31 March 2011

31 March - "Do you have any idea what it's like being English?"

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
dir. Charles Crichton
John Cleese (Shrek 2 (voice), 2004)
Jamie Lee Curtis (My Girl, 1991)
Kevin Kline (Wild Wild West, 1999)
Michael Palin (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975)
Stephen Fry (Alice in Wonderland (voice), 2010)

This is a good movie. I think it's very funny.

I could probably end my review there. I have a lot of work to do tonight.

No, I'll tell you about it. I guess the real brilliance in this movie is how you've got two classical British humorists, Cleese and Palin of Monty Python's Flying Circus, balanced out by the American's Kline and Curtis, so if you're like me and never really for Monty Python or British humor in general, it's okay because Kevin Kline is hilarious in a very accessibly-American way and although Jamie Lee Curtis has never really been a comedienne, she's plays her part negotiating between all these extreme personalities very well.

The humor is mostly situational. A lot of it revolves around this theme of British people being very proper. My favorite part is when John Cleese, a worn-down barrister, is about to be seduced by Jamie Lee Curtis, the femme fatale, and she's upstairs and he's naked downstairs and this family walks into the "flat" and he's buck-naked and they just sort of exchange pleasantries like it's the thing to do. It's very droll.

The other great bit is when Michael Palin's character is trying to kill this old woman because she's a witness, but he keeps killing her little dogs by mistake. And he gets so upset because he's killing the dogs, and then when he kills the last one by accident again, the old woman's heart gives out and she dies and he laughs and laughs and laughs.

So, it's a heist movie, which is always good. And nobody trusts each other and everyone is lying. There are many layers of intrigue which only add depth to the situational comedy.

There's a sequel of sorts called Fierce Creatures. A sequel insofar as the plot and characters are entirely unrelated but the cast is the same. Same deal as Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. As in that case, the second attempt is not as brilliant as the first, but Fierce Creatures is still pretty funny. So there it is.

Better analyses when I'm less stressed out.

28 March 2011

I've been watching too much TV

It's not that I've been neglecting my little website here, I've just become a bit distracted from watching movies lately. I picked up this series called Carnivale, but netflix will only send me a disk with two episodes at a time. In between disks, when I might check out a movie on my netflix instant queue (or finally watch Hang 'em High) I've been watching the entire first two seasons of The Adventures of Pete & Pete, including the commentaries. So - even though this is a MOVIE BLOG and not a TV BLOG. I feel I ought to let you all in on the up&up.

Carnivale (HBO original series) 2003-2005
Nick Stahl (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2003)
Clea Duvall (Girl, Interrupted, 1999)
Carla Gallo (Bones (TV), 2008-2010)
Amy Madigan (Field of Dreams, 1989)

I'm almost done watching the first season of this HBO series that was cancelled even before the second season ended. It's about a traveling Carnival during the Great Depression. So first off you've got all the requite freaks, like the siamese twins and the bearded lady. But the main character is this guy who's not one of the performers, he's just a roustabout, tenting up tents and such, except he also has supernatural powers, particularly to heal. Except that whenever he heals someone, something else has to die. For example, a few episodes in he heals a little crippled girl's legs, but all of the crops on the family farm wither and die. So, you know...ironic. Some of the other carnies have mystical abilities as well and it all seems to coalesce into this mythological structure concerning that main guy, Ben, and this other guy in a parallel plotline. The other guy is a preacher named Justin, who also comes into some powerful abilities. At first Justin uses his powers for good, but when faced with extreme iniquity he sort of breaks, and becomes convinced that he is the wrathful left hand of God and I guess he forgets all that nice stuff Jesus said about forgiveness. So one the one part, there's a character drama about carnies, which is cool, and then there's this allegory about the dual natures of good and evil, and that's cool too.

The Adventures of Pete & Pete (Nickelodeon 1993-1996)
Michael C. Marona
Danny Tamborelli
featuring guest stars such as: Iggy Pop, Steve Buscemi, L.L. Cool J, Michelle Trachtenburg

You can probably remember this series about two brothers who are both named Pete from Nickelodeon when you were younger. Watching it again, I'm still impressed by the cinematic quality of every episode, the way every story is delivered in a heroic arc, and the surreal convergence of bizarre and depressing.

In one episode, Big Pete introduces the narrative (usually Big Pete acts as a narrator, recalling adventures which occurred in the past, although in a few cases Little Pete performs this role) by explaining that there is a payphone on the edge of town which has been ringing for twenty-seven years and that no one ever answers the call because they are afraid. Instead, it's slowly driving everyone in the town insane, and no one knows what to do about it. Big Pete finally discovers that the call is for his mother, and when she answers it, she finds out that it's from the telephone company repairman and he's been waiting on the line for twenty-seven years to tell her he's been in love with her his whole life, and then she let's him down easy.

15 March 2011

I'm gonna open up the shell a little bit today, guys, don't judge me too harsh

Paris's Actor Crushes (In no particular order)

Edward Norton - I like Edward Norton not because of the versatility of the characters he plays, but because he pretty much always plays the same kind of guy, but he does it VERY WELL and not derivatively at all like some Meg Ryan's. Norton's character is always sorta smarmy, on the wrong side of the law, maybe a bit insane but there's a heart of gold in there, and that's the way I like it. I think America's got a bit of an obsession with anti-heroes, and doesn't Eddie over here, all scrawny and fast-talking and probably high, fit the bill so well? He is a thrill to watch. One time I watched a documentary about invasive species narrated by Edward Norton, and it was awesome. I went on Amazon to figure out what that documentary was called ("Invaders") and then I learned that Edward Norton ran the Boston marathon with some Masaai guys to raise some development money. So that's a thing.

Notable mentions: American History X (1998), Down in the Valley (2005)

Russell Crowe
Is it possible that I just enjoyed Gladiator a lot? Very. Russell Crowe is also awesome in his own right. Remember when he kept getting in trouble for punching people? Haha - what a dick! Look at this picture: It's hilarious. Of course, ol' Russell's getting a bit older and not so gladiator-style fit. But I can still idolize a legendary character of the past (Maximus! Maximus!)

Notable Mentions: Gladiator, The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Sam Rockwell
Like Edward Norton, Sam Rockwell is a character actor, which I like. He also sort of looks like Ed Norton but maybe just a little less attractive. I especially like Sam Rockwell because he has played dirty period characters on multiple occasions. I like actors who can own hideous and disgusting. You know, like the bad guy in The Green Mile, or the sidekick in The Assassination of Jesse James. Like the previous two actors, Sam Rockwell often plays a guy who takes a beating, and that's appealing to me for some reason.

Notable mentions: Matchstick Men (2003), Choke (2008), Moon (2009)

Ethan Hawke
I know what you're thinking: Paris, you have access to the whole internet and this is the best picture of famous actor Ethan Hawke that you could find? He looks like a serial killer in this picture, but give me a break. I'm a graduate student. I always enjoy performances by this guy, who typically plays the pigeon- you know, sort of naive, well-intentioned, but in way over his head and maybe accidentally fallen on the wrong side of the moral line. He's in thinky-type movies, but not ones where you have to think too too hard because if Ethan Hawke is in there you know that he's the good guy. I don't want to see Ethan Hawke ever playing the bad guy, it would undermine my whole sense of reality, which is, of course, founded largely upon on my understanding of movies.

Notable mentions: Gattaca (1997), Daybreakers (2009), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), Great Expectations (1998)

James Franco
I'm pretty sure that everyone has a crush on James Franco, but I haven't asked around enough to be sure. First of all, he's hilarious, which is awesome. Do you guys all remember that TV show Freaks and Geeks? Also featuring Seth Rogen? Okay - so many James Franco movies aren't so awesome (case in point: Spiderman, Tristan + Isolde), but he's very funny and super cute so he gets to be on the list. A lot of people these days are telling me that I've gotta go see 127 Hours, but I just don't really want to. You know? I know how it ends and, honest to God, I don't really want to have the visceral experience of watching it all unfold. Even if, in my brain, I'm thinking they probably handle that bit with a lot of cinematic class, but I'm empathetic. I don't want to hear any more about the guy being stuck in a crevice and having to saw his arm off. No thank you, my dears. I'll get my Franco fix on Funny or Die.

Notable mentions: Pineapple Express (2008)

Harrison Ford
This guy is awesome for all reasons. First, there's the rugged good looks of the 80s-90s. Don't tell me your heart doesn't skip a beat when Leia watches him going down into the carbonite! Han Solo, do you know that I love you, too? The next best reason is the scene where Indiana Jones is fighting that guy in The Last Crusade, and then the guy gets chopped up in the airplane blades. You see, I love watching my leading men get beaten up. I also like Harrison Ford a lot because he seems to hate appearing in public, and when he gives interviews for the movies he seems to be really displeased about the whole business. Just really not into talking with Conan or whoever. I respect that, Harrison Ford.

Notable mentions: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Blade Runner, dammit, I've even seen Six Days, Seven Nights more than once!

Steve McQueen
There's that Sheryl Crowe song that goes, "Like Steve McQueen, all I need's a fast machine." I like that. I like Steve McQueen because of those scenes in the cooler, when he's playing with the baseball and taking to that little Irish fellow who cracks and gets all shot up. I also like him because he was the subject of a documentary I watched called "The Essence of Cool" and he totally is. He's got that whole grungy, confused, and, to be honest, sorta homely look going on, but he's working it, you dig? That's awesome. I guess he's known for his gritty action roles. I've never seen Bullit, but I'd like to. It's about a detective and it has this iconic car chase, I dunno. He's dead, though. He's the only dead one on my list.

Notable mentions: The Great Escape (1963), Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965), The Magnificent Seven (1960)

13 March 2011

13 March - "Maybe we can get a break from Jake's obsessive inner monologue"

Eclipse (2010)
dir. David Slade (Hard Candy, 2005)

Kristen Stewart (Adventureland, 2009)
Robert Pattinson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2005)
Taylor Lautner (The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, 2005)
Bryce Dallas Howard (Lady in the Water, 2006)
Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds, 2005)
Billy Burke (Ladder 49, 2004)
Gil Birmingham (Twilight, 2008)
Jodelle Ferland (Good Luck Chuck, 2007)
Dawn Chubai (Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 2007)
Leah Gibson (Watchmen, 2009)

I'm going to pause for a moment so everyone can make fun of me.

Yes, very good.

So I decided to watch the third Twilight movie because I wanted to watch something corny and self-indulgent and eat brownies on the couch with my cat and paint my toenails and girl crap like that. But this shit was just, just terrible. Maybe, MAYBE you could call it delightfully dreadful but mostly I was just confused: how many people gave this movie the thumbs-up before it was released for mass-viewing. Isn't there any honor left in cinema? Why didn't anyone STOP IT FROM HAPPENING?

By "IT" I mean the heinous performance given by Kristen Stewart. I mean that, I've heard about her bad acting and I just say, 'well, as long as she's being an angsty and apathetic teenager she does okay' (which is generous, because 99% of everyone under the age 20 can pretty effectively act like an angsty and apathetic teenager). But here's little Kristen, playing the apotheosis of angsty teenager roles and I'm just not buying it. Audibly, I had to exclaim to the screen, "Okay Kristen, now try it again but pretend like you give a shit." Isn't she dating Robert Pattinson in real life? Can she use that somehow to act like she's in love?

And she's a mouth-breather.

I also didn't really understand the conflict, which I'll attribute to a poor adaptation of the book, which of course I didn't read. So, this vampire Victoria wanted to kill Bella because her BF died in the last movie (but Bella didn't kill him, Edward did), so she raises a modest army (maybe fifteen strong?) of vampires to attack the Cullen family + werewolf allies and then goes after Bella and Edward (her primary targets???) with just herself and one other guy.

That's a stupid plan. Bella acts mildly pleased once all the threats against her life have been eliminated.

10 March 2011

10 March - "bitten on the balls by a tarantula? I mean, that's embarrassing"

Rough Magic (1995)
dir. Claire Peploe

Bridget Fonda (Jackie Brown, 1997)
Russell Crowe (Gladiator, 2000)
Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge, 2001)

My first impression was that this movie was made a lot earlier than 1995. It seemed to me to follow that late '80s theme of adventure and society-girl paired with Roughneck male a la Temple of Doom (1984), Romancing the Stone (1984) and Crocodile Dundee (1986). Rough Magic seemed like a pale imitator to those films.

Not that it didn't have a lot of potential. The plot was strong, the conflict intriguing. It's about Myra, a magician's assistant, who's about to get married to a wealthy senator candidate who she doesn't love. When the Fiancé kills the magician, Myra promises to honor his dying wish to find a powerful medicine-woman and finally master her craft by getting real magic powers. She also took a photograph at the exact moment that the villain killed the magician, that's important because he hires Russell Crowe to track her down in Mexico. You can guess how that works out.

So you've got a romance. A pursuit. A fantastical twist. Some comic relief. This was a good movie! It should have been a GREAT movie and yet I was left feeling unsatisfied at the end. Not completely certain of what exactly went down. The whole thing felt rushed. Russell Crowe's character, for example, should have been more properly developed. They alluded to a tragic past, maybe some PTSD, it's unclear.

You could safely call this genre magical realism and true to that genre, the nature of the magic involved is not revealed. It's taken for granted that the medicine woman and Myra have these powers, and there's never really an Oh Shit moment when everybody might speculate on these new developments. And once the conflict is resolved and everyone is where they are supposed to be, there is no resolution to those fantastic elements. Maybe that's why I felt unresolved at the end, because magical realism rarely follows the classic heroic journey and that is the plot pattern I've grown accustomed to.

The closing scene was cute, instead of doing the typical pan to an open window, we get to focus on two white rabbits going at in next to the pile of Our Heroes clothes. haha.

08 March 2011

6 March - "Because we are the people you do not see"

Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

dir. Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, 2000)

Audrey Tatou (Amélie, 2000)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men, 2006)
Sergi López (Pan's Labyrinth, 2006)
Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda, 2004)

It might be worth noting that this is Audrey Tatou's first English-speaking role. Good on you, girl! I really liked this movie, but my gentleman companion for the evening didn't seem to enjoy it as much, so: don't pick movies with sexual exploitation themes for a date?

Or maybe I just need to choose my movie-buddies more discriminately.

It also might not have helped that two minutes in I exclaimed, "black guys with British accents, score!"

Because I think that's a combo we can all support and admire.

This movie is about foreign immigrants scraping survival from the underbelly of London, but when Okwe, a Nigerian doctor forced to flee his home and family, finds a human heart in a hotel toilet, everything gets a little more complicated.

I like this because there's a good balance between suggesting the complicated ethics of the situation and making sure that the audience can still comfortably remain on the moral high ground. We know who the villain is, we know what he's doing is wrong. On the other hand, Sergi López gets a nice little monologue in which he explains that an illegal immigrant can sell their kidney for a passport, a rich person receives a kidney and lives, and Juan gets a nice payout and everyone wins, right? In one scene Juan takes Okwe to a woman and he refuses to operate, and she begs him to go through with it. She needs that passport. She thinks it's worth the risk. A lot of people do.

On the other hand, we've created a situation where the body itself is capital that be mined for resources. Where human flesh can conceivably be bought and sold. I think the question is not one of whether some people should be allowed to sell their organs. I think the question would better be, why should they have to?

Anyway, there's a happy ending. :)

04 March 2011

March Movie Wishlist

Rango (dir. Gore Verbinski)
It's a chameleon and he's a cowboy. That's adorable.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
This is a Thai movie about a dying man, but it's a comedy. There are ghosts involved and it probably has a redemptive and uplifting ending.

Nope. Not tired of werewolves yet.

Just because I always meant to read this book.

Black Death
I declare this month's theme to be period films. And Rango counts as a period film. This one is about some monks too, which you'll recall was my pick from last month. That I haven't seen yet.

Sucker Punch
I've seen this trailer too many times to not follow through. And, you know, it's got sci-fi and some girls with guns.

Movies I don't want to see

The Adjustment Bureau (dir. George Nolfi)
What's the deal with Matt Damon's shitty movies lately? What was that last one about an angsty psychic? I didn't want to see that either, and I LOVE science fiction! Dude, we loved The Bourne Identity, now get your act together before people start thinking that Ben Affleck is cooler than you.

Take Me Home Tonight (dir. Michael Dowse)
What has Topher Grace done for me lately? Nothing. This movie looks derivative and lame.

The Lincoln Lawyer
The only thing worse than Matthew McConaughey is when he isn't acting in a smarmy romantic comedy. That's enough now, Matt.

Not a Bradley Cooper fan either.

The Beaver
I want to smack whoever let this happen. It's about Mel Gibson with a hand puppet and God help us all if they pun on that. I would rather see Nicolas Cage in this role.

03 March 2011

5 March - "Are you just saying that because you're taped to a toilet?"

Serious Moonlight (2009)
dir. Cheryl Hines

Meg Ryan (Kate & Leopold, 2001)
Timothy Hutton (The Last Mimzey, 2007)
Justin Long (Dreamland, 2006)
Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 2008)

This movie was awful. I'm sorry to subject you all to even this vicarious cinematic experience. I'm especially sorry since last time I watched a bad movie too. I hate to be a negative Nancy.

Of course, I knew what I was getting into with a Meg Ryan movie, and the synopsis wasn't particularly exciting either just in case you're a Meg Ryan fan (I'll always have a soft spot for Sleepless in Seattle). In this movie she looked different somehow, maybe she got lip injections?

In a nutshell, Meg Ryan, playing the same character that Meg Ryan always plays, comes to home to learn that her husband is in love with another woman and about to jet off to Paris, and then just when you thought you were going to watch the rest of French Kiss, she knocks him unconscious and ties him to a chair. There's a twist ending, but I figured it out well before the end. 'Cause I'm the smartest.

2 March - "What it is. Eternity - how do they know?"

Stone (2010)
dir. John Curran

Robert De Niro (Great Expectations, 1998)
Edward Norton (Down in the Valley, 2005)
Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, 1997)
Frances Conroy (Shopgirl, 2005)

Sometimes you see a movie and you think you're only a little disappointed. Like, that movie wasn't awesome, but it was pretty good, but then the more you think about it, the more you realize that you've been had. That movie sucked. That movie sucked two hours of your life away and is totally unapologetic about it. That's what Stone is like.

That's also what happened when Drew Speranza and I went to see Cyrus (2010), starring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill.

They trick with the understated set design, the A-list actors, and the seemingly poignant dialogue. At first you think you don't understand it, you think it's one of those smart indie films you're going to feel better about yourself for having seen. We go into these movies wanting to be entertained. We give them the benefit of the doubt.

First of all, Edward Norton is awesome, and even here I think he takes what he is given and knocks it out of the park. His character, Stone, is a smarmy convict up for parole that has a spiritual epiphany, of sorts. I think in a later entry I'm going to have to make a list of the actors I have crushes on. In my eyes, Edward Norton can do no wrong.

Milla Jovovich, who is another favorite of mine, plays Stone's wife who might be a nymphomanic but maybe was just playing. Here's the thing, this movie was really played up as a psychological drama, but nobody was really playing mind games with anybody, there was just the sort of implication that everyone was being a bit insincere with everyone else. I mean, the wife seduces Robert De Niro's character, who is in charge of recommending Stone for parole, but she's just doing that to get her hubby out, right? I think that was pretty clear. I guess Milla also did a good job with her material, but I wish they had played her up as either more manipulative or more narcissistic or something. She wasn't fleshed out enough, the poor girl.

The symbolism, as well, was pretty in your face. I remember when I had to read The Scarlet Letter in seventh grade and they got to the part where Hester names her bastard baby Pearl, "because she came with a great price" and I exclaimed that the book was stupid and refused to have no more of it. Well, about thirty minutes into this movie Ed Norton's character says something about hearing God in the background noise and I said out loud, "Oh! I see what they're doing here," and in hindsight we could have stopped watching the movie there, because that was the most interesting point that highlighted the most interesting scene, which was the very first one. It was all downhill after that.

01 March 2011

1 March - "How do you kill a tofu?"

Dreamland (2006)
dir. Jason Matzner

Agnes Bruckner
Kelli Garner (Lars and the Real Girl, 2007)
Justin Long (He's Just Not That Into You, 2009)
John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, 2002)

This movie is sort of like a girl-protagonist version of What's Eating Gilbert Grape. I mean, it has a lot of the same themes: altruistic teenager sacrifices ambition to serve family and friends in a small town until the arrival of a love interest sparks sudden dreams of an un-frustrated life.

I think I've mentioned before how I tend to be attracted to movies set in deserts. This movie was set in a trailer park in the desert and it was totally poetic. It reminds me of a painting in the art museum at Cornell. It was all pink and gold and the first one you saw when you got to the fifth floor. It also reminds me that I've always wanted to go to one of those places where everything is flat, and nothing's blocking your view of the horizon in all directions.

Objectively, I think Gilbert Grape is still a better movie, with better fleshed-out characters. But this movie is sweet in its simplicity, and refreshingly takes on the familiar theme of two friends in love with the same guy.