will ever take the place of Kevin Bacon. The man is such a superb actor, and always has been. His Ren McCormack is one for the books, the reason why we remember that there was a movie called Footloose (all due respect to Wiest, who only has one big scene among a bunch of background smiling).  But if there's to be a remake, I'm glad it's in the hands of Craig Brewer. For yes, ladies and gents, the man behind Hustle & Flow (featuring the deserved Oscar Nominee Terrence Howard and the shoulda-been-nom'd Taraji P. Henson) and Black Snake Moan (featuring Hollmann Award Nominee Samuel L. Jackson) is now set to helm Footloose.

Last we checked, it was going to feature original songs, despite a musical version being readily available. I hope Brewer manages to convince the folks at Paramount to go that route, because I would pay 3D prices to see "Dancing is Not a Crime" on the big screen. If Cool as Ice has taught me anything, it's that white people should not rap. If Footloose: The Musical has taught me anything, it's that seeing white people rap is the most enjoyable entertainment since the Spice Girls. Let's not lose that novelty in the film version, Paramount. Be a sport.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dixie Carter (1939 - 2010)

When I saw That Evening Sun Thursday night, I thought about how beautiful Dixie Carter still is. She was my favorite the few times I watched Designing Women, and I always thought it a pity that I didn't see her in more stuff. I thought to myself, "Self, when you get to H'wood, you need to find a part for that Dixie Carter."

Too late, though. Just three hours ago came news that Dixie Carter passed away at the age of 70, an age that seems far too young. She is survived by her husband, Hal Holbrook.

So raise a glass to Dixie Carter, a true Southern belle: classy, funny, born in Tennessee. You'll be sorely missed, but you'll always be remembered.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Life is Wasted on...People"

There's a running joke in Greenberg, wherein the protagonist sits in the passenger seat of his friends' cars as they drive. As the drivers maintain conversation while driving, Greenberg is constantly interrupting. "Light's changed," he'll say, or "Use your signal". The punchline: Greenberg doesn't drive.

This bit of business defines the character perfectly. For Roger Greenberg, probably the best performance Ben Stiller's given since Zoolander, is an asshole. And not just an asshole, but the kind of asshole who knows everyone else is wrong, even if they have more authority on the subject than he does. Moody, emotionally abusive, overly critical, and pretentiously unpretentious, Greenberg both unlikable and sympathetic. You want him to wake up and realize what a jerk he is, yet you sense that it's not going to happen. Some people just don't change. But you can hope, right?

Greta Gerwig is the love interest, a bright spot amidst the melancholy. Though she, too, is a lost soul, she at least has the ability to smile without maliciousness. Gerwig crafts her character subtly and believably, and I couldn't help falling in love with her. The play between her and Stiller is funny yet scary, as they go back-and-forth between expressing their affection for each other and violently pushing away. Rhys Ifans also appears as the only other emotional tie for Greenberg, his best friend from college. I always forget how much I like him; here, he is just as subdued as the rest, but no less effective.

If there is a stumbling block, it's in its portrayal of the youth. Really? None of these twenty-somethings know have heard of Duran Duran or "Disco Inferno"? One could argue that they are crafted from Greenberg's perception of them, but the movie does not do this with anyone else. As a 21-year-old, I could only sigh. Seriously, not knowing "Disco Inferno"? It's not radios disappeared with the advent of the iPod. It's not like we didn't have parents or older siblings. And does anyone listen to Korn anymore?

But that's just every now and then. Mostly, it's a fascinating look at the 90s slacker finally coming of age...twenty years too late (I admit, that's my roommate's analysis, and I'm stealing it). It's an interesting little movie, hilarious and thoughtful. And again, great Ben Stiller performance. It makes me want to see Margot at the Wedding...or maybe revisit The Squid and the Whale, which I haven't seen since its release (I hated that movie...until I got out of the theater and started talking about it). Mostly, it makes me really appreciate the talent of Noah Baumbach.

Ice to See You!

So I'm watching Batman & Robin, in celebration of my just obtaining the full score by Elliot Goldenthal. I know it's an unpopular thing to say, but this is my favorite Batman movie. It keeps me consistently entertained, has the best Batman/Bruce Wayne (the script is not Clooney's fault), and features Alicia Silverstone, who I will always have the hots for. Besides, Akiva Goldsman and Joel Schumacher understood the importance of Alfred better than previous filmmakers. Alfred being my favorite character, this is tres importante to me.

Mind, I also love the Elliot Goldenthal score. Much, much more than Danny Elfman's Batman score. It should have gotten an Oscar nomination, at least over As Good As It Gets.

How can you hate a movie whose first lines are:
ROBIN: "I want a car. Chicks dig the car."
BATMAN: "This is why Superman works alone."

Or a villain whose first three lines are:
"Mercy? I'm afraid that my condition has left me cold to your pleas of mercy."
"In this universe, there is only one absolute: everything freezes."
"You're not sending me to the cooler!"

My God, and the writer has an OSCAR! That is mind-blowing! And Schumacher's reasoning on the Blu-Ray commentary? Because Freeze is a "Nordic, cold figure", so they wanted to make sure the audience "got it". I mean, how the fuck would the audience understand otherwise? His name is only Mr. Freeze!

(Of course, Schumacher frequently insists that this was intended as a kid's movie. Indeed, the reason they chose Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze is because he asked his six-year-old godson who his favorite Batman villains were. Good taste, kid: Mr. Freeze will always be my favorite.)

Recently, we watched Myra Breckinridge. I loved that, too, but not in an ironic sense. It's a genius film that's ahead of its time. Anyway, my roommate pointed out something interesting. Raquel Welch's performance was...familiar to us. Any idea why?:

Some years back, Tim Burton, writer David Ives and songwriter Jim Steinman attempted to make a Batman musical. The Joker was the villain, Catwoman was involved, and Batman was a crybaby. The fools! Don't make a serious Batman musical, adapt Batman & Robin! The score, the production design, the nipples: they demand to have song-and-dance numbers to support! How much fun would that be? Dear God, the Flower Ball alone is a symphony of music, dance, costuming and overacting. Mr. Freeze may be after the diamonds, but this is the real jewel of the film.

What are you waiting for? Go ahead, give it another chance! If you need a little "extra help" to get through it, do it! It's just such a fun fucking movie!

UPDATE: Forgot to mention this. At the same time,  there's something actually beautiful about the film. Call me crazy, but the scenes with Alfred and Mr. Freeze's wife move me. Like, to tears. Is it the manipulative music? Or is it my own love for these characters? Whatever the reason, the scenes are effective. Thought I should mention this, else you might think the movie is just entertainingly bad. No, people, there are some genuine moments in Batman & Robin, courtesy the performances from Clooney, Silverstone, Michael Gough and AH-nuhld.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I'm in Love Again, Hear My Heart Strings Strummin'

To continue the reviews of movies I love yet hesitate to explain why:

I love thrillers. I really do. Agatha Christie's mysteries started this obsession, but it eventually progressed to ludicrous online minute-mysteries, the Gladdy Gold mysteries by Rita Lakin, and pulp novels from the 50s and 60s. Sure, many of them are ludicrous, but if the ride is a good one, I'm willing to go with it. Indeed, as long as the author makes a commitment as far as crazy goes, everything's Jake. And if you manage it with a winking sophistication, all the better.

The Ghost Writer is like that. It's an intriguing little thriller, in which a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is assigned to finish the memoirs of a former Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). This all comes during a war crimes investigation against the PM, and right after the first ghost writer has mysteriously drowned. That's all I can really say about the film, for the rest of it is filled with twists and turns.

Now, is it a ludicrous film? Of course it is! It's what you imagine to yourself while reading a dime novel in the back of a used bookstore! Everything supports this, from Alexandre Desplat's score to the stylized performances. But it's fun, and it never takes itself too seriously. The ending genuinely packs a punch. Hell, I knew what would happen by the forty-minute mark, and I was still on the edge of my seat! It's exciting and thrilling, and that last shot! As Sophia Petrillo said: "If this [amazing final shot from The Ghost Writer] were a person, I'd get naked and make love to it!"

I haven't seen a lot of Polanski. I'm "meh" on The Ninth Gate, though I love Chinatown; I couldn't get through The Fearless Vampire Killers, and I don't understand the love for The Pianist at all. Of course, now that I've seen The Ghost Writer, I'm going to have to delve into his work, for I think it's a masterpiece. It's political without being preachy, entertaining without being brainless, ridiculous without being self-parody. In the first four months of this year, I have seen one disaster after another,  yet somehow this and Shutter Island managed to sneak in and give me quality, suspense, characters I can actually cheer on or detest!

Standouts include Tom Wilkinson and Olivia Williams, the latter finding her way into the one to beat from the first four months. We'll see what the rest of 2010: Part One has to offer, but Lord she's magnificent in this movie.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

See Breaking Upwards

Breaking Upwards was released in New York Friday. This independent feature, co-written with Peter Duchan by stars/real-life couple Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, focuses on a couple "opening up" their relationship. Or, as Zoe Lister-Jones put it when I saw this at last year's Tallahassee Film Festival, they "mastermind [their] own break-up". It's an interesting little movie, as the two of them set down The Rules, including days when they're a couple and days when they aren't. Of course, feelings get hurt and they actually meet other people and have to explain things to their parents. It's a really great movie.

So I'm ecstatic that it's opening to a lot of press, great reviews, and a box office that's already allowed it to recoup its budget. I never reviewed it for some reason, even though it was my favorite at the Festival and I put it at #16 of my Top 25 of the Year. Hell, I even got to meet Wein and Lister-Jones after the film! Sometimes I just don't want to write about the movies I love. I'm afraid that I won't do it justice, or that my review will just come out as "AHHHHH THIS MOVIE ROOOOOOCKS!!!" And then, of course, there's the fact that whatever made me connect to it the way I did was extremely personal, to a point where I'm not even sure what it was in particular.

I do know that I love it, though. There are moments in this movie that just sing to me. Wein and Lister-Jones, a couple in real life, have great chemistry together, both in humorous scenes and in the more dramatic ones. Of course, with the knowledge that the movie is based on their own experience -- down to them even keeping their names -- it sometimes gets uncomfortable, like you're Honey watching George and Martha go at it. But it's also an incredible risk that they took, testing their relationship both in taking the break and documenting it, albeit in a fictional way.

The movie does not have a score, at least not one that intrudes on the superb, quieter moments. Zoe's rendezvous with a co-star (she's an actress at a black box theatre) is one such scene that stands out; no words, no music, just her face revealing her emotions. It's pained yet determined. I love it. It's real. Lister-Jones' whole performance is beautiful, and while Wein is indeed talented, she far outshines him. It helps, of course, that the film strikes a perfect balance between its stars, so that we neither applaud nor condemn them. They're doing what they think is right at the time.

Now, I'm glad this came out domestically finally, because that means I can discuss two of the greatest supporting actresses I saw last year. Andrea Martin and Julie White play their mothers. Martin, as Zoe's mom, still remains friends with Daryl. She's single and more open to the whole thing, even if she doesn't agree with it. White, by contrast, can't understand what's going on, and a dinner scene between these loving and confused mothers is the highlight of the movie. Peter Friedman is always welcome, and he too is perfection as Daryl's patient father.

Daryl Wein's direction is fantastic, minimalist yet effective, a trait of some of my favorite directors. Like Oren Moverman, he allows his camera to just remain still, capturing uninterrupted performances. And an uninterrupted performance, ladies and gents, is a genuine performance, one not assembled in the editing room, but right there, on set! Real acting, real directing! What a novel approach!

It's an incredible movie, really. I only hope it expands, because I do think this is something that everyone should see. We all know or have been these people, we know these mothers, we know this story. Breaking Upwards just dramatizes better than anything I've seen.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Clash of the...Oh, Who Cares?


It's funny. I was excited for this remake of the 1980s Harry Hamlin-starrer, in which demi-god Perseus saves a beautiful princess from the vengeance of the Olympian Gods. The original has some cool moments, but it's a very slow-moving film with bland leads, though Maggie Smith is always a treat to watch. The new one offers Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes as Gods, Avatar star Sam Worthington in the lead, a mix of practical and CG effects, and Louis Letterrier in the director's chair. This was set up for me to love.

And I hated it. I hated it all so much. Other than Fiennes and Mads Mikkelsen having the time of their life, there is little to recommend about this movie. Perseus compromises his principles, and we're meant to root for this. We're also meant to feel for Zeus, one of the most corrupt and amoral characters I've seen this year -- and I saw The Ghost Writer. Hades is once again played as a villain, a portrayal that I don't remember in Greek mythology, but the American fear of mortality has seen fit to cast him as such. There is a romantic subplot that is only "romantic" (and a little rapey!) in one scene, with neither character developed.

Actually, none of the characters are developed. I have no idea who these people are, what they're doing, or why they're doing it. Oh, sure, there's the rigmarole about how the city of Argos is going to be destroyed by the Kraken because the people have offended the Gods. And it's either Kraken kills all, or Argos sacrifices their princess Andromeda. And Perseus goes to save her...but the Kraken really does a lot of damage to the city anyway. It seems hilariously futile when you watch it.

Worst of all, I couldn't even appreciate the special effects. We went back to the AMC where we saw the awful projection of The Wolfman -- it's the biggest screen in town, but I personally prefer the Regal Governors Square. They may not have huge screens or ear-blowing sound, but you can hear it perfectly and actually see the movie. Unlike the AMC, which had completely out of focus shots throughout the majority of the film. And when we complained about the film being out of focus, the manager tols us there was nothing they could do, that's just how the film looks. Sure, lady, Leterrier purposely made an effects-heavy blockbuster so blurry that the scorpions looked like blobs on the screen. Riiiight.

No more peer pressure, then. No AMC anymore. I should've stuck to my guns on this one. And sure, perhaps that added to my dislike of the film, but the script and acting didn't help. Worthington's performance here was devastatingly dull, while Gemma Arterton just stands around smirking at everyone, her only lines being odd platitudes about being a human vs. being a god. Fight scenes occur out of nowhere, like when the blind witches attack Nicholas Hoult (is he too pretty for them?). And the scorpion fight lasts forever. Indeed, when suddenly there are three ULTRA HUGE scorpions at the end of this sequence, it felt like a cut scene for a video game.

How bad was this movie? The screening I went to was a 10:45 show Thursday night. At the very end, I looked behind me. You've never seen an angrier-looking audience. College kids, families, couples: they were pissed. Have you ever heard an entire audience boo during the end credits? I can now say that I have.