Thursday, March 31, 2011

Enemy at the Gates Movie Review

This review was written in March 2001 and is presented here for the first time.

Jude Law is an actor who exudes tremendous energy in any role he takes. He became a star and earned an Oscar nomination in The Talented Mr. Ripley as an American playboy living the high life in the south of Italy. In Enemy at the Gates, a new film by Jean-Jacques Annaud, he plays a Russian soldier during WWII elevated to hero status by his skills as an expert marksman. In every scene, Law boils with intensity and sinks deep within the story.

The story (based loosely on fact) is of a young soldier in the Russian army helping a tired nation fend off the Nazi regime at the Battle of Stalingrad. The opening battle sequence will warrant comparisons to Spielberg's harrowing invasion of Normandy in Saving Private Ryan. Both are bloody and seem to be completely futile attempts at victory even though we know that the Allies won at Normandy and that the Russians halted the German advance at Stalingrad.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Zed's Dead, Baby. Zed's Dead": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XIX

Go to Part XVIII: "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass!"

Butch arrives back at the motel to retrieve Fabienne. As he tries to rush her out she is reasonably concerned about why Butch is covered in blood, whether or not they are in danger and where he got the motorcycle (“It’s a chopper, baby.”) The more he tries to rush her, the more upset she becomes and breaks down crying. Now again, he has to sweet-talk her down so they can be on their way. It’s a scene played for great comic effect after the horrific show we witnessed during the last ten minutes. Butch and Fabienne ride off down the street on the chopper. This moment is the last scene in the film’s narrative.

Title card: “The Bonnie Situation.”

Frida Movie Review

This review was written at the end of 2002 with the intention of publishing it on a website that no longer exists. The unusual structure is a remnant of the requirements of that site. It is published here for the first time.

Synopsis: Biopic about the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The film chronicles her life in a series of anecdotes as she meets, falls in love with and marries fellow artist Diego Rivera. Kahlo endures a tragic accident that leaves her crippled for life. She uses the enduring pain to fuel her painting which expresses her dark and somber moods as well as the excitement she found in a life with Rivera. That excitement lasts only until she exposes his lack of fidelity and loyalty to her. Late in life, Kahlo and Rivera took in Leon Trotsky and his wife after they fled into exile in Mexico. The film suggests that an affair takes place between Kahlo and Trotsky. This becomes a way for her to hurt the man she loved and who hurt her more than the trolley accident that left her in physical pain for life.

Scoop: First I must admit that I knew next to nothing of Frida Kahlo's life or art before seeing director Julie Taymor's biopic Frida. I knew only that she was married to Diego Rivera, the Mexican artist who was a Socialist and once included a portrait of Lenin in a mural he painted in the lobby of Rockefeller Center (the mural was promptly destroyed).

Whether or not Taymor's vision of Kahlo, working from a screenplay by Gregory Nava (El Norte) and others, based on Hayden Herrera's book, is factually accurate is irrelevant. What matters is whether the material presented on screen makes for good film drama. The answer is a definitive "Yes."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Stuck on You Movie Review

This review was first written and published in December 2003 on a website that no longer exists. The unusual structure is a remnant of that site's requirements.

Synopsis: Bob and Walt Tenor (Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear) are conjoined twins who own a burger joint on Martha’s Vineyard. Walt moonlights as a local stage actor, performing in an annual one-man show for which he wins praise from all his friends.  But he has dreams of becoming a real Hollywood actor and persuades Bob to leave their life on the Vineyard.  Very shortly after arriving in Hollywood, Walt strikes it big in a starring role opposite Cher in a hit TV series.  Eventually Walt’s and Bob’s life becomes too complicated for them to stick together any longer.

Scoop: The Farrelly brothers have a great knack for skewering all groups of people in the most un-PC ways they can find.  For these guys, nothing seems to be off limits.  Their targets have included mentally disabled persons, schizophrenics, the Amish, the obese, people with various physical disabilities and now they’ve finally arrived at conjoined twins.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Last Samurai Movie Review

This review was first written and published in December 2003 on a website that no longer exists. The unusual structure is a remnant of that site's requirements.

Synopsis: Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is a war hero who served under General Custer. He is offered the opportunity to travel to Japan to train the Imperial Army so they may successfully put down a rebellion of samurai warriors. The US Government stands to get a lucrative weapons contract out of the deal. When the ill-prepared Japanese soldiers are hastily sent into battle, the samurai handily defeat them, taking Algren as their prisoner after demonstrating his fearsome fighting capabilities while fending off five or six samurai. He spends the winter months in a small village in the mountains learning the ways of Japanese culture and training as a samurai. In the spring he returns to Tokyo and his own commanding officer to find that his loyalties lie with the villagers with whom he has developed a strong bond. Algren chooses to side with his principles and to fight with the samurai against the invasion of the US-backed Japanese military.

Scoop: A film like The Last Samurai risks criticism for making a white man the emotional center of a story about Japanese warriors. If this were a story about a white man who leads the helpless samurai, through the use of his Western knowledge, to a tremendous victory against the invaders, then such criticism might be valid. But director Edward Zwick and screenwriter John Logan have made a film about an American soldier who has lost himself at home and is saved by a culture he finds to be right, pure and honorable.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Coffee and Cigarettes Movie Review

This review was first written and published in May 2004 on a website that no longer exists.
Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni enjoy coffee and cigarettes.
Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes is a series of short, comic vignettes in which the characters discuss such banalities as Elvis’s long-lost twin brother, the theories of Nikola Tesla, the effects of coffee on your dreams and the absence of any Tom Waits songs on the juke box. All of this is done in various coffee shops while the characters – that’s right – drink coffee and smoke cigarettes.

Jarmusch began this project in 1986 with the production of the first vignette, “Strange to Meet You,” starring Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright. The next two, “Twins” with Joie and Cinque Lee and Steve Buscemi and “Somewhere in California” with Tom Waits and Iggy Pop followed several years later. Then in 2004 he finally completed another eight short films to round out the themes and release all eleven as a feature film.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor 1932 - 2011

One of the greatest of Hollywood stars in history has died today. I'm no giant (no pun intended) fan of her as an actress, I suppose mainly because I'm not very familiar with her work. I've seen bits of Cleopatra and all of Father of the Bride, but the only film of hers I've seen in its entirety that I have any real recollection of is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which she is devastatingly brilliant in. Mike Nichols directed her to her second Best Actress Oscar in that film.

What I honestly most remember her for is her bizarre announcement of the Best Picture winner at the 2001 Golden Globes when she seemed half drunk and in a senile haze. She almost opened the envelope before reading the list of nominees. The stunned audience had to shout up at her that she was doing it wrong. When she finally got around to announcing the winner it was this odd screech of "Glaaaaadiator!" Poor woman. How far they fall.

Normally I would take an opportunity like this to visit some of her work and provide fresh reviews like I did with Dennis Hopper and my reviews of The American FriendColors and Hoosiers last year. Unfortunately I am bogged down with work and family and don't have the time right now.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is probably worth a look as well as Giant and A Place in the Sun. If only I had the time. Oh well.

Goodbye Liz.

Troy Movie Review: An Ancient Classic for the MTV Generation

This review was first written and published in May 2004 for a website that no longer exists. The unusual structure is a remnant of that site's requirements.
Synopsis: Paris (Orlando Bloom), a Trojan prince and son of Priam (Peter O’Toole), robs Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) of his beautiful bride, Helen (Diane Kruger), while on a peace envoy. Menelaus demands vengeance. With the aid of his brother, Agamemnon (Brian Cox), they mobilize 50,000 Greek soldiers to set sail for Troy. For Menelaus it is a war of pride in defending his manhood. For Agamemnon it is a war of conquest and the fulfillment of his desire to rule over all the kingdoms within his grasp.

The story is based loosely on Homer’s The Iliad. The two major players in the Trojan War are Hector (Eric Bana), brother to Paris and fiercest soldier in the Trojan army, and Achilles (Brad Pitt), the seemingly invincible Achaen warrior who leads the Myrmidons into battle. Of course, Achilles and Agamemnon are at odds with each other the whole time which presents a problem for the domineering king, who needs Achilles’ army to win the war.

Scoop: Troy is a film that bears little resemblance to anything classic, least of all The Iliad. Even less than the resemblance of O Brother, Where Art Thou to The Odyssey. Sure, all the major players are in attendance: Achilles and Hector; Menelaus and Paris; Priam and Agamemnon; Ajax and Odysseus. But the film plays out like someone in Hollywood summarized the Cliffs Notes of Homer’s epic poem. All the important plot points are touched on, the one-on-one battles between Hector and Ajax, Hector and Achilles, Paris and Menelaus are highlighted, but there the similarities end.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Along Came Polly Movie Review

This review was originally written and published in January 2004 for a website that no longer exists. The unusual structure is a remnant of that site's requirements.

Synopsis: Ruben Feffer (Ben Stiller) plays a risk analyst for a firm that deals with insurance companies. He marries the woman of his dreams (Debra Messing) only to discover her in bed with another man (Hank Azaria) on the first day of their honeymoon. After returning to New York he bumps into an old schoolmate, Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), and begins a mismatched romance between his compulsive neurotic and her non-committal free-spirit. His best friend, Sandy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), gives him worthless love advice from a man drunk on his own ego.

In the meantime, a subplot involves Ruben assessing the risk factor of Leland Van Lew (Bryan Brown), an Australian in the market for a million dollar life insurance policy. The problem is that every time Ruben meets with Leland, he’s busy engaging in some life-threatening activity such as base jumping from the top of a skyscraper.

Scoop: I have complained for years that sitcom characters cease to be funny when they cross the line between real people in funny situations and cartoonish buffoons reacting in exaggerated ways to the circumstances around them. This is one of many problems in Along Came Polly.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wedding Crashers Movie Review

This review was written at the time of the film's 2005 release, but not published until now.

It is ostensibly Vince Vaughn’s performance that drives the hard laughs in Wedding Crashers. Although it is otherwise a fun and often hysterical movie, Vaughn’s role as the foil to Owen Wilson’s more or less straight man provides the most brevity. His rapid-fire monologues are among the funniest moments, as when he pours the truth out to a priest over a glass of scotch or when explaining to his secretary why he has no patience for the world of dating.

The movie introduces us to Jeremy and John (Vaughn and Wilson, respectively) as divorce mediators who have great chemistry between them to the point that they are able to lull a bickering soon-to-be-divorced couple into submission and compromise. The chemistry between the two actors, who have worked together in the past but never shared top billing, is palpable. We believe that Jeremy and John are good friends.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Brief Hiatus

I have some other things I need to be working on away from the blog, so I will be going on a (sort of, but not really) hiatus for several weeks.

In order to keep up the flow of new content, I will be posting reviews written years ago, but published in other places.

The Pulp Fiction series will be finished in the coming days and weeks (I believe I still have about 6 entries left), but I will be trying to limit my movie watching in order to get some important work done.

Country Strong Movie Review: Country Strong, Movie Weak

There is simply so much wrong with Shana Feste’s Country Strong, it’s really hard to know where to begin. It wants so hard to be the next Tender Mercies but completely lacks the story, the heart, the writing, the directing, the central lead performance and the earned trust of the audience. This is a movie that has absolutely no shame about exploiting the character of a child with cancer to stage one last moment of hope and reconciliation between the protagonist and her husband. It is the mark of a weak director who needs to rely on such easy bait to win audience sympathy. I wonder if Feste has any experience whatsoever with even witnessing, let alone being intimate with, alcoholism. I ask myself because here is a screenplay that doesn’t seem to have a clue about addiction and the ways it insidiously manifests itself and slowly tears apart everyone around the afflicted person.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays country music star Kelly Canter. When we meet her she’s in a rehab clinic getting very friendly with an up-and-coming country music songwriter named Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund). When her husband and manager James (Tim McGraw) shows up to collect her (early) from rehab, she says that Beau is her sponsor. James doesn’t hesitate to distrust Beau, and with good reason, because it turns out she’s been having an affair with him.

Incendies Movie Review

This film will open commercially in the United States on 22 April 2011.

Immediately after being born, an infant child is tattooed with three black dots on his heel. This act serves no function except as a narrative device so that at various points throughout the film, the audience (and later a character) will recognize who he is. The Canadian film Incendies, which was nominated for the Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, is built on a series of absurd coincidences contrived specifically for the purposes of completing a narrative.

The woman who gives birth to that baby is Nawal Marwan played by Lubna Azabal who may be somewhat familiar to American audiences after a small role in Body of Lies and in the Oscar nominated film from the Palestinian Territories, Paradise Now. Nawal is an Arab Christian from an unspecified Middle Eastern country, though it bears some historical resemblance to Lebanon. The film is written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve based on a play of the same name by Wajdi Mouawad, a Canadian born in Lebanon.

"I'm Gonna Get Medieval on Your Ass!" Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XVIII

Go to Part XVII: "Bring out the gimp."

Butch is just looking for an excuse to run Zed through with the samurai sword.
Butch grabs Zed’s keys and makes for the front door, but stops before leaving. As he listens to Marsellus’s moans from downstairs, the camera pushes in, showing Butch wrestling with his conscience. He can’t simply leave that man down there to be tortured. So he looks for a weapon. The progression of weapons here is symbolic and also rather amusing. Butch is going to decide what kind of hero he wants to be. First he picks up a hammer to be a regular guy grabbing the first weapon he sees. Then he finds a baseball bat, recalling Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall[i]. Next it’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre[ii] and Leatherface’s chainsaw. Then cut to a high angle shot looking down on Butch as he sees his weapon of choice hanging on the wall. It is a samurai sword, the weapon of a true heroic warrior. A samurai is the kind of hero that has honor and will fight to the death to defend the less fortunate. Tarantino loves the “honor among thieves” theme that plays out in old samurai films and nowhere is this more apparent than here. Because of his experience killing Vincent earlier, Butch knows he can descend into the awaiting hell to kill again. For him, this is going into battle.

Classic Movie Review: Raging Bull

Raging Bull is the full realization of the promise Martin Scorsese demonstrated with Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. And to refer to those two seminal films as somehow less substantial than Raging Bull should automatically suggest its magnificent power.

This was the fourth of eight collaborations between Scorsese and Robert De Niro. I would say neither artist has topped himself since. It is Scorsese at his virtuoso best and for De Niro it is a complete performance, lacking nothing in terms of emotion and physicality. And I don’t say that simply because he first turned his body into that of a champion boxer and then gained 60 pounds to play the aging and overweight Jake La Motta, but because he leaves nothing on the table. This is full tilt De Niro. It’s the impulsiveness and rage of Johnny Boy and the fierce tenacity of the psychopathic Travis Bickle. Although we may occasionally get flashes of De Niro’s brilliance in some of his recent performances, nothing he’s done in at least twenty years has come close to what he brought to Raging Bull.

Friday, March 18, 2011

In a Better World (Haevnen) Movie Review

This film will open commercially in the United States on 1 April 2011. 

Bullies exist in all places, among all groups of people and among all ages. The way you deal with them can help define your character. I’m not sure why, but the way many people encourage children to confront bullies is different to how we expect adults to do so. I think many would agree that children should stand up for themselves, while the advice we’d likely give an adult would be to ignore and walk away. What does this difference point to? I suppose it’s that a young bully, still in his formative year, has lesson to learn and can change their ways, whereas a grown man is probably unlikely to take anything from the experience. More than likely you might take a beating.

Early in Susanne Bier’s In a Better World (known in Danish as Haevnen, which means ‘revenge’) a young boy named Christian exacts a brutal punishment on a school bully. Christian has recently returned from England to Denmark with his father (Ulrich Thomsen) after the death of his mother. He’s the new kid in school and on the first day he witnesses another boy, a Swede named Elias, on the receiving end of several nasty taunts and jibes from Sofus and his cronies. By the end of the school day, Christian will have taken a basketball to the face courtesy of Sofus. The next day he gets the drop on Sofus, who has Elias cornered alone in a bathroom. Christian goes to work on him with a bicycle pump and then threatens him with a knife to the throat.

Panic Room Movie Review

I’ve said recently in relation to The Social Network that director David Fincher is a talent I’ve been following closely since his second feature film Seven. He is one of the most original and unique directors of genre films working in Hollywood. Whether it’s the science-fiction horror of Alien 3 or the detective thriller of Zodiac, Fincher imbues each of his films with a distinctive visual style. You’ll never doubt that you’re watching one of his films.

Fincher has also been one of the best filmmakers at employing digital effects to enhance his stories, rather than as a means of shorthand. He uses CGI in places you’d never imagine. I was stunned to discover how much of Zodiac was shot against green screen. The seams are invisible. Although he employed a great deal of CGI in Fight Club it was Panic Room where it became obvious how much he relied on it. Most of the camera set ups and movements would not be physically possible without digital tricks.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Actor Michael Gough Dies (1916* - 2011)

And I can chalk up another name from my old celebrity death list.

Most people probably know him as Alfred in the Tim Burton's and Joel Schumacher's Batman films. Burton called on him again for a role in Sleepy Hollow in 1999, his las appearance in a feature film after getting his start back in 1948.

He also had Hollywood roles in Out of Africa and The Age of Innocence, but my favorite was his role as Dr. Paul Flammond in one of my favorite comedies, Top Secret!

*My original title had his birth year as 1917. IMDb is usually a reliable source for this information, but not in this case.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Star Trek First Contact Movie Review


I’m by no means a “Star Trek” nerd. I’ve enjoyed the show (Original Series and Next Generation) and I’ve seen all the films, but I can’t rattle off facts and episode titles as easily as I can Oscar trivia. The first “Star Trek” film I saw in the cinema was Star Trek: First Contact and I thought it was fantastic straight away. I’ve seen it several times since and I still have to agree it’s not just a good “Star Trek” movie – it’s a good movie.

One of the great things about “Star Trek” has always been its reliance on philosophical ideas and problems to sustain its stories. This was originally in spite of a very low budget on the original series. Even the nadir of “Star Trek” films – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – at least starts with the premise of an interesting idea, although the realization and execution are dreadful.

Monday, March 14, 2011

An Actual Tantalizing Trailer

Let me be clear up front: I do not think this trailer for The Lincoln Lawyer makes it look like a good movie at all. It looks like standard Hollywood thriller junk (from a novel that is probably standard Best Seller List artificiality) with lead actors who put on their serious faces and voices (Ryan Phillippe sounds particularly wooden).

But this is the first trailer for a Hollywood movie I've seen in I don't know how long that doesn't give away the store. At about the 90 second mark - about the point when Matthew McConaughey says, "Is there anything you're not telling me?" - before the names of the principal actors are announced to shuddering music, I expected the rest of the trailer to spell out exactly what happens in the second half of the movie. Instead it provides increasingly short flash cuts with increasingly staccato music thumps.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Bring Out the Gimp": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XVII

Go to Part XVI: "You feel that sting, big boy?"

Fade-in on Butch and Marsellus, tied to chairs and gagged with a red ball attached to a strap around their heads. Zed arrives and sits down simply observing the two men. At this point the audience has no idea what’s to come. Zed tells Maynard to “bring out the gimp.” Maynard goes into the room behind Butch and Marsellus and we see him out of focus in the background opening a cage on the floor. Out comes a man dressed head-to-toe in leather, with chains on his limbs.

Maynard remains out of focus in the background as he begins to open the box on the floor where the sleeping Gimp lies.
When Maynard wakes up the Gimp the focus shifts from Butch and Marsellus to him.

Using the process of “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe,” Zed decides to “do” Marsellus first. He drags Marsellus into the back room, leaving the Gimp tied up to guard Butch. Maynard enters the room in slow motion, providing an exaggeration when the door slams shut at full speed. While we hear some kind of torture going on in the back room, Butch manages to get free, punch the Gimp leaving him to strangle on his chains and runs upstairs.

The Illusionist (L'Illusionniste) Movie Review: Mr. Hulot's Magician

French animator Sylvain Chomet’s second feature film, The Illusionist (L’Illusionniste), is adapted from an original screenplay by Jacques Tati that was never produced. Tati was the great French actor-writer-director of such comedies as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle featuring Tati as the character of Monsieur Hulot, a bumbling, pipe-smoking comic character. The Illusionist was inspired by Tati’s daughter and was intending as a work for the two of them together.

Top Ten Movies of 2010

Better late than never, I suppose. We're only 3 1/2 months into the new year and I'm just getting around to posting my top ten films of 2010.

I compiled this list sometime in January but never really felt like it was finalized. This is the problem with being limited in the number of films you can see in a given year. I saw 71 feature films from the year 2010. I'm already starting off with something of a misrepresentation. My list includes one film that actually dates from 2009 and won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year, but it was released commercially in the United States in calendar year 2010, which is what I use to determine a film's year for the purposes of my film lists. However, those 71 films mentioned earlier include 3 films not released in the United States and one theatrical film from Europe that only got a direct-to-video release in the US (none of those 4 made my top ten).

It may seem somewhat arbitrary to use the US release dates to decide what year to place a film into, but it's no more arbitrary than choosing to highlight 10 films instead of 12 or 13 or any other number.

So here they are from bottom to top:

Honorable Mentions (alphabetical):
The American (Anton Corbijn)
Animal Kingdom (David Michod)
I Am Love [Io sono l'amore] (Luca Guadagnino)
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)
The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko)
A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)

and on to the top ten...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Notebook Movie Review: A Visit to the Past

It’s very rare that I revisit films that I originally found to be decent entertainments but without much reason for repeat viewings. An unusual set of circumstances led to my watching The Notebook again six years after seeing it in the cinema. My wife wanted to see it because some friends had recommended it, their own recollections of the film stirred by the name of our son, Noah. I wouldn’t have watched it except that our DVD player seems to be broken which meant it had to be viewed on my laptop leaving me with little to do but to go back to the book I put down about four months ago.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"You Feel That Sting, Big Boy?": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XVI

Go to Part XV: "That's how you're gonna beat 'em, Butch. They keep underestimatin' ya."

In an homage to Psycho, Marsellus stops and slowly turns to get a look at Butch in the car.
As Butch pulls up to the intersection, Marsellus crosses in front of the car, stops and, in a direct homage to Psycho[1], turns to see Butch. This is the first time we see Marsellus’s face. We are about to see Marsellus as a character in action as opposed to Marsellus the Myth that we’ve heard about. Butch floors it, running down Marsellus, but then crashes his car. After Marsellus regains consciousness he draws his gun and chases after Butch. Tarantino uses the handheld camera as he follows the chase down the street. Both of them stumble their way into a pawn shop owned by a hillbilly redneck from hell.

Maynard, the owner of the pawn shop, knocks Butch out cold with a shotgun and then telephones Zed. What follows is the “war” that Butch will have to go through to retrieve his watch. Finally, he will have a story to tell his son one day when he passes that gold watch down the line.

Go to Part XVII: "Bring out the gimp."

[1] Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960 (Universal) – the reference is to an early scene when Marion Crane is on her way out of town with $40000 in cash stolen from her boss’s client. As she waits at an intersection her boss crosses, stops, and looks directly at Marion.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

TRON: Legacy Movie Review

I’m not really sure there were legions of fans or even the box office pedigree from TRON to warrant a sequel nearly 30 years later, but since the Hollywood studios have all but run out of ideas, Disney went ahead and made one. TRON: Legacy picks up several years after the conclusion of the original and then leaps many years into the future to bring us to the present. It also follows thematically from the first film’s warning (more quaint than foreboding) about the impending computer age.

TRON warned of the potential dangers of machines creeping more and more, ever so insidiously into our lives, depicting the consequences of a megalomaniac giving rise to a computer system that could eventually take over.  Legacy follows in a grand tradition of cinema depicting man vs. machine conflicts from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Matrix in upping the ante from a human villain operating a computer system for nefarious purposes to artificial intelligence attempting to create a more perfect world at the expense of their human designers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Wolfman Movie Review

This review is based on the extended cut version.

Can anyone remember the last time Anthony Hopkins made a film that didn’t look like a complete sellout? In the last decade or so he’s probably made one film that’s worth watching – The World’s Fastest Indian. You should seriously give it a look because The Wolfman is anything but worthy of two of hours of your time.

The Wolfman is director Joe Johnston’s attempt at bringing back that old Hollywood monster movie feeling. He’s trying to invoke nostalgia from the appearance of the Universal logo, which is a retooling of the one used in 1941, when Lon Chaney, Jr. donned the wolf makeup and chased Claude Rains around the backlot. It has an opening scene that suggests we might be in for a wonderfully campy ride, with a bombastic and ridiculous musical score, fast cuts of wolf’s claws, growling and snarling on the soundtrack and just enough dripping blood from the victim to be scary without tipping the balance toward gruesome.

"That's How You're Gonna Beat 'em, Butch. They Keep Understimatin' Ya.": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XV

Butch has to go back to his apartment where it is very likely he will run into Marsellus’s men waiting to kill him. Why does Butch risk his life for the watch? Because he recognizes that the last three generations of men in his family made certain that the watch survived the war. Butch is part of the first generation of men in the 20th century that was not defined by a major war. Butch has a war with Marsellus, though, and it will become so much more gruesome than he ever thought imaginable.

Inside Job Movie Review

Mr. Ethics himself, Elliot Spitzer is one of those interviewed who speaks out against deregulation and the shady dealings of financial executives.
When Charles Ferguson won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar for his film Inside Job, he deplored the fact that not a single financial executive has gone to jail for the financial catastrophe caused by the “fraud” they committed. Before he made that statement, I would have been willing to accept Inside Job as an expose of the financial industry and what caused the complete and total meltdown of the world financial system. That he believes someone should go to jail for what happened suggests his film is actually an indictment seeking blood.

Yes, the signs are there that Ferguson has an agenda, that he’s looking to bring down the bigwigs, most of whom refused to participate in the film. But what I would like to ask Ferguson is, “Who do you think should be in jail and what exactly should the charges be?” To be fair, this point is never raised in the film itself. Being angry about a terrible global financial crisis that was the result of greed (on the part of a lot more than financial executives, I might add) is justified, and demanding they lose their jobs and not receive their bonuses would be a good start to both punishing them and alleviating the public animosity. But fraud is a serious charge and Ferguson never makes the case in his film that anything illegal was done.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Another Year Movie Review: It's Going to Be a Long Cold Winter

Tom and Gerri are about as nice a couple as you’re likely to meet in the cinema. They are loving, gentle, kind and understanding, both with others and each other. They have a son, Joe. He’s 30 years old without any serious relationship in the works. Tom and Gerri are anxious for him to settle down, but never pushy. They appear to everyone as the perfect couple without any problems. And still this is not one of those rotting from the inside relationship dramas. For all we’re presented, they are truly life partners and completely satisfied.

And yet they seem to surround themselves with unstable, morose people. There’s Mary (Lesley Manville), a colleague of Gerri’s. She gets invited round for the occasional supper (Tom and Gerri are fabulous cooks both) or small gathering. Tom’s got a brother, Ronnie (David Bradley), who we meet late in the film at his wife’s funeral. We’re told earlier that he’s mean. And his son is certainly angry at him about something. Then there’s an old school friend, Ken (Peter Wight), now overweight and drinking and smoking so much we expect him to keel over at any moment. Not only is his health poor, but he’s lost his direction and is afraid of what his inevitably impending retirement will bring.

Tangled Movie Review: Hardly a Disney Classic

Say what you want about Disney, and I could say plenty, but their classic animated films provide wonderful entertainment based on centuries-old classic tales. Even if they instill backward, “some day my prince will come” attitudes, they touch something in children that draws them into the stories. Throw in some great musical numbers and audiences walk out humming songs that will eventually be counted among the great movie songs of all time.

Their latest animated musical, Tangled, eschews the hand drawn look popularized during Disney’s heyday in favor of computer animation. It’s rather surprising that it took more than 80 years and 50 animated feature films for Disney to get around to the Grimm Brothers’ story of Rapunzel. It’s one of the classic princess stories along with Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, all of which were canonized by the Mouse House more than 50 years ago. Of course this isn’t the studio’s first computer animated feature, but it is the first done in the narrative style (complete with musical numbers) of their most memorable films.

"Where's My Watch?": Pulp Fiction Analysis Part XIV

Go to Part XIII: "If you had a pot belly, I would punch you in it."

The camera slowly pushes in first on the TV, then on Butch, then back to the TV. This creates a visual connection between the fictional war on TV, itself a representation of the very real war that killed his father, and the impending war Butch will undertake to get back his father's watch.

Now it is the next morning. Butch wakes with a start to the sound of a Vietnam War movie on television. The film is The Losers[i], about a group of Hell’s Angels fighting the Viet Cong. The camera shows the television and pushes in, then shows Butch and pushes in. The film on the television is a bit of foreshadowing for the impending “war” Butch will become engaged in and also for his getaway on a motorcycle. It is no accident that Tarantino’s camera pushes slowly in on the TV. It is honing our attention on violence, war and heroes sacrificing themselves for the good of others. Additionally the slow push on Butch visually ties him to what we see on the television screen.

Next Butch gets out of bed and starts getting dressed. As he begins looking through the suitcase the camera slowly pushes in again, creating another moment of tension. It’s a particularly uneasy feeling as Fabienne talks sweetly about what she’s going to eat for breakfast until finally Butch cuts her off asking, “Where’s my watch?” We already know the significance of the watch, so we sense what trouble there might be if it is missing. The sweet-talking Butch quickly and violently turns into a raging lunatic, screaming obscenities, throwing the TV across the room.

[i] Dir. Jack Starrett, 1970 (Fanfare Films, Inc.)

No, The Government Actually Has Very Little Control

The Adjustment Bureau opens today. Here's political reporter Ezra Klein's take on the idea that some overarching government bureaucracy can possibly control anything more complicated than the organization of a fundraiser.

Nearest I can glean from the trailer, the film concerns a secret agency that has a hand in controlling the outcomes of basically everything in political life. As much as many people would like to believe this is the case, most everyone who works in and writes about politics would probably tell you that the reality of government is generally a disorganized mess.

Shhhh, don't tell this to the idiots in the 9/11 Truth Movement. For them, any outward appearance of disorganization is probably just further evidence of the tremendous depth of the conspiracy. They're so clever they've led every political reporter to the conclusion that government doesn't know what it's doing most of the time!

I don't have any immediate plans to see the movie. For one it's not going to play at the cinema in Seville that shows films subtitled and I refuse to see dubbed films. Also it just doesn't interest me a whole lot. It's unlikely to make my video list later this year.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Okay Christians, Will You Knock it Off Now?

Pope Benedict XVI on his Jewish goodwill tour after exonerating them of the charge that they murdered Jesus.*
Although the headline has a dangling modifier suggesting that Jesus died in a new book and the Jews are exonerated for it, we'll assume what it really means is that the Pope has written a book and in that book he exonerates the Jewish people for the death of their Savior.

Thanks Pope Nazinger! I suppose this exonerates HIM from the charges that he was a Nazi (although he actually was a Nazi).

Well, that takes care of the Catholics. Now to turn around the rest of the Christians and the Muslims, and like just about everyone.

*I should totally write for The Onion.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

25 Years Ago This Month: March 1986

As usual, let's start with the movies that opened this month.

The first in a series of very well made and popular Merchant-Ivory productions, A Room With a View, starring young Daniel Day-Lewis and young Helena Bonham Carter.

Although it wasn't his film debut, Lucas launched the late Corey Haim's career as a young Hollywood star. Haim plays the title character, a geeky and lovesick high school student. The film also stars Charlie Sheen (post Red Dawn but pre Platoon), Kerri Green (The Goonies), pre "Melrose Place" Courtney Thorne-Smith, pre "Entourage" Jeremy Piven (his film debut) and Winona Ryder (her film debut).

"There can be only one." Highlander, that cult classic starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery.