March 2010

Summer Movie Previews: Diamonds in the Rough

I'm not going to lie, Summer 2010 is looking pretty dire for movie-goers. There are way too many sequels, remakes and adaptations slated for release and precious few of them look like they'll even be worth the price of the ticket, let alone enjoyable works of cinema. I'm no snob, I don't expect the summer blockbusters to be anything more complex than slick entertainment to get people out of the heat, but I still prefer them to be better than overpriced insults. That said, there are a few movies slated for the long days that look pretty interesting. Here's a quick look.

Beetlejuice

For me, this Tim Burton flick from 1988 is one of the best films of the era, as well as one of my all time favorite personal films. It's the first time Michael

Keaton, who plays Betelgeuse, teamed with Tim Burton the director. This was only the second feature film Burton directed; Pee-wee's Big Adventure was the first. The plot is scant; a husband and wife, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alan Baldwin and Geena Davis) are living in a traditional New England house in Connecticut; a house they love so much they're spending their vacation at home working on their house. Unfortunately, there's an accident, and they end up as ghosts, relegated to living in the attic of their own house. The Deetz family moves in from New York; the father is a condo developer on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

"Valkyrie" (part 1)

Bryan Singer, the man who brought us Keyser Söze in 1995's The Usual Suspects, presents the real-life story of Claus von Stauffenberg and the 20 July plot in Valkyrie (2008). Tom Cruise stars as the quietly determined von Stauffenberg, trying to save Germany from certain destruction and devastation at the hands of his supreme commander Adolf Hitler (David Bamber). An ensemble cast (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, and Tom Wilkinson) provide the support as German officers and politicians who are caught between saving their country, or saving themselves.

"Valkyrie" (part 2)

But what of the cast of characters in Valkyrie? These men who had taken arms to defend Germany's honor and pride, and now found themselves fighting a war they could not win for causes they had stopped believing in? Five of the cast of Valkyrie have appeared in other notable World War II movies - two in Der Untergang and three in 2001's Conspiracy (which provided some base of influence for Valkyrie). The one notable exception (who, to the best of my knowledge, has not appeared in a WWII movie) is Tom Cruise. And maybe, somehow, he suffers from this relative inexperience. 

"Motherhood" Gets No Respect.

Uma Thurman film "Motherhood" got dissed, big time in Britain. I don't know if it is a box office record low for a film with major Hollywood stars, anywhere, but the Uma Thurman's  film, "Motherhood," which  also stars  Minnie Driver and has  a cameo by Jodie Foster, bombed big time at the British box office.  The Daily Mail, the British tabloid,  reported that in the film's opening weekend " no more than a dozen people shelled out money for a ticket."  The movie took in all of £88, that's $131 US dollars. That's from all of Britain, from the whole country!

"The Last King of Scotland" (part 1)

Kevin Macdonald's The Last King of Scotland (based on Giles Folden's novel of the same name) is a dramatic retelling of the reign of Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, told through the eyes of Amin's personal physician. While the movie falls short on some points, it is a powerful and haunting story of one man's insanity and inhumanity, and the hell he brought to a country that trusted and believed in him.

What The Bleep Do We Know?

With the recent news that long-time movie rental giant Blockbuster may be on its way out, I've been contemplating how new technology has changed the at-home viewing experience. There's no doubt that services like Netflix and other, purely virtual systems are superior to physical storefronts, but a part of the ritual will definitely die when the video shop goes the way of the dinosaur. The hidden aspect of scanning the shelves for the movie you want to see is noticing but ultimately dismissing all the movies you don't want to see. I can't recall how many times I ignored the genre-defying 2004 film What The Bleep Do We Know? but I'm certain I never would have seen it had a friend not put it on his Netflix queue. The amazing thing about Bleep is not that it's a bad movie, but that it's stunningly bad.

Death At A Funeral: An Unnecessary Remake

In 2007, the funniest film Americans didn't see was Frank Oz's amazing British farce Death At A Funeral. While it can hardly be called a flop (some $46 million in worldwide revenues), the movie only took in just north of $8 million total in the United States. Given that it was condemned to a late summer purgatory on mostly independent screens across the country, it's no surprise that it didn't do very well in America. The sad part is that there was no reason why it had to be that way. Films from the UK hardly qualify as actual foreign cinema, the biggest hurtle of which has always been subtitles. Death At A Funeral is a frequently goofy comedy that would stand up well against sublime slapstick like the best of the Farrely Brothers. While I wish that more Americans had given it a chance, I don't think that Chris Rock's upcoming remake is the way to shed light on this hilarious film.

Precious

A couple days ago I saw the critically acclaimed movie, "Precious," and it really struck a chord.  I had a vision of what the movie might be, but had no clue the depth at which they would attain.

The story is remarkable, and really shows the about of pain and suffering people have to withstand as they try to make it in this very tough world.  The movie does not hold back, and there was a couple times during the movie that I had a real hard time looking at the screen, showcasing harsh realities.

The Men Who Stare at Goats and the Viewers Who Love Them

Adapting prose for filmic depiction is a daunting task. There’re endless avenues to consider as well as attempting to remain true, in some sense, to the original piece of writing. Rendering characters on screen is a far cry from actual lines of dialogue being spoken and then the actors working with an adaptation serve to add another layer of interpretation that could obfuscate any semblance of an original. Of course, the fact that a book is different than a script which is different than a finished piece of film is problematic. But all of these issues seemed to have found a home in The Men Who Stare at Goats.

This Is It

A few days ago I got the opportunity to finally see Michael Jackson's "This Is It," the movie showing the rehearsals leading up to his return to the stage.

It was a very interesting film in many ways.  First, it wasn't really at all about his personal life or anything to do with anything outside of the rehearsal venue, but everything to do with the rehearsal and the process of putting on an incredible concert.  The viewer got a chance to watch some of the dancer's auditions, and got to hear interviews by them, with many saying it was a life-long dream to dance with Michael Jackson. 

"The Dark Knight" (part 2)

 

Harvey "Two-Face" Dent is introduced to the new Batman universe in The Dark Knight as one of the few honest lawmen left in Gotham City. The dream doesn't last long. Aaron Eckhart taps into Dent's fall from grace into hatred, revenge and madness rivetingly well. It's the modern-day tragic hero, someone we look up to and respect, a man willing to take the fall for a greater good. Dent's pain and anguish shows through the CGI, and no matter what he does as Two-Face, you can't help but feel for him. Eckhart is that good. 

"The Dark Knight" (part 1)

I was probably one of the last few people in the Western Hemisphere to have seen Christopher Nolan's 2008 epic The Dark Knight. It was worth the wait. After years in development hell, the Batman franchise found a new home with Nolan's Batman Begins, in 2005. It re-introduced a grittier, darker Batman, miles away from the camp and clichés that had killed the Batman franchise dead in 1997, and set the scene for  the invigorated, 21st century Batman to take off.

"V for Vendetta" (part 2)

 

Being a dystopian film set in England, V for Vendetta does carry its fair share of Big Brother clichés - secret police, ominous party symbolism, and an almost-literal "Big Brother is watching you" feel. I imagine that for viewers unfamiliar with films of this ilk, it will chill and terrify; for the rest of us, though, we smile knowingly (more so because John Hurt is Big Brother).

 

"V for Vendetta" (part 1)

 

 

In 2005, James McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers brought us V for Vendetta, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. It is a tale of freedom, of hope; of Natalie Portman with a shaved head, and Hugo Weaving delivering lines of pure poetry and charm from behind a Guy Fawkes mask. It's a polarizing film, for many reasons - timeless truths told against familiar and strange backdrops. In trying to widen the appeal (and the message) of the film, McTeigue and the brothers Wachowski make plenty of insinuations who they think the enemies are, which takes the edge of what is an otherwise sharp film.

 

The Hurt Locker Stinks

I’ve not ever been weary of a film based solely on the fact that it wins awards. And I had no qualms about watching The Hurt Locker, until I got about twenty minutes into it at least.

 

As far as war movies go, there’s not too much necessity in variation. Battles and the like can only come on a few different ways: win, lose or draw. So the fact that another film is attempting to approximate real life war-zone living and working didn’t seem like to outrageous a concept. Compounding all of this, the fact that the guy from Ministry did the soundtrack made The Hurt Locker seem just that much more interesting.

Tony Jaa: The Top Shelf of Martial Arts Cinema

I didn't really understand martial arts movies until I saw a "making of" feature of one of Jackie Chan's dazzling 1990's productions. In it, Chan boiled down his creative process to the kernels of individual fight sequences, explaining that he usually gets ideas for fight choreography before he comes up with a story to justify his set pieces. I firmly believe that this shouldn't be taken as a shallow, substance-free approach to film making. Honestly, it seems more genuine and focused to build a story around a cool fight than to try to shoehorn cool fights into an existing story. That in mind, the work of martial artist/stunt man Tony Jaa and his collaborator Prachya Pinkaew is essential to modern action cinema.

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