Archive for December, 2007

“National Treasure: Book of Secrets”

December 31, 2007

Book of Secrets

It takes a little while to get into it, especially at it’s just over two hours length (whew!), but once National Treasure: Book of Secrets starts chugging along it’s easy to over look the dopiness and enjoy the film. Again Ben Gates is off on a family matter. This time to clear his great, great Grandfather’s name from a charge that he helped assassinate Abraham Lincoln so that the confederates could have a chance at winning the Civil War. That or his great, great blah blah was tricked into helping the confederates find a lost city of gold to help them fund their cause, which his great blah blah had unknowingly deciphered a cypher for them but when he found out about Lincoln gave his own life to stop them from finding the lost city. Now in order to clear his great blah blah’s name Ben has to find the treasure himself. Well not just by himself, again he has his Father, Patrick Gates (Jon Vogt), his girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), his “assistant” (Justin Bartha) and this time his Mother Emily Appleton (Hellen Mirren). They all have such awesome names, don’t they? Together they must find the lost city before Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) finds it for himself. But what is Mitch playing at exactly? We don’t find out until some absurd revelations towards the end that paint him out to be not as bad or as good as he should be, making him the least interesting character of the bunch. Since he’s not a character, Wilkinson acts mainly as an instigator for Ben and his crew to go searching for this city of gold. But Harris makes it as believable as he can. It is sad however to see Harvey Keitel relegated to such a thankless role, his police man always a step behind Gates.

On the way they run into a lot of obstacles and have to figure out clues. And it’s the puzzles and traps and spelunking that follow the clues that makes this movie as enjoyable as it ends up being. When a desk can be turned into a puzzle box, you know you’re in for at least some treats. Moments throughout are really quite inventive. The best sequence involves Ben Gates “kidnapping” the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood – the interviewer in I’m Not There.) You can see Ben’s passion for exploring winning over the President, and in doing so winning us over. Greenwood plays the President as the kind of President I want leading this country. The other memorable moment is when Ben starts a fight with Abigail and the conversation afterwards…”When did you start realizing it was a real fight again?” Clever dialogue like this does not go unnoticed by my ears. And makes some of the more obvious, let me describe what we need to do right now dialogue that sneaks into Bruckheimer films sometimes. (more…)

“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”

December 29, 2007

The Dewey Cox Story

For all the innuendo in this musical biopic parody, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is really flaccid. I haven’t heard such an intense silence from an audience while watching a film since Schindler’s List. I admit when I first walked into the film I wanted to laugh and it took me a few moments of uncertain chuckling to realize that the film really wasn’t funny, after that I genuinely laughed twice.

Walk Hard tells the story of Dewey Cox who as a young boy is forced to live out the mock lives of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, flipping back and forth depending on whenever the writers Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan want to make fun of Ray or Walk the Line. Instead of letting the essence of the musical biopic inspire Apatow and Kasdan they follow said stories so closely the movie itself doesn’t have any legs to stand on of its own. Even though it’s meant to mock these films, we know what’s going to happen to Dewey from scene one and the creators don’t have the fore site to deal with the subject of musical biopics in a creative way. So even the bits that could have worked are mired in the fact that Walk the Line was a pretty good movie and that Ray wasn’t bad either, and we already know the stories. We’re actually subjected to a scene straight out of Walk when Cox plays for the first time a song that he’s written, the joke being in the film that it hits the charts and causes a stir within moments of it’s recording. It sounds funny, right? But somehow it’s not. How would you like to watch a remake of Walk with Jake Gyllenhaal, or Psycho but with Vince Vaughn…? Here it’s John C. Reilly being asked to act out scenes that have already been acted out by other actors. It’s not creative nor inventive in the way it approaches its material. It lacks spirit and an interest in truly skewering the films that really deserve it. It’s a lazy comedy, repeating many of the jokes over and over again.

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“4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”: The Scariest Kind of Horror Film

December 26, 2007

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

The title is far scarier and problematic than it suggests, and like most films of its nature the people who need to see it won’t. Let me write it again (to get it out of my system)… 4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 day is a film by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, and it’s gnawing away at me. Sometimes a person has to write to get it out of their system, this is one such time. I walked into the movie theatre this evening wanting to experience something different and I got my wish bestowed upon me times three. All that I knew of the film was the title from a few best of year lists, and the fact that its now up for a Golden Globe and will more than likely be up for an Oscar.

Now the question is as it always is, how do I unfold the story to you without ruining the experience in the way I experienced it? So I’m not going to give you a synopsis of the story because the psychology of the film works better if you don’t know going into it and while the film focuses on one particular event and the aftermath of it it’s not what the movie is about. This film unfolds like a first person story – one of the only films that I’ve seen work as a first person film – and to feel the confusion and exacerbation that Otilia is going through for her friend Gabriela, it helps not to know what the event is. The first twenty minutes is a daunting task as we play catch up to our two young women preparing for something though for what we’re not sure. This movie is in the details so pay careful attention to the small things Gabriella focuses on and thinks are important. When you understand everything, think back on these things and you’ll end up shaking your head in dismay. She’s a girl in a woman’s body, able to experience things as a woman, but unable to maturely handle the responsibility and repercussions of her actions. Otilia is a pushover but she’s dependable, dependable to a fault. She’s the character we end up following around through the preparations and the reason why we’re kept in the dark is so that our own frustrations are amplified to match her frustrations, but once we do get the idea we’re taken through every emotion she goes through, as she’s going through it. The camera follows Otilia’s shadowy figure through streets allowing us to feel like we’re walking the streets. We jump when she jumps, we get nervous when she does – is that guy following her or is he just going the same way? She is invited to sit around a cramped dinner table while she anxiously awaits the opportunity to excuse herself, and we wait along just as anxiously. This isn’t done with the use of music, or with tricky editing, but letting the camera sit opposite Otilia with everyone crammed into the edges of the frame. There are no cuts. And we wait, and wait, until we hear the phone ring. She wants to get it, but can’t…how can a person answer someone else’s phone? She’s too kind to excuse herself, we would be too kind to excuse ourselves, so we wait it out, nodding our head to the polite chatter and answering questions we’ve been asked a million times before, we have to. Layers upon layers build, and we sit, getting more and more anxious. Waiting for the worst to happen.

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“Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem”

December 25, 2007

 Requiem

I can take pretty much all levels of violence in cinema. Everything but one, pregnant women being brutally murdered by Aliens. If a movie has to stoop so low to push the envelope and get our attention then something else is obviously lacking. For Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem a lot of things are lacking.

I was never a big fan of the Predator. He’s sort of one note. It’s my belief if it hadn’t been for the popular run of comic books released by Dark Horse, Predator would have disappeared after the debacle of Predator 2. But I’m a giant fan of the Alien creature. It’s one of my favorite movie monsters of all time. And the first three and a half films are excellent movies dealing with pure carnal fear. Facing the unknown. The first 7 or 8 minutes of this new incarnation of the combined two franchises gives you hope for an interesting time. The directors, with a spoonful of geek pretension are calling themselves The Brothers Strause, but when they aren’t setting themselves up for a huge fall by making comparisons in name structure to the Brothers Grimm are separately known as Colin and Greg, and they immediately show us that they aren’t afraid to break some rules. They have a handsome visual flair and the special effects up front are pretty slick. The blacks in the film are bold, and the Predator looks pretty cool. Then we’re introduced to Generic Human Charater #1, then Generic Human Character #2 and they have a conversation and you realize that the first 7 or 8 minutes was just a trick to keep you from leaving, hoping that there might be another good 7 or 8 minutes worth sticking around for…and there really isn’t.

Just to give you an idea of who some of these Generic characters are. The first is someone stepping off a bus in Generic Rural Town, North America. His name is Dallas and he’s a felon getting out of prison who likes to spend his time in diners and bars, but isn’t against helping his brother make the right choice and saving the day if necessary (What say you ladies? Huh?) G#2 is the Sheriff, Dallas’s best friend from days gone past. Dallas has a younger brother who has to deliver a pizza to the hot, popular high school girl who has an a-hole boyfriend. Of course Younger Brother and Hot High School girl look like they’re actually 25 or 26, but I guess they’re supposed to be 18. And needless to say it’s obvious this film was written by fanboys for fanboys because he ends up with her at the high school swimming pool late one night kissing her in bra and undies. She’s way hot and we’re momentarily distracted from the badness of the film, but when the a-hole boyfriend and his flunkies make a grand entrance you really start hoping for the next 7 or 8 minutes to start.

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“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (And jokingly, Seville)

December 23, 2007

Sweeney Todd

Tim Burton’s visual stylings are sometimes almost too handsome for the movies he directs. He doesn’t like a dirty visual look, though the settings and the worlds the characters inhabit are many times surrounded by filth. There’s an edgy graphic novel quality he lends to the stories he tells as every shot is placed neatly into a box on a page. His sets are like doll houses and his actors sometimes look like mischievous dolls. This aesthetic brand has created a following of indulgent misfits. People so drawn to the misfits in Burton’s films that they yearn to have scissors for hands themselves (not realizing that it’s a metaphor.) A lot of reviewers have thrown the word goth around, but it’s not quite goth – it’s not as one note as goth. It’s more fanciful, a world of twisted child like imaginings. Many times though Burton has relied on this visual quality to tell his story when what he may have needed was a stronger story in the first place. I’m a fan of many of his films ranging all the way back to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, but for me the quality of his movies in recent years has become flimsy. Mars Attacks, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Corpse Bride were miscalculations I felt, some worse than others. Usually with perhaps strong beginnings that didn’t know where to go once the second act kicked into gear, or didn’t know what they wanted to be. I’m pleased to say that Burton has found the proper dose of inspiration and cohesiveness with his new film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and he’s created something on par with his Sleepy Hallows and Ed Woods of the past. Since the movie is pretty much lifted straight from the musical I don’t think I’ll need to worry about misinterpreting the story. It’s a story of revenge. A young barber with a wife and child is sent to prison under false charges by a morally hideous judge only to return and find out his wife is dead and the judge has his now 16 year old daughter held captive. It’s that revenge that drives him to the edge of insanity and beyond the realm of proper reason. Of course the nice little side story of human meat pies remains intact.

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“The Kite Runner”: Flying Kites is Cool

December 21, 2007

The Kite Runner

The problem with The Kite Runner isn’t that it doesn’t have a story to tell, it’s that the story is so spread out its difficult to put an emotional bead on any one thing. Since the impact is lessened what the writers (David Benioff) and director (Marc Forster) try to do is to give us connections that are too contrived and so false that they bleed into the ridiculous.

The first third of the story focuses on two childhood friends in Afghanistan. Amir belongs to the dominant ethnic group Pashtun, who also belongs to the dominant Sunni religion. His Father, Baba, is a wealthy man who sympathizes with the lower-caste ethnicity known as Hazara. Amir’s best friend Hassan is not only a Hazara but belongs to the minority of Shi’ite religious followers and is the son of Baba’s servant, making Hassan a servant as well. Growing up one can imagine that this was never a problem for Amir and Hassan – this separation of class and religion, though they share some dialogue about trust and friendship early on. It’s a problem that the neighborhood boys don’t appreciate his differences and ridicule Hassan. Hassan is the type of strong boy who stands up for himself. Baba respects that about him and he’s afraid that Amir won’t live up to those expectations. When Amir overhears his Father’s love for Hassan, he becomes jealous. But there’s no time for that as the kite flying contest approaches.

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