31 December 2011

Dec 30 - "What is this new devilry?"

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
dir. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002)

CAST
Sean Astin (The Goonies, 1985)
Sean Bean (National Treasure, 2004)
Cate Blanchett (Robin Hood, 2010)
Orlando Bloom (Elizabethtown, 2005)
Billy Boyd (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, 2003)
Marton Csokas (Timeline, 2003)
Ian Holm (Alice Through the Looking Glass, TV 1998)
Christopher Lee (Return from Witch Mountain, 1978)
Ian McKellen (X-Men, 2000)
Dominic Monaghan (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2009)
Viggo Mortensen (Appaloosa, 2008)
Craig Parker (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, 2009)
John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)
Andy Serkis (13 Going on 30, 2004)
Liv Tyler (Empire Records, 1995)
Hugo Weaving (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (voice), 2010)
Elijah Wood (Back to the Future Part II, 1989)

I watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended edition, obviously) with my little brother over the course of three nights around the new year. He kept interrupting to ask whether or not a certain scene was "extended edition" or not. I said, "no, I think this was original" or, "yeah, this seems new and different."

Watching this movie reminds me of when I was just a little kid, maybe around Kiefer's age or maybe younger, and my older brother & I sat in my mom's big bed whie she read us The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I don't know know how far along we got in Tolkien's great trilogy--I'm also certain we never finished it--but I always rememer how I scared I was at the part where Frodo is leaving the Shire for the first time in his whole life, and the Black Riders are chasing him and he and Sam and Merry and Pippin are all hiding under the embankment on the side of the road and the Black Rider is right on top of them but somehow they manage to escape anyway. That was a very scary scene.

I also remember the par to of the book where Frodo tries to give the ring away to Galadriel, and she becomes a very scary and terrible version of herself and tells him that if she were to have the ring she would become as terrible as Sauron, that "all would love me and despair" but then she sort of wilts back to her normal self and declares that she had always wondered if she would be able to pass the test that Frodo had just put to her, and since she had she would herself begin to fade away.

Of course there are dozens of great nuggets to pull out, but it's hard for me to say that The Fellowship of the Ring really works well as a movie. It's too episodic, like three movies crammed into two and a half hours. First Frodo and his pals have to flee the shire, the threat of the black riders is introduced, then they meet Aragorn, who escalates the action, then they have to fight the black riders at Weathertop and Frodo is wounded, then they have to race to Elrond's place to heal Aragorn. That would be a movie in itself, but they the romance between Aragorn and Arwen is introduced, we meet Boromir and his impending doom is foreshadowed, the Fellowship is finally introduced and the gang sets off with high spirits to Mordor. They have to change routes twice and finally decided on the scary route through the mines of Moria. They have to fight a lot of goblins and ogres and orcs in the mines and Gandalf dies. There's another little narrative arc for you, but THEN there's still another forty minutes in which the gang reaches Galadriel's kingdom and some more foreshadowing ensues. Boromir gets darker and darker until he finally tries to roughhouse Frodo who runs away with Sam, meanwhile the crew is attacked by the Uruk-hai (which are introduced at some point prior as hybrid super-soldiers, also it's established that Saruman is a bad guy with a vendetta against trees and I forgot to mention the part where Gandalf rides an eagle) and Boromir dies and Pippin and Merry are captured. I think that's how it ends but I'm sure there's even a bit of denoument tagged onto that.

So you see as a saga it's very engaging, but as a movie the storyline isn't tight enough. There are too many highs and lows. That's not to say I demand an easily digested plot that doesn't make me think too hard, but even so there's only so much time I can spend sitting still. Trying to get it all into one movie was a worthy effort, luckily I think the next two movies did much better.

30 December 2011

26 Dec - "humans don't like smart ape"

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
dir. Rupert Wyatt

CAST
Brian Cox (Braveheart, 1995)
Tom Felton (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, 2010)
James Franco (Never Been Kissed, 1999)
Leah Gibson (Eclipse, 2010)
Jamie Harris (Princess Caraboo, 1994)
David Hewlett (Where the Heart is, 1990)
Chelah Horsdal (On Strike for Christmas, TV 2010)
Adrian Hough (X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)
Tyler Labin (Zack and Miri Make a Porno, 2008)
John Lithgow (Skrek (voice), 2001)
Ty Olsson (Lake Placid, 1999)
David Oyelowo (The Last King of Scotland, 2006)
Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, 2008)
Dean Redmond (2012, 2009)
Jesse Reid (Watchmen, 2009)
David Richmond-Peck (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2008)
Sean Tyson (2012, 2009)


I feel like this movie has already been reviewed to death and since I'm clearly a latecomer to this game I'll keep the report necessarily brief. Yes, the CGIed Ceasar had a lot of attitude. Yes, you might say the moral of the story is that 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'

Maybe this is because I was sort of in&out for the first twenty minutes or so, but I don't understand why James Franco's character didn't send baby Ceasar to a wildlife refuge immediately, that seems totally irresponsible. Anybody who knows anything about chimpanzees knows that they are accidents waiting to happen. Ceasar attacking the neighbor with a bad attitude wasn't just an unfortunate misunderstanding, it was practically inevitable. Chimps are awfully smart, but they are also meeeaaan animals.

The other point I feel compelled to point out (and this is nit-picky) is that they wouldn't have been doing medical experiments on chimps, they would have been doing them on rhesus monkeys. And finally, if the virus makes chimps super-smart but kills humans, it doesn't seem likely that the virus would have the same effect on orangutans as it does on chimps, because orangs have much less in common with chimps than humans do, which is to say that we are all almost identical, but orangutans are slightly more differentiated than the African apes (which are chimps, gorillas, and humans)

That being said, there's plenty of room for a sequel (a sequel to the prequel), which I have no doubt will be forthcoming. How does a pack of multi-species apes expand from a small home base in the California redwood forest to world domination? What do they eat in the redwood forest? Pine needles? Does their group even include females? Are female super-intelligent apes capable of demanding equal rights from their male counterparts or do the baser ape instinctive social order still apply? SO many questions have been left unanswered...

My last point is that is was pretty cool when Cesar NO! to Draco Malfoy, but I wasn't into it when he said "Cesar is home" to James Franco at the end. Apes don't have the physiological capability of speech. It makes a sort of sense that this ability could evolve in the thousands of years it takes until Charlton Heston arrives on the scene. But within a lifespan? Impossible. "No" is not a particularly difficult syllable. If they can teach a Siberian Husky to say "I Love You," I can believe that a super smart chimp can shout a mono-syllabic protest. That scene was very exciting, it was like I wasn't quite certain I had heard correctly until he repeated himself. And I was scared because it was unearthly and just wrong. But they that final scene detracted from the earlier climax. Not only was it unbelievable, but I think even if a super-intelligent ape learned to speak English, he wouldn't talk like Tarzan and he would know how to pronouns. I think it was a mistake.





29 December 2011

22 Dec - "Are you so naive as to think that they won't battle their own extinction?"

X-Men: First Class (2011)
dir. Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, 2010)

CAST
David Agranov (Just Married, 2003)
Kevin Bacon (Planes, Trains & Automobiles, 1987)
Randall Batinkoff (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992)
Jason Beghe (Thelma & Louise, 1991)
Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids, 2011)
Matt Craven (Devil, 2010)
Don Creech (The Professional, 1994)
Tony Curran (The 13th Warrior, 1999)
Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre, 2011)
Brendan Fehr (A Christmas Kiss, TV 2011)
Jason Flemyng (Spice World, 1997)
Edi Gathegi (Twilight, 2008)
Demetri Goritsas (National Treasure: Book of Secrets, 2007)
Michael Ironside (Desert Blue, 1998)
Corey Johnson (Kick-Ass, 2010)
January Jones (Love Actually, 2003)
Zoe Kravitz (Twelve, 2010)
Olek Krupa (Burn After Reading, 2008)
Jennifer Lawrence
Morgan Lily (2012, 2009)
James McAvoy (Gnomeo & Juliet (voice), 2011)
Glenn Morshower (The Crazies, 2010)
Oliver Platt (Love and Other Drugs, 2010)
Sasha Pieterse (Good Luck Chuck, 2007)
Ludger Pistor (The Informant!, 2009)
James Remar (Pineapple Express, 2008)
Rade Serbedzija (Middle Men, 2009)
Lucas Till (Hannah Montana: The Movie, 2009)

I love the X-Men. I think they're a hoot and a half, but the problem with a movie like this is you're sacrificing character development for the insertion of a panoply of characters which are already beloved in the canon. So they say, "Oh, more people will see the movie if it has Emma Frost, Havok, Sebastian Shaw, etc., plus the characters we liked best in the other movies, like Mystique" and then you've got all these characters bumping around and it just muddles up the story. My favorite movies have small casts. Another problem was that the development of the conflict wasn't very well thought out. The main story should have been about Sebastian Shaw and his cronies attempting to incite war between the U.S. and Russia (Although even now I'm sure exactly why this was the case except a vague Magneto-esk desire to assert Mutant superiority). This challenge should have been faced and overcome by Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, and framed in the development and then demise of their friendship. Instead we get all sorts of identity issues from Mystique and Beast and a bunch of other young mutants thrown in for zazzle without actual depth and relationships. The episodic unraveling of the plot made me feel like the story lacked clarity and cohesion, so while there were good elements and good scenes, I couldn't say with confidence that this is a good movie.

28 December 2011

24 Dec - "When I grow up and get married, I'm living alone"

Home Alone (1990)
dir. Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 2001)

CAST
Mark Beltzman (Employee of the Month, 2004)
John Candy (Canadian Bacon, 1995)
Kieran Culkin (The Cider House Rules, 1999)
Macaulay Culkin (Saved!, 2004)
Hope Davis (The Matador, 2005)
Matt Doherty (Ghost World, 2001)
Bill Erwin (The Land Before Time (voice), 1988)
Angela Goethals (Spanglish, 2004)
Larry Hankin (Vegas Vacation, 1997)
John Heard (Desert Blue, 1998)
Sandra Macat (Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, 1992)
Michael C. Maronna (Slackers, 2002)
Catherine O'Hara (Where the Wild Things Are (voice), 2009)
Jim Ortlieb (A Mighty Wind, 2003)
Joe Pesci (8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, 1997)
Peter Siragusa (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (voice), 2009)
Daniel Stern (City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold, 1994)
Ray Toler (A League of Their Own, 1992)
Alan Wilder (A League of Their Own, 1992)

Believe it or not, this was the first time I saw Home Alone: original flavor. I was surprised that I liked Lost in New York slightly better, but that did not detract from the pleasantness of this Christmas classic. Something about the extraordinary amount of punishment these two crooks can endure without permanent injury is amazing to me, and thoroughly enjoyable. I guess I haven't seen enough slapstick in children's comedies.

I also liked the counter-narrative of Kevin's mother, which isn't as strong in the sequel. The irony is that in her desire to return home as quickly as possible, she has to resort to a variety of planes, trains & automobiles (helped out by good Samaritan John Candy, of course!) but in the end she only arrives moments before the rest of the family, who waited in France a few days before catching the next available flight home. But the important thing is that she worked for it, right? Sometimes when I'm caught in traffic I'll take a much longer alternative route, even though I'm not certain if I'm actually saving time. The illusion of movement gives purpose to the journey.

27 December 2011

17 Dec - "You done burned every bridge there is"

The Help (2011)
dir. Tate Taylor

CAST
Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life, 2011)
Viola Davis (It's Kind of a Funny Story, 2010)
Becky Fly (The Last Exorcism, 2010)
Bryce Dallas Howard (Eclipse, 2010)
Dana Ivey (The Addams Family, 1991)
Allison Janney (Piccadilly Jim, 2006)
Ashley Johnson (What Women Want, 2000)
Brian Kerwin (27 Dresses, 2008)
Ahna O'Reilly (Nancy Drew, 2007)
David Oyelowo (The Last King of Scotland, 2006)
Sissy Spacek (Tuck Everlasting, 2002)
Octavia Spencer  (Never Been Kissed, 1999)
Mary Steenburgen (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993)
Emma Stone (Zombieland, 2009) 
Cicely Tyson (Fried Green Tomatoes, 1991)
Mike Vogel (Cloverfield, 2008)

I watched The Help with my Aunt Holly and my stepmother, Sarah, back on our trip back to Philly from Athens when winter break started. Aunt Holly said that watching a movie together was our new tradition. Luckily, this movie was a lot more family-friendly than the last movie we watched together.

The Help was interesting for me to watch because I sort of empathized with Emma Stone's character as an a sort of anthropologist. In fact, what I was most afraid of about anthropology was that it meant i would become a person who takes things away without giving anythign back in return. Which was the big risk that the main girl was taking. Her informants, the maids, had everything to lose, while the writer had everything to gain. There is still a power differential there even if Emma Stone's character is still super well-meaning and nice.

Of course, in the movie everything works out for the best. The maids are not lynched and they get a portion of the book profits and the snooty white socialite is thouroughlly chagrined, even if she doesn't actually reflect on her ways. This is very rare in reality, where the rule of unintended consequences almost always reigns supreme.

26 December 2011

16 Dec - "Nobody likes a finger pointed at them"

Middle Men (2009)
dir. George Gallo

CAST
Luke Wilson (Scream 2, 1997)
Giovanni Ribisi (SubUrbia, 1996)
James Caan (Elf, 2003)
Jacinda Barrett (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, 2004)
Kevin Pollak (Wayne's World 2, 1993)
Laura Ramsey (She's the Man, 2006)
Terry Crews (Terminator Salvation, 2009)
Rade Serbedzija (The Saint, 1997)
Kelsey Grammer (Anastasia (voice), 1997)
Robert Forster (Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, 2003)
John Ashton (Beverly Hills Cop, 1984)
Jason Antoon (Minority Report, 2002)
Martin Kove (The Karate Kid, 1984)
Claudia Jordan (S1m0ne, 2002)

I never really like this kind of movie, so I don't know why I keep coming to them. I guess because other folks are into it and I always respect the opinions of others and those of random articles I read on the internet. I'm just not that interested by bureaucratic drama, and that makes the AHA! moment at the end sort of anticlimatic, because I'm not that excited by Luke Wilson writing the wrong date on a document and wheedling his way out of criminal charges. That's not very heroic, in my mind.

Since it's been almost a whole month since I actually watched this movie (sorry about being ridiculously behind on my posting again) I'm gonna leave it at that. Upcoming reviews: Home Alone, War Horse, and the LOTR trilogy!

25 December 2011

15 Dec - "Life is lonely, boring, and dumb"

The Doom Generation (1995)
dir. Greg Araki

CAST
James Duval (Independence Day, 1996)
Rose McGowan (Devil in the Flesh, 1998)
Cress Williams (2 Days in the Valley, 1996)
Margaret Cho (Face/Off, 1997)
Johnathon Schaech (Poison Ivy II, 1996)
Nicky Katt (The 'burbs, 1989)
Parker Posey (Blade: Trinity, 2004)

I can honestly say that this is one of the better movies that I've seen recently, and I'm going to stick it at the top of my list of movies about disaffected teenagers. The writing was phenomenal, I liked a lot of the one-liners and I had a hard time picking one to title this post. Here are the runners-up:

"That guy has the intelligence of a stool sample"
"Ever felt like reality is more twisted than dreams?"
"'I love you' can mean a lot of things, like, 'you'll do until someone better comes along,' or, 'I don't know how I feel but this is what I'm supposed to say,' or, 'shut up, I'm watching TV'"

So basically you've got these three kids, Xavier, the one on the bottom, kills a convenience store clerk and Amy and Jordan get implicated and all three go on the lamb together. Jordan is naive and optimistic, Amy is enraged and hateful, and Xavier is batshit crazy. But Amy really loves Jordan, even though she starts sleeping with Xavier, too, and Jordan always forgives Amy whenever she does anything awful to him. I guess the point is that the kids are apathetic about the world because the world is apathetic about them. They don't think about the future, only the present moment. There's symbolism in this movie, albeit unsubtle. Everytime they stop at a convenience store the total is $6.66, and Amy keeps getting misrecognized by strangers who call her Sunshine, Kitten, etc., and their rage at Amy's refusal to be recognized is homicidal.

Sometimes I've got to watch this kind of nihilistic movie just to make myself feel sane again. It's a road movie with no MacGuffin, and then at the end they just keep driving onwards without a destination, like it doesn't even matter if they get there or not.

24 December 2011

14 Dec - "I was just hoping for more of an old-fashioned Christmas"

A Christmas Kiss (TV 2011)
dir. John Stimson


CAST
Elisabeth Rohm (Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, 2005)
Brendan Fehr (Final Destination, 2000)

I missed the first few minutes of this Christmas TV movie, and from what I gathered from the subsequent dialogue, they were the most important part of the movie. You see, Wendy is an aspiring interior decorator working with the bitchy socialite Priscilla Hall (as in, 'deck the...' Sometime during the beginning of the movie, Wendy kisses a strange man in the elevator for some reason, but UH OH! It's actually Priscilla's fiance (but he doesn't recognize Wendy later?), but she doesn't really love him, she just thinks they are a good match in social status, and also SHE HATES CHRISTMAS!!!

Because Wendy is in charge of designing the Christmas party at Adam's house, she spends an awful lot of time there with him alone, and eventually they bond over their mutual love of Christmas and holiday spirit. Unfortunately, Adam is the thickest male love interest ever, and he takes forever to figure out that Priscilla had nothing to do with the design plans for the Christmas party, and basically just does whatever she says. Wendy is a worse protagonist than Fanny from Mansfield Park , all she does is whine about how scared she is of losing her job with Priscilla and how she's too scared to tell Adam that she's the one he kissed in the elevator and it's so obvious that they're meant to be together. Ultimately, she takes no assertive action to secure her own happy ending.

23 December 2011

13 Dec - "Obviously, doctor, you've never been a 13 year-old girl"

The Virgin Suicides (1999)
dir. Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, 2003)

CAST
James Woods (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (voice), 2001)
Josh Hartnett (The Faculty, 1998)
Kathleen Turner (Peggy Sue Got Married, 1986)
Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)
Danny Devito (Romancing the Stone, 1984)
Hanna Hall (Forrest Gump, 1994)
A.J. Cook (Final Destination 2, 2003)
Robert Schwartzman (The Princess Diaries, 2001)
Kirsten Dunst (Elizabethtown, 2005)
Hayden Christensen (Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones, 2002)
Giovanni Ribisi (voice) (That Thing You Do!, 1996)

This movie is one of those surprising examples of how Kirsten Dunst can act pretty damn well when she's cast in the right role. In fact, this movie was surprising in a lot of ways, and it was better than I anticipated. It was sort of like a mystery movie, as you know when the movie starts that these girls aren't going to make it, and you keep watching as you're guided through the film by a third-party narrator, studying their words and their faces to try and figure out what was so wrong with life that these five pretty sisters decided it wasn't even worth trying anymore.

I think there are two ways you can look at it. One the one hand, you might think that the girls are a bit narcissistic, and that the drama of strict parents and boys who don't call back (am I right?) was the only impetus for them to make some grand gesture indicating that they were simply fed up with all the bullshit. After all, they were too young to know actually misery. They had nice parents and a nice home and everyone liked them. Right?

But I think that theory doesn't really add up under a closer scrutiny. At least, not in a poetic, cinematic world. I think maybe the girls were suffering from a severe case of ennui, and having briefly tasted love, adventure, etc. were frustrated to discover that this was all life had to offer, and decided to opt out for lack of anticipation. Peter Pan style: "death will be an awfully big adventure."

But the movie was intentionally unclear. Our narrators adore and admire the sisters from afar, intimately collecting the details of their lives, but never actually try to befriend the girls discover what they really are. And so there's also an tone of loneliness to the movie. I suppose that's the nature of loss. Never knowing what lies at the core of someone else's heart, then suddenly that person isn't there anymore, and you're never certain why she left or how life could have been different.

22 December 2011

12 Dec - "I hear that you don't believe in me, Reverend"

The Last Exorcism (2010)
dir. Daniel Stamm

CAST
Patrick Fabian (Must Love Dogs, 2005)
Becky Fly
Victoria Patenaude

I've read a lot of articles about The Last Exorcism already, so I'm going to try and not repeat any of those critiques. However, I don't think that will be too hard because nothing I read about The Last Exorcism prepared me for the actually movie, which pleasantly defied expectation.

So what I heard was that this movie was about an exorcist who really doesn't believe in demonic possession and just provides a cathartic performance to superstitious rubes. Of course, in this last case all is not as it seems, and it starts to become difficult to figure out who is playing who, and what are the motivations. I guess you could say it was a twist ending, but it was the clever kind that I like. Looking back, I think the biggest tell was the suffering girl's brother, when he told the preacher that he saw the trick that made it look like the water was miraculously boiling, and that meant the preacher was "alright in my book."

See, he was in on it the whole time. And I know the father was genuinely trying to save his daughter, but I can't decide whether the girl was a willing sacrificial lamb or not. At times it seemed like she genuinely wanted to be saved, but at other times she appeared to be putting on her own "show" of possession, acting like a parody of Regan MacNeil (oblique reference!) and lying intentionally about where she had gone and what she had done. But on the other hand, she had moments of precognition which at first seemed to reveal sinister intent, like a picture of the preacher and his film crew being slaughtered, but may have also served as a warning. Maybe she wanted to protect the exorcisors? This may warrant a second viewing.

20 December 2011

11 Dec - "All the way to the top is the safest place"

Skyline (2010)
dir. Cloin Strause, Greg Strause

CAST
Eric Balfour (America's Sweethearts, 2001)
Scottie Thompson (Star Trek, 2009)
Brittany Daniel (Joe Dirt, 2001)
David Zayas (The Interpreter, 2005)
Donald Faison (Uptown Girls, 2003)
Tanya Newbould (Cyrus, 2010)

Unfortunately, this alien invasion movie brought alarmingly little to the genre. In fact, so much money was invested in the special effects in the last 30 minutes, all that could be managed in the previous hour were our five vapid and charmless protagonists hanging out in their penthouse acting scared and fighting about whether they should go outside. Given that so little time was given to the rising action, you'd think we might at least get some character development, but that was unforthcoming as well. The only intriguing part of this movie was the absolutely last scene, in which the male lead becomes some sort of alien-human cyborg monster but, unlike all the other alien-human cyborg monsters, he retains his own mental agency, and so he crouches protectively over his woman and then it's over.

13 December 2011

8 Dec - "Easy to date. That's been my fate, since the age of ten"

Mad About Men (1954)
dir. Ralph Thomas

CAST
Glynis Johns (The Ref, 1994 )

This was a pretty silly old movie. It's about a slutty mermaid who switches places with a prudish schoolteacher, which they are able to easily do because they share a common ancestor and so look and sound identical. The mermaid, Miranda, wraps her tail up in a blanket and pretends the schoolteacher had an accident so she can sit a wheelchair. A bunch of times guys pick her up to move her around, but none of them notice the lack of legs. The ridiculousness is how many innuendos Miranda makes and how everyone just goes along with her crazy mermaid habits because she's pretty, I guess.

Miranda soon discovers that the schoolteacher's fiance is a pretty awful guy, so she decides to catch a better man. It ends up being a choice between this pretty smarmy dude who's already engaged, and another guy who is dashing and wealthy. Unfortunately, the moral seems to be that men love women who are stupid and easy like Miranda, and don't like uppity ladies like the schoolteacher. At the end, when she hesitates to kiss the wealthy fisherman, he's like, "What's wrong, you seem like your old self" and she's all, "Oh, sorry, I'll never be like that again," with a knowing glace back at Miranda. So, 1950s chicks, don't be yourself, the boys don't like that, be easy and undiscriminating.

11 December 2011

4 Dec - "What happened to all the celestial fire?"

Don Juan DeMarco (1994)
dir. Jeremy Leven

CAST
Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951)
Johnny Depp (Rango (voice), 2011)
Bob Dishy (Jungle 2 Jungle, 1997)
Rachel Ticotin (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, 2008)
Stephen Singer (The Happening, 2008)
Faye Dunaway (The Rules of Attraction, 2002)
Tommy 'Tiny' Lister (The Fifth Element, 1997)
Tom Mardirosian (Lady in the Water, 2006)

This is one of those relative reality movies like Big Fish or The King of California (now that was a good movie). Our hero Don Juan, played by Johnny Depp, is probably crazy, but he also has these occasional moments of self awareness that suggest he consciously prefers the illusion to the reality, and then of course there's little snags that suggest the merest possibility that he's actually telling the truth, but no, that would be impossible. So this guy Don Juan, who dresses like Zorro, has to undergo a ten day psychological evaluation to determine if he will be committed. His psychiatrist is  retiring in exactly ten days, and is determined that Don Juan should be cured in that time. The primary narrative focus is Don Juan's self-reported life story, his sexual exploits and the loss of his one true love. We also get a sub plot of Marlon Brando's character battling with his own life's expectations and making a mad grab at the sense of drama and romanticism that Don Juan represents. I guess the point is that life is what you make it, and if you are unhappy with reality as it is working out, just do something different.

10 December 2011

3 Dec - "Being prepared for matrimony by a hatred of home, by the misery of disappointed affection"

Mansfield Park (1999)
dir. Patricia Rozema

CAST
Lindsay Duncan (Alice in Wonderland, 2010)
James Purefoy (Resident Evil, 2002)
Frances O'Connor (Piccadilly Jim, 2006)
Embeth Davidtz (Thir13en Ghosts, 2001)
Alessandro Nivola (Face/Off, 1997)
Anna Popplewell (Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 2010)
Sophia Myles (Underworld: Evolution, 2006)
Jonny Lee Miller

I don't know why I watched another Jane Austen movie. I guess there's just a dearth of good romance films and so I'm dredging up the oft-ignored corners of my Netflix recommendations. At least I liked Mansfield Park a little better than Emma.

The main character is Fanny Price, who leaves home at a young age to live with the rich side of her family, but they aren't super-nice to her. There are some marriages and some love triangles, a few misunderstandings, but it works out in the end. What's notable is that Fanny isn't a heroine in the same league as Emma or Elizabeth Bennett. She's much less adventurous and outspoken. She's timid and idealistic without actually taking action. Very passive. It works out for her, too, though, but only because cousin Edmund finally gets over the flashy lady he was really into.

09 December 2011

2 Dec - "you can give up, let yourself go, or grit your teeth and hang on like stupid people do"

Biutiful (2010)
dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu


CAST
Javier Bardem (Collateral, 2004)

I watched this the other night with a fella I've been seeing briefly but I'm not certain at all it was the best choice for a date night (I have a bad track record with picking movies to watch with guys I'm interested in). It was too sad in all sorts of ways. It's about this guy who's got cancer in a bad way and his family is all messed up and he's trying to make it right and there's some human trafficking going on as well. I think it was trying to get at this relationship between Beauty and Ugliness and Love and Hate and sometimes you really really hate someone but at the same time you love that person and it sort of tears you up inside.

I guess it has something to do with that idea that every person you love is going to break your heart someday.

I don't mean to wax sentimental, but due to the circumstances I didn't have the opportunity to be emotional when the feelings hit me the first time around. There's a lot of little details to reflect on in this one.

01 December 2011

1 Dec - "I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control"

Emma (1996)
dir. Douglas McGrath


CAST
Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man 2, 2010)
James Cosmo (Braveheart, 1995)
Alan Cumming (Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, 1997)
Jeremy Northam (Amistad, 1997)
Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, 1999)
Kathleen Byron (Saving Private Ryan, 1998)
Ewan McGregor (The Men Who Stare at Goats, 2009)
Juliet Stevenson (Bend it Like Beckham, 2002)

The problem with having seen Clueless so many times is that it totally ruins Emma for me. I kept trying to figure out which old-time English socialite characters were analogous to which preppy teenager characters and getting distracted from the nuances of the plot. I guess the story's gimmick is that, despite all of her conniving ways, Emma totally sucks at trying to pair off her less cool friend and is kind of lousy at trying to pair herself off too. Other than that, the story was kind of uninteresting. I've never been into the Jane Austen stuff, but seriously, what's the big deal? I sort of get Pride and Prejudice, because there's class struggle going on there too, and family expectations. But the worst thing that ever happens to Emma is that Mr. Nightly is disappointed in her manners, but he quickly forgives her, anyway.


29 November 2011

29 Nov - "Save it for the suckers"

A Diva's Christmas Carol (TV 2000)
dir. Richard Schenkman

CAST
Vanessa Williams
Rozonda Thomas (Snow Day, 2000)
Brian McNamara (Short Circuit, 1986)
Kathy Griffin (Pulp Fiction, 1994)
Stephanie Biddle (Timeline, 2003)
Richard Jutras (The Whole Nine Yards, 2000)
Amy Sloan (The Day After Tomorrow, 2004)

I love a good Dickens adaptation, and while this was far from that, it was at least a little more fun than On Strike for Christmas. The storyline is familiar, derivative, in fact, so much so that it feels like the writers simply watched a bunch of other Christmas Carol movies instead of reading the book before they had at it. One detail that I sort of liked was that instead of a Ghost of Christmas Future (too scary!), the Diva watched an E! True Hollywood Story about her life and death. The Ghost of Christmas Present was at least symbolically accurate, because that guy's supposed to be a real hedonist, but Kathy Griffin as the Ghost of Christmas Past was way off the mark and didn't bring in anything except a bunch of stupid Kathy Griffin-style jokes. There was way too much screen time wasted here.

29 Nov - "cookies and wine"

On Strike for Christmas (TV 2010)
dir. Robert Iscove (Cinderlla, TV 1997)

CAST
Daphne Zuniga (Spaceballs, 1987)
David Sutcliffe (Half Baked, 1998)
Chelah Horsdal (X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)
Julia Duffy (Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, 2003)

Onward with the Christmas specials! On Strike for Christmas is about a housewife who gets sick of all the demanding holiday chores (including throwing separate parties for her husband's office and her son's friends) and goes on strike because boys just don't understand holiday cheer. The moral of the story is that when you're feeling overworked, it's totally okay to call a catering and send e-cards instead of paper cards. The other moral is that it's not a good idea to shape your entire identity contingent on your ability to perform as an ideal homemaker at Christmastime.

28 November 2011

25 Nov - "At first I did not know it was your diary. I thought it was a very sad handwritten book"

Bridesmaids (2011)
dir. Paul Feig

CAST
Kristin Wiig (Knocked Up, 2007)
Terry Crews (Middle Men, 2009)
Maya Rudolph (Gattaca, 1997)
Matt Lucas (Alice in Wonderland, 2010)
Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bewitched, 2005)
Jill Clayburgh (Love and Other Drugs, 2010)
Melissa McCarthy (Charlie's Angels, 2000)
Ellie Kemper
Michael Hitchcock (Serenity, 2005)
Joe Nunez (Rango (voice), 2011)
Steve Bannos (Pineapple Express, 2008)
Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class, 2011)
Lynne Marie Stewart (Pee Wee's Big Adventure, 1985)

I watched Bridesmaids back around Thanksgiving time in the kitchen with my Aunt Dorothy. Apart from the very first scene and the very last scene, I didn't think that this was awkward to watch with my dear Auntie. It's possible though, that the circumstances detracted from the humorousness somewhat, because I thought this movie was supposed to be really funny, but I only thought it was sort of funny. Definitely not as funny as The Hangover.

Maybe part of the problem was in comprehension. I didn't understand all of the characters. Kristin Wiig was obviously the main character, but what's the deal with the antagonist? Did we decide she was just misunderstood or was she really conspiring against Kristin in pursuit of maid-of-honordom? Perhaps the movie would have been funnier if less emphasis had been placed on the developing relationships and more emphasis was on crazy antics unfolding, which is Apatow's usually recipe for success.

One of the things I like about Aunt Dorothy is that she makes me feel okay about watching a bawdy comedy with her. She's always been more fun than most of the other older folks in my family. When my brother and I were kids she let us watch Blackadder during family dinner parties. I didn't really understand a lot fo the jokes back then, but I think there were some pretty dodgy ones about turnips.

27 November 2011

21 Nov - "It's too bad you don't have any bad habits"

Piccadilly Jim (2006)
dir. John McKay

CAST
Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2, 2010)
Frances O'Connor (Timeline, 2003)
Tom Wilkinson (The Last Kiss, 2006)
Brenda Blethy (Atonement, 2007)
Allison Janney (Away We Go, 2009)
Austin Pendleton (Uptown Girls, 2003)
Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, 2007)
Pam Ferris (Children of Men, 2006)
Kevin Eldon (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2005)

I thought this romantic comedy starring Sam Rockwell would be cute, but it actually sort of sucked despite having a super amusing premise. Piccadilly Jim is the playboy son of a wealthy socialite who falls in love with his step-cousin. Despite having never met Jim, she hates him for his roguish reputation, so to win her heart, Jim pretends to be someone else. The funny part is that in order to gain the trust of her family, Jim incognito has to pretend to impersonate himself - leading to an endless series of amusing misunderstandings.

Unfortunately something about this movie fell flat, lacked excitement, was unconvincing. Perhaps there was a lack of chemistry between the leads or too many undeveloped side characters. I wanted to like this movie, I really did. Parts of it were clever, but it still sucked, sorry.

26 November 2011

20 Nov - "He was screaming like a little girl"

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
dir. Grant Heslov

CAST
George Clooney (Burn After Reading, 2008)
Ewan McGregor (Miss Potter, 2006)
Jeff Bridges (The Last Unicorn (voice), 1982)
Kevin Spacey (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, 1997)
Stephen Lang (Avatar, 2009)
Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991)
Stephen Root (Rango (voice), 2011)
Tim Griffin (The Bourne Supremacy, 2004)
Nick Offerman (Stealing Harvard, 2002)
Glenn Morshower (The River Wild, 1994)
Rebecca Mader (The Devil Wears Prada, 2006)

I dunno what it is, I just didn't really like this movie either. It seems like it's been a while since I saw something that really wowed me. I'll be honest, I'm starting to lose enthusiasm for this whole blog thing. I'm starting to lose enthusiasm for a lot of things. I just didn't think it was that funny, or maybe it was just that I couldn't really get into sitting still while I was watching it.

Here's one thing that I thought could have been better, though. For most of the movie, it was ambiguous whether these guys were fooling themselves or not, but then it started to toe the line of 'no wait, we are serious about these powers' and then it wasn't so funny anymore. The mass delusion is what it makes it interesting and funny, and when Ewan McGregor's character starts buying into it--because who DOESN'T want to believe he or she has super powers?--it's even better. Honestly, the second half of the movie is a total blur.

24 November 2011

19 Nov - "I worry about what's going to happen"

Case 39 (2009)
dir. Christian Alvart (Pandorum, 2009)

CAST
Renée Zellweger (Appaloosa, 2008)
Jodelle Ferland (Girl Fight, TV 2011)
Ian McShane (Coraline (voice), 2009)
Bradley Cooper (Valentine's Day, 2010/1)
Callum Keith Rennie (Blade: Trinity, 2004)
Adrian Lester (The Day After Tomorrow, 2004)
Kerry O'Malley (The Happening, 2008)
Cynthia Stevenson (Air Bud: Golden Reciever, 1998)
Alexander Conti (Cheaper by the Dozen 2, 2005)
Mary Black (The Wicker Man, 2006)
Benita Ha (X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)
Fulvio Cecere (Watchmen, 2009)
Colin Lawrence (Fantastic Four, 2005)
Dagmar Midcap (The Last Mimzy, 2007)
Bill Mondy (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2008)
Andrew Arlie (Final Destination 2, 2003)
Sarah-Jane Redmond (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, 2005)
Daniel Bacon (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2008)
Dalias Blake (Red Riding Hood, 2011)
Phillip Mitchell

I expressed trepidation towards this movie a while ago but I decided to go for it anyway because I felt like watching a movie about possession. Turns out I might have been better served by checking out The Rite, The Last Exorcism, or finally getting around to The Exorcism of Emily Rose. This movie is about a well meaning social worker who takes in a child seemingly abused by her parents only to discover that all is not as it seems. This movie was hard to get through because Renee Zellweger sort of rubs me the wrong way, and it was one of those movies where the protagonist never does what I would do in that situation, and that just seems stupid.

The little girl was also sort of confusing because I was unclear on whether she was killing people expressly to make Renee's character unhappy or just to manipulate her into playing happy family or just because she was crazy demon-spawn. It was also unclear why she was so desperate to have a loving caretaker.

The ending was hectic, it seems that the evil was defeated, but is the social worker going to prison now? What will the official report say? I'd also like to say that I feel a lot of this was lifted from old episodes of the X-files, especially the parts where the adults are forced to cater to the untenable whims of an implacable child.

On the other hand, it was interesting to see how the possession theme was treated without any religious overtones. There was no priest or exorcism or ceremonies. The kid was just a demon. Case closed. It's true enough that the exorcism narrative has been beaten to death, but I'm not sure the attempt to circumvent those themes was effective here. One thing that religion always gives us in movies is the potential for redemption. In Case 39, not only was the child destroyed, but it seems that the heroine is also slated for demise, as is everyone else the girl came into contact with. I don't really enjoy it when a movie doesn't have any winners.

23 November 2011

18 Nov - "Not everybody can afford security"

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2009)
dir. Daniel Alfredson

CAST
Michael Nyqvist (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2009)
Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2009)
Lena Endre
Georgi Staykov

November 18th, I think sometime around midnight, brought me to the conclusion of the Millennium trilogy. The third installment commences after Lisbeth has been arrested for the attempted murder of her father and it is a race against time to see if the truth will prevail over corruption and iniquity.

Consequently, the film is dominated by the trial and plays out much like an episode of Law and Order, with the male protagonist Blomqvist trying to prove the veracity of Lisbeth's allegations against her father, her guardian, and psychiatrist even as Lisbeth refuses to testify in her own defense.

That's a curious point and one of the notable complexities of this character. It's almost as if she's daring the court to find her guilty, by refusing to defend herself and dressing like a caricature of a punk. You might also say that she refuses to legitimate the proceedings with her participation, and those who conspired against her rigged the evidence from the start. Why give them the satisfaction of watching you struggle in the trap they have laid?

20 November 2011

17 Nov -"She would probably bite him if he tried"

The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)
dir. Daniel Alfredson (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, 2009)

CAST
Michael Nyqvist (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, 2009)
Noomi Rapace  (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo2009)
Lena Endre  (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo2009)
Georgi Stakov  (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo2009)

I was kind of in a limbo-state last weekend where getting things done wasn't really an option on the table. Sooo I watched a lot of movies. Maybe I could have written a paper or something, but I didn't. I think I liked The Girl Who Played With Fire a little better than Dragon Tattoo, but I liked Hornet's Nest least of all. It was okay, just not as good as this one. I watched them both in such quick succession, though, that as I'm trying to recall my thoughts I keep confusing them. A lot like The Empire Strikes Back, this sequel gives us a little more insight into our heroine's family and tumultuous past. I think there's a pretty basic trilogy formula that holds true this pattern.

I hear a lot of about Lisbeth Salander being such a strong female character, and I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around that, because she certainly gets victimized a lot. On the other hand, she doesn't cry or whine about it. In fact, she doesn't say that much at all. That's a king of strength, I suppose. Because shit will always be going down, but you gotta roll with the punches, that's what I always say.

19 November 2011

16 Nov - "You've had your whole fucking life to think things over"

The Shining (1980)
dir. Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange, 1971)

CAST
Jack Nicholson (The Witches of Eastwick, 1987)
Shelley Duvall (Home Fries, 1998)
Joe Turkel (Blade Runner, 1982)

My friend Cora says that The Shining was a terrible movie to choose for a date. I thought it was OK, though. I've never see The Shining and neither had my gentleman companion and it's on my list of famous movies I really ought to get around to.

You see how casually I introduce context?

Anyway, I knew enough about this movie to not be too surprised by any of the twists and turns. Although I WAS surprised by the scary naked lady scene. I didn't really get that part, was she supposed to be the murdered wife of the first caretaker? Like the little girls? But then why did her age change, and why was she covered in tattoos? Were those tattoos? I wasn't sure.

I was also hoping there would be more hedge maze featured in the movie. I'm a big fan of hedge mazes, so maybe I should be grateful that this movie didn't make them horror-filled death traps for me.

My mom says that Stephen King only writes about immature boys, and even though that isn't what The Shining is about at all, you can tell that his strength is certainly not writing about married couples. The dynamic between Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson was horrendous. They didn't even seem like a happy couple at the beginning. Duvall acts like an obsequious, irritating wife with no inner life, and Nicholson is an asshole husband even before he goes crazy.

In conclusion, the scenes with running and chopping were good, the dialogue not so much.

13 November 2011

12 Nov - "It's the size of the mountain!"

Behemoth (TV 2011)
dir. David Hogan

CAST
Ed Quinn
Pascale Hutton (Fantastic Four, 2005)
Cindy Busby
Jessica Parker Kennedy (Santa Baby, 2006)
Ty Olsson (Lake Placid, 1999)
William B. Davis (X-Files: Fight the Future, 1998)
Garry Chalk (Watchmen, 2009)
James Kirk (She's the Man, 2006)
Marsha Regis (Watchmen, 2009)
Michael Adamthwaite (Red Riding Hood, 2011)

Sorry no picture for this TV movie. Sometimes I have this problem where I go over to Cora's house and watch a whole dopey-doo TV movie. This one didn't even really make a lot of sense. The majority of the movie was spent wondering what all those weird tremors were, foreshadowing from X-Files' Cigarette Smoking Man, and the introduction of an endless list of side characters who propelled the plot forwards in no way whatsoever. I see what they were going for, but, man, they totally missed the mark.

It's supposed to be an interpretation of a classic mythic destruction story. Instead of just a regular scary monster, the monster is the earth itself and it's super pissed off because of...pollution, I guess.

But it takes 2 thirds of the movie for this hypothesis to be confirmed and we start to see tentacles flopping around. In the meantime our heroes are racing about the mountain looking for some sort of weapon which is mostly like a rocket launcher and the weapon exists because maybe the government knew about the monster already but it is unclear how and why they lost the weapon around some random mountain.

So the good news is, when a monster of mythic proportions the size the whole planet starts to wreak vengeance on human civilization Cthulhu/Shiva/Angry Sun God style not only will a mere rocket launcher will put a stop to that guy, but the carnage will be limited to property damage in a small mountain town. I mean, you have to shoot the rocket directly into it's mouth, but that's not really a problem from miles and miles away even if you have a helicopter right next to you.

09 November 2011

6 Nov - "Does my face scare you? ...Scares me, too."

Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)
dir. Michael Cohn

CAST
Sigourney Weaver (Alien, 1979)
Sam Neill (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (voice), 2010)
Gil Bellows (The Weather Man, 2005)
David Conrad (Wedding Crashers, 2005)
Monica Keena (Orange County, 2002)
Anthony Brophy
Chris Bauer (Fools Rush In, 1997)
Andrew Tiernan (300, 2006)

I've talked about this movie before, I'm sure of it. I'm a big fan but hardly anyone has even heard of this movie because the studio pushed it straight to video. This year there are two Snow White adaptations being released and I feel it's time for this movie to be revisited and review it's full due. It's set in Dark Ages Germany, and the Crusades along with the bubonic plague, are referenced to give it all a little bit of temporal context. As I think will prove to be the case with the upcoming films, the evil witch, played by Sigourney Weaver, is the real star of this movie. It's definitely dark, which perhaps added to it's dis-appeal back in '97 but makes it a sure-fire hit these days. It has elements of a horror film without ever quite pushing it that far. Even though I've seen this movie at least three times I still have a bit of a hard time understanding this witch character. She's definitely twisted, tormented, and the way the film portray's her magic is even a little sick without being so gory.

My criticisms are that the lead was not given to a strong enough actress, Monica Keena. Her acting is, at best, reactionary, but she effectively gets us from scene to scene. Sam Neill's role was not strong enough for his talents. There are two stars in this movie, Weaver and the Dark Forest.

08 November 2011

3 Nov - "What's the point of being a teenager if you can't dress weird"

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
dir. Francis Ford Coppola (The Outsiders, 1983)

CAST
Kathleen Turner (Romancing the Stone, 1984)
Nicolas Cage (Kick-Ass, 2010)
Joan Allen (Face/Off, 1997)
Kevin J. O'Connor (There Will Be Blood, 2007)
Jim Carrey (Earth Girls are Easy, 1988)
Sofia Coppola (Star Wars: Episode One - The Phantom Menace, 1999)
Helen Hunt (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, 1985)
Lisa Jane Persky (When Harry Met Sally, 1989)
Glenn Withrow (The Outsiders, 1983)
John Carradine (The Secret of Nimh (voice), 1982)
Sachi Parker (Scrooged, 1988)

It's fortuitous that I chose to watch this movie, which has been sitting on my "I need to watch this again" list for a while now, so recently after I watched Kick-Ass and after I read this blog post which reviewed several vampire movies including the 1989 Vampire's Kiss, because I totally had to step up and defend Nicolas Cage's honor the other day and I was totally loaded up with fuel for my righteous fire.

So this dude pulls out the totally tired shtick about how Nick is a poseable action figure who can't act and I'm all like, "excuse me? Have you ever seen Leaving Las Vegas? Raising Arizona? Valley Girl?"

and then he counters with a, "Sure, his early stuff..." he was already losing steam

So I say, "Yeah, but his early stuff was GREAT, and then there's Adaptation., Matchstick Men." I'll concede that he's not at his best when he does action films or thrillers, but all actors do shitty movies for money. Nick Cage is at his best when he's playing loony, breakable men who are hanging at the end of their rope.

And so this guy goes for the ace in the hole and that's where I got him

"What about Wicker Man?"

Wicker Man is AWESOME! People love to shit on that movie because it truly truly hits that so-bad-that-it's-good sweet spot. And who puts it there? Nicolas Cage. Anyone else in that role would have hammed it up and the whole debacle would have passed like a shadow in the night. But it stays with us and stands up to multiple and giggly rewatchings because Nicolas Cage decided to go 100% whackadoodle crazy and that's why he's awesome and always will be. Match point.

I'm also a big fan of Kathleen Turner.


07 November 2011

30 Oct - "You can't use the front door now"

Kick-Ass (2010)
dir. Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, 2007)

CAST
Randall Batinkoff (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992)
Xander Berkeley (Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991)
Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, 1995)
Clark Duke (Superbad, 2007)
Craig Ferguson (Saving Grace, 2000)
Jason Flemyng (From Hell, 2001)
Dexter Fletcher (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, 1998)
Tamer Hassan (Eastern Promises, 2007)
Aaron Johnson (Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, 2008)
Corey Johnson (Saving Private Ryan, 1998)
Adrian Martinez (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, 2007)
Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Role Models, 2008)
Chloë Grace Moretz (Bolt (voice), 2008)
Evan Peters (Sleepover, 2004)
Kenneth Simmons (My Super Ex-Girlfriend, 2006)
Mark Strong (Robin Hood, 2010)

This was a fun and entertaining movie, I'm surprised that it wasn't more popular. At least as popular as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I haven't seen yet, but I hear about it all the time and I've only heard this movie in passing coversation like once, I think. The best part is that, in the sense that it's an origin story, this movie is only slightly more plausible than something like Batman or Spiderman. They don't have superpowers, but by virtue of getting the shit kicked out of him, the portagonist has metal-reinforced bones and damaged nerve endings that...allow him to take a beating with slightly more fortitude than the average bear. By the end we see the critical balance reestablished, with the creation of a more powerful force of good we also see a concurrent rise in the force of evil. Like all of our other favorite supervillains, we see the polarizing forces of good and evil repelling, even with resistance, each other like magnets.

It wouldn't surprise me if the screenwriter had referenced Joseph Campbell. Nobody really wants to become that which is overtly and inherently despicable, and yet these characters arise from the ethos and by forces out of their hands are ostracized into dark and lonely places. I'm getting too philosophical now. My point is that this movie fits an archetype, but it's a good archetype.

Nicolas Cage is in it, and he's a polarizing actor, but I've defended him before and I'll do it again because I like Nicolas Cage and I think I get what he does. It's a role that's well suited to him.

I perused a few reviews of this movies, and while overall I think it recieved a positive reaction, several negative reviews focused on how appalling it was to watch Hit-Girl, played by an 11-year old actress, behave with so much callous violence, and profanity, and also recieve a vicious beating from a grown man. On the other hand, I'm certain that they would not be so alarmed if the character was an 11 year old boy.

This review by Prairie Miller cites Kick-Ass as a shocking display of child exploitation. Part of this character has to do with shock value, I'm sure, and also the slightly comedic incongrutiy that Hit-Girl is a much tougher cookie than the older and masculine Kick-Ass. But more importantly I this this is the only female superhero character I've ever seen that does NOT represent exploitation. Even though she unleashes a lot of bloodshed, she's happy, she's healthy, she has an odd, but loving parent, she's strong and not sexualized - can we say that of any other heroine? Certainly not Elektra, definitely not Catwoman. Praire Miller says that depicting children being beaten in fictional scenarios is unacceptable and potentially disturbing to children in violent homes. But violence happens in the world, and this character isn't victimized, she is an agent of her own storyline. She accepts violence with dignity and retaliates from a postion of strength. That's awesome, not just for children, but even grown up children like me.

I know it's supposed to be a funny movie, and so it was, but I just wanted to talk about it this way instead.

06 November 2011

29 Oct - "They can smell the blood of a Christian man"

TrollHunter (2010)
dir. André Øvredal

CAST
Otto Jespersen
Glenn Erland Tosterud 
Johanna Mørck 
Tomas Alf Larsen


This movie was great! Another wonderful picture out of Scandinavia! This was a camcorder-style movie in the tradition of The Blairwitch Project or Cloverfield, but although the monsters do threaten our film crew of spunky young college students, there is no threat of imminent disaster as in those films. Instead of horror, the trolls are more like revelations, almost delightful in that you had not previously considered that such fantastic things could even exist.

Nevertheless, there's a modest death count.

As far as characterization goes, I was about as invested in the college kids as I was in those kids from Blairwitch, in that I can't remember their names or what they look like but I shared a mild concern for their safety in the high suspense parts. One of them begins to develop a mysterious illness which I thought was going to lead to something good but it turned out to just be rabies. I'm not sure what they intended with that, since it's not really life threatening once it's correctly diagnosed? Right? Maybe it was supposed to be foreshadowing, but I'm not sure. On the other hand, Hans, the title character, was able to achieve a little depth for me. You got the feeling he was tired and worn out from all of the killing. It seemed like he didn't really want to kill the trolls at all, which provided the element of sensitivity that the college students weren't able to provide.

On the whole, very pleasant. I will probably watch this movie again sometime, I'd like to share it with some buddies.

05 November 2011

26 Oct - "One day with the top down is better than a lifetime in a box"

Poison Ivy (1992)
dir. Katt Shea

CAST
Drew Barrymore (E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, 1982)
Sara Gilbert (Desert Blue, 1998)
Tom Skerritt (Alien, 1979)
Leonardo DiCaprio (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993)
Time Winters (A Little Princess, 1995)
Tony Ervolina (The House Bunny, 2008)

Like Devil in the Flesh, this movie is about a girl who is whackadoodle crazy and ruins a bunch of lives in pursuit of her silly exploits. Just like Rose McGowan in that movie, Drew Barrymore's character uses her sexuality and manipulative personality to get her way. She takes advantage of lonely, homely, and sexually ambiguous Sara Gilbert and weasels her way into her home and family. She seduces the father and murders the mother, intending to take her place so that they can become a family. Naturally, things don't work out as planned.

Unlike Devil in the Flesh, we don't get a back story for Ivy. She makes some allusions to a broken home, but most of the things that Ivy says are lies, so we can't believe her. All the same, Drew Barrymore can't help but play a more likable character than the perpetually unappealing Sara Gilbert, who runs after Ivy like a puppy dog and falls over backwards to give Ivy whatever she wants. Likewise, the father is a scumbag, lusting after Ivy the moment he sees her. He doesn't hesitate to have his way with Ivy the moment she gives him the opportunity, on the same bed where his wife is sleeping, no less. It's hard to like anybody in this movie. I think I prefer the sequel with Alyssa Milano.

31 October 2011

25 Oct - "I thought you were planning to stay awhile, but perhaps my sense of smell deceives me"

Mary Reilly (1996)
dir. Stephen Frears (Dirty Pretty Things, 2002)

CAST
Julia Roberts (Hook, 1991)
John Malkovitch (Burn After Reading, 2008)
Michael Gambon (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, 2010)
Glenn Close (The Big Chill, 1983)
Michael Sheen (Timeline, 2003)
Bronagh Gallagher (The Commitments, 1991)
Ciarán Hinds (There Will be Blood, 2007)

Here's another spooky movie I watched before Halloween. It's about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, from the perspective of the good doctor's maid, the title character. The twist is that it's also sort of a love story. Jekyll/Hyde loves Mary because of her innocence, and Mary loves Dr. Jekyll as well as his evil incarnation. The big question is why, and how is Mary able to love Dr. Hyde even when she knows that he is a vicious heartless killer. Part of it must have something to do with her abusive father. A connection is established when Mary describes him as having a peculiar way of walking, not quite a limp, and later the housekeeper uses almost the same words to describe the gait of Mr. Hyde. At the end of the movie, however, Mary is unable to forgive her father for his sins, but she has no hesitancy in forgiving Dr. Jekyll. I haven't quite figured that out yet.


I read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I remember that no symbolism was more salient than the description of the architecture. Luckily, the filmmakers behind Mary Reilly acknowledged this importance and even amped it up a little. Dr. Jekyll's main house is separated from the laboratory by a small courtyard. The laboratory represents the cruelly analytical and mysterious person of Mr. Hyde. However, in the movie the courtyard space itself takes on a symbolic form. Mary Reilly asks if she can plant some flowers in that area, to brighten it up a little. When the flowers finally show up, they are terribly depressing little colorful things barely penetrating the heavy gloom that seems to hang perpetually over Victorian Era England. Thus Mary herself assumes the role of the bridge that connects Jekyll and Hyde int one man.

What I never figured out, or forgot, about the story is whether Dr. Jekyll was attempting to isolate his dark side in order to attain pure morality in his actual person, or whether he was seeking a release from the enforced sociality of his culture. Either way, I do remember that he is seduced by the apparent freedom of Mr. Hyde and his lack of conscience, but as Mary points to the good doctor, there are no actions without consequences and the burden of Mr. Hyde's crimes, combined with Dr. Jekyll's even weakening resolve to remain his true self, ultimately destroys the man.

30 October 2011

24 Oct - "No means no. Don't you guys get that?"

Devil in the Flesh (video, 1998)
dir. Steve Cohen

CAST
Rose McGowan (Encino Man, 1992)
Alex McArthur (Conspiracy Theory, 1997)
J.C. Brandy (What Lies Beneath, 2000)
Phil Morris (Wag the Dog, 1997)

There seems to be a lot of movies that are about beautiful girls who go batshit crazy, contrive a romance with a totally innocent male victim, and almost ruin everything for anybody before their sexy conniving ways are revealed and the girl either dies or is brought to justice.

This is one of those movies.

What's frustrating is that this one was a little different in that it focused on McGowan's character, Debbie, instead of centering the narrative on her romantic interest and English teacher, Peter. This kind of turned Debbie into an anti-hero, she was just playing the odds! Unfortunately, as Debbie gets crazier and crazier, we get less and less insight into her mind as the story turns toward Peter trying to convince his virtuous fiance that all this is just in Debbie's head. But it's not! Peter plays into it, giving Debbie special attention in class and feeding her fantasy.

But I'm appealed by this idea of crazy-bitch-as-hero and I think it should have been explored more. In one scene, her grandmother hits her with a cane when she discovers that Debbie's been hiding her own clothes instead of wearing the outdated, conservative duds that granny provided for her. So Debbie rips the cane out of her hand and fights back with prejudice. The grandma begs for mercy, and in a vicious moment of self awareness Debbie says, "Fuck mercy! You don't have any mercy. My mother never had it, my father didn't have it, and I don't have it. It's a family thing!"

I found myself wanting Debbie to succeed in her escapist fantasy, until she started murdering people, and I find myself reflecting on that essential feminist critique, "how would this story be different with a male protagonist?"

23 October 2011

Oct 19: "I didn't mean to call you meatloaf, Jack"

An American Werewolf in London (1981)
dir. John Landis (Three Amigos!, 1986)

CAST
David Naughton
Jenny Agutter

Griffin Dunne (My Girl, 1991)
David Schofield (The Wolfman, 2010)
Rik Mayall (Drop Dead Fred, 1991)
Frank Oz (Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (voice), 1980)
Alan Ford (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, 1998)
John Landis (Spiderman 2, 2004)

Oh, man! It's October and were are counting down the days until Halloween. Because it's relevant to a movie I've posted about on here, I think I'll post a picture of myself in costume. It's sort of in that trite theme of a "sexy" something, but hopefully you'll see that I've made it my own. Plus, you all know I wouldn't wear something truly indecent.

So! My first horror movie is a classic that I've been meaning to watch for a while, An American Werewolf in London. Let me tell you, it's not quite what I expected, but it was still some quality stuff.

It's about these two American guys who are backpacking across Europe, except they run afoul of a deadly beast. Jack gets killed, but David is far less lucky (drama!). The transformation scene is quite gruesome. but my favorite parts are when Jack returns to talk to David as a member of the cursed undead. Everytime appearing more and more decayed. Jack keeps pushing David to kill himself, because the victims of the wolf are trapped in Limbo until the wolf's bloodline is severed. Jack is joined by more and more of David's victims, but of course David can't quite bring himself to suicide, because he has someone to live for, Nurse Alex.

And so he runs amok in London. Including through the tubes, as in this particularly well shot scene:
you know I don't usually notice things like camerawork, I'm more about the stories. But this shot was so good I had to rewind a little to look again. You see the wolf just slightly creeping in from the top of the frame, and the victim has fallen down on the escalator and he's frozen in fear. It was very scary. But there are funny parts too, like when David wakes up in the zoo after his rampage:
In the 80s a little bit of public hair wasn't such a big deal. A few times you can sort of see what my little brother calls the tenders, but just quick. That would never happen in a modern movie. No winkies (this is why I don't have a boyfriend) at all, only breasts and butts. I remember the first time I saw a dude's tenders in a movie, it was What Alice Found (2003) which was playing on the Independent Film Channel. I was shocked! I didn't know that was allowed. The first time I saw lady-tenders in a movie was, I think, Animal House (1978, also John Landis), but I don't remember how old I was when I watched that (not old enough!). But in both of those movie the purpose of the nudity was blatantly sexual, and that's not the case here. That's my point: nudity doesn't have to be sexy.

I guess I won't spoil the ending but I will say that it's stark and abrupt. It seems like only modern movies feel that it's necessary to ease you out of the storyworld by letting you know that all the characters are going to be OK.